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New research explores opportunities for eliminating equity gaps in computer science gateway courses

Addressing “gateways within gateway courses,” specific factors that prevent students from succeeding in introductory courses, may provide a path forward for closing equity gaps. for students pursuing engineering degrees.

Introductory engineering courses often serve as barriers to students’ success in pursuing their chosen degree, causing attrition rates that are particularly high among students of color, women, first-generation students, and students who experience unfair financial, educational, and social systems.

New studies led by Director of Student Affairs, Engagement, and Inclusion in the Baskin School of Engineering Carmen Robinson and Computer Science Assistant Teaching Professor Narges Norouzi identify Computing Assembly, a required course for most students. in engineering at UCSC which is usually taken in the first year, as the main pathway with a wide and persistent equity gap. As more and more prospective students at UC Santa Cruz choose to study computer science, new research reveals how motivation and a sense of belonging within the engineering community varies among students and is often tied to academic measures of success.

“We have students who are very talented, who have these many abilities, but they’re confined to a space,” Robinson said. “So, how do we fix that? How do we make sure we move them through to get a degree? ”

Years of research and programming

In 2019, Robinson conducted a student experience study, including a survey of all Baskin Engineering students, to investigate the factors that influence students’ ability to declare and complete an engineering degree. . The study included one-on-one interviews, focus groups, and institutional data. The survey asked about students’ demographics, concerns about their daily lives, if and how much students work, what support they can get from family, and how much academic preparation they have. they have in the introductory courses.

“We analyzed survey data, particularly pre-college mathematics and programming preparation as well as science motivation and cognitive growth indicators,” Norouzi said. “What we noticed was a disproportionate gap in pre-college preparation between students from different demographic groups. Motivated by the data, we were interested in bridging the preparation gap.

The results led Robinson and Norouzi to establish a summer program to review math and programming concepts for prospective students identified as having different preparation. The program, called Baskin Engineering Excellence Scholars (BEES) and with Norouzi as the head of the faculty, will be practically run during the summer of 2020 and 2021, and in 2022 will be held in person for the first time.

The 50 prospective students in this year’s program will attend lectures on programming and mathematics, participate in problem-solving sessions, and end their days with team-building activities. They will also be introduced to campus resources such as Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and the Disability Resource Center (DRC) and participate in activities to develop confidence and a sense of belonging.

A paper presented at the 2021 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference detailed the BEES program’s curriculum and daily schedule, citing data that the program is effective in preparing students for engineering courses. This paper analyzes the program’s success in providing students with academic self-competence in programming and mathematics concepts as well as supporting students’ sense of campus belonging, science motivation, and science identity.

BEES students also receive targeted instruction for first-year courses, tutoring, and advising that support their learning experiences during their first year at UCSC. To enhance the program’s cohort-based model, the UCSC Committee on Education Policy approved first-year priority enrollment for BEES students so that they would be enrolled in the same discussion section of courses and receive more targeted teaching from the program.

Gateways and opportunities in intro courses

In evaluating student performance alongside this earlier work, Robinson and Norouzi noted that Computing Assembly (CSE 12) was particularly difficult for students. Institutional data shows that students across the board are struggling in the course, with pass rates and grades of B or lower for underrepresented students. Beginning in spring 2021, researchers are working with CSE 12 instructors and the Institutional Research, Analysis, and Policy Studies (IRAPS) unit to collect data on why students withdraw.

Pre- and post-surveys for the course gathered data about students’ enthusiasm for science and sense of belonging to determine how these indicators were connected to students’ lack of confidence and disengagement from engineering. . Bi-weekly surveys track how students are learning and progressing through the course materials to determine if there are any particular topics that may lead to student failure. Identifying these specific areas can help instructors and teachers provide more targeted preparation and instruction to increase student achievement.

“We want to see if we can identify any subject at the gate of the course that contributes to the overall failure,” Norouzi said. “Or if there is any specific set of subjects that, if emphasized, could improve students’ grades and pass rates while also improving students’ non-academic indicators.”

Robinson and Norouzi hope that similar analysis can be done for other introductory engineering courses. In addition, they want to increase the number of students of color who transfer to UCSC to study engineering and provide additional support for their specific challenges through a bridge program tailored to their transfer.

By presenting and discussing these papers with a community of computer science educators, Robinson and Norouzi hope to identify “gateways within gateway courses.” They hope to target future interventions to build community and increase a sense of belonging.

To this end, this work present at the 2022 ACM Conference on International Computing Education Research (ICER 2022) on Saturday, August 7. The team will also present a workshop session at the 2022 Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) National Diversity in STEM conference titled “How to make the most of your transfer to a 4-year institution and beyond!” to discuss ideas for bridge programs for transfer students.

“We have work ahead of us, but there are many ways to help students believe they can succeed,” Robinson said. “I think our faculty is very open to things, and we’re doing what we can on the front end.”

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