Conversations for Change: Unpacking Access, Inclusion in K-12 CS Education with Dr. Maya Israel

If we do not explicitly work towards inclusion of students with dis/Abilities in K-12 CS education, we are excluding them. In this session, Dr. Maya Israel (University of Florida) shares research findings on both barriers and pathways to inclusion. Maya will highlight systemic approaches that school districts have taken to create more equitable CS opportunities for learners with dis/Abilities as well as inclusive classroom strategies. Lastly, she will share professional development resources created through the UDL4CS grant aimed at providing K-12 CS educators with practical strategies around Universal Design for Learning, High Leverage Practices, and Accessibility in K-12 CS education.

Originally streamed live on August 24, 2022. 


Hi! We are going to get started. Welcome to NCWIT’s Conversations for Change. This is an online thought leadership series. My name is Brittany Anderson-Martin. It is my pleasure to welcome you here to this series, which features speakers with a diverse range of opinions and, hopefully, provocative ideas and worldviews.

I want to recognize and thank our many NCWIT sponsors and collaborators who are making this event possible, and I want to thank the viewing audience in advance for your attendance and patience, should we experience any bandwidth or other technical issues. 

During the talk today, I encourage you to post your thoughts, questions, and your comments to the Q&A board as we go using the Zoom icon at the bottom of your screen. We will be monitoring  this board, and we will try to get to as many questions as we can. And please complete the short pop-up survey that comes at the end of the webinar. 

So, with that — with the formalities complete — we can dive into our conversation for today. In today’s session, we will have Dr. Maya Israel, who is going to share recent findings on barriers and pathways to inclusion in K12 computer science education for learners with disabilities. Dr. Israel is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Technology in the School of Teaching and Learning at the University of Florida. She is also the research director at the Creative Technology Research Lab, or CTRL for short. Dr. Israel’s research focuses on strategies for supporting students with disabilities’ meaningful engagement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, with emphases on computer science education and universal design for learning. 

By the end of this session, you will have learned about systemic approaches some school districts have successfully implemented, as well as inclusive classroom strategies to create more equitable CS opportunities for learners with disabilities. We’ll also see how these considerations intersect with other identities, such as gender and race. Finally, we will explore the teacher preparation professional development tools that are aimed at providing K-12 computer science educators with practical strategies around universal design for learning, high leverage practices, and accessibility practices in K12 CS education. Thank you so much for joining us today, Dr. Israel. I will let you take it away!

Wonderful, thank you so much! I am going to share my screen. Hopefully, you all will be able to see my slides. Let me start the presentation.

Let’s see here… It says loading, can you see my screen?

Yes. It looks great. Thank you!

Amazing. Thank you so much, Brittney, for that introduction. I want to also say that in addition to my work here at the University, it’s important to understand where I’m coming from into this work, because as we move into this talk, you will be able to see there are a lot of intersecting roles that I take in this work that I’m hoping to share with you. 

So, I started off my career as a special education teacher, and I worked a lot with students with learning disabilities, students with emotional and behavior disorders. When I transitioned into my first career it was not as a professor of educational technology and computer science. I was an assistant professor in a Department of Special Education.

I was doing work around developing games and technologies to support engagement and learning for students with disabilities, and I had this shift that happened. We were doing a bunch of participatory design studies and including students, many of which had disabilities, in these efforts. At some point, I had this “A-ha” moment, where I started to shift from “why is it that we are designing for students.” Why don’t we start to consider how to support the instruction of kids in computer science in developing technologies?

So, that is really where the shift came from in terms of thinking about computer science. And now, many years later, I find myself in a department of computer science education and educational technology.

The other thing that I think is important to say before we get into all of this research is that the work that I’m going to share with you is done in collaboration with a lot of very talented faculty, teacher educators, doctoral students, postdocs, and staff. So, this is a collaborative, shared effort.

Before we start getting into this, I actually want to start with a poll. I do this a lot in our teacher preparation programs and in our professional development. If you could, I think there is going to be a poll that’s going to pop up. Answer this: “I am confident in teaching CS to students with disabilities.” From strongly agree to strongly disagree. 

The reason that I do start with this kind of poll, or polls about mindsets or ability beliefs, is not as a “gotcha.” It’s really to consider where we’re starting.

Ah, this is actually our second poll. That’s OK. We’ll get to the other one first. This particular one was around prioritizing inclusive education.

In looking at these findings, and hopefully you can all see this, we can see that we have a range of priorities in our schools,our  districts, our universities; wherever we are. It’s important to ask these kinds of questions because it gives us a baseline for where to start. So, thank you for doing that, and we’ll get back to this one in a little bit. I promise.

Okay. So, my primary goal is actually three goals. I look at access, I look at participation, and I look at learning of all students, including students with disabilities. We’re going to come back to these three areas – access, participation, and learning – in a little bit, because asking questions about to what extent students with disabilities are included is really complex and is multifaceted. 

But before we do so, I wanted to just put a few facts and statistics out there for those of you who have not looked into this area. This will not take long, but I wanted to just position our conversation in terms of the larger discussion around K12 computer science for students with disabilities. 

The first is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which is the IDEA. It’s an educational entitlement law that essentially provides a right to a free and appropriate public education – so, FAPE – in the least restrictive environment. When it comes to special education services in K12, we have this assumption that there is a range of instructional approaches that are individualized and that students should be in what we call the least restrictive environment.

It doesn’t mean that everybody is, all the time, in a general education setting. It means that we have this continuum from all day, every day in this general education classroom all the way through residential programs, hospital programs, and so forth.

This paragraph here is in the preamble of the IDEA, and I think about this a lot in the work that I do. I love the fact that it starts with the idea that disability is a natural part of the human experience. Acknowledging that, at the very beginning – that all of us, at some point in our lives, if we don’t experience disability now, we’ll likely experience that.

The other part of this preamble that I think is really important in my work is around these essential elements that I highlighted in blue. So, what does it mean when I think about computer science education in K12 from the perspective of equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self sufficiency? Students with disabilities are a very wide range of learners, and so, equality of opportunity is going to look different. Full participation will look different. What does it mean to have this goal of independent living and economic self-sufficiency? So, it pushes me to think about everything that I do from these four areas.

Another area of law that’s impacting students with disabilities is a set of laws: the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, specifically 504, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). So, these laws essentially prohibit discrimination. Right? So, these are civil rights laws. This is where a lot of students receive accommodations. They may not qualify for services under the IDEA, but access, accessibility, and accommodations, a lot of those come from these legislations. 

I’m going to talk about some statistics now, just to give you a sense of who we are talking about. It is very difficult to actually get the numbers of how many students with disabilities are receiving services and supports in US schools. According to the latest statistics we have from IDEA, it’s about 7.2 million students; about 15% of the learner population. It’s much harder to know how many students are receiving accommodations and supports under the 504 section. I’ve seen everything from 1.5 to 2.3, but that is a difficult number, and it makes the work of trying to understand the level to which kids with disabilities are receiving computer science really complicated when we don’t have these numbers. 

In terms of who the learners are, the largest category are students with learning disabilities; about 33%. Then, we have students who have speech and language impairment; that’s about 19% of kids in public schools. “Other health impairments” is about 15%. Then, autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders are around 12%. From there, we have other categories with fewer learners.

It’s important to note that even though we have the least restrictive environment, (for) most students with disabilities, that is considered the general education setting. That kind of gives an overview of who we are talking about, at least in terms of learners that have identified disabilities and disclosed those disabilities. There’s a whole range of other issues around disclosure that, in this talk, we don’t have enough time to talk about – but if there are questions around that, I’m sure I can answer those. 

The approach we take in our lab – and this is certainly not the only approach we take, but one of the primary approaches – is to look at systems change in three different ways. The first is in our research, and much of that research happens with our practice partners, with the school personnel. Not all of it, but a lot of it is. Then, we also think about implementation with our practice partners, and then, advocacy that comes out of that research and implementation.

What’s important here, and what I think I hope to get across, is that the research questions that we have around participation, many of those come from our implementation work, from our practice partners. Then, what we’re able to do is: work with them to design research studies to come up with the questions, to come up with the  interventions, and then, we implement them and we learn. Our aspiration is to have this research-to-practice loop, where we’re co-constructing knowledge together. So, our research is informing practice, our practice is informing research; our ideas are all coming together that way. Then, we use the knowledge that we co-construct to work on advocacy as well, and to work on systems change.

Let’s start with some of the research. I am going to share just a little bit of what we’re doing in terms of our studies. But first, I guess –  when I talk about the research, it’s going to seem very, very basic, because I feel like we are just scratching the surface. But, I wanted to start with some of the big questions I have. So, I am going to put them up here on the screen. I am curious about what some of your questions are too. As you are seeing these big, complex messy questions, I’m hoping some questions come to mind for you too.

One of the major ones I have is around the intersectionality of disability, gender, socioeconomic, race, ethnicity, culture, and what is that interplay in terms of K12 computer science education? I’m also interested in: How do we provide professional development in an effective way to a broad range of folks who work with students with disabilities? General education teachers, special education teachers, parent educators, and so forth.

I have a lot of questions about how to encourage student voice to guide intervention development so that we’re not doing to kids, we are working with kids and families. Lots of questions about effective practices. We come up with a lot of interventions. So, which ones have the biggest impact on learning, and for who?

I’m interested in performance gaps. This becomes complicated once we start to say it’s very hard to identify who the learners are. So, actually understanding performance gaps becomes really difficult at scale.

And then also, how do we change mindsets? This is a very important and difficult question too. We all have our own biases. We all have our own ideas about who belongs and who doesn’t belong. Those are shaped from our own experiences. So, “how do we change mindsets?” is an important question that I have.

So, enter one of our projects. It’s called UDL4CS, and it is a research practice partnership (RPP). I will show you some of our amazing partners in a little bit. We think about how to develop professional development materials. How do we collaborate on data collection and analysis? You know, it’s called UDL4CS, so universal design for learning is about being proactive in how we design instruction to meet the needs of all learners. 

From that perspective, we don’t often think about “this is an intervention for a student with a learning disability,” or “this is a support for students with autism.” We think about the functional needs of kids, and how do we provide all of that within a classroom? But, I mentioned that there’s a tension here. We want to focus on the broad range of learners, and we talk about learner variability as the norm, rather than disability focus – but we have to acknowledge disability, and we have to collect data and look specifically at learners with disabilities within that. This tension is real, in terms of providing instruction for all and having a very specific focus on disability at the same time.

Here are some of our amazing partners that we work with on this project: Broward County Public Schools; New York City DOE, their Computer Science For All initiative; PK Yonge Developmental Research School; the state of Georgia, their computer science group there; and then, our lab. We also have additional partners that we work with as well, but these are the primary ones that we work with. 

Those questions I that just mentioned… here is kind of where we are in this work. Even though I want to be able to study learning, at this point, we have no research about who participates in computer science education in K12 at scale. It’s just not out there. It’s very difficult to get this information for a wide range of reasons; confidentiality, and so forth. Confidentiality is one. Another one is, a lot of times, people don’t collect this information. So, we can’t find it. So, I have to start here.

Are students with different disabilities included in computer science coursework? It’s a yes/no, looking at students from this perspective. Is this happening in different settings? Because we have this idea of least-restrictive environment, are students along the continuum also receiving computer science education? Asking this question allows us to dive pretty deep into something that should really be really, really simple, but it is difficult for us to actually get. 

So, that’s where we are. We collected some of this data. I will show you in one of our settings.

Here is our next step. Not only is it hard to tell where students, or if students, are receiving computer science, it’s also difficult to actually tell –- even if they are enrolled – if they are actually receiving computer science. Because oftentimes, a student might be enrolled in a class that has computer science, but they may be pulled out for part of that time to receive services. Or, there may be reasons behind why a student may not have access to that course.

So, what we’re doing here to be able to actually get this data is: We’re sending out a lot of surveys to teachers, and asking them “how many students in your CS class have IPs or receive supports under Section 504?” Then, of those, “how many of them are getting pulled out for some reason or another?” Those surveys are going out this fall.

We’re going to be able to take the data that we have in this particular setting, and others, to see the participation data, and then, compare that with what teachers are saying. So, teacher surveys are going out this fall.

Then, the next step, and where I’m hoping we’re going to get – but we’re just not there yet: Ultimately, we need to know whether instruction in computer science is actually resulting in learning gains for students with disabilities. We do this at a small scale with our intervention studies, but we have not done this at scale yet.

We know in other content areas that there are performance gaps – in math education, in science education, in literacy. Those performance gaps are very widely known, and have been known for a long time for multiple reasons. We suspect that that’s probably the case in computer science education, but we don’t know. So, being able to look at that at scale is super important. Again, difficult to do – but we are hoping to get there. 

That’s kind of where we are in terms of the studies that we are doing under the umbrella of universal UDL4CS. So, I’m going to share some of this data with you, and in terms of answering these questions. Earlier, I was saying that this is a research practice partnership. The questions that are being asked were asked because they were important to our practice partners. That’s really important, to be able to inform them. None of this is happening in isolation.

So, “Are students with disabilities taking CS? Yes? No? Maybe? It’s complicated?” Let me tell you what I mean by that. When we look at all kids, and putting all kids with disabilities into a single category, and we’re lumping them together, and comparing them to students without disabilities – at the elementary, at the middle, and at the high school level, there are differences in participation, but they’re not extreme.

Now, let me back up by saying that in this particular setting, there is a CSforAll initiative. So, students at the elementary, at the middle, and at the high school, the aim is to have everybody have access to computer science education. At the elementary level, it’s much more integrated into regular instruction. As children move into middle and high school, it becomes much more of an opt-in to computer science. So, it’s not surprising that there is a decrease from elementary, to middle, to high school. It’s also not surprising that we’re seeing these differences between students with and without disabilities.

This is what happens when we lump everybody together, but what happens when we disaggregate the data, and we look at kids of different disability types? Remember earlier: the largest categories of students with disabilities; learning disabilities, speech/language, other health impairment, and autism. Let’s look at some of these high-incidence disabilities.

So, it looks a little bit different when we don’t lump all kids together. When we look at students with learning disabilities, they’re doing pretty well at the elementary school level, but then, you’re seeing some pretty significant drops from middle school to high school. But when we looked at students with autism, or we look at students with emotional behavior disorders, the story is a little bit different too. So, we can’t lump all students with disabilities into the same category. That’s one of the other things that I’m hoping that is acknowledged in this work.

Now, let’s look at some of the students with some of what we call low-incidence disabilities. Though we don’t have as many numbers, it’s still important to look at their participation. So, we did put some categories together here just to make it easier for the presentation, though we do not lump students together in our data.

If we look at students who are deaf, have deaf/blindness, or a hearing impairment, their profile looks very different, for example, from students with intellectual disability, or students with multiple disabilities. So, looking at this data and what does it mean for a student who, for example, has a visual impairment: they are participating, but what does that look like?

So, going from this data, and then saying: “What happens when, now, we put in race, ethnicity, socioeconomics, gender?” That’s where we’re going next. Unfortunately, I don’t have those numbers for you, but that is data that we are currently analyzing. It’s complicated, right? We can say yes, we can say no, and we can say maybe – but this is why we have to pay attention to these differences.

Let’s now ask another question: Is this happening the same in different instructional settings? Typically, students with disabilities are taught in the general education setting. There are different models, too. So, co-teaching: when you have a computer science teacher and the general education teacher working with the special education teacher together, and they’re all responsible for all the students learning. Another model is: students are generally taught in the general education classroom, but are pulled out for part of the day to receive some intensive supports. In another model, students are receiving all their education in what we call “self-contained settings,” primarily with a special education teacher. All of these things are happening in regular schools as well.

“Does computer science education meet everybody’s needs across all these settings?” is another question that we ask – and, it’s not. At the bottom, you can see students without disabilities; just the percentages to make it easier on you.

In co-teaching settings, things are looking pretty good. Students who have both a special education teacher and general education teacher primarily throughout the day, they are receiving computer science education.

Students who are in self-contained settings, and students who are receiving resource room support for at least part of their day, things are looking a little bit different for them. So, this is what I mean when I say that it’s a little bit complicated.

So, let’s look at what we’re doing about this. Of course, we’re working together. We are going to talk about a couple of models. I’m actually going to just mention them very briefly, and then, go into our intervention.

One of them is to look at where the issues are, and what we can do at the systems-change, at the school level, and at the classroom level. It’s not enough to just tell teachers, “You need to do a better job.” We need to make sure that we have accessible materials. We need to make sure there is actually time for co-teaching and support, and that teachers have the knowledge.

Another way to do this is to think about it from this multidimensional approach. Right? If I think about a school at the organization level: Is there time for planning?

At the academic dimension: Are there tools available in the school that are accessible? It doesn’t matter how engaging and how universally designed instruction is – if the tools are not accessible, then the students can’t actually learn computer science.

At the assessment level: Are the assessments actually measuring student strengths and not just their deficits?

At the social dimension: are students with disabilities proportionally included? Do they feel like they belong?

That’s how we think about it from an implementation perspective and looking at the change there. So, let’s look at some of this… 

I think we were going to do the second poll now. I think we may actually just skip it because we’ve already talked about it, and I want to be able to get into some additional things. Let’s just move on, then. 

I want to talk about what we’re doing in terms of UDL4CS. We’re developing professional development materials. We are developing case studies. We’re sharing strategies across our partnerships. The hope is that these materials, which by the way will be available to you, can be used across different settings; so that if you’re working on professional development or you’re doing teacher preparation, and you’re looking at how to do those from a universally-designed perspective, those resources will be available to you. 

One of the things that we have created, and I will share this with you, is an interactive table of universal design for learning. So, what we did here, and this is growing, is: UDL is predicated on three principles; multiple means of engagement, representation, action, and expression. Within each one of those, we’ve recorded some videos, and we’ve also put in some strategies. 

So, I can click here. It says “Recruiting interests.” You can watch the video, or the teachers with whom you work with can watch the video, and then have some strategies. We’re growing this.

The other thing that we have as part of this is a bank of resources that I think will be important. If we look … Can you still see me? I think you can still see my screen.

We have these four areas that, with our practice partners, we have identified: so, an introduction to inclusive computer science, advocacy, frameworks, and instructional practices. We have it by grade level, resource type, and the CSTA teacher standard. So for example, if I go into “introduction,” let me just filter through those. We have curated some resources that you can go to. You can go right to those resources.

That’s UDL4CS. The whole idea here is: Let’s provide professional development that also includes students with disabilities. It’s an important piece of the work. 

Let’s see here. Okay, I’m going to talk about another project. Whereas UDL4CS is very much focused on professional development and building professional development resources, this particular project is focused on: How do we design curriculum for teachers to implement that takes project-based learning – and in this particular case, it’s science and computer science at the elementary level focused on project-based learning – and embed universal design for learning and culturally responsive pedagogy right into that? 

We’re looking to see the extent to which these are usable by teachers. This is also a research practice partnership: so, along with us, Broward County Public schools, University of Chicago, and the Outlier Center. This is another set of tools we have that, hopefully, will be valuable to you. 

The first thing that we did was that we took the eight elements of project-based learning and we aligned those with different components of universal design for learning and culturally-responsive pedagogy. So, let me show that to you.

In this particular website, if you go to the crosswalk, which we will go to right now – and I apologize. Right now, it’s just a PDF, but it’s going to be interactive. The PDF should be accessible, but we are hoping to be able to just have this as HTML. This is hot off the presses.

Alright. So, what we have here is each one of the project-based learning components, along with checkpoints to consider how to embed universal design for learning and culturally responsive pedagogy. So, we can look all the way through the eight areas of PDL.

What we then did is: create our unit with lesson plans. We took these elements, and we embedded them right into the lesson plans. So, every single lesson plan we have has something called an “equity spotlight.” In that spotlight, it provides the range of UDL and CRP approaches that we want to make sure to call out to the teachers.

It’s important to note we are not asking the teachers to do the crosswalk themselves. It’s a pretty heavy lift to be able to look at frameworks and embed those in lesson plans, and then teach those lesson plans. So, we have done a lot of this work for the teachers.

The lesson plans are being tested right now. So, they are not on the website because we have a treatment control study. But what I want to let you know is that not only the crosswalk is here, we have created some videos that are available that have a lot to do with our invasive species unit but can be generalized. 

Our first video is just an introduction to the curriculum. The second video is about inclusive frameworks; so, universal design for learning and culturally responsive pedagogy, and how we see that in this integrated approach. 

Then, the others are specifically tied to the different project-based learning steps. So, for those of you who are doing work in project-based learning and are thinking about how to design proactively in a way that is more inclusive, hopefully these videos will be helpful. The lessons should be up after our treatment control study ends. So, look for the website to grow.

Alright, let me go back to the slides. Okay. So, now we have talked about research. We have talked about implementation. I want to actually get to some of the advocacy work that comes out of this. Essentially, we are trying to inform our advocacy work based on both what we know from our research and our practice. We have to acknowledge it is not a one-size-fits-all.

Within my lab, there are a lot of areas of advocacy that many folks on this call are engaged in. We look at four areas, because we can’t do it all. But, these are the areas we are working on.

First, we do work on technology accessibility. I hope folks who are here actually will join us in that, because this is a pretty difficult road that we’re on. It’s demanding that technology companies that design technology for children in K12 are designing with accessibility in mind. Because of what I said earlier: It doesn’t matter – all these amazing instructional practices that our fabulous teachers are doing; if the tech is not accessible, there’s very little we can do.

The other area is: teacher professional development and teacher preparation. Within the PD that is being developed in computer science education, within all the new computer science teacher preparation programs: To what extent are those programs actually thinking about CSforAll that includes students with disabilities? We have some advocacy work there, and some education work. So, insisting that, when we look at our professional development that is provided to teachers in our teacher preparation, that we really are thinking about all kids.

The third area is our curricular resources. Many of the teachers that we work with are not designing their own lessons. They are using curriculum that is adopted by their school district or they’re finding off of the websites. So, working with these curriculum developers to focus on inclusive practices within their curriculum as well is another area of advocacy we are working with.

Then the last area, which actually should be the first area, is: thinking about the students themselves, and their family, and making sure that they have a voice and a place at the table in this work. There is a saying that says, “nothing about us without us” that comes out of the disability advocacy community. It’s really important that, if we’re doing work related to learners with disabilities and their families, they are at the table. So, we want to make sure that we advocate to make sure that folks who need to be at the table are at the table at the decision-making stages – at all decision-making stages.

I’m going to just share, for closing, what we are doing within our teacher preparation program here at the University of Florida. We have a new program. We’ve been working on computer science education for the past three or four years. Actually today, classes are starting, which is amazing! We focus on equity within these teacher preparation pathways, across all of them. We are also advocating for that to happen, not just with me in my classes, but everybody who is teaching within our program; just to make sure that we are all on the same page.

For example, we have an onramp that includes a microcredential. So, folks who aren’t necessarily going to be computer science teachers, but they want to learn about computer science. We have microcredential programs for pre-service teachers. We also are developing some for in-service teachers. One of the ones that we are starting to work on now that, hopefully, will be ready by summer of 2023 is a microcredential related to access and inclusion in computer science education. It’s going to be fully online, and anybody who is interested in it can take it, and earn a badge in inclusive and accessible computer science education. So, that is an example of what we are doing.

Within our courses, we teach two CS pedagogy courses for K-12 teachers. We embed inclusive practices within that: universal design for learning, high leverage practices, culturally responsive pedagogy, and translanguaging. So, these are baked into the program. Then finally, we want to build a pipeline of teachers that are prepared to work with all students – students with disabilities – as part of that.

Not only are we working on the microcredential and students who are in our computer science certificate program, we are integrating computer science into the content areas with the same approach of thinking about inclusion. We are also hoping to develop our mentors who work with our teachers so that they are also thinking about it from this particular mindset. 

Just to close it out, because I have one minute before the Q&A: We started off thinking about how to improve access, how to improve participation, and how to improve learning for all learners, and including students with disabilities within this work. Literally, we are just scratching the surface here. This is a community of folks across the country, not just in our lab, who are doing this work.

So, if this is an area that is of interest to you, if this is an area that is work that you are already doing, we would love to hear from you. Because it’s a pretty small community, but it’s growing. So, we need more people to do the research, to do the implementation, and to do the advocacy for this together.

Alright. It is now 1:40, and I promised that this is when I would be done, folks at NCWIT! So, thank you so much. I think we’re going to be starting our Q&A, and I can stop sharing my screen. So, thank you.

Thank you! Thank you. We so appreciate you, Dr. Israel, for that wonderful presentation! 

Yeah! Now is time for our Q&A. We have been lining up the questions from the chat, and we will jump right into it. So, the first question… We have a couple of quick clarifying questions about the data you presented at the top of your presentation.


The first question is: What do you see in the data with regard to the impact of funding and community socioeconomic status? For example, how do these factors intersect with the percentage of students with a disability and systems self-efficacy around computing education capacity?

Such a good question! It is not a clarifying question, by the way. It’s a really excellent, complicated question. We are looking. 

In this particular data, we have the data on all the socioeconomics and the demographics. So, we are currently running those analyses. Honestly, I think in three weeks, we’ll be able to answer the questions around the intersectional piece. 

We can’t yet answer the question around self-efficacy because we don’t have it. One of the things I’ll tell you that is really difficult to do that I really want to do is: I want to tie students to their teachers. But the person who teaches… The way students in most districts work is: they are assigned to their … whoever is general, I guess.  

Let me back up.  At the elementary level, students are attached to teachers, but those teachers may not be who is actually teaching them computer science. So, tying it – at the elementary level – to who is actually teaching computer science is really, really difficult. 

In terms of self-efficacy, sense of belonging, there’s a lot of data we want to know about kids, their identity beliefs; that is not data that we have at scale. Those are the kinds of studies we are doing at a small scale in these intervention studies. But, I would love to be able to think about doing that at a larger scale. It’s just that we do not have that data available yet. Yet!

Thank you. OK, so, for our next question: Is there a definition in your survey for what “counts” as computer science education?

Great question, too. This is the other part that makes it complicated. The way districts are tagging computer science classes is different. So, it’s very difficult for us to compare. 

In some districts, what they’ll do is: they’ll say “here’s a unit, and a unit means X number of hours,” vs. “here is a semester-long class, and that is X certain number of hours.” Sometimes, we are able to tag it by the number of hours they are receiving computer science. At the high school, it’s a whole lot easier because those course numbers are much more standardized. We know AP CSA, like computer science principles, and so forth – but it’s very difficult for us to actually make comparisons across locations because everybody tags these courses differently.

Oops. I was muted. OK, thank you. We will go into our next one. This one is really interesting to me. Do UDL strategies benefit English language learners in the same way? Or/and, are there additional design considerations including ELL students?

Yes! Oh, my gosh. These are great questions. 

Universal design for learning is all about adding flexibility and knowing who your students are. So, I would say “yes and no.” If we are really considering our English language learners, then language and translanguaging is within that. But when we talk about inclusive frameworks, I want to be really careful to protect the integrity of these different frameworks. So, saying “all of these things fit together” – it isn’t as simple as that. 

Universal design for learning has its three different UDL components. Translanguaging has a set of strategies that are very specific to learners who are bringing in different languages into instruction; honoring and using all those languages. Culturally responsive pedagogy has its own frameworks around making sure that we’re leveraging students’ identities and experiences and acknowledging the systemic racism that’s within systems. 

So, the frameworks work together because students are like, whole human beings. It’s not like… These identities don’t live outside of each other. So, we have to think about how these things work together. Within the UDL framework, I’m considering the English language learners, but I’m also recognizing that there are other frameworks that need to align in instruction to support them. Does that make sense?

Yeah, it does. I think that was a very good and comprehensive answer.

Okay, we are going to shift a little bit and talk about the development of technology. It seems like so much of technology in education is developed by people with little or no educational background. Do you have any thoughts on this? Do you have any solutions for this?

Lots of thoughts on this. I don’t know that I have solutions to it. Whoever said that, they are 100% correct. 

You know, there is this whole startup culture of developing and iterating quickly, and not necessarily taking the time to actually understand its impact on learners. I mean, that’s part of the advocacy work that we do. It’s making sure the teams that are designing technology for children actually have expertise on their team, or at least know where to go to be able to get that. 

Because you know, it’s taking a chance on children, and their own experiences and their ability, beliefs, and what they think of themselves. If we designed for them and those designs aren’t inclusive, then they feel that they can’t do computer science, or whatever it is. But, it’s not them, right? It’s about barriers in the environment; barriers in the technology.

Yeah. I know. That’s really great. It makes me think of something that I heard you actually say when you were starting out in this work in designing an app for kids, and then you actually had the children design the app, and you were blown away by how amazing their iterations were and what they were coming up with.

Yeah, and I shouldn’t have been! I think that’s the point, right? 

In a lot of our preparation programs, we are not “trained” to think about research in this way. Right? We think about intervention work, and design for people and not with people. So, really changing that mindset; it should’ve not been this huge “a-ha!” for me, right? But, it was. That was in 2009, 2010, thankfully – but, yeah.

Yeah, I know. The next question is: Can you talk about your use of language? For example, disability is written with a slash between “dis” and “Abilities,” or without the slash. Are there best practices you recommend around the language or vocabulary we should use when discussing these topics?

So, I don’t think that there is consensus around this. When we talk about disability from a legal perspective and what’s in the law, it’s written like the way it is. 

The reason that I write it with the slash and the Ability is because a lot of times, when we think about disability, there is such a deficit way of looking at this. So, we are designing for kids who aren’t doing very well. We didn’t have a lot of time to get into a lot of this, but students with disabilities – just like students without disabilities – have strengths, have challenges, have areas that are of interest to them. So, for me, when I write dis/Ability like this, it kind of forwards the idea that we need to look at the ability, less at the “dis.” Even though we acknowledge the challenges, it shouldn’t be looked at from this very deficit perspective.

Yeah. Definitely. I completely agree with that framing, from an asset as opposed to a deficit. 

Okay! So, as most of our viewers may know – or may not know, NCWIT has a program called Counselors for Computing. I’m wondering if, well, we’re wondering, if school counselors are part of the professional development that you’re currently offering? Obviously, counselors sit at a really unique position in the work they’re doing with students in choosing courses, and looking at career pathways. So, they might benefit from the content you are offering.

You’re right. They have not been, yet, in our work. It’s just a matter of an area that you are now bringing. I mean, I know about the importance of them. They just haven’t been part of our work so far, but I agree with you. Yes and yes.

Okay! Totally cool. So, moving right along. We have some questions about how people can learn more about this. Do you have a list of links and resources, and relevant research studies, that you could share with our viewers?

Yes! If you go to the UDL4CS website. I will put it up in just a moment. Actually, let me just do that. 

So,; I’m going to share my screen really quickly. This is a great place to start to get resources. Frankly the best thing to do, if folks are really interested in it. Also, there is a place to reach out to me personally, or reach out to cseveryone. Probably, the cseveryone email address is better, because you’ll get a quicker answer. 

But between the UDL4CS and the Time4CS website – which is just if you go to, you’ll be able to get those resources as well. 

Then, my lab resource. Let me just go there too. You can go to That is the other place. You can actually go to all my projects, and learn more about them, there – and all the amazing people that work at the lab with me.

Great, we will definitely share links and everything when we send our follow-ups, so we will share those things as well. 

To shift a little bit, I know today’s conversation’s focus is education, but NCWIT has other alliances, including our Workforce Alliance, where the focus is industry. Are there universal design principles and strategies that employers, managers, or anyone else working in computing and technology can implement? Or, are there any lessons that they can learn from the ideas of universal design for learning?

Yes! That is another really good question.

Firstly, I wanted to shout out the Access CSforAll folks, because they have been doing a lot of work. Whereas I work a lot in that elementary, middle, into high school, they do a lot more work in terms of access and inclusion of people with disabilities in high school, to college, and beyond. So, Access CSforAll is a really good place to go to in terms of finding some of these resources.

There are industries that have done an excellent job in thinking about inclusion. Microsoft, for example, is one of those companies that has invested a lot of time, not only in helping adults transition into a career, but also providing development and training tor people who work with those individuals to make sure that the teams are working well. Remember, we talked about asset-base – so, how do we really leverage people’s strengths? Looking at companies like Microsoft, who have done a pretty good job of trying to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities.

It is important to note that. It’s important to include people with disabilities because they contribute. Their voices actually result in products and organizations that are better, because their voices and their perspectives represent a large percentage of the population. So, it’s important to include them – not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it will benefit the companies themselves.

Yeah! That is so true. We often promote that principle as well. The idea you don’t have is the voice that you haven’t heard.


So, I think we have time for, maybe, a couple more questions. The next question is: Are you planning to assess extracurricular CS education activities for K12 students with disabilities?

So, we have one informal education project right now, but it’s not the primary focus of our work. We have one with Kristy Boyer here at UF looking at AI education for middle school learners in informal settings. That one is in its second year, and is amazing, but we don’t have plans right now to look at informal education as a whole. 

It’s so hard to get this data in schools. I imagine that trying to get this for informal education would be even more difficult. Not that hard makes it not worth it! It’s really important. 

This is also the reason that – you know I see all the people on this call – I am hoping there are others here who are really interested in this work too. Because one lab at the University of Florida can only do what one lab can do, and Access CSforAll can only do what they are doing – but we need more people. So, folks who are focused on informal, and folks that are really focused on that pipeline into career. There’s so much need there.

Thank you. Okay! My final question is: What advice do you have for people working in districts or environments that are less welcoming or receptive to these ideas?

Start with mindsets. Start with working with a few people who you can showcase their work when you start to see successes. Because I think what ends up happening is that people end up surprised that students with disabilities are doing well. It shouldn’t be a surprise, but they are. So, starting small and amplifying those successes is important. 

And then, rather than going in with UDL and all these strategies, just start with thinking about these conversations around shifting biases. Like, what are my own experiences? How did those experiences happen to me? Can I shift those? Because once we change mindsets, we can then change practice.

I love that; starting with mindsets. I really appreciate that. I resonate with it, I should say. 

So, thank you so much for this awesome presentation, for answering these questions, and just giving us some more insight in your research and the findings you are finding down there in Florida. With that, do you have any last words, or anything you want to say before we close out?

I am just thrilled that you all invited me. I was so nervous about doing this, knowing all the wonderful presenters that you have as a part of this series. What I would say is that, for folks who are interested in this, please reach out to us. For those of you who are doing this work, let us know what you are doing because we’d love to also learn from you. So, thank you! I appreciate it.

Thank you! Okay, I’m going to close us out now. Thank you so much, for everyone who came. Thank you so much, Dr. Israel, for giving us your time. And of course, thank you to our sponsors and partners. For NCWIT, we are very appreciative of all of you. 

NCWIT will follow-up with an email with links and some of the resources that Dr. Israel mentioned today. Please be on the lookout for it tomorrow, or by Friday at the absolute latest. If you haven’t already, please let us know if and how you may plan to participate in the 2023 NCWIT Summit by completing the survey link that will appear in the chat window. 

Otherwise, you should or may be seeing a poll or evaluation of this conversation, and we would really appreciate getting your input and feedback. Thank you so much, and I think we can close it out. Bye.

Bye, everyone.

Scroll to Top