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Using Degree Experience Plans to Improve Engagement, Retention, and Diversity of Undergraduates in Computer Science: 1829542

Principal Investigator: Philip Johnson
CoPrincipal Investigator(s): Seungoh Paek, Carleton Moore, Peter Leong
Organization: University of Hawaii

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that computer science and related industries will grow faster than any other area over the next ten years. Unfortunately, it is also predicted that U.S. universities will not be able to meet this demand. One problem is retention: fewer than 40% of students who enter college with the intention of majoring in a STEM field such as computer science complete their degree. Another problem is diversity: the already low percentage of women and underrepresented minorities in computer science is actually decreasing. Thus, the computer science field has not been able to engage a large sector of potential computer scientists to meet the growing demand. This project will assess a new approach to improving engagement, retention, and diversity in undergraduate computer science majors. The approach has two components: a conceptual framework called “Degree Experience Plans” and an open-source software system for developing and managing these plans. Degree Experience Plans give equal status to curricular (courses) and extracurricular activities (e.g., discipline-oriented events; activities; clubs). To put extracurricular activities on par with curricular activities, Degree Experience Plans replace students’ grade point average as the single metric for success with a three-component metric that assesses student development with respect to innovation, competency, and experience. Each student’s Degree Experience Plan also includes a representation of their disciplinary interests and career goals, which helps them assess the relevance of potential curricular and extracurricular activities. Although the project focuses on computer science education, the approach could support improvements in retention and graduation in other STEM disciplines.

Research on improving diversity and retention in STEM disciplines, as well as research on individual learning plans and communities of practice, point to the potential value of a more holistic representation of the undergraduate degree experience. This project will gain insight into the factors that help or hinder adoption of Degree Experience Plans; the impact of adoption on undergraduate retention and diversity; whether the Degree Experience Plans differentially impact students based on demographic factors; and the factors that help or hinder its ability to effect institutional and community change. The Degree Experience Plan system will be integrated into the undergraduate computer science degree program at the University of Hawaii for all three years of the project period. Each semester, qualitative and quantitative data will be collected to support longitudinal studies of its impact over time. It is expected that these data will enable evaluation of the ability of the Degree Experience Plans to increase retention and to support community and institutional transformation. During the last year of the project, the technology will be piloted at two other undergraduate programs (Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Hawaii; Department of Computer Science at University of California, Fresno) and three NSF INCLUDES sites (Arizona State University, Delaware State University, and Montclair University). These pilots will enable the investigators to compare the impact of Degree Experience Plans in other degree programs and at other institutions.

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.

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