CSE599 - Computing Education Research - Syllabus - Winter 2024

Computing Education Research (CER) is the study of how people learn to use programmable and/or trainable technologies. It includes computer science education, as well as other contexts where people learn how to boss computers around to pursue their own interests. Accountants learning to program macros in Excel, biologists learning Python to crunch their data, and children creating interactive stories in Scratch are all people and activities that CER attends to. So are experienced software engineers learning to weave machine learning into their applications, CS graduate students getting their heads around dependent types, and teachers figuring out how to integrate computing into their courses. CER studies learning, and how to support it, using a variety of methods, including design.

This graduate seminar will provide students with a broad understanding of the history and state of the field, including classic systems and research as well as emerging areas of inquiry. We will read and discuss papers from CER, statistics education, science education, and the learning sciences. Students will write a research proposal that charts how we could deepen our collective knowledge about how people learn computing.


Class Time: Tuesday & Thursday, 10:30 - 11:50

Location: CSE2 (Gates) 371

Office hours: By appointment

Instructor: Ben Shapiro

Course Structure

This class will be interactive. There will be no lecture. You will get out of it what you put into it. I expect you to actively participate in class discussions, to lead a small number of those discussions, to present your work, and to generously participate in teamwork and in peer critique.

Reading Response: You will read and discuss important papers and artifacts in the field. Each class, there will be one or more reading assignments. In the days before class begins, you will write a one to two paragraph reflection about each reading assignment and post it to Canvas.

Discussion Leader: Each reading will have two assigned discussion leaders. In class, they will summarize the readings and peers’ responses, and spur in-class discussion.

In-class Participation and Activities: Most class sessions will feature peer discussions facilitated by the discussion leaders. Others will revolve around student presentations of their assignments. If we have invited guests, I expect you to participate by asking the guest questions.

Assignments: There are 2 individual assignments during the course for you to write about a topic that interests you, to learn more about it, and to share what you have learned. You will present your work during class time.

Project: A central component of the class is an individual or group research proposal that will culminate in an 8-10 page write-up.

Learning Goals

By the end of the quarter, you will have developed

  • Familiarity with the breadth of work in CER, including philosophies, empirical research, and systems designs
  • Awareness of the different research methods used in the field, as well as their strengths and limitations
  • Ability to describe open questions and debates in the field
  • Experience developing a research proposal for work you might conduct to expand what we know about computing education


Prepare and Participate

I expect you to attend and actively participate in every class session. Be on time and ready to discuss the readings. Do not make a habit of waiting until the last minute to submit reading responses. The sooner you do so, the easier you will make preparation by your peer discussion leaders.

I expect you to be ready to present your work when the time comes, including assignments, project presentations, and when you are discussion leader. If you are working in a team for the project, I expect you to be respectful to your teammates and contribute equally to the work.

Actively participate in class conversations and be respectful and attentive toward visitors.

Stick to Deadlines, but Ask for Extensions if You Need Them

The design of this course emphasizes presentations to peers and critique of peers’ work. It is crucial that you adhere to deadlines so that you and your peers have work-in-common to critique. Consequently, I prefer not to grant deadline extensions.

However, if you experience circumstances that prohibit you from doing your work on time, please discuss that with me. I am happy to grant extensions in case of health or family emergency. If at all possible, please do so before a deadline, not afterward.

Be Kind

Sharing our ideas and questions with one another requires vulnerability. We have to be willing to share what we do not know, what we are uncertain of, and what we speculate about. That can only happen when we feel safe doing so with one another. Please be kind to your peers, and to yourself; it’s ok to be unsure or confused. Respond generously. If someone says something that seems foolish to you, consider that you might not be understanding something about where they are coming from, and try to find that out.

Computing education research, like computer science and the academy more broadly, has often failed to welcome and support people with non-dominant identities. I want to make sure that everyone feels welcome and supported in this course, regardless of identity. If you notice ways that this course, your peers, or I could do better, please discuss that with me.

Disability, Religious, and Family Accommodations

If you have any questions about disability or religious accommodations, please refer to university policies regarding disability accommodations or religious accommodations. I am eager to provide these accomodations. Please contact me for assistance.

Readings and Reading Responses

Most class sessions will revolve around 2-3 papers, tools, or other resources exhibiting a common theme in CER.

I have picked papers that speak to longstanding questions or emerging topics. Some will be more theoretical, while others will be more experimental.

Similarly, I have also selected tools, curricula, or other artifacts for you to try out. These will tend to reflect different approaches within the field for designing or otherwise supporting learning.

For some sessions, I may pick n things for you to read/try and ask you to read/try at least k of them (e.g. read 3 out of 4).

Whatever the medium, I expect you to write brief responses to each paper/thing that you read/try. So, if I assign three (3) readings for a given session, I expect you to write three responses.

Your responses should share your thoughts of what you’ve read/examined. These could be about how you find the work moving, your skepticism about it, something you learned from it, how it relates to other assignments, how it relates to your own experience or projects, or other take-aways of substance. These should not simply be summaries of the assigned papers/tools/things.

You must submit these responses at least 48 hours before the class session wherein we are scheduled to discuss the assigned paper/thing. This will give the discussion leaders, and me, time to read your thoughts before class, and to prepare a discussion that is responsive to your thinking.

Presentation and Discussion

For at least three readings, be part of a pair tasked with leading the class discussion on a reading. When you are a discussion leader (DL), you do not need to write reading responses for your paper, though you may find it useful to do anyway.

At the beginning of the class, you should give an 8 minute presentation covering the background on the topic, the content of the paper, and it relates to the other papers. Provice your personal take on these papers, including where you think the work could be improved or extended. For more historical papers, discuss how well they hold up today and reframe them given the current state the art.

In the case that you are responsible for a session that includes tools or curriculum (instead of or in addition to papers), you should use the same structure as for papers, and you may find it helpful to include short demos to illustrate your point of view.

You will then co-lead a ~30 minute discussion with the class. You should work together in advance with the students responsible for other papers scheduled for the same class session to prepare this discussion.

To seed this discussion, summarize students’ reading responses, pulling out the patterns that you noticed or the reflections you found particularly interesting. Start us off with at least 3 questions or points of discussion drawing from students’ responses to spur in-class discussion among students. Feel free to devise interesting ways to engage students, such as coming up with an activity, think-pair-shares, or play with different technologies to elicit different types of engagement.

You should sign up to DL as soon as possible. The link to do this is on Canvas.


You will spend the final half of the quarter working on an optionally-collaborative research proposal. I am giving you two individual assignments that will help you to prepare for that.

Assignment 1: Problem and Framing

Due: January 23

You should submit your work prior to class and be prepared to present it in class on that day. Your presentation should be about 4 minutes long (and definitely not longer than 5 minutes), and you can use slides if you like.

Identify a problem, question, or opportunity in CER (construed broadly) that is of interest to you.

Describe the problem as clearly as you can. You may find it helpful to cite prior work on this same problem, or collect data (e.g. interviews with people you know, analyses of public datasets, etc.) to articulate the existence of a problem that has not yet been described in the literature.

Then, frame the problem theoretically. How can it be understood from cognitive, socio-cultural, and design points of view? What other ways of looking at this problem are productive? Again, if there is prior work that is relevant here, draw on it. If there are holes in the literature on the problem (e.g. people haven’t examined the problem from a particular point of view, or new developments require us to re-examine the issue), explain what those are and illustrate the shortcomings of how we have tried to understand the problem. If there is not prior work on the problem, what problems are related, and how have others tried to understand it?

Your analysis can be presented in whatever medium you prefer, though if it is not written (perhaps its a collection of TikTok videos), you should prepare a brief written document summarizing and linking to what you produce. Your write up (or collection of links, or whatever) should be submitted via Canvas.

Assignment 2: Literature Review

Due: February 6

You should submit your work prior to class and be prepared to present it in class on that day.

Pick a problem in CER (this can be the same as in Assignment 1, or a different problem) and write a thorough literature review about it. What do we know? What do we know about things related to the problem? What are the implications of that? What do we not know?

This should be of the form and depth that one would expect to see in the Related Work section of a journal article. You will read many such articles for this course, and should use those as exemplars. I’d generally expect this to be 3 - 5 pages long, though you may go longer if you like.

Research Proposal

With a team of up to four people (solo is fine), craft a research proposal around a problem in CER. This can be a problem you wrote your assignments around, or something else.

The proposal should define a research problem, describe prior work related to the problem, specify research questions, and describe research methods that you would use to answer those questions.

The proposal should be at the level of depth of a NSF proposal. I am happy to share examples of my own proposals, and you may also wish to ask your advisor for copies of theirs.

It is fine to re-use or otherwise adapt your work from Assignments 1 and 2.

Milestones and Deliverables

February 13 In-class brainstorming and group formation.

February 20 In-class group plan share-out. You’ll have five minutes to tell the class about what your proposal’s focus is, how you’re divvying up work, and what you still need to find out.

March 5 In-class draft peer review. We will run mini proposal review panels, where your team and another will role-play a NSF panel, and assess the strenghts and weaknesses of each other’s proposals. Your focus should be on formative feedback. How can the other team strengthen their proposal?

I will try to recruit some guest reviewers from outside the class.

March 8 Submit proposal by 4:59pm Pacific.


  • 15% In-class participation
  • 10% Discussion leadership
  • 20% Reading responses
  • 15% Assignment 1
  • 15% Assignment 2
  • 25% Research Proposal


This syllabus copies liberally from the structure and language of Amy Zhang’s social computing syllabus.

Many thanks to students and faculty in the Code and Cognition research group for feedback on a draft of the reading list.

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