How the Imagined “Rationality” of Engineering Is Hurting Diversity — and Engineering

Just a few weeks ago, Richard Thaler won the Nobel prize in Economics. Thaler is famous for showing that real human beings are not the wholly rational beings that Economic theory had previously assumed.  It’s timely to consider where else we assume rationality, and where that rational assumption may lead us into flawed decisions and undesirable outcomes.  The below article from Harvard Business Review considers how dangerous the Engineering “purity” argument is.

Just how common are the views on gender espoused in the memo that former Google engineer James Damore was recently fired for distributing on an internal company message board? The flap has women and men in tech — and elsewhere — wondering what their colleagues really think about diversity. Research we’ve conducted shows that while most people don’t share Damore’s views, male engineers are more likely to…

But our most interesting finding concerned engineering purity. “Merit is vastly more important than gender or race, and efforts to ‘balance’ gender and race diminish the overall quality of an organization by reducing collective merit of the personnel,” a male engineer commented in the survey. Note the undefended assumption that tapping the full talent pool of engineers rather than limiting hiring to a subgroup (white men) will decrease the quality of engineers hired. Damore’s memo echoes this view, decrying “hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for ‘diversity’ candidates.”

Google and taxpayer money, Damore opines, “is spent to water only one side of the lawn.” Many male engineers in our survey agreed that women engineers are unfairly favored. “As regards gender bias, my workplace offers women more incentives and monetary support than it does to males,” commented one male engineer. Said another, women “will always be safe from a RIF [reduction in force]. As well as certain companies guaranteeing female engineers higher raises.”

Source: How the Imagined “Rationality” of Engineering Is Hurting Diversity — and Engineering

December 11, 2017 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Advancing Computational Thinking Across K-12 Education, across Many Disciplines – Digital Promise #CSEdWeek

New report on coding, computer science, and computational thinking has just come out from Digital Promise.  I have been critical of some definitions of computational thinking (as I described in my book). I like the way Digital Promise defined them, and particularly how they connect CT to learning in other disciplines.

Advocating for computational thinking throughout the K-12 curriculum does not replace or compete with efforts to expand computer science education: on the contrary, it complements them. Where computer science is not yet offered, integrating computational thinking into existing disciplines can empower educators and students to better understand and participate in a computational world. And schools already teaching coding and computer science will benefit from weaving computational thinking across disciplines in order to enrich and amplify lessons that are beyond the reaches of computer science classes.

We offer a number of recommendations to move this work forward. Among them are advocacy campaigns, curriculum and resource development, professional development for teachers and administrators, and continued research.

Source: Advancing Computational Thinking Across K-12 Education – Digital Promise

December 8, 2017 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

NSF funds FLIP Alliance to diversify CS professoriate #CSEdWeek

This is an exciting new project from Valerie Taylor (University of Chicago), Charles Isbell (Georgia Tech), and Jeffrey Forbes (Duke University). It’s based on an observation that Charles has made before, that we can diversify CS faculty by impacting just a handful of schools.

The goal of the NSF-funded FLIP (Diversifying Future Leadership in the Professoriate) Alliance is to address the broadening participation challenge of increasing the diversity of the future leadership in the professoriate in computing at research universities as a way to achieve diversity across the field.  In particular, the problem that we address is stark and straightforward: only 4.3% of the current tenure-track faculty in computing at these universities are from underrepresented groups.

The FLIP Alliance solution is equally stark and straightforward: we intentionally bring together the very small number of departments responsible for producing the majority of the professoriate with individuals and organizations that understand how to recruit, retain, and develop students from underrepresented groups in order to create a network that can quickly and radically change the demographic diversity of the professoriate across the entire field.

from CMD-IT FLIP Alliance

December 7, 2017 at 7:00 am 5 comments

US National Academics Report Investigates the Growth of CS Undergraduate Enrollments #CSEdWeek

The new National Academies report on the growth of CS undergraduate enrollments came out last month. It’s important because it reflects the recommendations of scholars across disciplines in dealing with our enormous enrollment growth (see Generation CS report for more findings on the surge).

I wrote about this report in my Blog@CACM post for this month, The Real Costs of a Computer Science Teacher are Opportunity Costs, and Those Are Enormous.  The report talks about how hard it is to hire new faculty to deal with the enrollment boom, because the Tech industry is increasing its share of new PhD’s and recruiting away existing faculty.

Eric Roberts at Stanford was part of the report writing, and points out that the committee did not reach agreement that there is a problem with participation by underrepresented minorities. Quoting Eric’s message to SIGCSE-members, “the committee did not find comparable evidence that departmental limitations have historically had a negative effect on participation by underrepresented minorities. In fact, the total number of degrees awarded to students in the largest of the underrepresented demographic groups (African American and Latino/Latina) has roughly matched the percentages at which students from those communities obtain bachelor’s degrees.”  It’s surprising, and Eric’s note goes on to explain why that result is so concerning. The report does say clearly, “Institutions should take deliberate actions to support diversity in their computer science and related programs.”

Since 2006, computer science departments in the U.S and Canada have experienced a surge in the number of undergraduate majors and course enrollments. The resulting strain on departmental and institutional resources has been significant for many departments, especially with respect to faculty hiring and overall workload. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has recently addressed the issue with the release a report titled “Assessing and Responding to the Growth of Computer Science Undergraduate Enrollments.”

The NAS report discusses strategies central for managing enrollment and resources, and makes recommendations for departments and institutions. Its findings and recommendations provide much-needed guidelines on how institutions can allocate resources to meet growing student demand and to adequately support their computer science department in the increasingly central role of computer science in education and research. “The way colleges and universities respond to the surge in student interest and enrollment can have a significant impact on the health of the field,” said Susanne Hambrusch, co-chair of the report’s committee and a professor of computer science at Purdue University.  “While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, all institutions need to make strategic plans to address realistically and effectively the growing demand for the courses.”

Source: NAS Report Investigates the Growth of Computer Science Undergraduate Enrollments

December 6, 2017 at 7:00 am 1 comment

Most jobs requiring CS skills do not require a CS degree #CSEdWeek

I am excited about this new report from Burning Glass and Oracle because it provides evidence for the claim that the vast majority of people who need CS skills will not be CS majors.  I will be joining folks from Burning Glass and Alison Derbenwick Miller and others from Oracle Academy in a Twitter chat about the report Wednesday, December 6 at 4 pm PT/7 pm ET.  Hope you can join us.

Only 18% of these jobs specifically request a computer science degree

While many employers are looking for workers with strong computer science skills, they are not necessarily looking only at job seekers with computer science degrees. Only 18% of jobs in the categories listed above specifically request a computer science degree. (Most postings do request a bachelor’s degree generally or a degree in another major.) Programming and data analysis jobs are the only categories that have significant demand for computer science degrees. For all other categories, fewer than 5% of postings request a computer science degree.[1] This means that students in a broad range of education programs can enhance their job market value by including computer science in their education pathways.

Source: Rebooting Jobs | Computer Science Skills | Burning Glass Technologies


December 5, 2017 at 7:00 am 1 comment

Prediction: The majority of US high school students will take CS classes online #CSEdWeek

The Washington Post got it wrong when it announced that Virginia is the first state to mandate CS education for all students.  South Carolina has had that mandate for 30 years.  But they couldn’t prepare enough teachers to teach computer science, so they took classes they were already teaching (like “keyboarding”) and counted those as CS classes.

Virginia could fall into the same trap, but I don’t think so.  Instead, I predict that most Virginia high school students will take CS on-line (and that likely goes for the rest of the US, too).  I was struck by how the Richmond-Times Dispatch described the vote to mandate CS (below quoted from here):

The standards, approved unanimously, but reluctantly, by the state Board of Education on Thursday, are a framework for computer science education in the state. Other states have advisory standards, but Virginia became the first to have mandatory standards.

Board member Anne Holton voiced her concern with the grade level appropriateness of the standards before the vote.

“The standards, they seem ambitious to me,” she said. “These are not meant as aspirational standards, they are meant as a mandate that our teachers need to be able to teach.”

“We’re clearly leading the nation and that puts an extra burden on us to get it right.”

Mark Saunders, the director of the Education Department’s Office of Technology and Virtual Learning, led a presentation of the department’s process in adopting the standards.

The presentation satisfied the board enough to vote on the standards rather than delay action until January.

I’m reading between the lines here, but I’m guessing the process went something like this: Board members balked at a statewide mandate because they knew they didn’t have the teachers to support it. There certainly are CS teachers in Virginia, many of them prepared by CodeVA. But not enough to support a statewide mandate. Then they were assured that the Virtual Learning system could handle the load, so they voted for it (“reluctantly” as the article says).

I don’t know that anybody’s tracking this, but my guess is that it’s already the case that most high school students studying CS in the United States are doing it online.  Since we are not producing enough new CS teachers, the push to grow CS education in high schools is probably going to push more CS students online. This is how schools in Arkansas and other states are meeting the requirements for schools to offer CS — simply make the virtual high school CS course available, and you’ve met the requirement. No teacher hiring or professional learning required.  I know from log file analyses that we are seeing huge numbers of students coming into our ebooks through virtual high school classes.

What are the ramifications of this trend?  We know that not everyone succeeds in online classes, that they tend to have much higher withdrawal and failure rates. We know that most people learn best with active learning (see one of my posts on this), and we do not yet know how to replicate active learning methodologies in online classes.  In particular, lecture-based learning (which is what much of online learning attempts to replicate) works best for the most privileged studentsOur society depends on teachers who motivate students to persevere and learn. Does serving high school CS through online classes increase accessibility, or decrease diversity of those who successfully complete high school CS classes?  Will students still be interested in pursuing CS in the future if their only experience is through a mandated online course?  Does the end result of mostly-online high school CS classes serve the goals of high-quality CS education for all students?


December 4, 2017 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Where the STEM Jobs Are (and Where They Aren’t): Ignoring health care and end-user programmers

The NY Times linked below attracted a lot of attention because it claims that CS is the only field where demand outstrips supply. There’s a big asterisk on the graph below — the claim that there are more life sciences graduates than jobs “does not include health care occupations.

This report still underestimates the demand for CS in industry. Here at Georgia Tech (and at many other schools, as I read Generation CS), a huge part of our undergraduate course load comes from students who are not majoring in CS, but they expect to use CS in their non-software-development jobs.

“There is a huge divide between the computing technology roles and the traditional sciences,” said Andrew Chamberlain, Glassdoor’s chief economist. At LinkedIn, researchers identified the skills most in demand. The top 10 last year were all computer skills, including expertise in cloud computing, data mining and statistical analysis, and writing smartphone applications. In a recent analysis, Edward Lazowska, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington, focused on the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment forecasts in STEM categories. In the decade ending in 2024, 73 percent of STEM job growth will be in computer occupations, but only 3 percent will be in the physical sciences and 3 percent in the life sciences. A working grasp of the principles of science and math should be essential knowledge for all Americans, said Michael S. Teitelbaum, an expert on science education and policy. But he believes that STEM advocates, often executives and lobbyists for technology companies, do a disservice when they raise the alarm that America is facing a worrying shortfall of STEM workers, based on shortages in a relative handful of fast-growing fields like data analytics, artificial intelligence, cloud computing and computer security.


December 1, 2017 at 7:00 am 2 comments

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