Why few women in engineering? It’s the B’s — from Gas station without pumps

I hadn’t heard about this theory before the below blog post — recommended reading.  As usual, I appreciate Kevin’s analysis.

As parents and teachers we encourage children to pursue fields that they enjoy, that they are good at, and that can support them later in life. It may be that girls are getting the “that they are good at” message more strongly than boys are, or that enjoyment is more related to grades for girls. These habits of thought can become firmly set by the time students become men and women in college, so minor setbacks (like getting a B in an intro CS course) may have a larger effect on women than on men. I’m a little wary of putting too much faith in this theory, though, as the author exhibits some naiveté.

via Why few women in engineering? | Gas station without pumps.

April 8, 2014 at 9:11 am 3 comments

Julie Ann Horvath Describes Sexism And Intimidation Behind Her GitHub Exit

The story is interesting and disappointing.  Why would GitHub go through all these contortions just because they had this one female engineer — and would have there been less drama and stress if there had been more than just one female engineer?  The story has been updated in Sunday’s NYTimes.

The exit of engineer Julie Ann Horvath from programming network GitHub has sparked yet another conversation concerning women in technology and startups. Her claims that she faced a sexist internal culture at GitHub came as a surprise to some, given her former defense of the startup and her internal work at the company to promote women in technology.

In her initial tweets on her departure, Horvath did not provide extensive clarity on why she left the highly valued startup, or who created the conditions that led to her leaving and publicly repudiating the company.

Horvath has given TechCrunch her version of the events, a story that contains serious allegations towards GitHub, its internal policies, and its culture. The situation has greater import than a single person’s struggle: Horvath’s story is a tale of what many underrepresented groups feel and experience in the tech sector.

via Julie Ann Horvath Describes Sexism And Intimidation Behind Her GitHub Exit | TechCrunch.

April 7, 2014 at 9:34 am Leave a comment

Why bother? How hackathons can become more female-friendly

Hackathons seem the antithesis of what we want to promote about computer science.  On the one hand, they emphasize the Geek stereotype (it’s all about caffeine and who needs showers?), so they don’t help to attract the students who aren’t interested in being labeled “geeky.”  On the other hand, it’s completely against the idea of designing and engineering software.  “Sure, you can do something important by working for 36 hours straight with no sleep or design!  That’s how good software ought to be written!”  It’s not good when facing the public (thinking about the Geek image) or when facing industry and academia.

So why try to make them “female-friendly”?

OK, so there are a number of valid reasons women tend to stay away from hackathons. But what can hackathon planners due to get more females to attend their events? I found some women offering advice on this subject. Here are some suggestions for making your hackathon more female-friendly.

Amy Quispe, who works at Google and ran hackathons while a student at Carnegie Mellon University, writes that having a pre-registration period just for women makes them feel more explicitly welcome at your event. Also, shy away from announcing that its a competition (to reduce the intimidation factor), make sure the atmosphere is clean and not “grungy”  and make it easy for people to ask questions. “A better hackathon for women was a better hackathon for everyone,” she writes.

via How hackathons can become more female-friendly | PCWorld.

April 4, 2014 at 1:58 am 7 comments

Eisenhower’s Cross of Iron Speech: Trade-offs for the Defense Budget

I recently watched the documentary Why we fightand was struck by the prescience of President Eisenhower’s warning.  So many of our educational decisions are made because of the harsh economic realities of today.  How many of these are guns-for-butter choices might we have made differently if education was considered?  Here in Georgia, computer science curricular decisions are being made with a recognition that there will be little or no funding available for teacher professional development — certainly not enough for every high school CS teacher in the state.  What percentage of the DoD budget would it cost to provide professional learning opportunities to every CS teacher in the country?  It’s certainly in the single digits.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms in not spending money alone.

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.

It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.

It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.

We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.

This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

via Cross of Iron Speech.

April 3, 2014 at 1:14 am 4 comments

Workshop Report: Multidisciplinary Research for Online Education » CCC Blog

The report on the CCC’s workshop on MOOCs and other online education technologies is now out.

In February 2013 the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) sponsored the Workshop on Multidisciplinary Research for Online Education (MROE). This visioning activity explored the research opportunities at the intersection of the learning sciences, and the many areas of computing, to include human-computer interactions, social computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and modeling and simulation.

The workshop was motivated and informed by high profile activities in massive, open, online education (MOOE). Point values of “massive” and “open” are extreme values that make explicit, in ways not fully appreciated previously, variability along multiple dimensions of scale and openness.

The report for MROE has been recently completed and is online. It summarizes the workshop activities and format, and synthesizes across these activities, elaborating on 4 recurring themes:

  • Next Generation MOOCs and Beyond MOOCs
  • Evolving Roles and Support for Instructors
  • Characteristics of Online and Physical Modalities
  • Physical and Virtual Community

via Workshop Report: Multidisciplinary Research for Online Education » CCC Blog.

April 2, 2014 at 1:39 am 1 comment

How do we make programming languages more usable and learnable?

Andy Ko made a fascinating claim recently, “Programming languages are the least usable, but most powerful human-computer interfaces ever invented” which he explained in a blog post.  It’s a great argument, and I followed it up with a Blog@CACM post, “Programming languages are the most powerful, and least usable and learnable user interfaces.”

How would we make them better?  I suggest at the end of the Blog@CACM post that the answer is to follow the HCI dictum, “Know thy users, for they are not you.

We make programming languages today driven by theory — we aim to provide access to Turing/Von Neumann machines with a notation that has various features, e.g., type safety, security, provability, and so on.  Usability is one of the goals, but typically, in a theoretical sense.  Quorum is the only programming language that I know of that tested usability as part of the design process.

But what if we took Andy Ko’s argument seriously?  What if we designed programming languages like we defined good user interfaces — working with specific users on their tasks?  Value would become more obvious.  It would be more easily adopted by a community.  The languages might not be anything that the existing software development community even likes — I’ve noted before that the LiveCoders seem to really like Lisp-like languages, and as we all know, Lisp is dead.

What would our design process be?  How much more usable and learnable could our programming languages become?  How much easier would computing education be if the languages were more usable and learnable?  I’d love it if programming language designers could put me out of a job.

April 1, 2014 at 9:43 am 21 comments

Facts that conflict with identity can lead to rejection: Teaching outside the mainstream

Thought-provoking piece on NPR.  Take parents who believe that the MMR vaccine causes autism.  Show them the evidence that that’s not true.  They might tell you that they believe you — but they become even less likely to vaccinate future children.  What?!?

The explanation (quoted below) is that these parents found a sense of identity in their role as vaccine-deniers.  They rejected the evidence at a deeply personal level, even if they cognitively seemed to buy it.

I wonder if this explains a phenomenon I’ve seen several times in CS education: teaching with a non-traditional but pedagogically-useful tool leads to rejection because it’s not the authentic/accepted tool.  I saw it as an issue of students being legitimate peripheral participants in a community of practice. Identity conflict offers a different explanation for why students (especially the most experienced) reject Scheme in CS1, or the use of IDE’s other than Eclipse, or even CS teacher reaction when asked not to use the UNIX command line.  It’s a rejection of their identity.

An example: I used to teach object-oriented programming and user interface software using Squeak.  I had empirical evidence that it really worked well for student learning.  But students hated it – especially  the students who knew something about OOP and UI software.  “Why aren’t we using a real language?  Real OOP practitioners use Java or C++!”  I could point to Alan Kay’s quote, “I invented the term Object-Oriented, and I can tell you I did not have C++ in mind.”  That didn’t squelch their anger and outrage.  I’ve always interpreted their reaction to the perceived inauthenticity of Squeak — it’s not what the majority of programmers used.  But I now wonder if it’s about a rejection of an identity.  Students might be thinking, “I already know more about OOP than this bozo of a teacher! This is who I am! And I know that you use Java or C++!”  Even showing them evidence that Squeak was more OOP, or that it could do anything they could do in Java or C++ (and some things that they couldn’t do in Java or C++) didn’t matter.  I was telling them facts, and they were arguing about identity.

What Nyhan seems to be finding is that when you’re confronted by information that you don’t like, at a certain level you accept that the information might be true, but it damages your sense of self-esteem. It damages something about your identity. And so what you do is you fight back against the new information. You try and martial other kinds of information that would counter the new information coming in. In the political realm, Nyhan is exploring the possibility that if you boost people’s self-esteem before you give them this disconfirming information, it might help them take in the new information because they don’t feel as threatened as they might have been otherwise.

via When It Comes To Vaccines, Science Can Run Into A Brick Wall : NPR.

March 31, 2014 at 1:13 am 32 comments

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