Professors Receive NSF Award to Investigate Boot Camp vs University Classroom

Congratulations to Dr. James Bowring, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, and Dr. Quinn Burke, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education, on receiving an award funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) for their research proposal, “Collaborative Proposal: Boot Camp or University Classroom? Investigating the Effectiveness of Coding Boot Camps in Developing a Diverse Software Development Workforce.” The proposal is funded under the Education & Human Resources Core Research program, which helps synthesize, build, and expand research foundations in STEM learning, STEM learning environments, STEM workforce development, and broadening participation in STEM.


Among science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, computer science (CS) stands out not only as an area where the number of trained workers has not kept pace with job openings but also an area in which the diversity of workers has demonstrably narrowed over the past two decades. The fast-paced changes in computer technology have compounded the challenges facing four-year CS programs, as educators have to regularly rethink and balance course offerings to ensure they are preparing marketable job applicants. To help fill this need for a trained workforce, coding “boot camps” have proliferated, offering quick, intensive training in skills traditionally taught as part of the CS curriculum, and notably attracting a diversity of students typically underserved by four-year institutions.

What are these alternative credentialing programs doing to attract a wider range of students and how are they developing these learners for the ever-changing demands of the marketplace?   To what extent do the coding skills that these boot camps instill in their graduates represent sustainable skills, leading to further growth in the tech industry? As a collaboration between the College of Charleston’s Education and Computer Science Departments as well as with Santa Cruz-based ETR Associates, this project addresses two focal areas of NSF’s EHR Core Research program: professional workforce development and broadening participation. Utilizing the theories of Adaptive Expertise and Preparation for Future Learning, this study will examine underrepresented student recruitment and workforce preparation in both the traditional setting of college / university and the new environs of coding boot camps. Data from this study will allow us to examine recruitment and retention within each education setting as well as define the knowledge that each imparts to its students as part of their education as software developers. To what extent is such knowledge “routine” in nature, instilling learning for a highly specific domain with limited variation? To what extent is it “adaptive” in nature, encouraging students to break from routine and develop alternative models for thinking and working?

This two-year research project will be conducted in-depth at two locations: the well-established “Silicon Valley” of northern California and the fledgling “Silicon Harbor” of Charleston, South Carolina that is seeking national recognition. Our research will compare and contrast the effectiveness of software development training for jobs in these two settings. Participants will include a handful of hiring managers, faculty, and instructors from industry, universities, and coding boot camps in both locations. First-year female and other underrepresented minority software engineering students from both university classrooms and coding camps will participate in a longitudinal portion of the study investigating how different preparation paths play out in the workplace. In addition, evidence will be gathered from industry and training representatives across the United States about the knowledge and skills necessary for producing capable software developers and industry’s expectations for graduates of four-year programs and coding boot camps.

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