Teaching Computer Science through Work Based Learning

By Dave Devine, Senior UX Designer, Infosys & Alicia Chan, Studio UX Lead, WONGDOODY | August 26, 2020

As a studio passionate about community initiatives, the Infosys Providence Design and Innovation Center spotted an opportunity to help the Mayor of Providence create an app for PVDFest, Providence’s largest arts and culture festival. This being a unique and exciting project, our PVD team sought to expand its collaboration beyond Providence to include colleagues from the Hartford hub, as well as the Infosys Foundation USA who are focused on increasing computer science exposure for K-12 schools. The Providence team would focus on the design, discovery and research; the Hartford developers would use their expertise to design the mobile application utilizing an emerging technology Flutter and different APIs; and the Infosys Foundation USA team would introduce us to high school students who would work with us and further their computer science learning. As we started this project, the Foundation was also able to introduce us to representatives from Computer Science for Rhode Island (CS4RI) and the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) who had just launched a Work-Based Learning (WBL) pilot program for Rhode Island high school students.

CS4RI has recently received a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to investigate the effect of WBL in high school curriculum. The program, which will officially kick-off in Spring 2021, is designed to combine computer science coursework with industry experience. Each high school student will be paired with an industry mentor, allowing students to shadow industry professionals, and gain a glimpse into the lifecycle of an industry project through 80 hours of WBL as defined by RIDE and the Rhode Island Governor’s Workforce Board. Impact and success will be measured by student performance in AP computer science courses.

Teaching Computer Science through Work Based Learning

In order for the project to successfully scale to 20 RI high schools, CS4RI had to pilot the program in two high schools in Spring 2020.

The Infosys teams acted as both industry mentors for Providence’s Met School, which was one of the participating pilot schools, and served on the committee of industry CS experts to plan for the Spring 2021 launch and the onboarding of new industry mentors in Fall 2020.

We kicked off the program in February, beginning with an introductory workshop with the Met students on the design process conducted by several designers in the PVD office and allowed them to shadow meetings throughout the day related to the development of the PVDFest application. The students were ecstatic to be in our offices and witness the inner workings of a tech company. In addition to developing the mobile app alongside the Hartford developers, the students were exposed to a complimentary curriculum that aligned to the professional design and development interventions.

Students were also invited to visit the Infosys PVD Design & Innovation Center during their ‘internship’ days, where they immersed themselves in an office environment and leveraged the expertise of the Infosys team. We helped students put together a survey for their projects that allowed us to learn about the students' career interests in computer science and their personal passions in technology. The first month of the pilot was showing great promise as we started to develop great connections with the students.

Teaching Computer Science through Work Based Learning

Unfortunately, things took a turn when COVID-19 hit. The education system changed drastically overnight. What were once face-to-face interactions shifted to Zoom sessions and unfortunately, PVDFest 2020 was postponed indefinitely. With the sudden shift to virtual interaction, we faced many challenges about how to pivot from our original plans.

Although the students were unable to continue developing the PVD app, we continued to interact with them through Zoom – sitting in on their weekly class to offer industry insights in parallel to their core curriculum. In order to maintain our connection with the students, we worked to implement additional hours of engagement, where we’d assist them with their projects, and created different industry-like challenges to foster their academic growth and interest in CS careers.

For their projects, students were asked to invent a product and build a website to showcase their idea. The lessons focused on the design process: ideation, research, interface design, implementation and testing. Throughout each lesson, we would introduce industry methods for each topic. In the ideation lesson, we played a fun round of crazy-8s to encourage brainstorming, and design iterations. At the end of the term, they presented their final website and product ideas to a joint Infosys / CS4RI panel. We were all beyond impressed with their presentation pitches and websites, which ranged from an item finder for grocery stores, to a book focused community platform.

Our involvement with the Met students continued beyond the end of the school year, as we’re currently working on refining the curriculum in preparation for the program launch in Spring 2021. We look forward to continuing our partnership with the Met school as industry mentors in the years to come. Being able to contribute to an initiative that will have a significant impact on our education system has been extremely rewarding for the entire Infosys team. More than anything, we look forward to exploring WBL’s full potential and its impact on students and continuing and the strong partnership between Infosys and CS4RI.

A special thank you to the following people from Infosys for their support and efforts towards this initiative. It would not have been possible without them:

Lara Salamano – Providence Design & Innovation Hub Lead
Infosys Foundation USA: Kate Maloney & Justine Moscatello
PVD Designers: Adrienne Stevson, Nancy Dong, Justin Phung, Kevin Zhang, Jae Kum, Steven Yong
Hartford Team: Jeff Auker, Rangaraj Venugopal, Josh Deiner, Travis Michaud, Ricky Chan, Paul Riverain, Jimish Thakkar, Grant Tulacro, Aaron McCoy, Hannible Julien, Brita Ramsay