Posts tagged ‘undergraduates’

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

Revamped computer science classes attracting more girls: Maybe, or maybe they just want CS

Great to see Dan Garcia and his class getting this kind of press!  I’m not sure I buy the argument that SFGate is making, though.  Do female students at Berkeley find out about this terrific class and then decide to take it?  Or are they deciding to take some CS and end up in this class?  Based on Mike Hewner’s work, I don’t think that students know much about the content of even great classes like Dan’s before they get there.

It is a predictable college scene, but this Berkeley computer science class is at the vanguard of a tech world shift. The class has 106 women and 104 men.

The gender flip first occurred last spring. It was the first time since at least 1993 – as far back as university enrollment records are digitized – that more women enrolled in an introductory computer science course. It was likely the first time ever.

It’s a small but a significant benchmark. Male computer science majors still far outnumber female, but Prof. Dan Garcia’s class is a sign that efforts to attract more women to a field where they have always been vastly underrepresented are working.

“We are starting to see a shift,” said Telle Whitney, president of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology.

via Revamped computer science classes attracting more girls – SFGate.

March 26, 2014 at 1:05 am 1 comment

The Joy of Teaching Computer Science in the Age of Facebook: Interview with Mehran Sahami

Great interview with Stanford’s Mehran Sahami.  I think he has his finger on what’s influencing students going into CS today.

And now a lot more students everywhere are choosing to major in computer science.

In terms of that trend turning around, part of it is the recovery in the high-tech economy, part of it is a change in perception. When people see companies like Google and Facebook being founded by relatively young people, they feel empowered and think: I can do that. And there’s the realization that the demand for computing, at least looking out over the next ten years, is certainly going to be there.

What are the factors that are still holding students back from studying computer science?

The problem is the educational opportunities. You take your average high school, and kids have several years of math classes, they have several years of science classes, several years of English, options for various kinds of vocational training, or history, or economics. But very few schools actually offer real computer science classes. So students don’t get the exposure in high school, of those who go to college, some have never considered computing before because they don’t really know what it is. One of the phenomena we see at Stanford is that the vast majority of our students, 90 percent of undergrads, take computer science classes even though there’s no requirement to do so. Some of them take it and end up loving it, but it’s too late to major in computer science. Had they been exposed to computer science earlier on, they could’ve started at a point that would allow them to pursue this as a major and as a career. When you take your first class your senior year and realize you love it, but you’re going to graduate in another quarter, you can’t complete a major. If there are more of those opportunities earlier in the pipeline, it will help address this.

via The Joy of Teaching Computer Science in the Age of Facebook – Hope Reese – The Atlantic.

March 10, 2014 at 1:08 am Leave a comment

Shortage in the IT U.S. labor market? Or just a lack of graduates?

Is the shortage of STEM graduates a myth, as IEEE has been arguing recently?  Is the case for IT different than the case for STEM overall?

I found the analysis linked below interesting.  Most IT workers do not have an IT-related degree.  People with CS degrees are getting snapped up.  The suggestion is that there’s not a shortage of IT workers, because IT workers are drawn from many disciplines.  There may be a shortage of IT workers who have IT training.

IT workers, who make up 59 percent of the entire STEM workforce, are predominantly drawn from fields outside of computer science and mathematics, if they have a college degree at all. Among the IT workforce, 36 percent do not have a four-year college degree; of those who do, only 38 percent have a computer science or math degree, and more than a third (36 percent) do not have a science or technology degree of any kind. Overall, less than a quarter (24 percent) of the IT workforce has at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science or math. Of the total IT workforce, two-thirds to three-quarters do not have a technology degree of any type (only 11 percent have an associate degree in any field).4

Although computer science graduates are only one segment of the overall IT workforce, at 24 percent, they are the largest segment by degree (as shown in Figure F, they are 46 percent of college graduates entering the IT workforce, while nearly a third of graduates entering IT do not have a STEM degree). The trend in computer scientist supply is important as a source of trained graduates for IT employers, particularly for the higher-skilled positions and industries, but it is clear that the IT workforce actually draws from a pool of graduates with a broad range of degrees.

via Guestworkers in the high-skill U.S. labor market: An analysis of supply, employment, and wage trends | Economic Policy Institute.

February 13, 2014 at 1:16 am 6 comments

Researchers cast doubt about early warning systems’ effect on retention

CS researchers have long been interested in what predicts success in introductory computing, e.g., the “camel has two humps” paper, and the Bennedsen and Caspersen review of the literature.  Would knowing who might succeed or fail allow us to boost retention?  A new system at Purdue was claimed to do exactly that, but turns out, isn’t.

Michael Caulfield, director of blended and networked learning at Washington State University at Vancouver, decided to take a closer look at Signals after Purdue in a September press release claimed taking two Signals-enabled courses increased students’ six-year graduation rate by 21.48 percent. Caulfield described Purdue research scientist Matt Pistilli’s statement that “two courses is the magic number” as “maddening.”

Comparing the retention rates of the 2007 and 2009 cohorts, Caulfield suggested much of what Purdue described as data analysis just measured how many courses students took. As Signals in 2008 left its pilot and more students across campus enrolled in at least one such course, Caulfield found the retention effect “disappeared completely.”

Put another way, “students are taking more … Signals courses because they persist, rather than persisting because they are taking more Signals courses,” Caulfield wrote.

via Researchers cast doubt about early warning systems’ effect on retention | Inside Higher Ed.

December 2, 2013 at 1:41 am Leave a comment

Lessons Learned From First Year College MOOCs at Georgia Tech (and SJSU)

Karen Head has finished her series on how well the freshman-composition course fared (quoted and linked below), published in The Chronicle. The stats were disappointing — only about 238 of the approximately 15K students who did the first homework finished the course. That’s even less than the ~10% we saw completing other MOOCs.

Georgia Tech also received funding from the Gates Foundation to trial a MOOC approach to a first year of college physics course.  I met with Mike Schatz last Friday to talk about his course.  The results were pretty similar: 20K students signed up, 3K students completed the first assignment, and only 170 finished.  Mike had an advantage that Karen didn’t — there are standardized tests for measuring the physics knowledge he was testing, and he used those tests pre-post.  Mike said the completers fell into three categories: those who came in with a lot of physics knowledge and who ended with relatively little gain, those who came in with very little knowledge and made almost no progress, and a group of students who really did learn alot.  They don’t know why nor the relative percentages yet.

The report from the San Jose State University MOOC experiment with a remedial mathematics course came out with the argument:

The researchers also say, perhaps unsurprisingly, that what mattered most was how hard students worked. “Measures of student effort trump all other variables tested for their relationships to student success,” they write, “including demographic descriptions of the students, course subject matter, and student use of support services.”

It’s not surprising, but it is relevant.  Students need to make effort to learn.  New college students, especially first generation college students (i.e., whose parents have never gone to college), may not know how much effort is needed.  Who will be most effective at communicating that message about effort and motivating that effort — a video of a professor, or an in-person professor who might even learn your name?

As Gary May, our Dean of Engineering, recently wrote in an op-ed essay published in Inside Higher Ed, “The prospect of MOOCs replacing the physical college campus for undergraduates is dubious at best. Other target audiences are likely better-suited for MOOCs.”

On the freshman-composition MOOC, Karen Head writes:

No, the course was not a success. Of course, the data are problematic: Many people have observed that MOOCs often have terrible retention rates, but is retention an accurate measure of success? We had 21,934 students enrolled, 14,771 of whom were active in the course. Our 26 lecture videos were viewed 95,631 times. Students submitted work for evaluation 2,942 times and completed 19,571 peer assessments (the means by which their writing was evaluated). However, only 238 students received a completion certificate—meaning that they completed all assignments and received satisfactory scores.

Our team is now investigating why so few students completed the course, but we have some hypotheses. For one thing, students who did not complete all three major assignments could not pass the course. Many struggled with technology, especially in the final assignment, in which they were asked to create a video presentation based on a personal philosophy or belief. Some students, for privacy and cultural reasons, chose not to complete that assignment, even when we changed the guidelines to require only an audio presentation with visual elements. There were other students who joined the course after the second week; we cautioned them that they would not be able to pass it because there was no mechanism for doing peer review after an assignment’s due date had passed.

via Lessons Learned From a Freshman-Composition MOOC – Wired Campus – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

September 21, 2013 at 1:29 am 12 comments

Study finds choice of major most influenced by quality of intro professor: Mesh with Hewner

These results seem consistent with Mike Hewner’s thesis results.  If a student likes her intro course more, they are more likely to take that major.  Students use how much they enjoy the course as a proxy for their affinity for the subject.

Undergraduates are significantly more likely to major in a field if they have an inspiring and caring faculty member in their introduction to the field. And they are equally likely to write off a field based on a single negative experience with a professor.

Those are the findings of a paper presented here during a session at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association by Christopher G. Takacs, a graduate student in sociology at the University of Chicago, and Daniel F. Chambliss, a professor of sociology at Hamilton College. The paper is one part of How College Works, their forthcoming book from Harvard University Press.

via Study finds choice of major most influenced by quality of intro professor | Inside Higher Ed.

September 10, 2013 at 1:02 am 2 comments

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