Researchers from the Department of Education at UCLA and the Department of School Psychology and Educational Leadership at Idaho State University have studied the students taking an Intro to Computing course. The research uncovers who takes an Introduction to Computing class based on their major, minor, or whether they’re undecided, as well as some demographic factors, including race and gender.
The Challenges Computer Science Departments Face
Computer Science (CS) departments have a good problem: There’s a high level of interest in their courses, specifically those that introduce the computing discipline. But this also introduces significant challenges regarding course content and marketing challenges to/recruiting students.
How To Develop Relevant and Useful Intro to Computing Courses
An Intro to Computing course will invariably have a range of different students, many of whom never intended to become CS majors. Therefore, universities must figure out how to tailor their course content and pedagogy to the needs of those enrolling in their courses.
This requires understanding which careers and majors students taking Intro to Computing are leaning toward.
For example, if many students have healthcare-related majors, an Intro to Computing course may include examples, use cases, and exercises grounded in hospitals and medical situations.
But without knowing students’ majors, minors, and career paths, it isn’t easy to align course content with their needs.
Recruiting Students Into the CS Major
Computer Science departments wanting to boost enrollment and funding must strategize ways to attract students from other majors and minors. But how do you know which kinds of students may lean toward pursuing a CS degree?
Suppose you collect data on students who take Intro to Computing and find that a disproportionate number come from certain majors. In that case, this may indicate that these majors may be fertile ground for recruiters’ efforts. In other words, if they take Intro to Computing and discover something they enjoy, they may want to dive deeper by pursuing a full major or minor.
At the same time, even a modicum of interest in computing may indicate that a student is more likely to pursue a CS degree. Therefore, higher numbers in specific concentrations may suggest that these populations may be more inclined toward CS.
Tailoring Intro to Computing Courses to Underrepresented Racially Minoritized (URM) Students
Contrary to previous literature, the researcher’s work discovered that students in Introduction to Computing courses from racial minorities were more likely to be majoring in computing than majority racial groups.
This introduces a challenge to CS departments. Considering the popularity of Computer Science among racially minoritized students, an interesting question needs to be addressed: What can CS instructors and department heads do to make the experiences of these students both positive and supportive of their aspirations?
Call to Action for CS Department Heads
Given the data presented in the full paper, “Who Takes Intro Computing? Examining the Degree Plans of Introductory Computing Students in Light of Booming Enrollments“, CS department heads should tailor their Intro to Computing curriculums and focus their recruiting efforts on the groups of students pursuing the following disciplines:
- Social Science
- Biological Sciences
Further, CS department heads should strategize ways to create welcoming, comfortable, and intellectually stimulating course content and pedagogy for URM students.
The outlook for computing departments is positive, especially if decision-makers use the proper recruitment and course design strategies. However, the danger of losing students to other majors exists if professors and department heads don’t use this data to adjust the disciplines they apply computing to and improve their engagement with URM students.
You can dive into the full paper and research results within IEEE Computer Society’s digital library or by downloading it below.
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