Even during the economic slump accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic, there is strong demand for workers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, and computing represents two-thirds of projected new STEM jobs in the U.S.
Naturally middle and high-school administrators in Vermont recognize the importance of teaching computer science, but when it comes to finding educators certified in the field, hiring can be a daunting process.
“Currently only 27 people in Vermont are licensed to teach computer science,” says Lisa Dion, a lecturer in computer science at UVM and a member of a cross-college team that’s working to address the teacher shortage. “We see a great demand from principals and superintendents, but qualified teachers are in short supply.”
Dion is part of the Computer Science Education Collaborative (CSEC) established in 2018 by representatives from the College of Education and Social Services (CESS), the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS) and the Vermont Agency of Education. Broadly speaking, the group is addressing gaps and inequities in CS learning opportunities for students and teachers in Vermont.
One recent outcome of their work is the new UVM minor in computer science education that provides technical proficiency in CS and teaching methodology consistent with grade 7-12 state competency guidelines.
The collaborative received an internal grant from CESS and CEMS deans to align the skills provided in CS classes at UVM with the updated state guidelines in computer science education.
“When we compared state endorsement standards with the competencies taught in our CS classes, we realized most of the coursework we needed for the minor already existed,” said Regina Toolin, associate professor in CESS.
The addition of a capstone course “Methods of Teaching” provided the necessary training in teaching pedagogy. The proposed CS licensure program was approved by the UVM Faculty Senate in 2019 and the Vermont Agency of Education in 2020. The new education minor was offered to UVM students for the first time in the fall 2020 semester.
“Before this, you would not have been able to come to UVM and enroll in a program that directly leads to teacher certification in CS,” explained Toolin. “If you were a CS major and wanted to be certified, you would have needed to take extra coursework. This program provides a direct pathway for students to be certified in the field.”
Bridging the gap
The undergraduate program could provide a dependable pipeline supplying new CS educators to the state, but there is an urgent need for licensed CS teachers now.
“The other goal we’re working on is to get teachers already out there in the field and get them certified to be able to teach CS,” explains Bob Erickson, senior lecturer in CEMS and a member of the CSEC.
The collaborative found that 60% of Vermont high schools reported offering CS courses in 2020. But when data are disaggregated for socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and gender, only 50% of rural high schools in Vermont offer CS courses.
Nonetheless, interest in gaining licensure for CS education is high. Surveys conducted by the Department of Education and evaluations from a CS Summit hosted by the CSEC in 2019 confirmed that over 300 Vermont teachers were interested in CS professional learning opportunities and licensure.
In response, the collaborative is developing flexible licensure options for teachers already working in the field. The CSE Certificate Pathway would offer a blend of CS content and pedagogy courses aligned to the CS state endorsement standards. A CSE Individually Designed Pathway would serve teachers who have already earned some required CSE credits, or who have participated in CS professional workshops, but who may lack background in CS principles and teaching.
Some Vermont school districts also require graduate credits. “We’re looking at redesigning and combining education with CS content to create masters level coursework,” said Dion.
The group is also working on an NSF “Computer Science for All” grant to attract funding for developing the array of programming.
“There are still a lot of schools not teaching CS in any meaningful way, and that’s what this is all about: providing opportunities for students in this state to have more CS than they currently have, and leading to more people going into CS careers,” says Toolin.