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Computer science training summit at IU draws teachers nationwide

July 20, 2018

This week, the school bell tolled. Not to worry, kids. It’s not time for students to head back to the classroom just yet.

But hundreds of teachers assembled at Indiana University-Bloomington to take in lectures, hit the books and do some hands-on training as part of the inaugural Pathfinders Summer Institute, a week-long intensive education and training camp for K-12 teachers who want to learn more about computer science instruction.

In all, 575 teachers from 45 states attended the event, which is hosted by Infosys Foundation USA, the Palo Alto, California-based philanthropic arm of Infosys, an India-based information technology services company.

Infosys this year opened a sizable office at the One America building in downtown Indianapolis and is planning a bigger campus at the former Indianapolis International Airport terminal site. Company officials said Indiana was the perfect location to launch the summer institute.

“This is a unique event. There’s no other like it,” Lauren Hasenhuttl, communications director for Infosys Foundation USA, told IBJ. “This program is unique in breadth and scale, covering 19 curriculums for K-12. Through this, we are empowering these kids not only to be consumers of technology but to be creators of technology.”

Registration for the program was nearly $2,000 per person, but there were a bevy of programs from Infosys and its partners to subsidize the teachers’ tuition, as well as transportation, room and board and meals. While Infosys Foundation officials declined to reveal the budget for the Pathfinder Summer Institute, multiplying the number of teachers by the tuition puts the total at more than $1 million.

“It’s a significant investment for a foundation of our size,” Hasenhuttl  said.

So why is Infosys and its philanthropic arm interested in such an expensive endeavor?

“This fits our mission,” Hasenhuttl explained. “Our mission is to bridge the digital divide, and as part of that, we want to do what we can to assure students have access to high-quality computer science education.

“This is important because no one is investing in helping teachers teach computer science,” she added. “If we’re not teaching these K-12 students computer skills, what are they going to do when they graduate? These are skills that can be applied across a wide range of industries.”

Many of the teachers in attendance at the Pathfinders Summer Institute teach at schools in rural communities and/or lower income areas.

The summer institute is timely for Indiana. In March, state lawmakers passed legislation requiring every public school, including charter schools, to embed computer science training in the curriculum provided to students in kindergarten through 12th grade, beginning in the 2021-22 school year.

So it’s not surprising that Gov. Eric Holcomb, along with Laurie McRobbie, the wife of IU President Michael McRobbie, helped kick off the event on Monday (although it actually began on Sunday). The conference runs through today.

“It was very exciting for these teachers to hear from a governor that is so supportive of computer science education,” Hasenhuttl  said.

Part of the Pathfinder Summer Institute is “maker education,” Hasenhuttl  said. That part of the curriculum, she explained, helps teachers better teach students how to use computational skills and creativity “to make and create things.”

Hasenhuttl said Indiana was chosen as a location for the event due to the state’s support since Infosys opened a hub here earlier this year.

In addition, Hasenhuttl said, "Indiana is centrally located and Indiana University has been very supportive and they have an absolutely beautiful campus."

The state also helped pay to send 124 Indiana teachers to the week-long event.

“Indiana teachers enrolled in the Code.org professional development courses offered by Nextech are attending Pathfinders Summer Institute at no cost. This was made possible through the support of Infosys Foundation USA, Nextech and the state of Indiana,” Hasenhuttl said.

In addition to the Infosys Foundation, Nextech, the National Science Foundation, Computer Science Teachers Association and Code.org supported the event and helped cover out-of-state teachers’ tuition costs.

Infosys Foundation officials considered having the even at IUPUI, but Hasenhuttl said there wasn’t enough space available at the Indianapolis campus.

This is no junket. The training is intensive and the accommodations, while comfortable, are what most people would call basic. The teachers are staying in IU dorms and eating at dorm cafeterias.

Infosys Foundation officials haven’t finalized plans for next year, Hasenhuttl said, but added that it’s possible the conference could return to IU.

“Once this year’s event is over, we’ll assess and evaluate it,” Hasenhuttl said. “I can tell you, the response from the teachers here has been tremendous. The hashtag InfyPathfinders has had a ton of activity this week.

“The teachers at this event are very excited to be here and enthusiastic to take what they’ve learned back to the classroom,” Hasenhuttl added. “We hope to have an even bigger event next year with more teachers.”

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