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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Pedagogy Matters: Engaging Diverse Students as Community Researchers in Three Computer Science Classrooms

  • Author(s): Ryoo, Jean Jinsun
  • Advisor(s): McLaren, Peter
  • Morrell, Ernest
  • et al.

Computing occupations are among the fastest growing in the U.S. and technological innovations are central to solving world problems. Yet only our most privileged students are learning to use technology for creative purposes through rigorous computer science education opportunities. In order to increase access for diverse students and females who have historically been denied these opportunities, a course entitled "Discovering Computer Science" [real names were changed to protect participant privacy] was introduced to Metro City Unified high schools in 2008. During the 2011-12 school year, the "MyData" Unit--in which youth conducted community research using mobile phones and statistical analysis software--was added to the curriculum.

While quality curriculum is important, this curriculum's success depended on how it was engaged. Thus, through a qualitative case study of three classrooms chosen for their strong teachers, I examined what effective teaching and student learning looked like through the MyData Unit. Guided by Cultural Historical Activity Theory and critical pedagogy notions of learning while employing interpretive participant observation, critical ethnography, and multimodal methods to analyze data sources (observation field notes, video recordings, student surveys, teacher and student interviews, student projects, a researcher journal, and memos), I describe pedagogy that engaged diverse students with computer science practices and how students demonstrated these practices.

Effective teaching included what I define as a "Connected Computer Science Pedagogy" (CCSP) and the use of humor. CCSP involves: 1) making computer science personally relevant; 2) highlighting how computer science can address social issues; and 3) engaging collaborative learning. Humor proved valuable for 1) motivating student learning; 2) making learning less stressful; 3) building classroom community; and 4) mediating disciplinary situations. Key features of student learning included new understandings of data as well as feeling empowered as community researchers. Yet students demonstrated a range of ability with data analysis and computer science practices in their final projects.

This work fills a research gap regarding effective computer science pedagogy. My findings emphasize how computer science education can move beyond a mere fascination with technological tools toward learning that is driven by curricular content, strong teaching, and community interests.

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