Lessons on CS Equity from the RESPECT Conference

Lena Vu Sawyer

I had the pleasure of attending the RESPECT conference last month, convening with and hearing from a number of CS educators and researchers throughout the week. The focus of the conference was on equity in CS education.

Replit's own goal is to give people coding superpowers by providing them with a powerful and accessible tool for every step of their journey. Throughout the conference, speakers described tools and best practices to better engage and represent minoritized groups in CS. We, on the Replit team are constantly seeking to improve the experience for our users so they can feel comfortable to learn and share.

A Vibrant Multiplicity of CS Cultures

During her keynote, Dr. Amy J. Ko discussed the history of computing cultures and offered a vision of a vibrant multiplicity of CS cultures that engage with people with all kinds of interests and experiences. She mentioned that computing has historically been both a refuge for marginalized people as well as a magnet for power. Replit aims to create a welcoming community of creative developers and give this community opportunities to grow their businesses and even monetize their projects.

Replit has and will continue to support all of our users by creating a dynamic platform that enables learners to become confident creators.

It's not a simple task to increase access to coding education or to make the field more welcoming, but Dr. Ko's vision offers a solution: increase educational access to improve diversity within the field.

On a large scale, Replit provides structures such as multiplayer and Teams for Education that define CS education as collaborative, supportive, and iterative.

Learners can call out for help in Repl Talk or Discord and get someone to jump into their project and pair program with them them using multiplayer. They can look through Apps to get inspiration as a jumping-off point for their own projects.

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy:

More specifically, some ways of increasing accessibility are to take into account specific needs of minoritized users such as people for whom English is not their native language, users with disabilities, women, low income, Black, and Latine users.

In the panel "Leveraging Multilingual Students’ Resources for Equitable Computer Science Instruction," speakers discussed the importance of culturally responsive pedagogy to empower every student. In culturally responsive pedagogy, educators are encouraged to view the facets that make each of their students unique as distinct learning opportunities and skills. Teachers can better support their students' specific needs by personalizing their project code. Teams for Education makes it easy to jump into a student's project and add in comments, threads, and more expansive starter code to meet them where they're at. Even more, group assignments allow teachers to mindfully facilitate teamwork that plays on each students' strengths.

Modeling productive persistence:

In her paper, Maya Israel spoke about how teachers can model "productive frustration" or "productive persistence" to normalize iteration and experimentation in their classrooms. Teams enables this workflow by allowing students to continue working on projects even after submitting and instructors can unsubmit projects to encourage their students to give another shot. Instructors can also use Team Repls to lead live demos for their classes, modeling the problem-solving skills necessary for computing.

Student-Centered Learning: I could list any number of pedagogies or features, but in the end, Replit gives its users something very valuable - agency. While much of technology requires passive attention and minimal interaction from its users, Replit encourages creation! We want people to create things and play an active role not only in the development of Replit (btw, leave us feedback!) but in their own pursuits. Every new Replit user brings a whole new world of ideas and solutions and we can't wait to see the future they'll build!

If you'd like to join the conversation, register for our upcoming teacher professional development and tune into community.replit.com

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