Researching Early Access to Computing and Higher Education (REACH): Understanding CS pathways with a focus on Black women
Effective Years: 2022-2025
This research project seeks to examine longstanding inequities in access to and participation in computer science (CS) education. Decades of research have shown that certain subgroups (e.g., women, students with disabilities, underrepresented minority students) tend to face substantial barriers to participating in CS courses and programs. As computing education continues to expand in K-12 education systems, it is important to understand how early experiences in computing education relate to enrollment in computing courses and programs in college. By combining quantitative analyses of large-scale enrollment data and student surveys with qualitative data from focus groups and interviews, this project aims to inform efforts to broaden and diversify participation in computing education. Specifically, this project seeks to systematically answer how K-12 computing experiences influence students as they pursue higher education and whether and how that influence differs for distinct subpopulations of students.
The goal of this mixed-methods project is to examine equity in computer science (CS) education by investigating the relationship between students’ computing experiences in K-12 and higher education with a focus on the experiences of Black women. The theoretical frameworks guiding this research are Black Feminist Thought, specifically intersectionality, and social capital theory. The project spans three levels of data collection and analysis: state, institution, and individual experience. These levels have reference not to the unit of analysis (all three levels utilize student-level data) but rather to the way the data are organized. Cluster analysis of statewide education data will be used to identify computer science course taking patterns in middle and high school. Multilevel modeling will then be employed to investigate how these course taking patterns are related to participation in computing courses and programs in college. Focus will be placed on understanding how these relationships differ for distinct groups of students. Findings from these analyses will be coupled with analyses of college student surveys to better understand how students’ experiences in K-12 influenced their opportunities, challenges, and decisions regarding computing education in college. Finally, Black women who are majoring in CS will be engaged in data interpretation, focus groups, and interviews to better understand their unique experiences within the CS ecosystem. These analyses will help conceptualize broadening participation in computing along the K-16 pathway in a way that supports students, particularly Black women, in applying computing skills and knowledge to solve problems in a variety of disciplines.
This project is supported by NSF's EHR Core Research (ECR) program. The ECR program emphasizes fundamental STEM education research that generates foundational knowledge in the field. Investments are made in critical areas that are essential, broad, and enduring: STEM learning and STEM learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and STEM workforce development. The program supports the accumulation of robust evidence to inform efforts to understand, build theory to explain, and suggest interventions and innovations to address persistence.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.