December 8, 2010

NSF Celebrates Computer Science Education Week 2010

NSF-funded programs like GLITCH and E-Textiles make it cool to compute and may inspire the next Bill Gates

Imagine a jacket that lights up. With directional arrows programmed into the fabric, a bicyclist can use her jacket to alert traffic when she's turning. The jacket is an example of e-textiles, a technology that is drawing more girls to computer science through an innovative program at MIT. Meanwhile at Georgia Tech, high school students are hired to test and debug computer games, a way of bringing diverse students to computer science.

These inspired programs are unfortunately not typical. American information technology and software companies dominate the world marketplace, yet there is a gaping hole in formal computer science education. For K-12 students, computer science education is practically nonexistent. The United States lacks an adequate pipeline to feed world class computer science at the university level with the number and diversity of students needed to address societal challenges.

To recognize the critical role of computing and computer science education in the 21st century, Congress declared Dec. 5-11, 2010, as Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek).

In a Dec. 7 webcast, the National Science Foundation (NSF) highlighted two NSF-funded programs that aim to fill this gap and engage populations of students not typically drawn to computer science.

Amy Bruckman of Georgia Tech, along with Ph.D. candidate Betsy DiSilvo and former student James Bowland-Gleason, describes GLITCH, the Georgia Tech program that uses video games as a way for the high school students to "break open" the games and look at them as a piece of technology.

Leah Buechley and Emily Lovell of MIT's Media Lab report on their success at the forefront of teaching information technologies to the next generation of female computer scientists. They discuss how their High-Low Tech research group explores the integration of high and low technology from cultural, material, and practical perspectives to engage diverse groups of people in developing their own technologies. E-Textiles at MIT, for example, has captured the imagination and honed the computational skills of girls.

CSEdWeek representative Cameron Wilson of the Association for Computer Machinery provides perspective on why this week is important to his industry and to America's competitive edge. Other countries have stepped up their efforts with computer science education, and several countries, including Canada, Israel, New Zealand, Australia and some Asian countries have implemented a comprehensive computer science curriculum.

The notion that only future computer scientists or information technology (IT) professionals need training in computer science is no longer true. Outside of the IT industry, knowledge of computer science and computer programming is becoming a necessary skill for many professions, including those in science and technology, as well as careers in marketing, advertising, journalism and the creative arts.


Image Caption: At MIT's Media Lab, the High-Low Tech research group explores the integration of high and low technology from cultural, material and practical perspectives in order to engage diverse groups of people in developing their own technologies. Pictured here is "interactive embroidery" created by Becky Stern. Stern was an adapter of E-Textiles LilyPad Arduino, a set of sewable electronic components that let you build your own soft, interactive fashion. In this piece, Stern combined her interest and expertise in a traditional craft, embroidery, with special effects she was able to create with computing. Credit: Leah Buechley, MIT Media Lab


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