Watchworthy Wednesday: Google Expands Free Computer Science Education Program

In its quest to make computer science education free and accessible to everyone, Google is expanding its igniteCS program. The initiative pairs volunteer computer science undergrads, who serve as mentors, and younger students, who learn from them. Libraries now are being recruited as sites to host the growing program.

“Our goal really is to make computer science free and accessible to everyone,” said Erin Mindell Cannon, a Google program manager. “Computer science, in a lot of ways, is so broad and so intangible that I think a lot of students don’t understand what it can be.”

What Computer Science Can Be

Computer science can be many things, Cannon said. For example, artists use computers to create animated artwork, movies and music; teachers use computer programs and games to teach myriad subjects such as math, reading, foreign languages and the arts; and inventors, scientists and astronauts solve problems using sophisticated computers and robots.

Launched in 2015, igniteCS today operates in 120 schools across the United States and Canada. The undergrads serving as mentors number 2,000 and more than 5,000 kindergarten-through-high school students are taking part in the program. The university students who sign up to volunteer are provided with lesson plans from Google and matched with K-12 student mentees. Libraries interested in becoming partner sites where the students can meet are asked to apply online

The Mission

“We want to encourage undergraduate students to be the diverse and enthusiastic role models K-12 students need in order to spark their interest in computer science,” Cannon said. “By utilizing a near-peer model, K-12 students are learning from people who are more accessible, and the undergraduate students get the chance to apply skills they’re learning in school and give back to the local community in a meaningful way.”

She said libraries are an ideal setting “because they have connectivity and space, but also we have found them to have the kind of innovative and passionate leaders that make for the most successful igniteCS programs. Libraries are also trusted by communities and have the ability to reach K-12 students of all backgrounds, regardless of socio-economic status and/or exposure to other opportunities.”

The college students, Cannon added, “get the chance to make a difference in their local community, get access to an industry mentor of their own, get swag and the chance to work with us on things like resume building and increased confidence in CS. And, the K-12 students get an introduction to CS from role models they can relate to and some Google swag as well.”

For more information about the program, visit ignitecs.withgoogle.com.

Editor’s note: Watchworthy Wednesday posts highlight interesting resources and appear in DML Central on Wednesdays. Any tips for future posts are welcome. Please comment below or send email to mcruz@hri.uci.edu.

Banner image: Goggle igniteCS program participants at USC. Photo courtesy Google