Posts tagged ‘BPC’
The NPR Planet Money segment cited below is excellent. I’m really glad that they reached out to Jane Margolis and Telle Whitney to get the history right.
The question that they don’t address in the segment is, “Why did the classes get so much harder in the mid-1980’s that only the boys who were playing with PCs could succeed at them?”
In the early 1980’s, interest in Computer Science spiked. There was more interest than there were seats available in CS classes. Eric Roberts talked about these times in his keynote at the Future of Computing Education Research workshop in January 2014, which I blogged about here. What to do with the burgeoning enrollment and no additional resources? Caps were put into place, and classes became harder. Berkeley raised their cap until you had to have 4.0 in all your pre-requisite CS classes to get accepted to the major. Eric Roberts was chair of the CS department at Wellesley in the early 1980’s, and he told me about introductory CS classes at MIT with insane workload, where only the boys with lots of prior CS experience and who were fanatical about computing were getting through. Jane Margolis and Alan Fisher talked about this phenomenon in Unlocking the Clubhouse when they describe how the men and women in the CS classes at CMU had different views of the computer, which influenced how they interacted with it and how much time they were willing to put into their classes (nice summary of this story is on Wikipedia).
The classes may not have been made harder explicitly to deal with overcrowding, i.e., to “weed out.” It may have happened in response to an influx of boys who already knew a lot from playing with their PC toys, compounded with a lack of resources because of the overcrowding. With boys who already knew a lot, CS teachers could start skipping over topics, or covering them lightly, or just assigning programming tasks so that the student “figures it out” on his or her own. If a student can’t learn with this approach, then teacher might decide that the student just “can’t” learn to program. Maybe the student doesn’t have the Geek Gene. Some students do succeed with this approach, because they know a lot from prior experience (or have the Geek Gene).
Now, put this in the setting of high enrollments and tight budgets. A student with lots of prior experience needs less teacher time to succeed. A student with less experience needs more time and effort in order to succeed in CS classes. In lean times, there are fewer resources for teaching, and those with less experience will not get the resources they need to succeed. Students with more experience will succeed just fine, so we continue to have high-quality CS graduates who get good jobs. Unless we look carefully at who is succeeding and who isn’t, we might not even notice that our program now presumes prior experience in order for the student to succeed.
What’s scary is that we may now be following the exact same path. Eric has been warning about this for some time (see blog post). Enrollment in CS is exploding nationwide. Now, the caps are starting to be put into place. Berkeley now requires a 3.0 in the pre-requisite classes to get in to the major. Here at Georgia Tech, the College of Computing has just requested to have a grade requirement in pre-requisite CS classes before allowing students to transfer into CS.
It’s still the case that it’s mostly wealthier (middle or upper class), white or Asian males who get access to high school CS. That’s in Barb’s AP analysis that got so much coverage this last year (see blog post here and the media coverage here). AP CS is the most gender-skewed AP (more male than AP Studio Art is female). So, even if you’re in a school that can afford AP, women will most likely not be in the CS class. In our AP analysis SIGCSE paper last year, we showed how wealth in a state has a strong relationship with AP CS offerings in the state. We’re now starting to show the relationship continues to the district level as appeared in this blog a few weeks ago.
These kinds of caps have two effects which limit access by women and under-represented minorities (the second of which was pointed out to me by Eric):
- First, the students who succeed the most in intro CS are the ones with prior experience.
- Second, creating these kinds of caps creates a perception of CS as a highly competitive field, which is a deterrent to many students. Those students may not even try to get into CS.
I understand why caps are going into place. We can’t support all these students, and there are no additional resources coming. What else can CS departments do?We might think about a lottery or using something beyond CS GPA to get those seats, something that’s more equitable. State budgets for universities have been cut back across the US, and it’s not clear that anyone (companies or the Federal government) could swoop in and cover that shortfall. In lean budget times, few university administrators (public or private) are willing to invest in CS right now. There will likely be a push for more MOOCs in the introductory courses — which is exactly where MOOCs are least effective (see my article in Ubiquity.)
It looks likely that we are going to reduce the diversity in CS, again. While on our watch.
Mark Zuckerberg. Bill Gates. Steve Jobs. Most of the big names in technology are men.But a lot of computing pioneers, the ones who programmed the first digital computers, were women. And for decades, the number of women in computer science was growing.But in 1984, something changed. The number of women in computer science flattened, and then plunged.
Many in the ideas for this blog post came from discussions with the Diversity Task Force of the ACM Education Council. All the mistakes are mine.
After my post claiming that Georgia Tech’s Computational Media program is the most gender-balanced, ABET-accredited computing undergraduate degree program in the United States, I had several people ask, “But that’s enrollment. Do the women graduate? Do they stick with the program?” My sense was that they did, but I asked our College data person, Elijah Cameron, and he sent me the below. Last year, BS in Computational Media graduates were over 40% female. Pretty good.
I’ve heard this from former students in Silicon Valley. It’s hard to stay in the game for long, because you “age out.”
But one set of statistics has been noticeably absent: the age of those companies workers.Silicon Valleys conversation about diversity has revolved chiefly around gender and race, although the stereotype of the techie as white, male and young has written out the over-40 set as well.”Walk into any hot tech company and you’ll find disproportionate representation of young Caucasian and Asian males,” said Ed Lazowska, who holds the Bill & Melinda Gates chair in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington. “All forms of diversity are important, for the same reasons: workforce demand, equality of opportunity and quality of end product.”
Fascinating analysis! It turns out that the number of women getting degrees in CS actually rose in the early 2000’s, but the percentage shared dropped because so many men women were taking CS, too.
Here’s the number of women getting CS degrees:
Here’s the percentage view:
The gains by women actually weren’t keeping up with the overall increase in the population of CS grads. More men were filling those seats than women. As a share of all CS bachelor’s degrees granted that year, females had slipped almost 10 points, from 37% in 1984/1985 to 27% in 2003. The overall trendline was clearly downward, as seen below.
Interesting question: When do toys lead to changes in stereotypes, and when don’t they?
Why is including female scientists in toys for young kids so important? Because children begin making stereotypical assumptions of what a scientist looks like early in elementary school, and these stereotypes become more firmly implanted year-by-year. Starting in 1957, several research groups have asked school children to “draw a scientist” in order to probe these stereotypes. Normally, when someone is asked to draw a generic person they will draw a person of their own gender. This is not true when children are asked to draw scientists. In study after study, the vast majority of students of both genders draw a scientist as a white man in a lab coat.What is really fascinating is that several studies—although not all—have found that these stereotypes can be changed by simply exposing children to female and/or minority scientists. After interacting with diverse examples of scientists, children made more realistic images of scientists—portraying them without dangerous, smoking test tubes for example—and were more likely to draw female and minority scientists.
Of course, I buy into the argument here about the importance of context. Beyond that, this article does a nice job of tying context to success of women in computing (with quotes both from Barbara Ericson and Valerie Barr, formerly at NSF).
“Boys fall in love with computers as machines; girls see them as tools to do something else,” said Barbara Ericson, a senior research scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology who tracks the AP exam. “Then girls think, ‘maybe I don’t belong because I don’t love them like the boys do.’”
In her position as a professor of computer science at Union College, Barr found contextualizing computer science classes led to an increase in female enrollment. “We said, ‘let’s show them that computer science can be useful by giving themes to the introductory CS courses, so students can see their relevance,’” she said. “For us, it’s been enormously successful. Ten years ago we taught the introductory course to 29 students, and 14% of them were women. This year there were over 200 students, and 39% of them were women.” Beyond college, Barr said, she’d also like to see “a bigger funnel into the corporate world and the tech industry, with people coming from many other majors. It doesn’t have to be just CS majors.”
Nice job — I like the interviews with the students the best (though Jane rocks, of course).
In case the embedded video doesn’t work, click here: http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/science_nation/intotheloop.jsp
Education research team successfully launches innovative computer science curriculum
Jane Margolis is an educator and researcher at UCLA, who has dedicated her career to democratizing computer science education and addressing under-representation in the field. Her work inspires students from diverse backgrounds to study computer science and to use their knowledge to help society. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Margolis and her team investigated why so few girls and under-represented minorities are learning computer science. They developed “Exploring Computer Science,” or ECS, to reverse the trend.