When he first learned that he was named the world’s ninth most active contributor in computational thinking, Stanislaus State Assistant Professor of Computer Science Kyu Han Koh was skeptical.
“I thought maybe it was done by some random people in Finland,” Koh said. “I wasn’t sure.”
In fact, the study, done by a team of Finnish researchers, was published in the prestigious journal, ACM Transactions on Computing Education. Koh’s mentor and Ph.D. advisor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Alexander Repenning, ranked first.
“Then I knew it was a big deal,” Koh said. “It made me think I worked hard, did a good job and now people acknowledged my achievement. My research was cited by many people and it was influential. That was a big acknowledgment by the colleges and by peer researchers.”
The ranking also brings recognition to the University.
“I am pleased that Dr. Koh’s professional colleagues recognize the impact he has on students’ learning,” said David Evans, dean of the College of Science. “In the 21st century, it is important that students at all levels develop some literacy in computer science. Dr. Koh's research provides insight for improving learning opportunities in this area. We are fortunate to have his expertise at Stanislaus State.”
The researchers based their rankings on English-only work that appeared in 1,874 documents from 595 different source titles (typically journals, books and proceedings) by 3,779 authors between 2006 and 2019.
Koh has published 14 articles in computational thinking and has been cited 320 times since his first paper in 2009.
“My research was about automated assessment,” Koh said. “My specialty is educational learning assessment. I made a tool to automatically integrate the embedded knowledge in students’ programs. One of the reasons I was ranked so high is it was the highest research about automated assessment.”
His first serious paper, “Towards the Automatic Recognition of Computational Thinking for Adaptive Visual Language Learning,” was honored last fall with the Most Influential Paper Award at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing.
Published more than 10 years ago, it launched Koh in the field of computational thinking.
As a Ph.D. student at Colorado working with Repenning, Koh’s focus was on K-8 education. A team of more than 10 researchers, funded with a multimillion-dollar National Science Foundation grant, sought to implement computer programming in classrooms. It held summer training programs to educate teachers on how to use simple programming to create simulations or create games for their classes. They reached 300 teachers and more than 18,000 students in 21 states and six countries outside of the United States.
The goal was to make computer programming a teaching tool as common as writing and reading.
“I remember an email I received 10 years ago from a teacher telling me their students started having dreams and goals,” Koh said. “They were in an area with low high school graduation rates and students didn’t normally go on to college, but they started asking how they could become a game designer. They found out they needed to get a college education. Also, they started arriving early for class and ready to learn. Their attitude was quite different.”
Koh devoted eight years to K-12, predominately middle-school, education, but left in 2015 for Virginia Tech.
“I wanted to expand my research to the university level,” he said. “I studied one year as a post-doctoral associate and was able to expand my research to college-level learning assessment.”
He brought both sets of research skills to Stan State in 2016, when he joined the Department of Computer Science.
“My goal as a Stan State professor is to learn how we can provide fair grades,” Koh said. “My goal is to assess individual’s learning gains. I don’t want students to lose their motivation or interests because they feel they are behind the class. I want to track an individual’s progress and their effort and compensate their efforts to learn, rather than give them a high score because they already know the concepts.”
Koh’s research on both university and K-12 education continues with much of his work again focused on educating K-8 teachers.
He’s recruited students from his Introduction to Computational Thinking course to reach out to the community with a view of replicating in the Central Valley the work he did in Colorado.
“I’m training my students and once COVID is over, we will go out and help our community,” Koh said.