Cultivating Chicago’s CS Learning Ecosystem

Project: Research project

Project Details


Chicago City of Learning (CCOL), is a mayoral initiative designed to connect youth to out-of-school learning opportunities by making them more visible. CCOL also seeks to support youth in exploring pathways of interest by both enabling them to document their out-of-school experiences and by recommending new opportunities to them based on their participation. CCOL is a mayoral initiative that was launched in 2013 with a city-wide focus and a focus on youth from ages 4 to 24. Since 2013, over 60,000 opportunities have been “published” on CCOL and over 100,000 youth have created portfolios on the platform. The power of CCOL to make the out-of-school program landscape visible became evident early in the life of the initiative. And with support from colleagues at University of Colorado Boulder, the CCOL team, began to develop data visualizations that illustrated aspects of Chicago’s “learning ecosystem”. For example, these visualizations could show, very effectively, where programs were being offered in the city and the density of those programs. Such data could inform program development and, in fact, in the summer of 2016, the CCOL team raised funds to create a mobile program so that computer science (CS) activities could be brought into communities that had been identified as having few of those programs. However, given the size of Chicago, a caveat always was that it was very likely that not all programs had been identified – that the CCOL “data set” was incomplete. In 2017, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) Group Foundation funded the CCOL team to map the informal CS landscape – to identify every out-of-school CS program available to K-12 youth. This work not only produced Chicago’s first informal CS program map (, but led to the identification of specific gaps in CS program offerings, as well as began to build the community of youth-serving organizations that could, in partnership and with intention, address those gaps. The CCOL team, now at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy and leading the Center for Excellence in Computer Science Education (CECSE), seeks funding to sustain and expand this work, with a focus on the following: a) developing a sustainable model for the ongoing capture of informal CS opportunities, b) cultivating and sustaining a community of informal CS program providers, c) identification of both program and participation patterns and gaps, d) supporting connected pathways of engagement across school-based and out-of-school CS learning opportunities, and e) advancing the use of data to illustrate the informal CS landscape.
Effective start/end date7/2/196/30/21


  • CME Group Foundation (Award 05/08/2019)


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