The BRAID research initiative is intended to help scholars and educators better understand the future of computer science in several ways and determine how best to shape the discipline at all levels of education. It cannot be denied that computer science has become integral to economic growth and cultural fluency on both the international and national stages. However, until this research initiative was set in motion, field experts had only the most basic understanding of the whom the next generation of computer scientists will be and from what backgrounds they will come. Below, we’ll explore five features of the Initiative and how they have been or will be successful.

1. A Clearer Picture

Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College and Telle Witney, CEO of the Anita Borg Institute administer the project, which was launched in 2014. While Kate Lehman, a 3rd year PhD student at UCLA supervises a carefully selected research team to conduct the longitudinal study. As the first of its kind, the Initiative is designed to provide greater insight into the diversity of the up-and-coming generation of computer science students and discover ways to assist women and students from marginalized ethnic backgrounds within the field.

2. A Combined Effort

While the National Science Foundation has offered support for the BRAID Initiative, projects of this type might expect to languish in relative obscurity beyond the halls of academia. Not so with the BRAID Initiative—which stands for Building, Recruiting, and Inclusion for Diversity—has drawn popular interest from diverse quarters of the Computer Science realm. Supportive parties include Facebook, Google, Intel, and Microsoft in addition to the scholarly funding donors: the Computing Research Association (CRA); the National Science Foundation (NSF); and the Anita Borg Institute (ABI). Fifteen major universities have agreed to participate in the data collection aspect of the Initiative, and more are expected to join in the future.

3. Mixed Methods Offer a Better Picture

The study uses several approaches to determine the current and prospective makeup of undergraduate computer science programs at the participating universities. First, it utilizes quantitative data gathering via baseline surveys of students, class enrollment, and statistical analysis. Second, entry and exit interviews are conducted in order to gain a qualitative picture of the data. While the numbers, at this early phase of research don’t provide a complete picture, they do show that CS remains a predominately male field. Part of the Initiative’s purpose is to provide up-to-date statistics on the enrollment numbers of females and under-represented ethnic groups in undergraduate computer science courses.

4. Adaptive Pedagogy

Interviews of faculty, department chairpersons, and key administrative personnel provide a qualitative facet to the data gathered. These interviews allow researchers to scrutinize and assess the pedagogical approaches of instructors—lecture-based vs. interactive or practical instruction—in order to determine the effectiveness of course material and instruction methodologies. Researchers examine the syllabi for the undergraduate computer science courses, paying special attention to introductory courses. And finally, student focus groups are conducted to gather student impressions of course work, teaching methods, and quality of experience in their respective university programs.

The Past As Prologue

Perhaps one of the most telling results of the study at this point is uncovering the sources of inspiration and encouragement the students have prior to enrolling in a computer science course. The research offers insight into the lack of support women and minority students receive prior to entering college. Only a small percentage report that parents encouraged them to pursue a computer science education, with similarly small numbers of high school educators offering either support or information about the field. This insight, while somewhat dismaying, potentially allows researchers and scholars to develop programs and supportive mechanisms that will function as outreach to promising students of all ethnic communities and genders in the future.

To date, enrollment of women and students from marginalized ethnic communities in computer science programs of study lags behind male enrollment. However, numbers drawn from the Initiative indicate that this trend could be on the turn. As the first longitudinal study of its kind, the BRAID Initiative bodes to provide solid data about the future of Computer Science, insight into how instruction and course material can be crafted to enhance student experience, and ways in which a diverse student body can be attracted to the field.

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