The Saturday Computing Experience: A Promising Practice for Encouraging Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students to Consider Careers in Computing

The Saturday Computing Experience is an eight-week program that has been held at the University of Washington for local high school students who are deaf or hard of hearing. The program introduces students to computers and computer programming with the goal of encouraging them to consider college majors and careers in computing fields. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for three years, the inaugural Saturday Computing Experience was held in spring 2011. Approximately ten students participated each year.

Recruitment and Preparation

Students are recruited by contacting local high schools, especially those with significant populations of deaf and hard of hearing students. Students complete an application and are selected to participate in the program based on their ability to benefit from the program, their grades, and their statement of interest. Before the program begins, an informational session is held for volunteers to offer suggestions for working with students who are deaf and how to communicate with and without interpreters.


Every Saturday, students meet for a morning session that lasts for two and a half hours. The curriculum focuses on project-based strategies. Students work with a one-on-one mentor on a project that spans multiple weeks. Based on students' preferences, interpreters and captionists are used throughout the program. In addition, students and mentors are encouraged to communicate directly with each other by writing and/or typing. This sort of problem solving helps prepare students for challenges that they will encounter in their careers. Efforts are made to ensure that activities are interactive and fun, and that some of the activities are completed without using computers. Projects have been completed with programs such as Arduino and Scratch. Varying the tools that are used means that students can participate multiple years without repeating the same curriculum. In addition to completing a computing project, students are introduced to professionals in computing fields and learn about career options. 

The program is held in the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science and Engineering on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Holding the event on campus, and in the computer science building, helps to expose students to a university’s computing environment. This familiarity with an academic computing environment may help encourage them to consider majoring in a computing field. In addition, students meet computing faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates who participate in the weekly sessions. During the program, students join a private Facebook group to use for social networking both during and after the program.


In program evaluations students have reported increased knowledge about computing topics as a result of attending the program. In addition, parents have reported that their children learned about, gained interest in, and were more likely to major in computer science fields.

The Saturday Computing Experience is a promising practice for encouraging students who are deaf or hard of hearing to consider careers in computing. Students participate in engaging, interactive computing projects and learn about career options in computing. In addition, gaining familiarity with an academic computing environment and meeting computing faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates may help encourage them to continue studying computing in college.

Learn more about the Saturday Computing Experience in this replication package.

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