I'm applying for the Free and Open Source Outreach Program for Women with Wikimedia! Check out my application!
The Tech Person's Education Primer
Name and contact information
- Name: Katie Cunningham
- Email: katieirenec at gmail
- IRC or IM networks/handle(s): katieirenec
- Location: Tucson, AZ / Lansing, MI
- Typical working hours: 10am-6pm MST / EDT (Here's a handy map of current times across the US!)
Technology and education are interconnecting more and more. Education technology (ed-tech) is an enthusiastically discussed industry, and the movement for formal computer science education is gaining momentum at all levels. Groups like Py*, Black Girls Code, and OpenHatch have been created to attract and teach "free-range" beginners programming and open source skills. Organizations like Wikimedia promote learning among those that use and contribute to their products, but also have a need to teach, guide and mentor new members in their communities.
However, few in the technology sphere are familiar with research about the science of teaching and learning. Researchers know a lot about how people learn, as well as how new technology has affected or not affected learning in the past. A short primer on best practices in teaching and mentoring should be created so technological people can quickly absorb this information and then make the most impact with the people they aim to integrate to their community. A better understanding of this area can help individuals and organizations in tech reach more diverse types of contributors, minimize attrition of volunteers, and maximize the ability of those newcomers to make future contributions to the community.
In the context of Wikimedia, engaging and recruiting new editors is currently one of the main goals of the Wikimedia Foundation. This "contributor engagement" goal primarily targets Wikipedia and its sister projects, but is also a concern in Wikimedia's tech community; formal mentorship programs are effective but don't scale to the size of whole communities. A comprehensive, well-organized and easy-to-read document offering best practices on how to mentor and on-board new participants in a tech environment would undeniably support those efforts, and allow for more peer-to-peer mentoring, experience sharing and co-learning.
The final goal is a 20,000-word freely licensed English document that can be read in 2-3 hours. It will summarize widely-applicable research about best teaching practices, with a special focus on the teaching of technical skills and on the audiences open source tech people usually teach. It will attempt to address the needs of the open source community, while keeping in mind that both the subjects and audience tech people are teaching are expanding due to the increase of ed-tech. It will be a resource that Wikimedians find easy to read and use in contexts like how-to-edit trainings and other teaching of new contributors. Its targeted audience is people with programming skill who have never done any reading or research in the field of education, but who want to help teach others to do technical tasks or create educational technology.
Intermediate goals will include weekly blog posts, progress on a bibliography, and coverage of the topics listed below. Although final topics for the paper will not be decided until after prewriting, the following general facts and related topics will guide the process.
Learning isn't just amassing facts (What people learn)
The connections between them, and the mental map of the terrain as a whole, are at least as important as cold hard facts. Learners also have to manage the cognitive load of the new things they are learning, a process that can become discouraging if it is overwhelming.
- Mental Models
- Notational Machines
- Working memory
Learning should address these models (How people learn)
There are ways that teachers can facilitate the building of the important mental models and make sure that students aren't overly taxed while learning. Furthermore, the typical self-directed learning process applauded in the programming world may not be widely applicable. Most people can't "just pick it up on their own": autodidacts are at most 10-15% of the population. In addition, people often find it hard to learn or make decisions when there's no emotion involved.
- Project-based and active learning
The playing field isn't level (There are other things going on)
Stereotype threat and other facts put people at a disadvantage even when there isn't overt discrimination. There are subtle effects at work that can add up to big effect on choices and performance.
- Environmental effects
- Imposter Syndrome
|Late April - May 1:||Guillaume, Greg and I introduce themselves, and I finish this application.|
|Acceptance - May 20||As time permits, I get a head start on the project.|
|May 20||My official start date (it's early to offset the time lost to Next Generation Sequencing workshop in June)|
|May 20 - June 6:||Lit review and prewriting.|
|June 7 - June 23||Katie works primarily at the Next Generation Sequencing workshop in Lansing|
|June 24 - June 30||Lit review and prewriting.|
|July 1 - July 21||Focus mainly on writing what people learn|
|July 21 - August 11||Focus mainly on writing how people learn|
|August 12 - Sept 1||Focus mainly on writing other things happening in the learning environment|
|Sept 2 - Sept 23||Buffer time and proofreading|
I've become passionate about computing education because I love computer science and because I see so much potential for computer science to advance other fields. I'm about to graduate from the University of Arizona with a B.S. in Computer Science and Molecular and Cellular Biology, so I've spent a lot of time with both computer scientists and biologists. I see how helpful a knowledge of computer science would be to so many scientists, saving them time processing data and allowing for new approaches to discovery through new algorithms. But currently, only a narrow segment of the population takes courses in computer science---even though basic programming skills can be as important as basic mathematical skills for many projects. The lack of exposure to real computer science and the fact that few seems to know about the importance of computer science until late in their education has become clear to me, both from the number of panicked phone calls I get from friends who can't figure out basic programming tasks in their labs and the number of attendees to workshops like Software Carpentry bootcamps or the introductory Python workshops I started at my university last year.
Improving the state of computer science education has the power to change this. It can help us not only get the additional software engineers and open source contributors we need, but also improve work in fields from linguistics to biochemistry. And for me, computer science education and outreach is just fun. Breaking down computer science concepts into small, easily understood pieces and disassembling misconceptions about the field so others can share my joy in computer science is awesome. It's what I fill my free time with, it's what I write about on my blog, and it's what I want to pursue in my career.
Mentors and interested parties
- Organization: Software Carpentry
- Role: Primary mentor, editor, research advisor
- Organization: Wikimedia
- Role: Secondary mentor, advice on user experience, formatting, integration with Wikimedia
Researchers at MSU
MSU consistently earns high rankings for its School of Education. There are many fantastic people at MSU who can guide me in completing this project. They include:
- Mark Urban-Lurain: a curriculum designer for engineering, a constructivist, and teacher of a "Foundations of Engineering Education" grad course.
- Julie Libarkin: an assessment specialist who has worked with Software Carpentry in the past.
- Cait Pickens: a graduate student in Computer Science education and summer intern of Software Carpentry who shares my interests.
The project will (most likely) be hosted as a book in the English Wikibooks collection. This will allow for easy collaboration while keeping the project open at all times.
I think the topic of education is very important to the tech community, so I plan to tweet and blog about what I'm reading and writing. I think this will help spark conversation around the topic. I plan to publish weekly blog posts (which will likely become part of the final product) on the Wikimedia blog or elsewhere. This will maximize the visibility of the project and allow more people to see a shorter, more easily digestible version of the content.
Communication with my mentors will take place mainly through email and wiki talk pages (their preferred method of communication). Occasional video chatting and IRC-ing may occur.
If I am accepted to the program, I plan to relocate to Lansing, MI for the summer in order to be able to interact with like-minded people at MSU, including the education researchers mentioned above and the Titus Brown lab, which supports computing education for biologists.
Past open source experience
My initial contribution for the OPW was helping "define and polish" the first draft of mediawiki.org's new Greeter page, as well as contributing to the Project:New_contributors/Starter_kit. Through this process I created a MediaWiki account, learned the basics of wiki markdown, and got a feel for the organization of Wikimedia's edit-based world. Be bold!
Any other info
Related projects by others
I plan to draw inspiration from these other projects that are in similar spirit:
- Cait Pickens' quals paper
- The EdTech Primer Wiki
- Software Carpentry Teaching and Learning Guide
- Possibly The Peeragogy project
More about my educational experience
I have a resume focusing on my teaching experience here.
Check out pictures of the beginning programing workshops for non-Computer Science majors that I organized on the UofA WICS flickr page.
I helped out at a Software Carpentry bootcamp for biologists held at University of Arizona, described here.