CIRCL perspectives offer a window into the different worlds of various stakeholders in the cyberlearning community — what drives their work, what they need to be successful, and what they think the community should be doing. Share your perspective.
Karen Doore is a doctoral student in the Computer Science Department the University of Texas at Dallas.
How did you get started in cyberlearning?
I have a non-traditional background. I started out my undergraduate studies in Material Science & Engineering, but after graduating, I found it difficult to find employment in the rural area I was living in. After spending some time focusing on raising my family, including 3 children, I transitioned into the field of web design and development after taking some computer science and web design courses. This career path allowed me to integrate my passion for art and design, and also provided great flexibility to balance work and family life. Several years later I returned to school to earn my Masters in Computer Science with a specialization in Intelligent Systems. Then I worked for several years in the K-12 educational software industry as a software developer, data-integration system designer, and user-interface designer. I am currently a PhD candidate in the Computer Science department at the University of Texas at Dallas. My research is focused on studying the effects of interaction design to enhance learning of computing concepts.
Early on, I didn’t find computer science very interesting; actually, I found that learning to program was quite frustrating. However, as my knowledge and experience deepened, I came to have a whole new appreciation for the field of computing. I learned that computer science is not as hard as people may think, it is an extremely interesting and diverse field, and it allows for extremely flexible career paths. There’s a big opportunity in K-12 for computer science to be made more relevant to girls. I really believe that cyberlearning offers a new avenue for this: it holds the potential to make computer science more relevant to women, and I want to be a part of that.
You seem to be very interested in the fact that there is a decline in the number of women going into computer science. What do you think the cyberlearning community should be doing to change this?
I believe that cyberlearning has the potential to allow for learning computer science in a context that is authentic and engaging. While many computing concepts can be extremely abstract, I disagree with the philosophy that it also needs to be taught in an abstract way. In general, I suspect that many people who teach computer science chose this path because they love computer science; however, they might not understand how to present computing concepts to learners who don’t think it’s interesting or personally meaningful. I think that many people who steer away from computer science, especially women, are not moving away because of the difficulty of the content, but rather because they have a hard time seeing it as relevant or connected to their lives. Cyberlearning could really help change this trend by allowing students to learn computer science within a more personalized context where they can create something personally meaningful and learn how computer science skills can be applied in real-world contexts.
What are you struggling with right now?
One aspect that I find challenging in cyberlearning is that the field is vast and at the intersection of several broad and diverse disciplines. Since it is highly interdisciplinary, I often have a hard time navigating vast amounts of content to determine what is relevant to my research. I think that the cyberlearning community could benefit from having some sort of knowledge-base or infrastructure to help organize different content areas which would allow for easier navigation and access of domain specific content.
I am also struggling to understand how to encourage more girls and women to consider the benefit of computing careers. Currently, there is a strong focus towards developing outreach workshops, lessons, and classes geared towards robotics and similar topics to increase interest in computing. However, I’d really like to see efforts tailored towards girls, or perhaps gender-neutral topics, just to help bring in more women to the field. The ongoing effort to transition from STEM to STEAM through integration of art and design can allow for the creation of more engaging and relevant learning-contexts that may help increase diversity in computing.