Australian Catholic University creates lasting success through partnerships
Today, an estimated 75 percent of Australian jobs in fast-growing industries, such as technology and healthcare, require skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In response to this need, the Australian government revamped its mandatory primary and secondary school technology curriculum in 2015.
Mandated technology curricula are successful when educators are prepared to teach concepts like computational thinking — the ability to confidently and logically process complex, open-ended problems in the classroom and in everyday life. Despite the need accelerated by the Australian mandate, few universities offer training programs for teachers to learn computational thinking (CT) and computer science (CS).
Another related challenge is a lack of community for aspiring and existing CS educators. Many primary and secondary schools only have one CS teacher, who might have responsibilities in other subjects, too. It’s therefore crucial to connect educators with their peers at other schools so they can exchange lesson plans, trade ideas and discuss common challenges.
“Google's CS4HS funding allowed us to create comprehensive CS professional development resources and build an extremely valuable network of educators all moving toward the same goal of improving the quality of computer science education in Australian schools.”
ACU offers Australia’s largest pre-service teacher training program and was early to recognize the need for better trained CS educators. In 2015, the university applied for funding from Google’s CS4HS program to develop a new compulsory course for all Bachelor of Education Primary School teachers. The open-source course trains teachers in Australia’s new Digital Technologies Curriculum with a focus on CT and CS. In 2016, ACU applied for CS4HS funding to develop a second course, which trains secondary school teachers in the new curriculum and practice, and includes a scalable online delivery module.
ACU leverages the expertise of fellow CS4HS recipients in Australia and New Zealand to amplify their work. CS4HS funding allowed ACU to bring Professor Tim Bell, founder of CS Unplugged, for hands-on workshops with teachers in Australia. CS Unplugged provides free activities that demonstrate effective ways of teaching CS and CT without a computer. ACU also works with Adelaide University, who developed MOOCs for K-8 teachers with local support from Google Australia, to create online communities for teachers. The communities provide a space for both pre-service teachers and those in the classroom to connect to share practical activities, inspiration and encouragement.
Achieving exponential scale
By open-sourcing the pre-service training curriculum, ACU gives other universities a solid foundation upon which to create their own Bachelor and Master of Education programs. Workshops and “TeachMeets”, informal meetings organized by educators for educators, leverage the work of partners like Adelaide University’s MOOCs and Tim Bell’s CS Unplugged to help scale education and professional learning without recreating workshop material and professional development resources.
Many teachers who participate network with other educators, creating a ripple effect of CS knowledge sharing. “Kathleen, who is a pre-service teacher, attended one of our course meetups because she wanted to learn basic technology skills,” says Leanne Cameron, an Educational Studies lecturer at ACU. “Now, she leads workshops that support teachers who are enrolled in the MOOC.”
Creating a network of computer science teachers in Australia — and beyond
ACU organizes networking and professional development events for hundreds of teachers across Australia who are dedicated to improving CS education in their local communities, and teachers often organize meetups on their own and exchange ideas on social media. "I follow over 600 educators on Twitter, and browse hashtags like #ozcschat or #ictensw for ideas and articles. I also participate in #aussieED chats, formal discussions organized by a professional development organization," says Kathleen O'Rourke, a pre-service teacher at Macquarie University who recently completed CSER F-6 Digital Technologies: Foundations.
Fostering a strong foundation in computational thinking
ACU’s courses are designed to do more than teach a theoretical level of CS: they teach educators how to foster CT skills. “A lot of students are able to perform basic computer functions, but they don’t know how to apply computational thinking to real-world problems,” says Cameron. Teachers are trained to help students develop this mindset.
Developing real-life problem-solving skills
The courses include practical assignments, such as the CS Unplugged activities. Teachers are encouraged to try different approaches to learning — for example, experimenting with small robotics, circuitry and other hands-on hardware. Early results from ACU’s evaluation process show that teachers are more likely to use hands-on CS lesson plans in the classroom after they try these activities themselves. Lecturers and guest speakers emphasize that educators can be impactful in CS education without being an expert. It’s much more important to employ a mindset of computational thinking: be curious, take risks and try new things.
“With generous support from Google through the CS4HS program, we have been able to upskill in excess of 300 primary school teachers and pre-service teachers and 50 secondary teachers from across the south-east Queensland region. The change in the confidence and preparedness to rollout the new Digital Technologies curriculum has been dramatic.”
“After the [CS4HS workshop] I'm becoming a 'Computer Science teacher' and I will grow every year. So, more of this CS4HS please.”
“Google's involvement in CS4HS in NZ has been a massive benefit to the country, and every teacher I have spoken too has been extremely grateful for the professional development made possible by Google's funding, due to the lack of other resources in the country.”
“The [CS4HS workshop] provides a platform for the teachers to share and learn from each other. Ultimately, motivate interest in Computer Science in K-12 Environment, to make the students comprehend the principles of computers and sophisticated thinking of solve problems, fostering students computational thinking, to develop their problem-solving methods and self-access to knowledge.”
“The [CS4HS workshop] won huge popularity with the participants as it could better meet the needs of their day-to-day teaching practice in terms of content and form. The goal is to achieve the idea of "Computer Science For All", which requires the teachers to spread the knowledge and skills they acquired in the program to their students as a whole.”
“This [CS4HS workshop] has greatly promoted the popularization of computer education, has pushed the development of the Educational Technology Education forward, and has helped to foster a great amount of IT talents in China.”
“Our initial CS4HS grants were instrumental in gathering critical mass to form an operational CSTA chapter in Wisconsin. Furthermore, it laid the groundwork for a network of CS teachers around the state to begin sharing resources, advocating for state-level change in the capitol, and advising us at the university level.”
“Over the last four years, we have seen tremendous progress in computer science education and advocacy in New Jersey. I don't think we would have come nearly as far if it weren't for Google's support of CS4HS and the relationships and discussions initiated at the workshops. Thank you.”
“The response to CS professional development opportunities from Texas teachers has been outstanding. If you provide teachers with useful, high quality training and support teachers financially to attend, they will gladly step up to the plate to learn these new skills. Thanks to Google for helping The University of Texas at Austin to create this support network and build capacity to provide CS education to every Texas student.”