Collaborative Research: Minoritized Youth Computer Science Learning, Belonging and Career Interest: Coding and Creating with Beats
Computer science knowledge and skills are essential in the digital world. Despite progress in the availability of computer science (CS) coursework in secondary school settings, a number of student groups remain substantially underrepresented in computing. This project aims to broaden youth participation in computing by focusing on innovative technology experiences centered around coding-based music. The project will engage Black, Latinx, and female youth during the critical middle school years when many students decide whether future opportunities in CS merit consideration. Through week-long summer programs held on college campuses, the project will develop and study a series of culturally relevant activities where participants learn how to play, manipulate, and create by coding authentic-sounding hip-hop beats using Sonic Pi music software. The project extends prior research into CS learning through coding beats by (1) enhancing the depth of technical analysis, (2) moving students from beat modification to beat creation, and (3) increasing the range of concepts that can naturally be included in a course. This collaborative effort across two universities, a local school district, and a community organization will engage musicians who utilize Sonic Pi in performances and host annual competitions and concerts featuring student work to help broaden youth perspectives of CS and computing-related careers. The project team will also prepare 40 teachers and community instructors to facilitate similar programs in their own settings, ensuring sustainability beyond the duration of the project. This project is funded by the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements, contexts and processes contributing to increasing students' knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (ICT) careers. The project employs design-based implementation research to iteratively refine the instructional approaches across 160 middle school students and two settings to best address the mismatch between CS culture and the culture and learning experiences of students underrepresented in computing. This project will design and investigate a summer program instructional approach that highlights how particular coding technology (e.g., Sonic Pi), scaffolding techniques, and learning activities work to support youth's computer science knowledge, confidence, sense of belonging, and career awareness. The project will build upon previously funded NSF STEM education research (e.g., EarSketch) by grounding in the Use-Modify-Create framework, which articulates a trajectory of youth learning in computing. Mixed methods will inform the research. Qualitative data from observations, focus groups and computational artifacts will explore the promise and effectiveness of the program in promoting expected youth outcomes. Quantitative data (e.g., validated pre- and post-surveys) will identify emergent patterns that will help strengthen the feasibility, sustainability, and social validity of the scaffolded approach. The knowledge and insights gained from this research will provide evidence to support future programs across other regions and develop strong CS learning experiences for students underrepresented in computing. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.