Since it began in 2013, Hour of Code has been promoted as an event that can change a young person’s life by exposing him or her to the wonders of computing even if only for 60 minutes.
But is Hour of Code really an effective tool with lasting benefits?
Code.org has produced a new study that attempts to answer this question.
The study entitled, “The Hour of Code: Impact on Attitudes Towards and Self-Efficacy with Computer Science” is based on data collected through a survey of students during Computer Science Education Week last December.
It found that the activity may positively change students’ attitudes about computer science and increase their feelings of self-efficacy where the subject is concerned, and these benefits were most pronounced among girls, a key demographic for the organization because women are underrepresented in the field.
For example, after completing Hour of Code, 75 percent of high school girls surveyed with no previous computer science experience said they liked the subject. That’s up from 55 percent prior to the activity.
Hadi Partovi is the CEO and a co-founder of Code.org. He said he’s been routinely asked what can students learn in one hour and has always responded that they’ll pick up that computer science is more fun that they thought it was and easier than they thought it was.
“I’ve never had data to support that,” said Partovi. “I’ve only said that based on anecdotes. The strongest thing that came out of the study is recognizing that indeed from just an Hour of Code students can decide that computer science is a field that they are themselves interested in, that they like, and they think they can be good at.”
Students in 563 classrooms participating in Hour of Code were invited to fill out an online survey before and after the activity to gauge their feelings about computer science. Teachers voluntarily opted in to have their classes participate in the survey after receiving an email from Code.org and were offered $10 gift cards for having their classes participate. Each teacher could choose from two different Hour of Code activities.
Both surveys asked the students to indicate their level of agreement with the following four statements:
- I like computer science.
- I think computer science is interesting.
- I have the ability to learn computer science.
- I am better at computer science than most kids at my school.
The pre-survey also had one question related to students’ experience with coding before their participation in Hour of Code.
More than 8,000 students completed at least one question on both of the surveys. Forty-one percent of participants were 10 or younger, while 45 percent were 11-13, and 14 percent were 14 and older.
The survey found that the biggest difference in feelings about computer science came from high school girls who had not participated in Hour of Code previously.
Although the study writers indicate they’re encouraged by this data, they also point out some of the limitations of their work. They specifically mention the need for more information on gender. Only 48 percent of students indicated their gender on the survey.
"...given that we don’t have more information related to the demographic breakdown of all the students and that this was an opt-in study, we may not have a representative sample of participants, limiting the generalizability of these findings to all school-age students.”
The researchers also don’t know if students’ changed attitudes about computer science were maintained in the days and weeks following the Hour of Code activity.
Still Partovi said given the scale of the study, they feel good about the results.
“Although the teachers themselves opted in to the study, every student in their classroom participated, which means there’s not a selection of which of the students wanted to participate or which ones didn’t want to participate,” said Partovi.
The idea that a single exposure to computer science can make a substantial difference in how students see the subject is particularly encouraging for Partovi as a big part of Code.org’s mission is to get more girls and underrepresented minorities interested in the field.
“Getting women and underrepresented minorities to try computer science is a huge challenge for our country and especially for the tech companies but for the country and the education system overall, and these results are incredibly promising in terms of tactics that we can use in terms of doing this,” said Partovi.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.