New project on understanding the development of interest in computer science


I am excited to share that I was recently awarded funding to carry out a new project, Understanding the development of interest in computer science - an experience sampling approach. This is for the project I wrote about here.

Here’s an excerpt from NSF’s summary (a bit more is here):

This project explores STEM interest development at the undergraduate level in computer science. It is a study of national importance that will focus on substantial differences in who pursues an interest, a major, or an occupation in computer science. To address this problem, the project will conduct a pilot study that articulates a fundamental research project appropriate for the ECR program using the experience sampling method (ESM). Specifically, ESM will allow the investigator to monitor a short-term intervention to explore how situational interest may change over time into well-developed individual interest. The pilot study will seek to determine if this method is more suitable for understanding situational interest and if so, under what conditions. Data will be collected through pre-post surveys, an experience sampling survey, and short written reports. Data will be analyzed using multivariate, mixed effects models that will consider the relationship between situational and individual interest. Outcomes from this project will be two-fold: an advancement in the investigator’s methodological knowledge relative to ESM; and a deeper understanding about how student’s interest may develop in computer science as well as what barriers might interfere with such development. The project is supported through the EHR Core Research Building Capacity in STEM Education Research competition that is designed to build individuals’ capacity to carry out high quality fundamental STEM education research in STEM learning and learning environments, broadening participation in STEM fields, and STEM workforce development.

In light of proposing the study, responding to questions from the program officer, and reflecting, I see the following as some of the goals for the project (blending my personal goals with the more research-related aims of the project), building on some of the past work I’ve done and some areas of need for more attention more generally:

  1. Start to develop expertise in computer science education (particularly as it is the part of the [traditionally/perhaps not accurately defined] three areas underlying data science, computer science, statistics, and knowledge about a discipline and is the one about which I know the least)
  2. Learn how to use the experience sampling method (or ESM) to study the variation in students’ experiences and to try to study contextual differences using ESM, even in a large, introductory undergraduate course
  3. Become better at using multivariate, multi-level models, especially those that involve Markov Chain Monte Carlo estimation techniques (which have a lot of potential for educational research) - in this case to try to figure out how situational interest can develop into longer-term, individual interest
  4. Provide opportunities for students to develop expertise in these areas (and provide an opportunity for me to start to mentor students as a part of a team)
  5. Focus on how to study students’ self-reported gender and self-identification with a particular social group in a way that is true to students’ experiences (and doesn’t lead to making inaccurate or not helpful generalizations about students’ experiences in the domain that we will be studying)

In addition to being excited, I’m nervous about beginning the project. My next immediate step is to start to develop a team - probably a post-doctoral scholar and a graduate research assistant. I’ll be sure to share more (and who these folks are) as soon as things are firmed up.

Finally (something I mentioned in the post I wrote earlier and linked to at the start of this post), I couldn’t have proposed this project without having had the experience of learning about the process and contributing to two other, earlier proposals. To my surprise and delight (because of what the projects include and who they involve and are led by), the two earlier projects were also awarded funding. I’ll plan to share more about these projects, one directed by Dr. Christina Krist and the other directed by Dr. Lynn Hodge.

I included this in the post about this project linked above, but, if this is of any interest, the narrative for my proposal is posted as a pre-print here.