Research

The following research questions guided our work in IDATA.

1. Understanding of computational thinking

How does being involved in IDATA affect students’ computational thinking?

2. Understanding and use of computing in astronomy

How do students’ ideas about astronomy, and the use of computing in astronomy, develop through involvement in IDATA?

3. Interest and identities

How does being involved in IDATA, including participation in the user-centered design/ universal design (UCD/ UD) software development process, influence student interest in computing science and/or astronomy and in pursuing STEM+C careers? How does this differ by students’ gender or level of visual ability? How does involvement in IDATA affect students’ views of others’ abilities in STEM+C fields?

Sample: Students in grades 6-12, working in 13 groups from both near the Yerkes Observatory and further afield (WI, IL, CA, FL, MA, NM, OR, TX, WY), participated in IDATA. Some integrated IDATA activities into regular classes, whereas others created more informal after school clubs. Sites varied in prior experience with astronomy and/ or computing as well as in the number of students with visual impairments, with 23% of those completing both pre- and post-assessments overall identifying themselves as blind or low vision. We also worked with 8 undergraduate near-peer mentors, who engaged with students to support their learning.

Data Sources: We found, adapted, or created BVI accessible measures of students’ astronomy knowledge and knowledge of computational thinking, and of students’ attitudes, beliefs and identity, and administered these as baseline and follow-up assessments. We created a measure of computational thinking that focused on computational problem-solving practices and data practices (Weintrop, et al., 2016) and the accompanying rubric has good inter-rater reliability (> 0.8). Data about individual and group engagement in IDATA activities come from logs completed by teachers and undergraduate mentors, observations of a sample of group sessions, website analytics, and student work submissions from online activities. Interviews with teachers and undergraduate mentors, as well as focus groups with students, provide additional data to address research questions.

Analyses: We conducted quantitative analyses of changes in our measures of astronomy, computational thinking, and Astronomy+C attitudes/ interest and identity. Qualitative analyses of student activity and experience provide rich descriptions of how engagement with astronomy and computing with the goal of increasing accessibility affects students and their teachers.

Findings: The groups differed substantially in prior knowledge and experience, engagement with IDATA activities, and in outcomes. Still, preliminary findings show overall small but statistically significant gains in students’ understanding of astronomy (Cohen’s d=.48) and in their computational thinking (d=.32). Students also felt they learned more about astronomy, and about how computing is used in astronomy and to support accessibility, than about computing per se. We observed declines in students’ computer science interest and confidence, especially among those with visual impairments, and are working to understand those declines. At the same time, student views about whether those with visual impairments can be successful in computing increased, especially among sighted boys. Further analyses will address relationships among these variables and the extent and quality of student engagement with IDATA activities.

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