CSC News

March 30, 2021

NC State #1 in World for Computer Science Education Research

North Carolina State University was recently cited as the #1 institution worldwide for Computer Science Education research based on publication data collected between 2015-2020 and presented at the 2021 SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education. This ranking was based on factors including publications by institution, participation in doctoral consortia, and participation as contributors to Computer Science Education (CSEd). 


Computer science education research is not the act of teaching, nor is it educational technology research. As defined by Dr. Amy Ko from the University of Washington, Seattle, CSEd research is “the study of how people learn and teach computing, broadly construed.” This includes inventing new ways of learning and teaching computer science. 


“CSEd is important because access to high-quality computer science education is an issue of equity. Since practically all work is on computers, and so many decisions are being made by algorithms, every person has a need to understand how computers work, how algorithms and computer programs are made,” says Dr. Tiffany Barnes, Professor and faculty member of the Center for Educational Informatics.


Dr. Sarah Heckman, Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Professor and Director of Undergraduate Programs, recognizes the importance of CSEd research, “Research in computing education is needed to better understand how to educate computer scientists and software engineers to maintain, create, and improve the software systems we use today and need for tomorrow while protecting the security and privacy of the users”, says Heckman. She adds that everyone needs some education in computing to understand how their data might be used and to establish digital literacy to work and thrive in our modern world. 


The faculty of the Computer Science Department at NC State are working on several noteworthy CSEd research projects. For instance, Dr. Collin Lynch, Associate Professor and faculty member of the Center for Educational Informatics, is currently working on research that “...cuts across areas of study habits, practice, and collaboration.” His research studies how students learn through their study habits, seeking help, collaborating with others, and evaluating their progress. He adds that his team is also working on a dynamic platform for deliberate practice in CSC courses designed to support students in problem-solving training. 


Barnes is also working on a number of CSEd research projects, “We are creating a new class called CS Frontiers that is designed for high school girls to access education about cutting edge CS concepts including distributed computing, internet of things, machine learning/artificial intelligence, and software engineering/games.” She adds that her lab is also working on research to automatically determine when a student may require assistance with a programming assignment and building an adaptive, immediate feedback system to provide students with their progress on their programming assignments. 


The paper presented at the 2021 SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, “Where is Computer Science Education Research Happening?”, analyzed 1,099 publications from 2015 to 2020 that were collected from the Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (ITiCSE) and ACM International Computing Education Research (ICER) conferences, and from the ACM Transactions on Computing Education (TOCE) journal. ITiCSE and ICER are two major international conferences, and TOCE is a leading journal in CSEd. However, the ITiCSE and ACM ICER conferences are not the only conferences that the Department of Computer Science faculty publish in. The faculty publishes papers in many other noteworthy conferences and publications. 


From this analysis, researchers found that North Carolina State University produced the greatest count of publications, generating 73 CSEd research publications between 2015 and 2020 coming from 32 unique authors. Additionally, NC State was tied for having the second-highest student participation in doctoral consortiums worldwide.


Although the paper was presented at the SIGCSE Technical Symposium, the symposium was not included in the analysis. However, the authors of the paper suggest including it in future research. Notably, NC State has had the most attendees of any institution for the past two years of face-to-face SIGCSE Technical Symposiums. This year, NC State is currently #3 in attendance at the 2021 SIGCSE Technical Symposium. 


“This distinction reflects the dedication of NC State faculty to high-quality computer science education that is driven by data, empirical evidence, and research, and our long-standing focus on broadening participation and CS education as valid research areas for computer scientists,” says Barnes. She adds that the faculty at NC State uses innovative methods to effectively teach computer science, improve courses, and improve education for teachers and learners.


Some of the faculty from NC State engaged in CSEd research are members of the Center for Educational Informatics (CEI). CEI consists of 21 total faculty and staff, as well as 14 affiliated faculty (across campus) and 45 graduate students in computer science, with additional students across disciplines like Art and Design. The CEI is a university-wide center that is internationally recognized as a research hub for AI-augmented learning technologies. CEI research spans virtual tutors for learning and teaching, affective computing for interactive learning, intelligent game-based learning environments, and more.


Dr. James Lester, Distinguished University Professor of Computer Science and Director of CEI said, “We are proud of CEI’s role in computer science education and are delighted to see the impact that we are having at both the national and international levels. Many CEI faculty are leaders in computer science education research and are at the forefront of efforts to both understand how students learn computer science and how to help K-12 teachers and university faculty more effectively teach computer science.”


“We apply advanced computing technology to understand how to teach and how students learn. We are a uniquely talented group of people who apply the unique skills of data analysis and system development. CEI is also the largest group of CS faculty working on Computer Science for education including CSEd,” says Dr. Noboru Matsuda, Associate Professor and faculty member of CEI. 


However, it is important to recognize the faculty who are not members of the CEI, but who are contributing to many of the articles that gave NC State the #1 ranking. Heckman is working on innovative CSEd research to identify the most effective ways to help students, “My work is currently focused on help-seeking and how to support interactions between students and teaching assistants… I'm interested in utilizing data to identify productive and unproductive patterns for completing programming projects. If we can identify unproductive patterns, we might be able to develop interventions to get students the right help at the right time to maximize learning.”


As a growing discipline, new developments are being made globally to better prepare future researchers and teachers in CSEd. Most recently, at NC State, there have been plans to create a K-12 conputer science education certification program, promote research-based tools and practices in classrooms, and generate identification and intervention efforts for struggling students. Additional plans include broadening participation and diversity and inclusion efforts in CSEd, establishing efforts for teacher preparation, and creating cross-institutional working groups. 


Barnes acknowledges the significance of the partnerships that NC State maintains, “We would not be able to do all of this without strong partnerships with North Carolina schools and collaboration with the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation. North Carolina State University has demonstrated a strong commitment to computer science education and related research through its Digital Transformation of Education cluster within the Chancellor's Faculty Excellence Program, and through funding the Game-Changing Research and Innovation Program that supported NC State researchers in expanding our efforts to broaden access to computer science education in K-12 in North Carolina.”


There are several Department of Computer Science faculty members who have contributed greatly to the CSEd research at NC State who were not mentioned in this article. However, we recognize the immense impact they have had in this area, “We have a fantastic group of faculty who are involved in the research and practice of computing education excellence. I look forward to the work that we'll continue doing in shaping computing education research through various pathways in computing both at NC State and around the world,” says Heckman. 


As a leader in CSEd research, the Computer Science Department at NC State will continue to explore strategies that allow the department to focus and promote its leadership in the computer science education research space. 



Return To News Homepage