Google in Computer Science Education

Besides what I wrote recently about Google's Classroom product, educators at all levels should look at the broader "Google in Education" projects. 

One example that is not as well known to educators as their popular tools is their work and research into the teaching of computer science. Their K-12 Year 2 of a Google-Gallup study surveyed over 1,600 students, 1,600 parents, 1,000 teachers, 9,800 principals, and 2,300 superintendents. Some results were that 40% of principals report having CS classes with programming/coding , increasing from 25% in Year 1. Positive perceptions of CS learning and careers persist among all groups, and yet few parents and teachers have specifically expressed support for CS education to school officials, despite their high value of CS learning.

The second report of their research study with Gallup, Inc. dives into data from nearly 16,000 respondents to explore participation in and perceptions of computer science and related careers as well as associated demographic differences.

Google has partnered with the Community College Research Center (CCRC) and ETR on two complementary research reports that explore ways to encourage community college students to pursue bachelor’s degrees in computer science and related fields.

One way to keep up with all their efforts in education is to sign up for their education newsletter at Some of these are also examined in video form on the Education at Google YouTube Channel.


The Myth of Digital Natives

baby with computer

When I was fairly new to working in higher education, there was a lot of buzz about the students we were getting being "digital natives."  This was around 2001 and educator Marc Prensky had coined the term in an essay.

The claim was that these digital natives had a kind of innate facility with technology because they were born into it. This was also extended to them having increased abilities to do things like multitask.

Prensky took it further by saying that educators needed to change their ways to deal with this tech-savvy generation.

But new research (see below) indicates that this digital native theory is false. 

A digital native who is information-skilled simply just because they never knew a world that was not digital doesn't exist. This is also true in that any special abilities of students in this generation to multitask is also untrue. In fact, designing learning with this assumption hurts rather than helps learning.

We were naive to think that someone could pick up digital skills intuitively. But this may also be a dangerous fallacy that risks leaving young people lacking certain skills that were assumed to be known or so were not taught or emphasized.

I was never a proponent of this digital natives  - and digital immigrants - because I viewed "tech-savvy" as a very superficial kind of knowledge. I found most students in this group to be users of technology, but using a computer or cellphone doesn't impart understanding.

In 2007, I wrote about earlier research that was pointing towards this idea being false. Now, it seem definitive that all of this generational separation is a fallacy. It turns out that none of us is good at multitasking. We do it out of necessity, but something always suffers. Some studies have shown that a driver using a cellphone is the equivalent of a drunk driver.

Millennials - the group often labeled as being natives - don’t necessarily use technology more often and are no better at using basic computer programs than older generations.  Researchers also found that besides educators Millennials also have bought into the myth. Twice as many of them self-identify themselves as digitally proficient as actually would be assessed at that level.

The only aspect of all this that makes sense is that those people born into a technology are less likely to hesitate to use it or fear it. Clearly, a toddler today who is playing with a smartphone at age two and using apps will have no problems using it in other more serious ways in kindergarten. If these young people are better at using a totally new technology than a 70 year old person, I will consider that more about an aging brain than a birth year.

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When Accepted Students Don't Show Up at College

I had a discussion with some colleagues after listening to an episode of NPR's Hidden Brain podcast about research that shows that between 10% and 40% of the kids who intend to go to college at the time of high school graduation don't actually show up in the fall.

I'm doing some consulting for a community college this summer and I asked if this seemed accurate for that school. It turned out that the previous week staff at the college had been asked to "cold call" students who registered for fall courses but were dropped for non-payment and never re-registered. The college's enrollment is down 10% and it is a big concern.

meltingThis phenomenon is sometimes called "summer melt."

It is puzzling why kids who made it through the admissions process and were accepted to a college of their choice, applied for and received financial aid, never showed up for classes.

At my urban community college, financial aid was the most common reason. They registered, but aid did not come through in time to pay the bill. The odd part - the "melt" - was that when their aid did come through, they didn't re-register.

Why? Some had lost interest or felt discouraged by the process. Some reevaluated going to college. Some were just lazy. A few staffers were able to walk students over the phone through re-enrolling, so part of the problem might be information and support from the college.

In the podcast, Lindsay Page, an education researcher now at the University of Pittsburgh who did research while at Harvard, said "The rate with which kids who are college-intending do not actually get to college in the fall is surprisingly high. In one sample that we looked at in the Boston area, we find that upwards of 20% of kids who at the time of high school graduation say that they're continuing on to college don't actually show up in the fall."

This nationwide loss of seemingly college-intending students is particularly evident for those from low-income backgrounds.

But research has also identified relatively low cost interventions that can have a significant impact on alleviating the summer melt phenomenon and increasing college enrollment rates.

Page's research at Harvard was published in the "SDP Summer Melt Handbook: A Guide to Investigating and Responding to Summer Melt." In the report, they use “summer melt” to refer to a "different, but related phenomenon: when seemingly college-intending students fail to enroll at all in the fall after high school graduation. 'College-intending' students are those who have completed key college-going steps, such as applying and being accepted to college and applying for financial aid if their families qualify. In other cases, they have concretely signaled their intention to enroll in college on a high school senior exit survey. We consider a student to have “melted” if, despite being college-intending, she or he fails to attend college the following fall."

Some of their interventions go back to students' high school day and records, such as senior exit surveys, and survey high school counselors. They also provide examples of summer task lists, both personalized for specific institutions and generic, and sample documents for proactive personal outreach, such as an initial outreach checklist, assessment meeting checklist, intake form, and counselor interaction logs. 

Download the report and other resources at 

LISTEN to the Hidden Brain podcast on this topic

Learning and Working in the Age of Distraction

screensThere is a lot of talk about distraction these days. The news is full of stories about the Trump administration and the President himself creating distractions to keep the public unfocused on issues they wish would go away (such as the Russias connections) and some people believe the President is too easily distracted by TV news and Twitter.

There are also news stories about the "distraction economy."  So many people are vying for your attention. The average person today is exposed to 1,700 marketing messages during a 24-hour period. Most of these distractions are on screens - TV, computers and phones.  Attention is the new currency of the digital economy.

Ironically, a few years ago I was reading about "second screens," behavioral targeting and social media marketing and that was being called the "attention economy." There is a battle for attention, and the enemy is distraction.

Google estimates that we spend 4.4 hours of our daily leisure time in front of screens. We are still using computers mostly for work/productivity and search. We use smartphones for connectivity and social interactions. Tablets are used more for entertainment. My wife and I are both guilty of "multi-screening." That means we are part of the 77% of consumers watching TV while on other devices. I am on my laptop writing and researching and she is on her tablet playing games and checking mail and messages. It is annoying. We know that.

Of course, the original land of distraction is the classroom. Students have always been distracted. Before the shiny object was a screen full of apps, passing notes was texting, and doodling in your notebook and the cute classmates sitting nearby were the social media. But I have seen four articles on The Chronicle website about "The Distracted Classroom" lately. Is distraction on the rise?

If you are a teacher or student, does your school or your own classroom have a policy on using laptops and phones? If yes, is it enforced?  Anyone who has been in a classroom lately of grade 6 or higher knows that if students have phones or laptops out in class for any reason they are texting, surfing the web, or posting on social media.

Good teachers try to make classes as interactive as possible. We engage students in discussions, group work and active learning, but distractions are there.

Banning devices isn't a good solution. Things forbidden gain extra appeal.

distractionsA few books I have read discuss the ways in which distraction can interfere with learning. In The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World , the authors say that distraction occurs when we are pursuing a goal that really matters and something blocks our efforts to achieve it. Written by a neuroscientist, Adam Gazzaley, and a psychologist, Larry D. Rosen, they join other researchers who report that our brains aren't built for multitasking. This compares to a time a few decades ago when being able to multitask was consider a positive skill.

It seems that the current belief is that we don't really multitask. We switch rapidly between tasks. Any distractions and interruptions, including the technology-related ones - act as "interference" to our goal-setting abilities. 

But is this a new problem or has our brain always worked this way? Is the problem really more about the number of possible distractions and not our "rewired" brains?

Nicholas Carr sounded an alarm in 2011 with The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains, arguing that our growing exposure to online media means our brains need to make cognitive changes. The deeper intellectual processing of focused and critical thinking, gets pushed aside in favor of the faster processes like skimming and scanning.

Carr contends that the changes to the brain's "wiring" is real. Neural activity shifts from the hippocampus' deep thinking, to the prefrontal cortex where we are engaged in rapid, subconscious transactions. Substitute speed for accuracy. Prioritize impulsive decision-making over deliberate judgment. 

In the book Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom  the author asks questions such as Why Do Students Remember Everything That's on Television and Forget Everything I Say? and Why Is It So Hard for Students to Understand Abstract Ideas? and gives some science and suggestions as answers. But these are difficult questions and simple answers are incomplete answers in many cases.

Some teachers decide to use the tech that is being a distraction to gain attention. I had tried using a free polling service (Poll Everywhere) which allows students to respond/vote using their laptops or phones. You insert questions into your presentation software, and that allows you to track, analyze, and discuss the responses in real time. The problem for me is that all that needs to be pre-planned and is awkward to do on-the-fly, and I am very spontaneous in class with my questioning. Still, the idea of using the tech in class rather than banning it is something I generally accept. But that can't be done 100% of the time, so distracted use of the tech is still going to occur.

bubbleAnd the final book on my distraction shelf is The Filter Bubble. The book looks at how personalization - being in our own bubble - hurts the Internet as an open platform for the spread of ideas. The filter bubble puts us in an isolated, echoing world. The author, Eli Pariser, subtitles the book "How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think." Pariser coined the term “filter bubble.” The term is another one that has come up o the news in talking about the rise of Donald Trump and the news bubble that we tend to live in, paying attention to a personalized feed of the news we agree with and filtering out the rest.

Perhaps creating a filter bubble is our way of coping with the attention economy and a way to try to curate what information we have to deal with every day.

Then again, there were a number of things I could have done the past hour instead of writing this piece. I could have done work that I actually get paid to do. I could have done some work around my house. But I wrote this. Why? 

Information overload and non-stop media is hurting my/our discipline for focus and self-control.

Michael Goldhaber defined the attention economy in this more economic way: "a system that revolves primarily around paying, receiving and seeking what is most intrinsically limited and not replaceable by anything else, namely the attention of other human beings.” In order for that economy to be profitable, we must be distracted. Our attention needs to be drawn away from the competition.

As a secondary school teacher for several decades, I saw the rise of ADHD. That was occurring before the Internet and lack of attention, impulsivity and boredom were all symptoms. It worsened after the Internet was widespread, but it was there before it and all the personal digital devices.

Back in 1971,  Herbert A. Simon observed that “what information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

We are collectively wiser than ever before. We have the wisdom of the world in a handheld computer connected to almost everything. But it is so difficult to filter out the distractions and garbage that we don't have a lot of success translating information into knowledge. People used to say that finding out something on the Internet was like taking a sip from a fire hose. Search filtering has helped that, but so far the only filters for our individual brains are self-created and often inadequate.


You Are a Data Point

Does it disturb you to be thought of as a "data point" or "test subject"? A data point is a discrete unit of information, a single fact usually derived from a measurement or research. A person as a data point can be represented numerically or graphically. That sounds pretty cold. 
An article on about Western Governors University (WGU), a nonprofit, online-only institution that enrolls 80,000 students worldwide, talks about how it has enlarged its institutional-research office the past few years and how students are very much data points. Of course, students, as well as employees and customers offer a valuable source of data for researchers.
In an educational setting, this data could be used to improve student outcomes and to make assessments that can lead to improvement in learning design and delivery..
One of the often stated benefits of MOOCs has been the opportunity to use these very large courses to obtain data about how students learn online. Critics of this approach say that learning online in a class of 25 versus a class of several thousand are not comparable experiences. And are there valid comparisons to how students learn online to learning in a face-to-face class? That has been argued for several decades. 
WGU is also a competency-based institution. Standardized measurements and goals are how their courses are designed. If not a good thing for a student's education, it certainly is an approach that is great for researchers who can hold certain variables constant while testing tools and interventions to see how they influence students.
No one likes to be thought of as just a number. It reminds me of sci-fi novels and media about the future like 1984 and Brave New World (or the cult favorite TV series, The Prisoner, illustration at top). But we are all very much considered as data points by advertisers and in many modern technologies, social networks and institutions.

Getting to the Level of Social Learning


"The Cognitive Science Behind Learning" is an article that discusses the idea of viewing different levels as a way to approach the study of cognitive science and learning.

It views cognitive science as an "umbrella term to incorporate all levels of human behavior from neural to social, and it includes contributions from many disciplines including philosophy, anthropology, neuroscience, psychology, sociology and more."

It is widely accepted that at the most basic level we have the neural level. That is looking at learning as something that is about forming and strengthening the connections between neurons in our brains. There is not a lot that an educator can do about that level in the classroom.

As educators, we are more concerned about what we might see at the next two levels. The main one we always discuss is the cognitive level, where "learning and instruction is about designed action and guided reflection."

For me, the importance at this level is that human learning is very connected to pattern-matching and meaning-making. Though some of those abilities are formed through some ability to perform by rote repeatedly and accurately, that is not the key to learning. Of course, it is the main thing we do in classrooms and it is generally what we assess in our grading. There are certainly courses that require learning a lot of information, but I agree with the author, Clark Quinn, that "Too often learning leaders make courses when the information doesn’t have to be in the head, it just needs to be on hand."

Quinn spends much less time on a higher level that I believe we should spend more time examining - social learning. Social learning theory is something I associate with Albert Bandura. It considers that learning is a cognitive process that takes place in a social context. It can occur purely through observation or direct instruction, even in the absence of motor reproduction or direct reinforcement.

In the early 1960s, Albert Bandura conducted what is known as the Bobo doll experiment. In the experiment, he had children observe a video of an adult aggressively playing with toys, including a Bobo doll. The large blow-up Bobo doll looks like a clown, and the adult hit the doll, knocked it down and even jumped on it while yelling words like 'pow!' and 'kick him!' When the children were subsequently allowed to play with a variety of toys, including the Bobo doll, more than half of the children modeled the adult and engaged in the same aggressive behaviors with the Bobo doll. This modeling was called Bandura's social learning theory.

Some of social learning occurs naturally in social classroom settings. Some of this theory has also been adopted by advertisers and marketers in social media settings. Social learning theory is most effective when four processes occur. Let me end here by just suggesting that every educator should consider their use of these processes intentionally and unintentionally in their teaching. The four processes are attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation.