Computer science education faces many obstacles. Fewer students are writing both AP Computer Science exams, colleges and universities have graduated fewer computer science majors and there is significant underrepresentation of women and minorities at all levels of computer science. The difficulties are in direct contrast with the significant increase in all AP exams written since 2002, the demand for computer scientists in business and industry and the increased interest in technologies like social media from women and minorities (Goode, 2008).
Former iterations of the A AP computer science course focused on abstractions, data structures, algorithms and programming and although the proposed AP Computer Science: Principles course includes coverage of computing as a creative act and its innovative contributions to other fields, the core topics remain. These core topics are not appealing to students and do not leverage the the computing experiences they have in and out of school (Goode, 2008). Interest in and use of computers in the years before college can steer students to pursue a degree in a computer-related field (Varma, 2009). Students make the decision to follow a STEM (including computer science) career path long before they graduate high school (Varma, 2009).
When 80% of calculus and pre-calculus high school students responded that do not know what college computer science majors learn (Carter, 2006), it is apparent that the primary obstacle in graduating more computer science majors is deeper than simply creating interest in the subject. Only 2% of those students surveyed had a good understanding of what computer science majors learned (Carter, 2006) which suggests the primary obstacle from the student perspective is simple awareness of computer science.
Student familiarity with and use of technology is so pervasive that technology and education pundits have popularized the term digital native to describe these students and their attraction to technology. One would expect that this new breed of students who were born digital would flock to computer science courses and majors when, in fact, student participation in all levels of computer science education is low. One reason for this phenomenon may be that current computer science curriculum does not take advantage of the technology experiences students enjoy on a daily basis.
One category of student technology experience affords a variety of advantages in increasing awareness and interest in computer science; social media. High school-aged students are avid users of the internet and social media. More than four out of five (82%) teens aged 14 to 17 reported that they use social media, a trend that continued to increase over the last four years (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith & Zickuhr, 2010). While the great majority of teens use social media and go online at least once or several times a day, of particular interest to computer science educators is the interest shown by girls and teens from lower income families (Lenhart et al., 2010).
Focusing a computer science course module on social media represents an excellent opportunity to target girls and teens from lower income families and increase their participation in computer science. Increasing student awareness and interest in computer science is of the utmost importance in reversing the trends in computer science education. Leveraging high school students’ affinity for, and their perceived relevance of social media deserves further resources and investigation.
Carter, L. (2006). Why students with an apparent aptitude for computer science don’t choose to major in computer science. ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, 38(1), 27–31. doi:http://doi.acm.org.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/10.1145/1124706.1121352
Goode, J. (2008). Education: Reprogramming college preparatory computer science. Communications of the ACM, 51(11), 31–33. doi:http://doi.acm.org.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/10.1145/1400214.1400225
Lenhart, A., Purcell, K., Smith, A., & Zickuhr. (2010). Social media & mobile internet use among teens and young adults. Washington, DC: Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved July 28, 20011, from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Social-Media-and-Young-Adults.aspx
Varma, R. (2009). Gender differences in factors influencing students towards computing. Computer Science Education, 19(1), 37-49. doi:10.1080/08993400902819006