How would you know if you’re broadening participation?

November 19, 2009 at 10:48 am 4 comments

Yesterday’s meeting of BPC Alliance investigators might fall under the category of “hard fun.”  Certainly “hard learning.”  The BPC Alliances were originally funded for three years, and then could apply for a two year extension (9 alliances have passed this hurdle), and next can possibly go for a five year extension.  The bar for the five year extension is going to be very high.  Jan Cuny wanted us to realize just how high it’s going to be, so she organized “mock review panels” where we critiqued each others’ 2-year extension proposals.  Each PI presented the proposal for 10 minutes, then there was a critique where the PI could not rebut or respond to questions from other PI’s as well as other experts, then the PI was sent out of the room for the hard discussion that you might not want to do to the PI’s face.  It was fascinating and I learned a lot, but it wasn’t a lot of fun.

One of the key questions for the day was, “How would you know if you’re broadening participation in computing?”  What would you look for?  What should be in the evaluation?  The evaluators presented in the morning and highlighted the five indicators that they think are key:

  • Participation: Who’s in the pipeline?
  • Motivation: Are the people in the pipeline motivated to move on?
  • Advancement: Do we see people moving from stage-to-stage?  For example, do we get kids into high school CS, then taking undergrad CS, then going on to careers or grad school in computing?
  • Organizational capacity: Can we handle more people?  Do we have the teachers and schools to handle growth?
  • Alliances: Are the stages working together to make advancement happen?

These five are not the ones that the evaluators are declaring the “Common Core Indicators,” the ones that everyone in BPC will be required to gather.  Instead, they are highlighting just three: People, Organizational Capacity, and Alliances.  They decided that Motivation and Advancement are part of the other indicators.

Teachers are an interesting case here.  If you think about training teachers, they’re part of the pipeline — they have to get started, and then improve, and then reach the point where they can teach harder classes like AP CS.  However, teachers are also part of organizational capacity.  They can be measured under either indicator.

Probably the most interesting nugget that I learned yesterday was that we don’t have a lack of African-American men in computing! We’ve thought for years that African-American men were not going into computer science, because the Taulbee report showed so very few of them.  Then the WGBH image study came out showing that African-American male students really liked computing.  Well, then, where are they?  Turns out that they’re mostly going to the community colleges, and to the DeVry and Phoenix kinds of places.  They show up in the IPEDS study.  The Taulbee report only surveys PhD-granting institutions, where the African-American men aren’t.  So, the problem is a little more complex and nuanced than what we realized — there are a lot of African-American men in computing, but they’re not going into the educational paths that lead them into the leadership positions.  We have lots, but they’re not getting the high-paying jobs.  It’s still a problem, just a more complex problem.

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