Posts tagged ‘broadening participation in computing’
Last year, Peter Denning approached me about contributing a post to an on-line Symposium that he was going to hold in the ACM Ubiquity magazine. The opening statement was written by Candace Thille — I am a big fan of Candace’s work, and I really liked her statement. I agreed to provide a response for the symposium.
Back in May, when I originally wrote the ending, I was concerned that so many Computer Scientists were working in MOOCs. MOOCs don’t address the critical needs of CS education, which are broadening participation and preparing more teachers. The real worry I had was that MOOCs would suck all the air out of the room. When all the attention is going to MOOCs, not enough attention is going to meeting our real needs. MOOCs are a solution in search of a problem, when we already have big problems with too few solutions.
My original ending took off from Cameron Wilson’s (then director of public policy for ACM, now COO of Code.org) call for “All Hands on Deck” to address issues of broadening participation and teacher professional development. Extending the metaphor, I suggested that the computer scientists working on MOOCs had gone “AWOL.” They were deserters from the main front for CS education.
This was the first article that I’ve ever written where the editor sent it back saying (paraphrased), “Lighten up, man.” I agreed. I wrote the new conclusion (below). MOOCs are worth exploring, and are clearly attractive for computer scientists to work on. Researchers should explore the avenues that they think are most interesting and most promising.
I’m still worried that we need more attention on challenges in computing education, and I still think that MOOCs won’t get us there. Critiquing MOOC proponents for not working on CS ed issues will not get us to solutions any faster. But I do plan to keep prodding and cajoling folks to turn attention to computing education.
Here’s the new ending to the paper:
MOOCs may be bringing the American university to an end—a tsunami wiping out higher education. Given that MOOCs are least effective for our most at-risk students, replacing existing courses and degrees with MOOCs is the wrong direction. We would be tailoring higher education only to those who already succeed well at the current models, where we ought to be broadening our offerings to support more students.
Computer science owns the MOOC movement. MOOC companies were started by faculty from computing, and the first MOOC courses were in computer science. One might expect that our educational advances should address our educational problems. In computing education, our most significant educational challenges are to educate a diverse audience, and to educate non-IT professionals, such as teachers. MOOCs are unlikely to help with either of these right now—and that’s surprising.
The allure of MOOCs for computer scientists is obvious. It’s a bright, shiny new technology. Computer scientists are expert at exploring the potential of new computing technology. However, we should be careful not to let “the shoemaker’s children go barefoot.” As we develop MOOC technology, let’s aim to address our educational problems. And if we can’t address the problems with MOOC technology, let’s look for other answers. Computing education is too important for our community and for our society.
Salon.com wrote about the boycott that’s emerging because a major chemistry conference is all male. The linked article, from the President of the University of Cincinnati, talks about what’s needed to retain and grow women in STEM. I wouldn’t have guessed that we’d have this problem in Chemistry before Computer Science.
The recent threat to boycott an upcoming international chemistry conference because of its all-male speaking program reminds us how far we still have to go when it comes to women in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. The challenge remains that many STEM professions remain male-dominated, especially in academia.
Yup, Herminia has the problem right — if CS MOOCs are even more white and male than our face-to-face CS classes, and if hiring starts to rely on big data from MOOCs, we become even less diverse.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. One of the developments that will undoubtedly cement the relationship between big data and talent processes is the rise of massive open online courses, or MOOCs. Business schools are jumping into them whole hog. Soon, your MOOC performance will be sold to online recruiters taking advantage of the kinds of information that big data allows—fine distinctions not only on content assimilation but also participation, contribution to, and status within associated online communities. But what if these new possibilities—used by recruiters and managers to efficiently and objectively get the best talent—only bake in current inequities? Or create new ones?
I’ve been excited to see this paper get published since Betsy first told me about the work. The paper described below (by Betsy DiSalvo, Cecili Reid, and Parisa Khanipour Roshan) looks at the terms that families commonly use to find on-line resources to help their children learn about computer science. They didn’t find Alice or Scratch or Blockly — none of the things that would be our first choices for CS education opportunities on-line. Betsy and her students show how we accidentally hide our resources from the uneducated and under-privileged, by presuming that the searchers are well-educated and privileged. They point out that this is one way that open education resources actually actually increase the socioeconomic gap, by not being easily discoverable by those without privilege. I got to see a preview of this talk, and the results are surprising — a video of the preview talk will be available here. Friday March 7, 3:45-5, in Room Hanover DE.
They Can’t Find Us: The Search for Informal CS Education
In this study we found that search terms that would likely be used by parents to find out-of-school computer science (CS) learning opportunities for their children yielded remarkably unproductive results. This is important to the field of CS education because, to date, there is no empirical evidence that demonstrates how a lack of CS vocabulary is a barrier to accessing informal CS learning opportunities. This study focuses on the experience of parents who do not have the privilege of education and technical experience when searching for learning opportunities for their children. The findings presented will demonstrate that issues of access to CS education go beyond technical means, and include ability to conduct suitable searches and identify appropriate computational learning tools. Out-of-school learning is an important factor in who is motivated and prepared to study computer science in college. It is likely that without early access to informal CS learning, fewer students are motivated to explore CS in formal classrooms.
Here’s a great answer to the under-representation on the AP CS — the College Board (with funding from Google) will offer grants to help start AP programs, including AP CS (see details for AP CS for STEM Access).
AP STEM Access Program: In fall 2013, the College Board implemented the AP STEM Access program in 335 public high schools across the country. With the support of a $5 million Google Global Impact Award to DonorsChoose.org, these schools started offering new AP math and science courses with the goal of enabling underrepresented minority and female students who have demonstrated strong academic potential to enroll in and explore these areas of study and related careers. Over the next three years, the AP STEM Access program will give an estimated 36,000 students the opportunity to study college-level STEM course work in these newly offered AP classes.
Farnam Jahanian visited Georgia Tech last month. Farnam is the Assistant Director at the US National Science Foundation, in charge of all computing related funding (CISE Division). He spoke to issues about computing education funding, and I got to ask some of my questions, too.
He said that the Office of Management and Budget has really been driving the effort to consolidate STEM education funding programs. OMB was unhappy that Biology, Engineering, and CISE all had their own STEM education programs. However, CISE got to keep their education research program (as the new STEM-C program) because it was already a collaboration with the education division in NSF (EHR). All the rest (including TUES) is being collapsed into the new EHR programs.
In his talk, he made an explicit argument which I’ve heard Jan Cuny make, but hadn’t heard an NSF AD make previously:
- We have a dramatic underproduction of computing degrees, around 40K per year.
- We have a dramatic under-representation of certain demographic groups (e.g., women, African-Americans, Hispanics), and we can’t solve #1 without solving that under-representation. He says that the basic arithmetic won’t work. We can’t get enough graduates unless we broaden participation in computing.
- We have a lack of presence in primary and secondary school in the United States (K-12). He claims that we can’t solve #2 without fixing #3. We have to have a presence so that women and under-represented minority groups will discover computing and pursue degrees (and careers) in it.
We’ve heard stories like this before, about the implicit bias in how STEM professionals are judged. This one is striking because the participants are graduate students, not established researchers who reflect years of experience in the community. These are the new researchers, and they’re already biased.
The research found that graduate students in communication — both men and women — showed significant bias against study abstracts they read whose authors had female names like “Brenda Collins” or “Melissa Jordan.”
These students gave higher ratings to the exact same abstracts when the authors were identified with male names like “Andrew Stone” or “Matthew Webb.”
In addition, the results suggested that some research topics were seen as more appropriate for women scholars — such as parenting and body image — while others, like politics, were viewed as more appropriate for men.
These findings suggest that women may still have a more difficult time than men succeeding in academic science, said Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, lead author of the study and associate professor of communication at The Ohio State University.
“There’s still a stereotype in our society that science is a more appropriate career for men than it is for women,” Knobloch-Westerwick said.