Pluralsight, USBE partner to advance computer science education in Utah schools | Education

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A Farmington-based technology skills and engineering management platform is teaming up with the Utah State Board of Education to support innovation in K-12 computer science education across the state.

As Pluralsight’s chief impact officer and executive director, Lindsey Kneuven oversees the integration of people, products, technology and financial resources to democratize technology skills, or make access to technology and computer science resources more accessible.

To better reach that goal, Pluralsight developed a social enterprise by the same name — Pluralsight One — to activate all of the different resources at the company’s disposal to “make a meaningful difference on the way the world learns,” specifically through technology.

“We believe computer science education is a foundational literacy and that it is a competency that will really unlock opportunities for students, no matter which industry they wish to pursue,” Kneuven said. “It will help them become creators through technology rather than just consumers.”

For students in Utah, she said, the needs are exponential. Across all public high schools in the state, only 54% teach computer science largely because of the small number of educators who are familiar with computer science concepts.

In Utah County, the following high schools all offer at least one variation of a computer science course, including coding, programming or development: American Fork, Lehi, Lone Peak, Mountain View, Orem, Pleasant Grove, Timpanogos, Summit, Westlake, Polaris, Skyridge, Cedar Valley, Polaris West, Payson, Springville, Landmark, Salem Hills, Maple Mountain, Provo, Timpview and Independence.

Additionally, the following junior highs and middle schools also offer computer science courses: American Fork, Lakeridge, Lehi, Mountain Ridge, Oak Canyon, Orem, Pleasant Grove, Timberline, Vista Heights, Lake Mountain, Spanish Fork, Springville, Mapleton, Diamond Fork, Valley View, Centennial and Dixon.

Nebo Advanced Learning Center also has available computer science courses.

In Utah County, if a student would like to participate in a computer science course at a school where one is not offered, they can attend another school to take the course, according to Career and Technical Education Specialist Kristina Yamada.

If the student is unable to “magnet” to another school, the Utah Education Network also offers IVC labs or other online options through colleges, especially for rural school districts where travel is not practical. IVC is a program that provides high-quality videoconferencing and other services to students, educators and members of the community.

Through this most recent partnership, however, Pluralsight and the Utah State Board of Education are hoping to address the lack of access to computer science resources.

By providing a five-year, $38.95 million product grant to the Utah State Board of Education for K-12 students, faculty and staff in the state of Utah, Pluralsight One is hoping to support staff and teachers by promoting professional development.

The grant is supplemented by technology strategy development, content curation, and access to 10,000 product licenses for staff, teachers, information technology professionals, administrators and guidance counselors across Utah’s 42 school districts as well as all charter schools.

“Our focus is expanding access through our product but also wrapping that with technical support to help USBE staff and educators really implement the product as a professional development and learning tool,” Kneuven said.

In order to best prepare students for the world, teachers and educational staff must continuously grow their knowledge and keep peace with the evolution of technology, especially in such a dynamic field.

Educators, however, need resources to meet this expectation, which is why Pluralsight One partnered with the Utah State Board of Education. Kneuven said the partnership and product grant have been in the works for a while but everything fell into place at a pivotal point for educators in the United States.

“We want to ensure that together we’re able to drive equity and inclusion in computer science, and that we are supporting teachers in this critical time when they are really having not only to adapt their teaching but meet gaps in students’ learning,” she said.

Pluralsight has participated in several other partnerships with the Utah State Board of Education for some time, recognizing the board as the linchpin for the education system across the state, she said.

In the past, Pluralsight has partnered with the Utah State Board of Education to develop and implement the Utah Computer Science Master Plan as well as K-12 computer science state standards.

The company’s history of collaboration in the education sector has been a concerted effort between both Pluralsight and the Utah State Board of Education as it relates to computer science, Kneuven said.

“Utah is fortunate to have great computer science expertise within our state,” Utah State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson said in a statement. “Our partnership with the technology sector is intended to improve teaching and learning, leading to expanded career opportunities for our students in the future.”

This more recent partnership only highlights the several different aspects of the company’s effort surrounding the democratization of computer science.

Education, Kneuven said, is meant to prepare future generations for the careers of their choice, and if all students aren’t given equal access to computer science education, a significant percentage of the world is falling behind.

“Industries are really rapidly transforming to digital, regardless of what industry they’re in,” she said. “That’s something we want to ensure, that all students have the opportunity to learn the skills that would help them move into careers and really fulfill their potentials.”

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, schools and companies have been working with technology to promote distanced learning and teleworking options to employees, making this is the perfect time for faculty and staff to put themselves in a position to help support students through technology, she said.

Kneuven said this most recent partnership and product grant is not an isolated incident, and she and Pluralsight look forward to working with the Utah State Board of Education more in the future.

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