REAL-CS Project Overview

The mission of our project “Researching Equity, Access, and Learning in CS Education (REAL-CS),” is to highlight the voices and experiences of high school students historically underrepresented in CS who have had little to no prior experience with CS. We are specifically focused on students’ perspectives—that are currently lacking in the CS educational research landscape—to understand their sense of engagement, identity, and agency in computer science contexts that are focused on broadening participation in CS for All, such as Exploring Computer Science and Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles.

As the Computer Science (CS) for All movement spreads nationwide, it is critical to learn about students’ learning experiences in order to understand if and how historically underrepresented youth in CS—including students of color, low-income students, and females—are gaining opportunities to feel empowered to pursue CS or incorporate CS into their future learning, personal interests, and/or career pathways. If the world of CS previously felt inaccessible or if students do not feel that they belong in the current CS world, what helps so that students feel like they can identify as computer scientists? What student learning experiences allow CS to truly be for all?

At the Heart of Our Work: Our Definition of Equity

Our Definition of Equity:
We acknowledge and seek to challenge the historical and persistent segregation and inequities impacting our schools and CS education. This begins by recognizing that equality and equity are not the same. Equality suggests that all students receive equal education and resources; Equity refers to fairness and that teaching and resources are distributed according to different students’ needs while taking into account how certain students have been systematically denied access to educational resources, opportunities, and experiences based on race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, and disability. Thus change must happen on multiple levels, such as school structure (courses, teachers available), belief systems, pedagogy and policy. All students must receive education that includes 1) rigorous and engaging content knowledge, 2) a belief that with appropriate support, all students are capable of learning and succeeding, and 3) an empowering learning environment that welcomes, incorporates, and respects the identities, cultural assets, and cognitive skills that each student brings into the classroom (including intersectionalities and diverse experiences), so that the contributions of each student are valued and CS has meaning for students’ lives. The principles of equity guide our work in the REAL-CS Project in the following ways:

Documenting Inequity as well as Efforts to Challenge these Inequities:
We seek to document the ways that youth are being disenfranchised through structural inequality, institutional norms, racism, sexism, classism. Our research also seeks to document how leaders, educators, students, and parents actively counter experiences of inequity. We believe that all youth, regardless of race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, disability, immigrant status, must receive an education that provides a rigorous, empowering, and culturally responsive education.

Systemic and Intersectional Analysis:
Our systemic and intersectional analysis examines structural inequalities, belief systems, policies, and pedagogy. We recognize the pervasive presence and intersectionality of mutually-constructing systems of race, class, sexuality, gender, and immigration status oppression that impact students’ CS learning experiences. We respond to these findings by advocating for and helping to build pathways for change across structural, cultural, and systemic levels.

Centering Student Voice:
Our research amplifies student voices about students’ own educational and CS learning experiences. We focus on student identity (how do students see themselves as CS learners; do they feel that they belong in the world of CS), agency (do students see computer science as a vehicle for doing things that matter to them), and engagement (what/how are they learning). We observe classrooms through a sociocultural lens that recognizes interactions between teachers and students, students and students, and takes into account the entire school context, as well as the sociopolitical environment students are living in.

Our Funders

Our work is generously supported by the National Science Foundation (CNS-1743336) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Opinions expressed on this website are those of the authors and not the funding agencies.

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