Michael Frontz

Hello World!

I'm a visiting faculty member at the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing at IUPUI. My primary role there is to support the Informatics: Diversity-Enhanced Workforce (iDEW) program, which we launched in the 2015–2016 school year. Together, Jim Lyst and I collaborate to design, develop, and pilot the curriculum and instruction for iDEW.

iDEW Logo

What is iDEW?

iDEW is an workforce development initiative involving the university, high schools, and community partners working together to increase the number and diversity of high school students that pursue degrees and careers in computing and information technology – especially among groups currently underrepresented in technology, such as female students, minority students, and students from low-income families.

Our mission is to empower all students to design and build the digital future.

Why do we need educational programs like iDEW?

Students need to be prepared for lifelong success in a world where technology is driving innovation in every industry – and every facet of our lives. However, students need to go beyond simply being users and consumers of technology. In order to help shape the digital future, students also need to become designers and creators of technology.

Computing and information technology jobs are not only high-paying but also in growing demand. The U.S. Department of Labor projects that nearly a half million new computing-related jobs will be added by 2024. However, only 60% of those jobs will be able to be filled by U.S. college graduates at the current rate of students receiving computing-related degrees.

Surprisingly, only about a quarter of U.S. high schools currently offer a course in computer science. Unfortunately, the demographics of students taking the AP computer science exam reveal significant diversity gaps in high school computing courses, similar to the current diversity gaps in technology companies. Clearly, one important step in solving the talent and diversity gap in technology is to increase the number and diversity of high school students that are learning computing.

To help meet this need, iDEW is creating innovative high school courses based on inclusive educational practices shown to better engage all students in computing. We currently offer our courses in three diverse Indianapolis high schools and plan to expand to more schools within and beyond Indiana.

iDEW User-Centered Design Process

How is iDEW different from traditional CS courses?

Traditional computer science (CS) courses use teacher-centered instruction to focus on learning how to code. However, iDEW uses project-based learning to focus on learning how to design and build technology for people.

Thus, iDEW courses emphasize design thinking in addition to computational thinking. We call our curriculum approach Computing By Design.

In iDEW courses, high school students apply a user-centered design process to create computing solutions to real-world challenges. Our students work in teams to engage in collaborative inquiry in which they:  discover & define a problem, design & build a solution, and evaluate & improve their solution. Throughout this iterative cycle, they gather user feedback & research as evidence to inform their decision-making.

This user-centered design (UCD) process is similar to other models of the engineering design process but has a central focus on understanding and empathizing with the needs, expectations, and experiences of the people that will use the solution. This UCD process follows a "Learn-Build-Measure" cycle that is similar to Lean UX and Agile UX processes used in industry.

As teams progress through their project, they reflect and present their results to the class, as well as to a public audience at the conclusion of the semester.

One of our goals is to help students understand there are many career paths available in technology besides coding. Therefore, coding is only one part of what our students learn and do. They also learn and apply a range of user experience (UX) design principles and methods as they:  conduct research, interview users, create user personas, define their problem statement, generate and refine ideas, model systems and interaction flows, create and structure content, create visual designs and graphics, wireframe and prototype interfaces, test solutions with users, analyze and visualize data, synthesize and present findings, etc.

What kinds of projects do students complete in iDEW?

In the first semester, iDEW students design and build a mobile web app. In the second semester, they design and build an Internet of Things (IoT) device and its companion web app.

Students are encouraged to continue taking iDEW courses each school year. Subsequent semesters involve projects in other technology spaces, such as designing and building a video game, designing and building a data visualization, etc.

Culminating semesters allow students to propose and pursue their own capstone projects.

What are the learning outcomes for iDEW students?

The key learning outcomes for each iDEW project include knowledge, skills, and abilities related to design thinking and computational thinking. In addition, students practice and develop a range of 21st century success skills, such as:  creativity & innovation, critical thinking & problem solving, communication & collaboration, information & media literacy, flexibility & adaptability, initiative & self-direction, productivity & accountability, and leadership & responsibility.

What coding languages does iDEW emphasize?

Our goal is to help students gain practical knowledge and skills using markup, scripting, and programming to prototype and build solutions for their projects. While our courses are not intended to make students into expert computer programmers, our courses can serve as a springboard for students interested in learning advanced programming through other CS classes.

Our introductory course requires no prior experience in coding. Our students learn how to use HTML, CSS, and JavaScript (including JS libraries such as jQuery, Phaser, p5, etc.). This emphasis is maintained throughout all our iDEW courses, in order to allow students to deepen their expertise as they progress.

Other coding languages are also used when needed for a particular project. For example, our IoT project also requires using a Java-based language (such as Wiring or Arduino) to program a microcontroller device.

How else does iDEW encourage students to pursue technology?

Our program invites technology professionals from local companies to speak with our students. These interactions help students see the direct connections between their project work and real-world practices. These professionals also serve as role models to encourage students to consider pursuing degrees and careers in computing and information technology.

iDEW students also can participate in field trips, summer workshops, and other special events that allow students to learn more about current technologies, as well as college and career opportunities.

Through our supporting partners and grants, the iDEW program will offer mentorships, internships, and scholarships for students interested in pursuing degrees and careers in computing and information technology.

How can other schools implement iDEW courses?

iDEW courses simply require that high school students have classroom access to internet-connected computers. Student projects are designed to utilize free browser-based apps and resources as much as possible (though schools can substitute other tools).

Currently, we are continuing to iterate and improve our curriculum materials as we progress through our pilot phase. In the near future, these will be shared as Open Educational Resources (OER) through a noncommerical Creative Commons license.

Another one of our next steps is to design and develop professional development resources to prepare and support teachers new to leading iDEW courses.

A Bit More About Me

I have always been passionate about learning, solving problems, creating (and improving) things, and making a difference in people's lives. My goal as a UX designer – and as an educator – is to create experiences that matter, in ways large and small.

I have a background in science, education, information technology, and human-centered design. Prior to joining the IUPUI faculty, I was a high school science teacher for 4 years before joining CTB/McGraw-Hill Education, where I spent 14 years traveling and working closely with educators and other partners across the United States (and internationally) to design, develop, and pilot standards-based K-12 assessments for states and districts.

I am proud to have been recognized by CTB/McGraw Hill as its 2011 Employee of the Year for my leadership on an Arabic-based assessment program for Qatar, working closely with a team based in Cairo, Egypt that I hired, trained, and managed.

Apple IIe

I first learned to code in BASIC and Pascal on an Apple IIe in a high school computer class, saving my programs on 5ΒΌ" floppy disks (which tells you how long I've been interacting with computers).

I agree our nation needs Computer Science for All. I'm excited about the new ISTE Standards for Students, the new K-12 Computer Science Framework, and the new CSTA learning standards. These sets of standards help clarify the learning expectations for success in our digital world.

I live in Indianapolis, where I'm involved with local UX groups such as Experience Makers and the Indiana Chapter of the User Experience Professionals Association.

Most importantly, I'm very lucky to be married to the immensely talented Carrie Wild.

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