May 9, 2011

NSF Report Spotlights Opportunities To Digitally Enhance America’s Community Colleges

NSF-Sponsored Summit Gathers Ideas to Craft Community College Computing Courses

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) last week released a report that addresses a fundamental question about community colleges: why are so many of them unable to successfully secure federal funding for computing programs?

The report, "Digitally Enhancing America's Community Colleges," offers recommendations designed to spur new grant proposals, inventive initiatives and dynamic partnerships that infuse innovation into community college computing courses and programs.

"Significant federal funding from NSF through the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program is available to encourage and help implement innovative computing education at the community college level," said Scott Grissom, program manager in NSF's Education and Human Resources Directorate. "However, at this point, we are not seeing the type of competitive proposals with innovative ideas and compelling stories that we had wanted. We believe this report gives community colleges the insight they need to access the funding that can make necessary changes possible."

The report, which details findings from a joint Strategic Summit on Computing Education Challenges at Community Colleges, recommends the creation and use of:

    * Cognitive learning research to inform course design and delivery;
    * Innovation in instructional design and "anytime, anywhere" delivery through technology-based teaching and learning strategies;
    * Partnerships among educators with industry to produce graduates with the necessary technical and soft skills; and
    * Nurturing experiences in technology-related fields for students, especially females and individuals from underrepresented groups.

"The challenge here is to bring forward more innovative ideas and implement them at the community college level, to focus on what the computing field truly needs from its future employees," said John White, ACM's Chief Executive Officer. "Going forward, community colleges can help push new teaching strategies that are focused on technology, which will ensure that their students and their communities are engaged, competitive and successful."

The Summit identified a major stumbling block in computing education: "If students don't know what computing is, why would they pursue it?" Feedback from participants suggested potential actions the computing and community college communities can take to combat that low level of awareness:

    * Help students understand what a computing education is, and why it is a promising career path to pursue.
    * Actively collaborate among all education sectors as well as business and industry communities to enrich curriculum and courses.
    * Create well-defined curricula that positions computing as a first-choice career option.

"The unique three-prong mission of community colleges matches the unique needs of computing education; and community colleges are easily accessible for future and current computing professionals who need to update their skills to quickly adapt to the needs of today's workforce," said Elizabeth Hawthorne, chair of ACM's Summit Steering Committee, and senior professor of computer science at Union County College in Cranford New Jersey. "As community colleges across the U.S. identify ways of adapting and evolving, the report calls on these educators to focus on infusing innovation into their computing curricula and, in addition, place an emphasis on helping all their students become tech-savvy, employable citizens."

The report coincides with a growing national interest in the future of community colleges, including the White House Summit on Community College and its four regional summits held by the U.S. Department of Education, which Secretary Duncan convened " ... to ensure the vitality of our nation's economy."

The NSF-ACM report asserts that "America's community colleges have never had a higher profile or shouldered higher expectations." In the face of the extraordinary rate of technological advances and their impact on America's job force, the report makes the case that community colleges' development plans need up-to-date computing courses and initiatives if they are to meet those demands.

To ensure a broad view at the summit, ACM's Committee for Computing Education in Community Colleges convened a diverse group of 33 professionals from two-year colleges, four-year colleges and high schools. Individuals from industry and government were invited to participate in the summit and inform the results of the report.


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