UW Receives NSF Grant to Train Rural Wyoming High School Teachers in Computer Science Research Applications

The University of Wyoming has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to provide computer science curricular models that have been tailored specifically for schools in rural communities.

The three-year, $600,000 grant will involve four UW computer science faculty members, one UW College of Education faculty member, as well as UW researchers and graduate students, who will lead 12 K-8 Wyoming teachers through a six-week research experience this summer. Goals include advancing computer research in hot-topic areas of artificial intelligence and high-performance computing; machine learning for security; augmented reality/virtual reality; and cybersecurity.

Wyoming teachers, in conjunction with 12 partnering school districts, gain access to resources virtually. The program, called Wyoming Supporting Teachers and Computing Knowledge (WySTACK), will provide additional resources where appropriate for both teachers and their students.

The program is novel in that it removes the barriers that many rural communities face surrounding access to computer science, says Mike Borowczak, the Loy and Edith Harris Assistant Professor of Computer Science, who leads the WySTACK core principal investigator team for UW.

“The objective is to bridge the existing digital divide and showcase what collaboration and a group of partners can do to elevate our communities,” Borowczak says. “Through it all, the ultimate goal is for Wyoming educators to collaborate with computer science teachers in contributing new knowledge to the computer science domain and return back to their classrooms to engage, excite and spark interest in their local communities.”

WySTACK co-principal investigator Andrea Burrows leads a team, which includes two community college faculty members, in supporting teacher participants to translate and integrate their computer science research into modules, lessons and engagements for their own classrooms.

Besides Burrows, a professor and associate dean in the College of Education, other co-principal investigators are Amy Banic, a UW associate professor of computer science; and Diksha Shukla and Lars Kotthoff, both UW assistant professors of computer science. Business and industry partners also are involved.

The grant, one of only 10 NSF-funded Research Experiences for Teachers site grants for computer science to be awarded this year, will ultimately engage 36 high school teachers and two Northwest College faculty members over a three-year period. The grant has the potential to directly affect more than 7,200 high school students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

“Novel aspects of this proposal include a full virtual experience — addressing the digital divide and rural access — and an approach that enables teachers to gain experience in research as a method to learn about computer science and bring it back into their classroom in the fall,” Borowczak says. “This is a pure research grant that happens to involve high school teachers.”

Uniquely, WySTACK allows for open access to all — teachers, businesses, parents and students — through existing partnerships with the Wyoming State Library System. Dissemination of co-developed research in high-quality, peer-reviewed journals and conferences complement other activities.

“Rather than constrain research activity, or access to research facilities to one geographic area, we leverage the communication infrastructure within the state,” Borowczak says.

These engagements contribute to the development and support of a larger community of practice — the Wyoming Hub for Computer Science Outreach at UW (WyCS) — that is coalescing in Wyoming among a variety of industry, academic and community partners, he says.

A WySTACK website will be constructed in the future. For now, more information can be found at www.uwyo.edu/wystack.

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