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Research Study to Focus on “What Makes Computer Science Interesting?”

Assistant professor Joshua Rosenberg is asking, “What makes computer science interesting?”

Rosenberg is the principal investigator on an upcoming research project that will analyze UT computer science students’ experiences in class and how those experiences affect their interest in the subject.

The project will study University of Tennessee undergraduates enrolled in computer science courses through the Experience Sampling Method. This method requires participants to record their thoughts and feelings about a given situation. In this case, students will record moments in their academic experiences and how those moments accumulate overtime and encourage prolonged interest in the field.

“We’re trying to find specific moments in their computer science experience,” Rosenberg said. “What we’re trying to do is step out of the course and find out is it going to a study hall or having a mentor or having an advisor. Can we go beyond a course and find out what matters most?”

This project will be an early contribution to computer science education research. The Experience Sampling Method has not been widely used to study education practices, making this a relatively new field of study.

As such, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is providing nearly $350,000 in funding through the Building Capacity in STEM Education Research and providing prerequisite resources to help Rosenberg and his associate researchers learn the best ways to gather this data, including attending workshops and research groups on other campuses.

“A unique part of this project is that the National Science Foundation gave us the resources to learn how to do this study and then to also do it,” Rosenberg said. “Typically, NSF and other sources of funding will say, ‘We’re giving you this money to do this because you’re experts in this,’ where NSF here is saying, ‘We want you to learn how to do it and do it well first, and then to actually go out and do it.”

Rosenberg hopes this research will reveal why computer science appeals to a specific demographic and what can be done to broaden that audience.

“It would be cool to see if we could eventually have more students from more diverse backgrounds in computer science,” Rosenberg said. “I would like to see UT become a more vibrant place for computer science ed, and I would like to expand who gets to do computer science.”

Rosenberg is an assistant professor in STEM education focusing upon science in the Department of Theory and Practice in Teacher Education.

Story written by: Sarah Plemmons, College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences Student Marketing Ambassador and senior in journalism and electronic media.