Computer Science students in Los Angeles discuss their project.
Computer Science students in Mississippi present their work.

REAL-CS Student Voices 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.

We are very inspired by civil rights and math educator Robert Moses (2001) who wrote in his book Radical Equations that only youth can “provide a necessary counter-narrative to the dominant culture that too commonly assumes that these [minoritized] youth don’t care and they don’t want to learn” (p.18). By amplifying traditionally underrepresented students’ voices about what matters most for their CS education pathways, our project will reveal what computer science could really be and do if all students felt a sense of “rightful presence” (Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2019) in the field.

As the Computer Science (CS) for All movement spreads nationwide, it is critical to learn about students’ CS experiences in order to understand if and how historically underrepresented youth in CS—including students of color, low-income students, and young women—are gaining opportunities to feel empowered to pursue CS or incorporate CS into their future learning, personal interests, and/or career pathways. Students are best positioned to tell us what is working or not in terms of their CS engagement, identity, agency, and learning. Our project seeks to amplify their voices to understand: If the world of CS previously felt inaccessible, what helps students feel like they can identify as computer scientists? What student learning experiences allow CS to truly be for all?” We believe that students need a seat at the table in shaping the CSforAll movement.

Student Voice Project Contexts

This research project is taking place in two different regions of the US. We are working in partnership with teachers and students in the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is a majority Latinx urban schooling context. We are also working in partnership with teachers and students in the Northern and Delta regions of Mississippi, which are majority Black rural schooling contexts with a rich Civil Rights history.

Student Voices

We believe the kind of systemic change necessary to prepare our young people for the demands of the twenty-first century requires young people to take the lead in changing it.”
– Civil rights and math educator Robert Moses
in Radical Equations, 2001, p.19

Watch this film featuring the voices of students in Los Angeles Unified School District Computer Science classes!

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.

Mississippi students collaborate on a project identifying different formats and functions for data.
Los Angeles Computer Science students work on robotics.

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.

National Science Foundation logo

The UCLA CS Equity Project stands in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter protests of the murder of George Floyd and all other Black men and women who have been victims of police violence. We decry the dehumanization that Black communities and low-income communities of color endure through inequitable access to education, health, employment, and housing resources. Our work in computer science education will continue to challenge historical systemic racism, inequality, and injusticeWe commit to research and taking action against inequitable educational practices and policies and we will continue to amplify the voices, perspectives, and experiences of historically marginalized students of color.