Archive for September, 2010

At GHC: Saying High-Tech Is a Meritocracy Doesn’t Make it So

I am at Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing this week, which is here in Atlanta. The below piece by Caroline Simard, who is charge of research for the Anita Borg Institute (which organizes GHC each year) was clearly timed in ACM Technews to coincide. It is a fascinating point that women and minorities don’t get the same rewards for the same efforts, and sometimes because they hold the stereotypes themselves.

His assertion that Silicon Valley is a pure meritocracy and that anyone with a good idea can get VC funding or advance in the workplace and “get rich” is more difficult to substantiate. High-technology in general, and Silicon Valley in particular, prides itself on being a meritocracy — and while we all work hard to live up to this ideal, saying it is doesn’t make it so. Research shows that women face persistent barriers to retention and advancement in the high tech industry — to name a few: isolation, a lack of access to influential social networks and mentors, lack of role models, stereotyping, unwelcoming cultures, and organizational practices that are not adapted to a diverse workforce. The lack of access to relevant social networks was also found to be a factor in women’s limited access to venture capital, and research found that VC firms with women partners were more likely to fund women entrepreneurs. For a comprehensive view of the issues in the workplace, and the statistics, one can read our Anita Borg Institute 2008 report in collaboration with the Clayman Institute at Stanford University, as well as a report recently published by NCWIT which aggregates several sources of research on the issue. In a 2008 study, MIT Professor Emilio Castilla found that even in environments that are designed to be meritocratic, women and minorities receive less compensation for equal performance. Such bias is more likely to occur when there is more discretion for individual managers.

Is this bias deliberate, and is it purposefully done by men to bring down women? In most cases, no and no. In fact, women are just as likely to hold gender stereotypes about science and technology as are men.

via Caroline Simard: Saying High-Tech Is a Meritocracy Doesn’t Make it So.

September 30, 2010 at 10:37 am 6 comments

More college degrees needed in the South

Interesting that two reports are coming out in the same week saying that the South needs to increase the number of college graduates. Based on our earlier discussion on the post about crises, this is arguing that there’s not enough people under the college-level hump, leaving alone of whether the quality of what’s being produced is “above threshold.”

The nation as a whole, and the South in particular, have to do a better job of increasing the number of adults with college degrees or certificates.

That is the conclusion of two recent reports, including “No Time to Waste: Policy Recommendations for Increasing College Completion,” released today by the Southern Regional Education Board.

“By 2018, the United States will fall far short of the number of new college degrees needed for an emerging economy that increasingly depends on workers with postsecondary education,” board President Dave Spence said in a letter introducing the report.

One way of meeting the need, the report says, is tying state funding for higher education institutions to the rates at which students complete courses, certificate and degree programs — something that is not currently done in most states, including Georgia and South Carolina…

The Lumina Foundation released a report last week saying the entire country has a long way to go to meet what it calls the “Big Goal”: having 60 percent of adults ages 25 to 64 hold a postsecondary certificate or degree by 2025. The Southern Regional Education Board advocates for the same goal.

via More college degrees needed | The Augusta Chronicle.

September 30, 2010 at 10:35 am 2 comments

A new kind of program visualization tool: Making the student trace

I’m very excited about this new tool, UUhistle. It supports exactly the kind of student activity that I was thinking that would be great as a the practice component of exploring a bunch of programs in a worked examples curriculum.

Visualizing a program’s execution can aid understanding, but research suggests that visualizations are more effective when learners are actively engaged in manipulating or creating them. To this end, UUhistle supports a novel kind of highly interactive visualization-based activity, the visual program simulation exercise (or a VPS exercise for short).

In a VPS exercise, the student has to ‘do the computer’s job’: read given code and execute its statements in the appropriate order, allocating and using memory to keep track of program state. UUhistle provides the graphical elements that the student directly manipulates to indicate what happens during execution, and where, and when. Any aspect of execution that UUhistle can display can also serve as part of a VPS exercise: the student can create variables and objects in memory, evaluate expressions, assign values, manipulate the call stack, pass parameters and so forth. For instance, to assign a value from a variable to another, the student drags the corresponding graphical element with the mouse from the source variable into the target variable.


September 29, 2010 at 4:05 pm 16 comments

Who’s Teaching the Teachers?

This new report from the FDR Group and Thomas B. Fordham Institute has put its finger on something really important.  What are pre-service teaching professors emphasizing in their classroom? From the report: “The professors see themselves as philosophers and evangelists, not as master craftsmen sharing tradecraft with apprentices and journeymen. Stanford University’s David Labaree, a respected historian of education, explains that as far back as the early twentieth century, school system reformers were pushing for efficiency and utility, while education school professors wanted schools to help individual children blossom and develop a lifelong love of learning. eventually the professors lost that argument and the K–12 system embraced the efficiency movement. But this outcome cast education professors as little more than vocational instructors, preparing their charges to enter a uniform teaching force and school system—a system which eschewed the professors’ idealistic educational values. ”

This meshes with my experience as a graduate student in education. I found several of my education classes to be surprisingly boring — much more interested in talking about education than innovating in education. On average, my education professors were less likely to have interactive classrooms where they tried new teaching approaches than were my teachers in other disciplines (including computer science and statistics). On the other hand, I don’t share the sense in the report that if we “fixed” teacher education, we would “fix” teachers. I learned when I was an Education graduate student that pre-service teacher education is amazingly hard to fix. You get a new undergraduate who wants to be a teacher, and you say to him or her, “Here’s what it means to be a good teacher!” And they think, “I just went through 12 years of being a student! I know exactly what it means to be a good teacher!” It’s really hard to dissuade a student from their 12 years of experience that there is a different model for being a good teacher.

The last point in the quote above is particularly relevant for us as computing educators. Education professors seek to avoid being merely “vocational instructors,” so they emphasize being “change agents” (a term from the report) rather than focusing on developing the tradecraft of teaching. Doesn’t this sound a lot like the tensions in computing education? Are we merely vocational instructors, passing on the tradecraft of programming and software development? Or should we be teaching new ideas, so that these students can be “change agents” in the software industry? And if we emphasize the latter, does that mean that we do a bad job of the former?

When it comes to teacher education, pragmatism beats idealism. But most education professors — save for a small minority — are complacent with antiquated teaching philosophies.

These conclusions, released today in a report by FDR Group and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute on the views of education professors, summarize the “sobering data” gathered from surveys distributed at colleges and universities across the country.

“Idealism, good intentions, and progressivist thinking suffuse what education professors strive to impart to prospective teachers, despite tension between these values and the policies pursued by school districts and states,” the report says. “Teacher educators show only modest concern for real-world challenges…. even though K-12 teachers often say these are among the most difficult elements of teaching.”

via News: Who’s Teaching the Teachers? – Inside Higher Ed.

September 29, 2010 at 10:07 am 6 comments

New NRC Rankings: “A little bit unsatisfactory, but at least it’s honest”

The long-awaited new ranking of doctorate programs by the National Research Council came out yesterday.  I’ve been playing with an interactive tool produced by the Chronicle of Higher Education to explore the rankings.  The new ranking system uses both quantitative inputs and subjective opinions about the programs to come up with “statistical ranges” to describe each program, rather than a hard-and-fast linear progression.  (Georgia Tech’s CS PhD program, in case you’re interested, is ranked as falling between 14 and 57.)  The quote in this post’s title comes from the leader of the effort, describing the result as “A little bit unsatisfactory, but at least it’s honest.”

The advance briefing for reporters covering Tuesday’s release of the National Research Council’s ratings of doctoral programs may have made history as the first time a group doing rankings held a news conference at which it seemed to be largely trying to write them off.

While the NRC committee that produced the rankings defended its efforts and the resulting mass of data on doctoral programs now available, no one on the committee endorsed the actual rankings, and committee members went out of their way to say that there might well be better ways to rank — better than either of the two methods unveiled.

via News: You’re Not No. 1 – Inside Higher Ed.

September 29, 2010 at 9:52 am 1 comment

College Admissions should go beyond cognitive measures

Robert Sternberg is a psychologist who studies intelligence, but has recently been arguing that we need to go beyond cognitive measures when deciding college admissions.  He’s implemented his scheme at Tufts, and is now moving to Oklahoma State as Provost, where presumably, he’ll continue to develop his new admissions tests.

It is admirable that many colleges recognize the need to go beyond traditional measures such as G.P.A. and standardized test scores in admissions processes. The Kaleidoscope Project has three features that are perhaps distinctive. These features emanate from the view that the purpose of college/university education is to produce the leaders of tomorrow who will make a positive, meaningful, and enduring difference to the world.

First, the questions are based on a theory of leadership, WICS — wisdom, intelligence, creativity, synthesized — according to which positive leaders need a synthesis of (a) creative skills and attitudes in order to generate new ideas; (b) analytical skills and attitudes in order to ensure that the ideas are good ones; (c) practical skills and attitudes to implement their ideas and to persuade others of the value of these ideas; and (d) wisdom-based skills and attitudes to ensure that the ideas help to achieve a common good, over the long and short terms, through the infusion of positive ethical values. So the questions in Kaleidoscope are designed to measure these creative, analytical, practical, and wisdom-based skills and attitudes. The WICS theory is an extension of my theory of successful intelligence, which I have spent many years validating in empirical research.

via News: ‘College Admissions for the 21st Century’ – Inside Higher Ed.

September 28, 2010 at 11:46 am 3 comments

WGBH, ACM Celebrate Dot Diva Launch to Reshape Image of Computing for High School Girls

The Dot Diva website launches today. It’s pretty interesting, showing how computing connects to a wide range of students’ passions.

The WGBH Educational Foundation and ACM (the Association for Computing Machinery) together with NCWIT (the National Center for Women & Information Technology) have invited hundreds of female students from all over Massachusetts on Monday, September 27, to celebrate the launch of Dot Diva, a new initiative to create a positive image of computing for high school girls.  The event, at Microsoft New England Research & Development, includes an interactive fashion show, high tech music demos, an artbotics art installation, and local college Fair.  The Dot Diva initiative, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation NSF, is intended to increase the number of college-bound girls who recognize the power and potential of computing and computer science to achieve fulfilling career opportunities.  “Our aim is to show these young women that computing is creative, collaborative, and changing the world,” said Julie Benyo, Director of Educational Outreach at WGBH.  “Dot Diva enables us to offer young women a realistic view of computing that gives women the power to create and discover new things. It represents a two-year effort to create a “communications makeover” using extensive research and testing of messages that appeal to college-bound female students.”

via WGBH, ACM Celebrate Dot Diva Launch to Reshape Image of Computing for High School Girls — Association for Computing Machinery.

September 27, 2010 at 12:06 pm 1 comment

How there can be and NOT be an educational crisis in the US

Back in the late 1980’s, there was a decline in the SAT scores in the United States.  Critics moaned about the woeful state of our educational system.  A really interesting report came out from Los Alamos showing that, for all socioeconomic groups, SAT scores were actually rising.  What happened in the 1980’s was a dramatic increase in the number of poorer (low socioeconomic status) groups taking the SAT, and those new kids started out with lower scores (but improved every year).  That large influx at the low-end drove the average down, even though everyone was learning.  The average alone didn’t tell the story. The high variance should have alerted the critics to a more interesting story in the distribution.

That’s what I think Nicholas Lemann is pointing toward in his article.  The counter-arguments to Lemann’s case, expressed in the comments, were well-founded (except for the ad hominem attacks), but do not actually refute what he’s saying.  There are several reasonable scenarios where both Lemann and those concerned about the crisis in American education are right.

Let’s imagine a picture of the distribution of knowledge 100 years ago in the United States.  Here’s my back-of-the-envelope (actually, finger-sketched on the iPad) graph of what the graph might look like, with knowledge increasing from left-to-right and number of people being educated in that knowledge graphed on the vertical axis.

The people who are educated are really well-educated, shifted to the right of the graph.  But the graph drops off rapidly.  There were lots of people in the United States 100 years ago, but very few of them would appear on the graph.  Most citizens in the United States were not educated at all.

There are lots of possible graphs for today, but here’s one that I think matches a lot of the available data.

There are people in the United States today who are educated better than the best were 100 years ago, but few of them.  Our rightmost peak is smaller than it was 100 years ago.  But now we have this big hump in the middle.  The vast majority of people are getting some education today.  I suspect that there is another hump to the left in our graph, the folks on the other side of the Digital Divide, the ones who have been most hurt in the current recession.

Given these two possible curves, one can understand the “There is no crisis argument.”  We have a lot more people under the curve today, than 100 years ago.  The vast majority of people in the United States are literate (to some level) and have received some formal education.  In terms of creating a better workforce, a more educated quantity of people, that’s an improvement.  I suspect that our area under the curve is greater in the United States than in much of the developed world because of the large numbers of educational opportunities in the United States, but I don’t have evidence for that.

It’s also possible to see multiple crises in the second graph.

  • The average in the second graph is lower than in the first graph.  Sure, but I’m less concerned about that. It’s shifted the same way that distance education courses get students to do as well as in-class students: Get rid of all those on the left of the distribution.  Now, the average may be lower than our society needs in today’s graph, and that would be a reason to be concerned.
  • If we want more innovators, if we think we need more people who will push the envelope, we’re in trouble.  We have fewer people than we need on the right side of the graph.
  • If that big hump is too far to the left, “below threshold” as Alan would say, then we’re in trouble.  Our knowledge-driven workplace may need that majority-knowledge level to be greater.
  • If there is a second hump to the left, and if there are lots of people in the United States who are not under the curve at all, that’s social, perhaps criminal negligence.  Even if it’s not in the Constitution, as Lemann points out, public education is a right in the United States.

For those wondering, “When is Guzdial going to get back to talking about computing?!?” — I think I am.  I believe that the 100 year ago curve represents pretty well the current state of computing education.  We have a peak of people who know something, but it drops off quickly, and most people aren’t under the curve at all.  I would like to see us looking more like the bottom graph.  There is a need for the vast majority of educated people to know something significant about computation.  We need more people under the computing education curve, and I’d even take that middle hump.

September 25, 2010 at 1:17 pm 8 comments

New NSF Program: Computing Education for the 21st Century

The new NSF program to replace CPATH and BPC is now out.  There will still be a Broadening Participation in Computing program, but just for Alliances in its own program.

The Computing Education for the 21st Century (CE21) program aims to build a computationally savvy 21st century workforce that positions the US to demonstrate a leadership role in the global economy. Innovations in computing and more broadly, information technology (IT), drive our economy, underlie many new advances in science and engineering, and contribute to our national security. Projected job growth in IT is very strong.

Despite these very positive indicators, student interest in computing has declined dramatically over the last decade.  For example, the percentage of college freshmen indicating an intent to major in computing has declined overall by 70% in the last decade; for women, the decline was 80% (HERI, 2000-2009). Recent data show that student interest in computing majors has fallen behind projected job openings by a factor of five and a half (ACT, 2010).

The CE21 program seeks to reverse this troubling trend by engaging larger numbers of students, teachers, and educators in computing education and learning at earlier stages in the education pipeline.  While interventions in primary education are within scope, the CE21 program focuses special attention on activities targeted at the middle and high school levels (i.e., secondary education) and in early undergraduate education.

via – Funding – Computing Education for the 21st Century – US National Science Foundation (NSF).

September 25, 2010 at 11:50 am 4 comments

The overblown crisis in American education : The New Yorker

Nicholas Lemann has an optimistic and level-headed op-ed in the New Yorker arguing that the American public education system is much better than it ever has been, is much better than the Founding Fathers could have imagined, and is not at all “in crisis.”  Rather, it is “like democracy itself, loose, shaggy, and inefficient, full of redundancies and conflicting goals.”  I want to see him at a meeting of the “Gathering Storm” group!

A hundred years ago, eight and a half per cent of American seventeen-year-olds had a high-school degree, and two per cent of twenty-three-year-olds had a college degree. Now, on any given weekday morning, you will find something like fifty million Americans, about a sixth of the population, sitting under the roof of a public-school building, and twenty million more are students or on the faculty or the staff of an institution of higher learning. Education is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution; the creation of the world’s first system of universal public education—from kindergarten through high school—and of mass higher education is one of the great achievements of American democracy. It embodies a faith in the capabilities of ordinary people that the Founders simply didn’t have.

via The overblown crisis in American education : The New Yorker.

September 24, 2010 at 9:35 am 7 comments

Poor science education impairs U.S. economy: Students follow jobs

The Rising Above the Gathering Storm group has just released their 2010 update. The original report was in 2005, and it was updated before in 2008. The reports authors now claim a direct linkage between the poor quality of US science education and economic quality.

Below are quotes from USA Today‘s coverage.  I haven’t read the report yet, and I’m interested in how they make this linkage.  I find the final paragraph of the USA Today piece most interesting.  Two other reports show that our production of science and engineering students is high, but they can’t find jobs in STEM fields, and they go elsewhere.

At a Google Faculty Summit a couple of years ago, Mehran Sahami showed his analysis of the very tight correlation between the NASDAQ average minus so many months (I think it was six months, but I don’t recall) and current enrollment in CS at Stanford. Students follow the incentives.  The reports of rising Tech unemployment dissuade students, as do the reports that employers are less likely to hire people without the exact skills they’re looking for.

I don’t doubt the report’s findings, but I think that the onus for change lies with the companies.  “Students, go into STEM! And if you’re lucky to learn the exact right languages, frameworks, and tools, and get the internships in exactly the right fields, you might get a job!” Not a compelling story.  When employers show that they will hire the best and brightest in STEM, and help them re-train for specific tasks, then students will see value in being the best and brightest for those companies.

If the USA’s students matched Finland’s, for example, analysis suggests the U.S. economy would grow 9%-16%. “The real point is that we have to have a well-educated workforce to create opportunities for young people,” says Charles Vest, head of the National Academy of Engineering, a report sponsor. “Otherwise, we don’t have a chance.”

“The current economic crisis makes the link between education and employment very clear,” says Steven Newton of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland.

In 2007, however, an analysis led by B. Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown University found that worries about U.S. science education were overblown. It saw three times more science and engineering college graduates than job openings each year. Other reports have found top science and engineering students migrating to better-paying jobs in finance, law and medicine since the 1990s.

via Report: Poor science education impairs U.S. economy –

September 24, 2010 at 8:11 am 6 comments

Scientists in classrooms squash motivation

Most interesting tidbit I’ve learned so-far at this meeting: Larry Suter, long-time NSF staffer, talked about how to increase student interest in pursuing STEM studies. A common strategy is to show students what real science is all about, because students in the United States don’t understand what STEM jobs are like. One of the findings coming out of NSF’s ITEST program is that sending scientists into classrooms is a recipe for squashing student motivation. Scientists stroll into the classroom and talk about whatever boring thing they’re currently doing, and students react, “I really don’t want to do that!” Things get better if the scientists get briefed on what to talk about and how to relate to the students.

An important lesson for us in Computing Education where motivation to study is a significant issue.

September 23, 2010 at 11:06 am 4 comments

Few users study in MIT Open Courseware

I’m at an NSF Task Force on Cyberlearning and Workforce Development meeting where issues of on-line and open education are arising often. There’s a sense here that the MIT Open Courseware site has many students (often in the developing world) getting a higher-education through self-study.  I like data, and I knew that there were site statistics available, so I went to look and found their World Impact report (old now, from 2006).  I think it shows that these opinions are false.

  • 51% of all visits to the site are single page-views. 29% are 5 or more page views, but only 6% are viewing more than 25 pages.  That’s not a lot of reading, consuming content.
  • 70% of visitors to the site visit only once, ever.  Only 30% are return visitors.  (They did a survey that found that 60% were return visitors and 40% were once-only, but they admit, based on the site stats, that they over-sampled the return visitors.)
  • The average duration of a visit to the site is 11 minutes, but the median is 4 minutes — and this is not counting all those single-page views.  The reality is that few people are spending much time there.
  • 64% of use of the site comes from North America and Europe.  We’re up to 21% of use from Eastern Asia (China), which is impressive.  But 2.9% comes from the Middle East and North Africa, 8% from India, and 1% from Sub-Saharan Africa.

There probably are students in the developing world who are learning through the MIT Open Courseware.  But few people are studying there at all.  Most use is like Wikipedia — people in the developed world looking something up, and giving up quickly after finding (or not finding) it.

Learning takes sustained effort and focus. That’s still hard to get on the Internet.  Harvesting material for free is unlikely to stumble upon the technique for getting and holding attention.

September 23, 2010 at 10:59 am 12 comments

Teaching amid the research obsession

Thanks to Janet Kolodner for sending this to me.  I’m including two quotes from the letter to Physics Today.  The first is the opening salvo, and the second points out that this “research obsession” is far broader than just physics and includes the humanities (and computer science?) as well.

In his review of Joseph Hermanowicz’s book Lives in Science: How Institutions Affect Academic Careers (University of Chicago, 2009), Robert Hilborn remarks, “The most important lesson [of the book] is that the science community’s obsession with research as the sole reason for recognition and reward leads to frustration and dissatisfaction when reality fails to match expectations. And that, as the sociologists would put it, ‘leads to anomie’ ” (PHYSICS TODAY, January 2010, page 48). Although that statement essentially describes my career in physics, I still find it shocking. How can brilliant people be so stupid?

The research obsession is both self-reinforcing and self-destructive. The eroding state of science and science education in the US today is at least partly due to that misguided and harmful attitude in our universities. It has disfigured the humanities into useless imitations of some kind of quantitative science and has made the exact sciences a shadow of what they ought to be as part of liberal education and knowledge. It’s tragic that at a time when science should be setting the standard for truth and understanding, science academics and administrators are too preoccupied with their own self-advancement to play the valuable and important leadership role.

via Teaching amid the research obsession- Physics Today July 2010.

September 22, 2010 at 5:50 pm 2 comments

Battling over a 100+ year educational monopoly

When the University System of Georgia was created, the designers aimed to economize.  Teaching medicine is expensive, so we’ll do it in only one publicly funded institution in the state.  Teaching engineering is expensive, so Georgia Tech was the only publicly funded engineering school in the state (and had been since it was created in 1885).  Since then, other USG schools were allowed to offer engineering programs, as long as they didn’t overlap with Georgia Tech.

Now, the University of Georgia (UGa) has proposed to offer the same core engineering degrees that Georgia Tech has, and Tech is fighting it (below).  Even if I wasn’t here, this would be a fascinating battle.  Because of this separation of concerns, UGa can’t have engineering, and Georgia Tech can’t have an education school, and neither campus can have a medical school. Tech’s president is arguing that the economizing still makes sense.

This separation has always been a headache for me, as someone who bridges CS and Education. UGa has great education researchers, who are 45-90 minutes away, depending on traffic.  That’s enough of a gap that it’s hard to build collaborations. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

Since 2005, UGA has offered degrees in five engineering disciplines, none of which overlap our own degree programs in any meaningful way. UGA is now proposing an expansion of its program by adding mechanical engineering, civil engineering and electrical engineering. Last week, after considerable debate, the Regents voted to allow the UGA proposal to move forward for consideration at its October Board meeting.

We are, by any measure, one of the world’s premier institutions for engineering education and research. The state legislature and the Board of Regents have been instrumental in that success, with investments in alignment with institutional strengths. To try and duplicate academic programs as expensive as engineering at a time when the University System has taken more than $600 million in cuts to its state budget appropriation over the past two years is not the best use of scarce resources.

via GT | President’s Letters & Bulletins.

September 21, 2010 at 11:59 am 6 comments

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