In Georgia, unemployed IT professionals and computing teachers are joining forces to help boost the number and diversity of the state's computer science students. Operation Reboot, a three-year program that launched last fall, seeks to put 30 experienced IT workers (10 per year) in high school classrooms to share their expertise and learn how to teach.
Run by the Georgia Institute of Technology's College of Computing, the program comes at a time when the recession has forced schools to lay off numerous teachers, and the demand for qualified workers in the IT field continues to rise.
Georgia instructors can teach computer science with only a business certification, but most higher education business programs don't offer official computer science classes, according to Barbara Ericson, director of computing outreach at Georgia Tech's College of Computing. That means instructors may not be getting the best instructional training.
"Most of the computer science teachers have no formal training," she said. "It's been a big job to train people who have taught mostly keyboarding or computer applications to teach computer science."
The program puts an IT worker and a computing teacher in classrooms to co-teach in at least two computing classes for one year. That way, the IT professional can learn how classrooms operate, and the computing teacher can acquire critical IT knowledge.
From the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the National Science Foundation set aside $2.5 million in grant money to fund this program, which bolsters efforts made in the past few years to enhance the level of computer science instruction. When the institute started training teachers back in 2004, Ericson said, only 44 out of 400 Georgia high schools offered Advanced Placement computer science. Most of them were private schools. Since then, the number jumped to 80, but the recession stunted the growth.
"They're not hiring teachers," Ericson said. "They're getting rid of teachers."
In the new program, the part-time work enables IT workers to complete the Georgia Teacher Alternative Preparation Program process to become a certified teacher and they will also earn a computer science endorsement. Georgia Tech pays up to $5,000 in certification fees, and the IT professionals will receive a monthly stipend of $3,410 a month for 11 months.
Nowadays, computer science plays a role in all math and sciences, Ericson added, but "unfortunately most high schools' idea of computer science is keyboarding and computer applications."
In prior years, the institute held training workshops for teachers to develop IT skills. But it's hard for an individual with zero IT experience to learn computer science concepts in one week, Ericson said, then added, "Would you send someone who never taught Spanish to a one-week workshop and then expect them to teach Spanish?"