UT and Austin ISD have an ‘AWSM’ plan get more women in Computer Science

By Christian Bazán
Girls coding together

Over the past five years, Texas has seen significant improvement in high school computer science (CS) enrollment, yet growth in female enrollment continues to lag. According to data collected by the UT STEM Center, in 2017 only 26% of students completing a CS course were female. Additionally, Code.org reported females accounted for only 27% of the Advanced Placement (AP) CS exams taken in 2017.

“AWSM in CS aims to change that,” said Carol Fletcher, Ph.D., deputy director of the UT STEM Center.

Accelerating Women’s Success and Mastery in Computer Science (AWSM in CS) is a $1.2 million research practitioner partnership between the UT STEM Center in the College of Education and the Austin Independent School District (AISD), funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The partnership will develop a Networked Improvement Community (NIC) of 25 teachers and team members from The University of Texas at Austin to implement and test a holistic, research-based approach to tackling female underrepresentation in CS over the next three years.

“One goal is to understand the utility of a Networked Improvement Community to tackle a complex educational problem. Also, to understand how practitioners and researchers can work together to promote academic success in a subject like computer science,” said Josh Childs, Ph.D., assistant professor in the College of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy.

Childs’ role will be to study how the NIC uses tools, training, and expertise to improve the recruitment, retaining, and success of girls in high school computer science courses. His team will look at how practitioners use PDSA [Plan-Do-Study-Act] cycles to iterate on interventions, building on their effectiveness. AWSM in CS will measure outcomes by tracking enrollment and completion of CS courses, AP test taking and performance, and subsequent CS course enrollment.

“This kind of research is innovative because it involves the teachers analyzing the root causes of female underrepresentation in computer science and developing authentic solutions,” said Fletcher. “We’re using the Strategies for Effective and Inclusive CS Teaching course that we developed through our WeTeach_CS program as the initial training. It was designed specifically to help high school educators gain the insight and skills they need to improve equity in their own classrooms.”

The 25 teachers will receive sustained professional development over the three years of the research grant through week-long summer institutes as well as additional one-day workshops in the Fall and Spring semesters.

“Hopefully, we will be able to see that NICs are an innovative way to address problems of practice in education,” said Childs.

The AWSM in CS research project will begin in the Spring of 2019, with teacher applications starting in December 2018. Dr. Josh Childs and Dr. Carol Fletcher are co-Principal Investigators (PI) on the NSF grant along with Craig Levy, AISD K-12 Computer Science Facilitator. The National Center for Women and Informational Technology (NCWIT), a leader in increasing meaningful participation of women in computing, is also participating in the project.

Central Texas teachers may apply for the AWSM in CS RPP through February 8th, 2019.


Funding for AWSM in CS is provided by a grant from the National Science Foundation (award #1837602). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

About the author:

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Christian Bazán is the Communications Coordinator for the STEM Center.