Changing the Face of CS Education

EPIC's Computing Educator Diversity Initiative (CEDI) is helping teachers from historically underrepresented groups earn CS teaching certification


    In 2016, the Expanding Pathways in Computing (EPIC) team launched WeTeach_CS to increase the number of certified computer science (CS) teachers in Texas and create a foundation for expanding access to CS education to a more diverse range of students across the state.

    The program has made a significant impact, helping almost 600 Texas teachers earn their CS certification. While we rejoice over the number of new CS teachers, the makeup of that teacher population revealed an area of opportunity. Knowing that providing students with role models with whom they can identify helps to build their CS identities, EPIC sought to bring in a more diverse teacher cohort so that more students, no matter their demographic background or previous CS experience, could find CS educators to relate to and be inspired by.

    This led one member of the EPIC team to ask an important question: Why couldn't scholarships for professional development be provided to teachers of color to enable and empower them to earn their CS teacher certification? From there, with a generous initial investment from the National Science Foundation and supplemental funding to support a second cohort secured through Microsoft, the Computing Educator Diversity Initiative (CEDI) was born.

    CEDI consists of in-service teachers from historically underrepresented groups in CS who work within a community of practice and together deepen their CS knowledge, pedagogical skills, and equitable strategies and are supported to obtain their high school CS teacher certification.

    While many professional development and preparation programs struggled to recruit teachers during the pandemic, 107 educators applied to be part of EPIC's Microsoft-supported CEDI Cohort 2 during the four weeks the application process was open — a testament to the significant need for more inclusive, supportive teacher communities like the one CEDI helps to provide.

    Thoughtful Program Design

    The structure of the CEDI program was intentional at every turn. CEDI ensured that teachers from historically underrepresented groups were provided funding to partake in professional development. The program was thoughtfully designed — from recruitment to completion — to make teachers feel welcomed and empowered to succeed.

    *Percentages sum to greater than 100%, as participants were asked to select all that apply. **The three participants who selected White also selected either Black or African American, or Hispanic or Latino.

    "There aren't that many teachers of color to draw these young people into CS to show them, ‘Hey, if they're doing it, maybe I can do it, too,' said CEDI participant Christopher Franklin, who has been a teacher for 17 years and currently teaches middle school CS, Robotics, and Engineering classes at Dulles Middle School in Sugar Land, outside of Houston.

    The program emphasized inclusion during the recruitment phase and stressed that candidates did not need prior CS experience to apply. It was important as well to choose a cohort leader that reflected the diversity of the participant group itself, and who could act as a mentor as teachers grappled with new content and pedagogical strategies for creating more inclusive classroom environments.

    The program sequence was structured around educators' schedules and designed to build community first. Gradually diving into the content, CEDI began with Introduction to Programming and Foundations of CS for Teachers courses. During this time, the cohort met synchronously once a week, giving them an opportunity to work through the challenging content together.

    After six programming sessions and six weeks of the Foundations of CS course, the series concluded with a Strategies for Effective and Inclusive CS Teaching course. The most recent cohort is proof positive of the effectiveness of these recruitment and community building practices. The demographics of the teachers selected are: 50% Black or African American, 35% Hispanic or Latino, and 46% female. The completion rate was 92%.

    Allen Antoine, CS Education Specialist

    "The status quo cannot remain the same when it comes to the representation of historically excluded students in computer science," said CS Education Specialist Allen Antoine. "CEDI looks to engage all students by providing teacher role models that look, talk, and understand the unique backgrounds of the diverse future computer scientists that we want to engage. This initiative is a large undertaking, but I am excited to be one of the people leading the effort."

    Lessons Learned

    CEDI also focused on three research questions addressing the unique experiences of Black and Hispanic teachers as they learn to teach CS. After participating in the online professional learning portion, all participants were asked in a survey to share their perspective about their experiences. Six teachers also participated in one-on-one interviews as a part of a Q&A series about CEDI. Only information obtained through interviews is shared here, as the surveys were taken anonymously.

    What are the primary barriers to becoming a CS teacher as perceived by Black, Hispanic, and Latino/a educators?

    Survey results indicated that concerns about knowledge and experience, getting CS teacher certified, lack of school support, student factors, and insufficient resources were the top barriers to teaching CS.

    Overwhelmingly, CEDI participants shared their own anecdotal experiences about the lack of representation they saw in the field as students themselves — and the lack of empowerment they felt from educators.

    "When I was a high school student, I wanted to learn CS but was told I wasn't the type of student who should bother. That's why I always thought CS was for ‘smart people.' When I became a CS teacher, I knew that I could make a positive impact in the lives of students, which is what I wished had happened to me in high school," said Blanca Gonzalez, a regional manager with the Microsoft Philanthropies TEALS Program in Houston and former middle school CS teacher. "Students are hungry for knowledge, and if you give them the resources to be successful, you can change their lives for the better."

    Franklin added, "When I was in middle school and high school, I knew that I was not being taught what I should be, and I wasn't being included in things that I should have been included in because of how I look. I told myself that when I became a teacher, I was going to make sure to offer CS classes to every student."

    “The status quo cannot remain the same when it comes to the representation of historically excluded students in CS. CEDI looks to engage all students by providing teacher role models that look, talk, and understand the unique backgrounds of the diverse future computer scientists that we want to engage. This initiative is a large undertaking, but I am excited to be one of the people leading the effort.”
    Allen Antoine, CS Education Specialist

    When asked how CEDI was helping to move the needle on this issue, Franklin said, "The program is geared toward not only getting teachers of color certified, but also encouraging school administrators and parents to tell the students that just because you may not see many kids who look like you in CS classes, you belong here. Many kids of color don't look at computer science as something relevant to their experiences, but I make it a point to tell them that CS touches every aspect of our lives and will make them more marketable when they become adults and start searching for jobs. Historically, CS classes haven't been marketed to students of color, female students, and students from broken homes. People think they can't handle it or they're not academically able to keep up. Teachers who went through CEDI are trying to dispel those myths and bring minority and female students into the world of CS."

    Henry Ramirez, an educator for more than 30 years and now a regional chapter support coordinator for the Computer Science Teachers Association, said students need to be given the tools they need to pursue a CS education.

    "We need to show students there's no anchor holding you down because of the color of your skin or the language you speak," Ramirez said. "I always tell students, ‘You can succeed in this field!' Also, if you want students to study CS, give them the resources to be successful."

    What resources, strategies, or supports do Black, Hispanic, and Latino/a educators find most valuable as they are learning to teach CS?

    Findings related to the most important supports for educators teaching CS mirrored those shared in the question about barriers. Educators cited having their administration or other teachers' support, proper resources, and personal experience and interest as key enabling factors for success. They also called out the CEDI program and support network as one of their most significant resources in this area, citing many of the structural components that had been so carefully woven into the program's initial design.

    "The CEDI program made us feel like brothers and sisters in arms, because we wanted everyone to succeed! Some of us were moderately knowledgeable about CS, so we helped those who were new to the field, and that supportive spirit brought us closer together," Ramirez said. "Yes, we all were teachers of color, but we had very different experiences in CS education. Teachers were able to come together and talk about our cultural experiences and how we interact with students, and we had those conversations in a welcoming environment."

    It's clear that having a supportive environment like the one created by the CEDI program is integral to creating a safe, welcoming space that inspires greater learning.

    “Having such a great cohort of teachers made my time in CEDI feel like I was studying alongside family. CS can be difficult, but the CEDI leaders are great at teaching in a way that's easy to digest. After CEDI, I tell students and parents they can learn CS, too, because I'm always learning new things!”
    Blanca Gonzalez, Microsoft TEALS Regional Manager

    "Having such a great cohort of teachers made my time in CEDI feel like I was studying alongside family," Gonzalez said. "CS can be difficult, but the CEDI leaders are great at teaching in a way that's easy to digest. After CEDI, I tell students and parents they can learn CS, too, because I'm always learning new things!"

    Bryan Campbell, who teaches CS to high school students at the School of Business and Management for Dallas ISD, agrees that a supportive environment is important.

    "I loved the diversity of our cohort. We were a stronger group because we had teachers from different races, genders, and backgrounds who taught a variety of subjects," Campbell said. "My background was in tech, but we also had reading and math teachers in the program."

    For those who had little or no experience teaching CS, having the opportunity to learn from current CS educators was invaluable.

    "They brought in other facilitators who were already teaching CS, which helped me learn the content and gain the confidence to teach it to my students," said Denise Sifuentes, who has been an educator for 11 years and currently teaches Robotics at Col. John O. Ensor Middle School in Horizon City, Texas.

    How does the community of practice, specifically for educators who represent groups historically excluded from CS, impact participating Black, Hispanic and Latino/a educators' sense of efficacy, empowerment, and capacity to teach CS?

    For many participants, CEDI created a sense of belonging that had been missing from their professional development. With a community of diverse — yet like-minded — educators to tap into for support, knowledge sharing, and best practices, teachers expressed that they felt more empowered, more confident in their expertise, and less alone when it came to navigating challenging questions around race and identity as it relates to CS education.

    "Being a minority working in CS, you don't meet a lot of people who look like you," Gonzalez said. "The diversity of our CEDI cohort made me feel included and seen. Teachers spoke honestly about tough subjects, including the challenges students of color face and how to help them. Hearing from teachers about how they wanted to use CS to empower underrepresented students was inspiring. My time in CEDI showed me that I'm not alone in wanting to show students of color they can be successful in CS."

    Celinda Rejino, who teaches Robotics, Advanced CS, and Introduction to Coding classes at Levelland Middle School for Levelland ISD, echoed this sentiment.

    "Going through the CEDI program felt like a breath of fresh air," Rejino said. "It was nice to be among teachers who share the same passion for teaching CS. Working in a small district, there's not many teachers as interested as I am in teaching CS.

    Sifuentes added, "I believe that bringing together people who have different perspectives and experiences creates the best learning environment. Before CEDI, I didn't know that my Black CS students were at a disadvantage because of the color of their skin. Thanks to my time with our cohort, I'm even more conscious about making sure they feel welcomed and accepted in class. I started a Girls Who Code club because of those difficult conversations concerning a lack of access to CS for some students."

    In addition to feeling more effective and empowered to teach CS, the CEDI training added to a broader sense of appreciation and fulfillment.

    "Some of my former students keep in touch to let me know what they're doing. They are in the computer science or engineering fields, and they got the ‘CS bug' from me introducing it to them," Franklin said. "It touches my heart when I hear from former students, and I haven't seen some of them in 10 years! For me, that's the payoff. The saying goes, ‘If you love what you do, it's not work.' I don't consider teaching CS as work."

    Looking Ahead

    With two cohorts of CEDI complete and producing highly satisfied teachers, the program leaders at EPIC are taking lessons learned from informal conversations, focus groups, and educator surveys to revise the program and plan its expansion to more educators in Texas and across the country. Other states and institutions have expressed their interest in using the CEDI model to create new opportunities to diversify the CS teacher base and, ultimately, the CS student population.

    If you are a teacher interested in participating in a future CEDI cohort, subscribe to the EPIC newsletter. If you are interested in partnering with The University of Texas at Austin to launch a CEDI program, contact EPIC Director Dr. Carol Fletcher.

    We caught up with six teachers from the 2020-2021 cohort to hear about their experiences in CEDI. Read about their strategies about why they think it's important to get students of color interested in CS. The teachers we spoke with talk about the importance of being a role model to these students and why other teachers should join the program.

    Q&A: Christopher Franklin
    Veteran CS teacher sharpens skills in the CEDI program.

    Q&A: Denise Sifuentes
    Longtime educator new to teaching CS gains confidence through CEDI program.

    Q&A: Henry Ramirez
    CS teacher who completed CEDI program committed to reaching students of color.

    Q&A: Blanca Gonzales
    Microsoft TEALS manager eager to bring CS opportunities to students of color after completing CEDI program.

    Q&A: Bryan Campbell
    Dallas ISD teacher passes CS certification exam thanks to Computing Educator Diversity Initiative (CEDI), becomes "more well-rounded educator."

    Q&A: Celinda Rejino
    Computing Educator Diversity Initiative (CEDI) helps middle school teacher make students more marketable in tech fields, reach her full potential of becoming a CS teacher

    The CEDI Program has been funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF #1837602) and Microsoft. Read more in the CEDI Special Report.

    The EPIC Team at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) exists to broaden participation in K20 computing pathways through research, outreach, professional development, and policy advocacy. To achieve this mission, we partner with school districts, institutions of higher education, industry leaders, and federal, state, and local government entities who are also dedicated to expanding access and opportunity for historically underserved students in computing.