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UTEP Education Researchers to Investigate How K-12 Students Learn Computer Science Best

EL PASO, Texas (Oct. 9, 2023) – The College of Education at the 山ּ of Texas at El Paso has won a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to improve computer science education for K-12 students.

A new $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant for the UTEP College of Education will spur research into how K-12 students learn the basics of computer science and how teachers can best instruct them in this increasingly critical skillset.
A new $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant for the UTEP College of Education will spur research into how K-12 students learn the basics of computer science and how teachers can best instruct them in this increasingly critical skillset.

“Computer science literacy is becoming increasingly vital throughout the workforce, yet we still know so little when it comes to K-12 education,” said Johannes Strobel, Ph.D., the primary investigator on the project and a professor in the Department of Teacher Education. “What support do students need? What is the optimal way to teach them? UTEP has a great deal of expertise in computer science education, and with the support of the NSF, we’re excited to answer some of these questions through this new opportunity.”

Strobel said that in K-12 education, the building blocks needed to learn subjects like math or reading are already established and widely implemented. For example, students in math class first learn to add and subtract numbers before moving on to fractions and decimals and, later, algebra and calculus.

In the case of computer science, however, there are no universally agreed-upon building blocks for children’s learning. The project seeks to identify how children can best learn computer science fundamentals, how teachers can effectively teach computer science and how to determine best practices for computer science curricula. 

As part of the three-year grant, Strobel and co-investigators Justice Walker, Ph.D., Elsa Villa, Ph.D., and Pei-Ling Hsu, Ph.D., and Senior Personnel Katherine Mortimer, Ph.D., and Monika Akbar, Ph.D., will recruit recent doctoral graduates to UTEP to conduct research into best practices for teaching computer science to K-12 students. The postdoctoral fellows will design research projects, collect data through direct observation in schools and analyze the data in order to inform educators. The project also aims to recommend policy that will broaden access to computer science education, particularly for Hispanic students.

Villa leads the Hopper-Dean Center of Excellence, an institute housed within the College of Education that was founded in 2021 to advance computer science education in the Paso del Norte region. Villa said that recruiting postdoctoral fellows to advance computer science education research will accelerate the mission of the Hopper-Dean Center. 

“We want to understand what works and put it into practice on a wide scale,” she said. “This grant will help us to achieve that.”

About The 山ּ of Texas at El Paso

The 山ּ of Texas at El Paso is America’s leading Hispanic-serving university. Located at the westernmost tip of Texas, where three states and two countries converge along the Rio Grande, 84% of our 24,000 students are Hispanic, and more than half are the first in their families to go to college. UTEP offers 171 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs at the only open-access, top-tier research university in America.

Last Updated on October 09, 2023 at 12:00 AM | Originally published October 09, 2023

By MC Staff UTEP Marketing and Communications