U of M’s new Northern Lights Collaborative to advance computing education in MN

The University of Minnesota announced that it will lead a new effort to advance computer science education across the state of Minnesota and nationally with the Northern Lights Collaborative for Computing Education.

Researchers in the collaborative, part of the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), aim to create a just and equitable society where computing education is universally accessible, inclusive, and responsive to the unique needs and aspirations of all learners and educators.

“Most people don’t realize that Minnesota is dead last in the state rankings for K-12 computing education. One of our main goals is to drive awareness and support for computer science education across Minnesota,” said Jennifer Rosato, director of the collaborative.

Northern Lights is part of a group partnering with Minnesota legislators on the Computer Science Education Advancement Act and the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) on a state plan for Computer Science Education. The collaborative is preparing to help districts and schools implement the plan.

Northern Lights will provide critical support to schools in order to equip Minnesota’s students with the knowledge and skills they will need to be successful in our tech-enabled society. Data from MnTech’s State of the Tech Talent report in November, showed only 28% of Minnesota high schools offer foundational computer science education courses. In contrast, the national average is 58% with eight states, including Minnesota’s midwest neighbors North Dakota and Nebraska, now requiring computer science for graduation.

The collaborative will continue to pursue research funding with a focus on partnerships with educators in K-12 schools and institutions of higher education. Northern Lights recently was awarded a Google Gift to support the development of an Indigenous computer science curriculum unit specifically for Ojibwe and Dakota cultures. The collaborative also has received multiple grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other funders, including an NSF grant to develop sustainable computer science education pathways in rural and tribal schools.

“Our goal is to conduct research for and with educators,” Rosato explained, “so they can implement research findings that are relevant for their classrooms.”

As part of its plan to improve access to, participation in, and outcomes for computer science education, Northern Lights provides K-12 curriculum and professional development, including for Advanced Placement (AP) and College in the Schools (CIS), which allow high school students to earn college credits. The collaborative also will build partnerships with community colleges and universities to help prepare marginalized students for in-demand, high wage careers in technology. Finally, Northern Lights will develop programs that prepare preservice and inservice teachers to teach computing.

According to MnTech, the median tech wage in Minnesota is $101,365, and the technology sector has a $36.1B per year impact and accounts for 7.7% of the state’s overall economy. The group’s report estimated 92,537 new technologists will be needed in Minnesota in the next 10 years.

“The Northern Lights Collaborative for Computing Education supports CEHD’s mission to contribute to a just future by increasing access to computing as a critical new literacy for Minnesota’s students. We are proud to be a part of this work,” said Dean Michael C. Rodriguez.

Follow Northern Lights Collaborative for Computing Education on LinkedIn.