DPI awarded $1 million for computer science education research 


The Daily Illini Photo File

The home for the Department of Computer Science is located on Goodwin Avenue. The DPI has gifted money for more computer science education within Illinois.

By Royal Shrestha, Staff Writer

The Illinois Workforce and Education Research Collaborative as part of the Discovery Partners Institute was awarded a $1 million gift for research on computer science education in Illinois on Feb. 2.

This gift will help fund a four-year research study between DPI and the College of Education at the University. 

Raya Hegeman-Davis, co-principal-investigator of this gift and part of DPI, described how it is becoming important to have knowledge in some form of computer science education. 

“The pandemic really illuminated for a lot of people something hard to see before the pandemic,” Hegeman-Davis said. “When everything became reliant on computers and technology, it became concrete on why it’s so important to have this knowledge in computer science.”

Meg Bates, director of IWERC, described how increasing the diversity in technology careers is a huge goal especially given the current pandemic and how many are switching to tech-related jobs. 

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This gift will help the researchers study two different education levels which includes high schools statewide and post-secondary level. Bates says the Chicago Public Schools district has done a “tremendous job” of incorporating computer science into their curriculum and one aspect is comparing this to other schools across the various districts. 

Hegeman-Davis said that Illinois doesn’t have a lot of data regarding the student demographics in computer science. One of the aims of the research is to collect data such as the type of courses being offered, demographics of who’s taking and teaching the courses as well as teaching locations. There will also be surveying of schools and districts about how they’re planning for computer science education in the future. 

“From that work, we hope to identify some real exemplary districts and schools that are interesting case studies of what’s possible in computer science education,” Bates said. “This is at the K-12 grade level. At the college level, we want to work with the computer science department and understand the patterns of enrollment of different student populations. We want to focus on women, Black students, Latinx students — all historically underrepresented.”

Researchers at IWERC also want to see how prepared school districts are for the new requirements that are part of the recently passed House Bill 2170: Education and Workforce Equity Act at the K-12 level. This law requires K-12 students to have computer literacy. Courses will have to begin implementing this in the elementary level and all students must be given the opportunity to take a computer science class during highschool.

The types of resources and support K-12 schools need to fulfill the HB2170 requirements is one major focus of the researchers. 

In the past, it was up to individual Illinois schools to provide computer science opportunities but with HB2170, there has been a slow rollout of computer science programs, according to Hegeman-Davis. With this research, IWERC hope to identify key areas that can allow schools to better support their students if they want to pursue computer science.


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