This project responds to the IMLS National Leadership Grants for Libraries (funding category: Research in Service to Practice), focusing specifically on helping library staff evaluate and improve computational thinking (CT) programming for youth (ages 11-18). This three-year project, running from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2022, brings together interdisciplinary faculty from the College of Information Studies and College of Education at the University of Maryland, public library staff that serve youth, experts in public library assessment and CT assessment in schools serving as advisory board members, and partners within the American Library Association (ALA) that are leading CT in libraries initiatives on Libraries Ready to Code — the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), and the Public Policy and Advocacy Unit (PPAU) at the ALA Washington Public Policy and Government Relations Office. The main goals of this project are to identify the learning outcomes that can be achieved through CT programs for youth offered through libraries and to develop a bank of assessment tools that can be used by public library staff to document and measure CT literacy development in youth as a result of participating in CT programs through their libraries.
The project is designed to respond to three interrelated needs: (1) broaden participation in CT through effective and engaging library programming, (2) understand the current landscape of CT programming in libraries, and (3) develop materials to assess the CT learning that is happening in libraries across the country. Toward this end, the project is pursuing research questions looking both at the CT learning that can and does happen in libraries as well as identifying ways to support library staff to evaluate, improve, and champion the CT programming in their libraries.
During the first year of the project, we will focus on understanding the current landscape of CT in libraries. To accomplish this, we will conduct interviews with public library staff from across the country, with care being taken to ensure that we recruit participants and libraries that reflect the breadth and diversity of the national library landscape. We will also review academic literature to catalog the current state of CT programming and CT assessment strategies and instruments. The outcome of the first year will be a typology of the current state of CT programs offered through libraries, along with a catalog of learning outcomes, and CT program materials and data collection tools currently in-use.
In the second year, we will focus on the creation and evaluation of CT assessment tools designed specifically for library contexts. As part of this effort, we will invite in-service library staff to co-design these tools so as to ensure the voices, ideas, and experiences of those we are designing for are represented throughout the assessment creation process. These participatory design sessions will be conducted in collaboration with YALSA and its Train the Trainer project. The emerging set of CT assessment tools will be piloted with partner library staff at select libraries. We will also conduct pre- and post- interviews with the library staff who are testing out our materials as a means to improve the accessibility and ease-of-use of the assessments.
Taking seriously the service-to-practice goal of this grant program, the final year of our project will focus on understanding if and how the assessment tools impact practice and identifying the supports and training that need to accompany them so as to ensure effective adoption and use by library staff across the country. The result of this project will include a typology of the current state of CT programming in libraries, a bank of assessment tools for capturing CT literacy development in libraries, and resources to support library staff in using these materials, all of which will be made publicly available. In doing so, this project seeks to make a meaningful contribution towards helping libraries and library staff meet the call to prepare youth for the computational futures that await them.