NCWIT Summit 2014: Changing Computing Education in US States

June 3, 2014 at 8:01 am 2 comments

The 2014 National Center for Women & IT (NCWIT) summit was fantastic. I was at the first NCWIT national meeting ten years ago, and I have been at several since. They are always thought-provoking and enlightening. I may have enjoyed this one more because I got a chance to present as well as be in the audience.

(Thanks to Robert Walker for the picture and for allowing me to post it here.)

I offered a workshop on how to change state education public policy to improve and broaden access to computing education. The slides from the workshop are available here in PDF and here in PPTX. The workshop was offered twice: Tuesday afternoon (SRO packed room of about 40!) and Wednesday morning (maybe 25). I had a half-dozen hallway conversations from people who wanted to talk about their state in particular. Overall, there was a significant interest.

All the workshop presenters advertised their workshops as a Flash talk. A Flash talk is intense: exactly 20 slides, presented for exactly 15 seconds each. No control over either. Jeff Forbes hosted the Flash talks. They were all recorded by Turner Broadcasting, and you can see them all here. (I’m the first one.) My slides are available here in PPT format.

What can you possibly say in exactly five minutes? I worked harder on that five minute talk than on most of the keynotes I have ever presented. I’ve been thinking about this since last December when I wrote the initial blog post on this idea. In the end, the structure of what I was saying was good, and I ended up using it for the workshop, too.

To change a state, start here

I proposed a four step process to start changing a state:

  1. Find a leader(s): Computing education reform doesn’t just happen. Someone (or a small group of someones) has to take the initiative.
  2. Figure out where you are and where you’re going: The hardest part is seeing the big picture (of how schools, higher education, businesses, and state politics have to work together) and figuring out how to make change within a state. Two years into ECEP, and I am still surprised at the state differences. Here’s one I just learned. Hawaii makes all education decisions at the district level (like California and Massachusetts), but all of Hawaii is one school district. All those islands, one school board.
  3. Gather your allies: Find all the high school teachers, university faculty, business leaders, and state Department of Education leaders who want to work together. We find that efforts that speak with multiple voices from different sectors to promote computing education tend to get more influence in state government.
  4. Get initial funding: There are big ticket items for computing education, like professional learning opportunities for all your high school teachers. But there are smaller ticket items that need to happen early on in the process. One of these is a landscape report: Where are you now. There are several of these available at the CSTA website. Another is a summit, a face-to-face meeting of all your allies, along with the people that you’d like to influence (the ones who will come), to develop a set of shared goals and a shared strategy for getting there.

Plenaries: 80-hour work weeks are a human issue, not a women’s issue

NCWIT summits always have a mix of alliance meetings (Academic Alliance, K-12 Alliance, Workforce Development, Social Science Advisory Board) and plenaries, besides workshops. All the plenaries were recorded and are available here. A few of the plenaries were just so amazing that I want to highlight them.

Michael Kimmel is a social scientist working in masculine studies. His talk on engaging men to support women in technology was the my favorite talk of the summit. He was hilarious, yet grounded in real data. He explained what Larry Summers got wrong in his comments when he said that “many women with young children are unwilling or unable to put in the 80-hour work-weeks needed to succeed in those fields.” Kimmel pointed out that that framing implies men inviting women into a world where men’s values rule. If men and women had equal status in science, would we require 80-hour work weeks? Do we want anyone to work that hard at science and the consequent neglect of other priorities? Survey results show that men value time with their families more, but feel pressured by other men to be the “unencumbered worker” who will put in those hours and value work above all else. “Why do we call these concerns women’s issues when they’re really family issues or even human issues?”

Dr. Chelsea Clinton spoke and was amazing. She was articulate, confident, and well-prepared to speak to issues of gender diversity and technology. She just completed her doctorate at Oxford, so this was her first talk where she was introduced as Doctor Chelsea Clinton.

I didn’t really know who Donna Brazile was before she spoke. I didn’t know that she ran Al Gore’s presidential campaign, or that she’s a CNN commentator and columnist, or that she’s done cameos on shows like “House of Cards.” I’ve looked her up since she gave such a terrific speech at the NCWIT Summit. She was funny, irreverent, and compelling.

All in all, it was a great summit.  I learned a lot and made a lot of useful contacts.  We now are talking with people in several other states about ECEP working with them to improve and broaden participation in computing education.

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