Student Perceptions of Computer Science: A Retention Study Comparing Graduating Seniors vs. CS Leavers Maureen Biggers Anne Brauer Tuba Yilmaz Georgia Institute of TechnologyAtlanta, Georgia, USA
College of Computingat a Glance • 800 Undergraduates • 450 MS • 290 PhD Admissions uses “Blind Process” to admit entire freshman class BS-CS Graduation rate is approximately 60%
Created in 2007 for work in/on pipeline related issues Research projects Retention Peer Led Team Learning Why NOT CS? Paths through computing NSF projects STARS Alliance for the Advancement of African-American Researchers in Computing CPATH - Exploration of Threads in Multi-institutional Settings Georgia Computes
Vincent Tinto’s Student Integration Model Academic System Commitments Commitments Academic Integration Personal Goal Com-mitment Grade Performance FORMAL Intellectual Development Family Background Personal Goal Commitment Decision To Stay or Leave Individual Attributes Peer-Group Interactions INFORMAL Faculty Interactions Social Integration Institution Com-mitment Institutional Commitment Pre-College Schooling Tinto, Vincent. 1993. Leaving College: Rethinking the Causes and Cures of Student Attrition. Chicago : University of Chicago Press.
Study Questions • What can we learn from the students of 2007 who chose to leave the computer science major (Leavers)? • What can we learn from students who remained and graduated with a BS-CS degree in 2007 (Stayers)? • How do their perspectives differ? • Are there any gender differences?
Finally, when Leavers are compared to Stayers what, if any, insights arise that might inform us and lead to action plans for increased CS retention?
Former CS Majors Surveyed • Spring 06 – 249 former CS majors still enrolled in other GT majors • Response rate = 48% (N=119) 86% male/14% female • When left the major: • 27.4% left after one semester • 35.9% after two semesters • 12.8% after three • 12.8% after four • 11.1% after more than two years.
CS Degree Candidates Surveyed • Spring 2007 degree candidates N = 99 Response rate = 51.5% (N=51) 10% female 90% male
Why did you initially decide to major in CS? • Good at math or science • Like to solve problems • Participated in a camp or workshop that influenced me • Teacher or advisor’s influence • Wanted to be able to get a well paying job after graduation • Not sure • Family member recommended it • Attracted to the challenge of a good curriculum • Potential to receive a good scholarship • Someone I know is a computer scientist
How would you describe the CS major at Georgia Tech?” • Comparable numbers of students from both groups mentioned that the major demanded a lot of time • Leavers mentioned that the demand on time was specifically negative. Stayers responses were almost all neutral when they described the time commitment required by the major (z = -2.057, p < .05)
Curriculum… • Graduating students responded significantly more positively about curriculum: 60% compared to 20% of leavers (z = 5.253, p < .05) • “Rewarding,” “Like being part of something new and very ambitious,” and “Very hard, but in the end you come out very prepared.”
Workload • Stayers was a neutral comment on the workload (usually that it was difficult, or challenging) followed by a positive comment on the curriculum.
How do you define computer science/computing • CS grads defined computer science as “creating the applications, processes, and tools that allow computers to solve real world problems” • Leavers have much narrower view: “the study of computer software,” “the study of how computers think and work,” and “learning how to manipulate code.”
Leavers • Tended to focus on negative job environment: “Sitting at the computer with minimal human interaction”; “Boring.” “Coding/debugging code in front of a computer screen all day”
CS Grads • “Writing programs … to solve problems facing our world” • “The fruits of computing are everywhere in our lives.” • “You can build your own world; the only limit is your imagination.”
Although asked to define what computer science is, a significant proportion of recent graduates specifically responded with what CS is not. They specified that CS is not about information technology (IT), about fixing hardware, or about purely being a “code monkey” (p < .05). • Precisely these types of definitions appeared significantly often in the responses of the Leavers (p < .05).
Females I did not feel as if I belonged I am unhappy with my CS grades Excessive workload CS curriculum did not provide enough flexibility A non-computer science career would be more fulfilling to me CS classes were unfriendly Males A non-computer science career would be more fulfilling to me I did not feel as if I belonged CS curriculum is too narrow and could not bring together my interests outside of CS CS classes were boring I am unhappy with my CS grades CS curriculum did not provide enough flexibility Rank order of reasons for leaving the major (top 6)
Single most important factor for decision to leave.. • Loss of interest in the field and its potential careers with, in large part, a very limited perspective of possibilities. “I simply did not want to spend my career programming or anything similar to it.” “I realized that I did not want to do code for the rest of my life.” “I realize I am not a technical person.”
Differences between current major and CS • natureand quality of human interaction “The biggest difference I found when I was considering a major change was the amount of human interaction, from working with professors to fellow students – there was just more person to person contact in my new major. It would be debatable whether or not the classes or workload was ‘easier’….I could work hard and make good grades while enjoying every minute of it.” 2) “My new major shares the long-nights, long hours of work that CS has. However, the class sizes are small and the level of interaction between students/faculty as well as between peers is unparalleled.”
Differences between current major and CS • rigor and workload “The workload is slightly less but I feel that less of it is pointless busywork – the classes are also generally much easier – sometimes too easy.” “The classes are not as time consuming. The workload can be done in less time so you can still have some time to yourself on the week-end to go to a football game and not feel guilty.”
Differences between current major and CS • Curriculum has a more relevant connection to the real world “With CS you are being trained to do a task, and that’s all – there isn’t much room for personal growth aside from getting better at the specific tasks in CS. With my current major MANY of the things we do in class are relevant to situations that occur in daily life. I can talk about what I do in class now with other people and NOT have them stare blankly at me with no idea of what I am talking about.” “I like how my IE major involves both the business world and the technical side of things. The workload is just enough lighter for us to understand the material and how to apply it to the real world.”
Other differences… • seeing more career options in the new major • a more fair grading policy
Summary Insights: Leavers • Overwhelming perception that CS is an asocial, coding-only field with little connection to the outside world. • 60% left after 1 year- and after experiencing only programming courses • High quality interactions and relationships with faculty and peers seem to be important • Sense of inadequate preparation tied with lack of career vision fosters major changes • Academic success is a factor
Tinto’s Model of Departure…... Family Background Academic System Intentions Skills and Abilities Goal and Institutional Commitments Social System Prior Schooling INITIAL GOALS AND COMMITMENTS PRE-ENTRY ATTRIBUTES INSTITUTIONAL EXPERIENCES
Academic Performance Faculty/Staff Interactions ACADEMICSYSTEM FORMAL INFORMAL Extracurricular Activities Peer-Group Interactions SOCIAL SYSTEM INSTITUTIONAL EXPERIENCES
Academic System Academic Integration Intentions Stay or Leave Decision Goal and Institutional Commitments Social System Social Integration External Commitments PERSONAL / NORMATIVE INTEGRATION EVOLVED GOALS AND COMMITMENTS INSTITUTIONAL EXPERIENCES OUTCOME
Implications for Retention: Challenges and Action Plans CHALLANGE: Limited exposure to big picture of CS in intro/first year = loss of interest. (Academic Integration) ACTION PLAN: Implement a systematic way to present CS as more than coding. This must be done very early and be on-going .
CHALLENGE: Coursework was lacking in relevancy. (Academic Integration) ACTION PLAN: Contextualize the assignments and courses and use real world issues even when teaching the basics; promote undergraduate research experiences in computing (UROC).
CHALLENGE: Perception of asocial community with low levels of human interaction including student-faculty and peer-peer. (Social Integration) ACTION PLAN: Foster the development of community on a variety of levels within the computer science department. Promote social integration via SIG’s; small class freshman CS seminars connected to faculty fellows; peer mentoring programs; learning communities; service learning; collaborative learning
CHALLENGE: Students who enter with no formal CS coursework leave at higher rates. So do students who enter feeling less than confident that they have made the correct choice of major. (Academic Integration) ACTION PLAN: Identify these students before they arrive (entering freshman survey) and design a program that addresses their needs and promotes success. Implement developmental academic advising; mentor for diversity.
CHALLENGE: Students who perceive the workload as tedious, boring, time consuming and not worth it also lack vision and understanding of opportunities a career in CS affords them and they leave within a limited time. (Academic Integration) ACTION PLAN: Create vision and excitement around the major and network them with positive role models and hands on experiences with projects/assignments they can relate to; promote undergraduate research; problem based learning.
CHALLENGE: Academic success (grades) matters (Academic Integration) • ACTION PLAN: Develop early warning programs -Early feedback/testing; use peer led team learning; SI; pair programming; tutoring (“consultants”); sponsor learning communities and student groups; positive comments on tests; message = we want to support your success