Posts tagged ‘NCWIT’
An interesting and insightful reflection by a female at Stanford about why she thinks women don’t go into computing.
I find the question about getting more women in technology an interesting and relevant one. Harvey Mudd’s President, Maria Klawe offered an explanation: “We’ve done lots of research on why young women don’t choose tech careers, and number one is they think it’s not interesting. Number two, they think they wouldn’t be good at it. Number three, they think they will be working with a number of people that they just wouldn’t feel comfortable or happy working alongside.”
Klawe’s findings are just one of many attempts to answer the women-in-tech question. Several articles cite surveys that find girls are avoiding tech careers—ostensibly because we’re shallow and afraid of the stereotype affiliations of being socially awkward, or we’re singularly focused on computers, or we’re physically unattractive. However, I find the female vanity explanation out of touch with the reality of what I’ve experienced as a female undergrad interested in pursuing a career in technology.
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.
The website https://www.madewithcode.com/ is really nice, with high-quality videos. I like the direction. It’s not clear to me how all the different Google initiatives in CS education integrate. Does MadeWithCode, CS First, their new CS teaching repository, and the CS Fellows program all fit together in a strategic direction?
Made with Code’s mission is anchored by a website where girls can use basic coding technique to make bracelets and other items; Google also will dole out grants to host girl-coding parties at Girl Scouts and Boys and Girls Clubs around the country, as well as fund a range of marketing and other awareness campaigns.The idea is to de-couple coding with dry tech chores, and instead show how the skill is vital to everything from movie-making to helping cure malaria.
The title is right, but the article (linked below) doesn’t really explain what “encouragement” means. We do have an answer to that from our “Georgia Computes!” work. We found that a sense of “belonging” was key to retention in the Computing major, especially for women and under-represented minorities.
More encouragement will be needed to attract girls into the IT profession, according to a BCS survey.
BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, found that 79% of BCS members believed that the IT profession would benefit from having more women working in it.
Currently, women account for just 15-18% of IT professionals, a figure that has fallen significantly in recent years, said the BCS.
Interesting post on how STEM isn’t all male-dominant, but Engineering and CS are SO male dominant, it shifts the average.
Computer science is a particularly strange case, as it has seen more fluctuation both in raw numbers of students data not shown here and gender balance than any other field. Other fields have seen large shifts in gender balance, but they have generally been gradual and nearly monotonic—not reversing course in the early 1980s. It seems to me that the biggest drops in the ratio of women in CS came at times when the overall number of students in CS was dropping like after the dot-com bubble burst in the 2000. When CS grew, the number of women grew faster than the number of men. When CS shrunk, the number of women shrunk faster than the men. Perhaps if CS education had had a steady growth, rather than the boom-and-bust cycles that have plagued it since the late 1970s, it would not have had such a mysterious rise and fall in proportion of women in the field. The boom-and-bust cycles are not driven by the real need for CS degrees, but by media hype about relatively small shortages or excesses of personnel. I believe that the demand for CS degrees has been stabler than the supply unlike most other fields, where the supply has been steady even as demand has fluctuated.
At the NCWIT Summit this year, I heard an interesting concern. If CS counts as a mathematics or science course towards high school graduation requirements, will that make CS even less diverse? Should we keep CS as a business topic (elective) where the women and under-represented minorities are?
I took up that question for my Blog@CACM post for this month: Why Counting CS as Science or Math is Not Considered Harmful. I argue that our goal is universal computational literacy, with everyone using computing in every class and everyone taking CS. I don’t really care how it gets a foothold in schools. It was fun to write about Alan Kay, Adele Goldberg, and Andy diSessa, pointing out that they were talking about these ideas a long time before computational thinking.
After the NCWIT Summit, we had two days of meetings with ECEP State Partners and our Advisory Board, hosted by Debra Richardson at the University of California at Irvine. Then, Barbara and I got a chance to visit with Alan Kay for a few hours on Friday. As always, we came away with pages of notes and a long list of things to read and think about. All of these meetings were productive and interesting, but the next stage on our California adventure has had me thinking about how we teach hard science and hard computer science.
A former student at Georgia Tech and one of the first MediaComp Teaching Assistants, Jim Gruen, now works at SpaceX. He invited Barb and I to come up for a tour. We rented a car and drove to Hawthorne.
Barb at SpaceX
What an amazing place! The front third of the building are where the 40 programmers (“Everything is software,” Jim told us) sit with other engineers and developers. The back 2/3’s of the building is the factory floor where rockets are assembled. As you walk onto the floor, there is mission control to your right, and above your head is the actual Dragon capsule that first docked with the International Space Station. It is an inspiring sight as you walk onto the factory floor.
We saw rockets being built! Jim showed us where engines are being assembled into racks, where carbon composites are molded into parts, where detailed metal parts are made with 3-D (metal!) printers, and where the parts of the fuel tanks are welded together then painted. We saw the shop where they’re making prototype space suits. We saw via live video stream (on a giant TV on the wall of the developers’ floor) the amazing Dragon Taxi that was just recently unveiled. We saw lots of people (mostly men, unfortunately) working to build a future where humans are space-faring.
I was deeply impressed. SpaceX has a corporate goal to put human beings on Mars. What a noble goal! (Perhaps we could compare that to a corporate goal of, say, getting more people around the world to drink fizzy, flavored sugar-water?)
Jim does kernel-level hacking. He works on the boot sequence for the flight computer, networking, and device drivers. He showed us his current project. He is integrating in the module responsible for firing the rocket that will pull the astronauts off of the rocket in case there is an explosion during take-off.
I left the SpaceX feeling like I just had a glimpse of the future. The discussions when I tell people about our visit have had me thinking about how we prepare students for that future.
SpaceX is exciting and motivating to everyone I’ve talked to. Admittedly, I tend to hang out with people interested in science and engineering. Our daughters were jealous that we got to visit SpaceX. The other night, my 16 year old daughter had a girlfriend over for dinner, and the friend had questions for me about SpaceX. I was shocked — my teenage daughter is telling her female friends stories about her parents’ adventures?!? All the undergraduate and graduate students that I have told about SpaceX were impressed and had questions about our visit, both male and female students.
I do believe in the literature that suggests that women are socialized to be motivated to help people, and that efforts like service learning can motivate women to study CS. That’s part of the motivation for efforts like HFOSS. Many people are asking the question why women aren’t pursuing the “hard sciences.”
Maybe we’re using the wrong context in the hard sciences. Many people (not just women) don’t get too excited about physics, chemistry, and engineering. Everyone I’ve talked to is very excited about SpaceX. Working at SpaceX requires lots of “hard science.” The stuff that Jim is doing is low-level and geeky — rebuilding the Linux kernel stuff. My kids are still fascinated about it. Maybe women and other students would be more excited about science if the connection was made to end goals like SpaceX and to helping get humans onto other planets.
Computer science is not that difficult but wanting to learn it is.
Maybe that goes for “hard science,” too. SpaceX is a great reason to want to learn a lot of “hard science.”
Postscript: I told my daughters about this blog post. One daughter said, “We’ve both been to Space Camp (in Huntsville). Space Camp would be great except for that one annoying guy who always thinks he knows everything and wants to tell everyone all about it.” The other daughter agreed. Context is important, but we have to get the social stuff right, too.