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The IT Crisis

The US needs a greater number of highly trained IT personnel to remain competitive in science and engineering. In spite of this growing need for IT people, the enrollment in undergraduate Computer Science (CS) programs in North America dropped an astonishing 70% between 2000 and 2005 [1].

The dismal showing of US programming teams at the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) International Collegiate Programming Contest has raised concerns about the lack of new American programming talent.

The Computer Science Teacher Association (CSTA), an organization that grew out of the ACM K-12 CS task force [2], declared K-12 CS education to be in crisis [3]. CS has become highly unpopular for reasons that include lack of prior experience with computers [4-6], poor self-efficacy [7], and unfounded fears of job outsourcing.

A more fundamental problem is a broken pipeline in which K-12 students simply fail to get interested in CS based on negative experiences early on. Negative experiences typically stem from the kind of exposure, or lack thereof, to IT. In the US there are only slowly emerging IT/CS standards and many states require no IT-related certification for K-12 teachers. The development of state-level curriculum standards for CS in the United States is nearly nonexistent [2]. Some schools simply do not offer any IT courses. The US high schools that do offer CS as an essential discipline typically provide Advanced Placement (AP) courses. This type of curriculum is usually focused on programming [8], and fails to provide motivating applications. Courses of this nature do not attract many students and are even less successful in attracting women and minorities [9, 10]. In 2004 only 11% of the CS AP course takers were female (in contrast to 56% for all AP courses) and only 6% were from under-represented minorities [3]. Because the more advanced but highly unpopular Computer Science AB AP course was found to rank in popularity as low as the Latin Literature AP course, the College Board recently decided to completely remove that course from its program after 2009. More popular courses such as multimedia courses are often little more than advanced PowerPoint tutorials. Despite their popularity, they do not sufficiently cover computer science and rarely inspire students to pursue IT careers.

The increasing shortage of US IT workers has become a national crisis. At the middle school level, students make crucial career decisions that rarely include computer science. Middle school IT coverage does not typically include programming and is often little more than keyboarding, web browsing and application use training. Our main goal is to bring computer science to middle schools with the ultimate aim of developing a larger IT workforce.

References

[1] Computing Research Association, "CRA Bulletin: Enrollments and Degree Production at US CS Departments Drop Further in 2006/2007," 2008.
[2] ACM K-12 Task Force Curriculum Committee (Allen Tucker, Fadi Deek, Jill Jones, Dennis McCowan, Chris Stephenson, Anita Verno), "A Model Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science," Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), Computer Science Teachers Association, New York, NY October, 2003.
[3] Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), Board of Directors, "Achieving Change: The CSTA Strategic Plan," 2005.
[4] L. Shashani, "Gender differences in computer attitudes and use among college students," Journal of Educational Computing Research, vol. 16(1), pp. 37-51, 1997.
[5] M. a. N. Morrison, T., "A study of the impact of background and preparedness on outcomes in CS1," in 32nd SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, Charlotte, NC, 2001, pp. 179-183.
[6] J. D. Davy, Audin, K., Barkham, M. and Joyner, C., "Student well-being in a computing department," in 5th Annual Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education, Helsinki, Finland,, 2000, pp. 136-139.
[7] T. Busch, "Gender differences in self-efficacy and attitudes towards computers," Journal of Educational Computing Research, vol. 12(2), pp. 147-158, 1995.
[8] Committee on Information Technology Literacy, Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Applications, National Research Council (Lawrence Snyder, Alfred V. Aho, Marcia Linn, Arnold Packer, Allen Tucker, Jeffrey Ullman, Andries Van Dam), Being Fluent with Information Technology. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1999.
[9] AAUW Educational Foundation Commission on Technology, Gender, and Teacher Education, "TECH-SAVVY: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age," American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, April 2000.
[10] National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics, "Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering," Arlington, VA NSF 04-317, May 2004.



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