Archive for February 8, 2011

Lack of women in Computing is NOT due to discrimination: NYtimes and National Academy

The New York Times included this brief reference to a paper that appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in the middle of a fascinating piece about discrimination among psychologists.  They could have done a whole article just on this paper. Here’s the claim in brief:  Why aren’t there more women in CS? Because women choose not to be there, not because of discrimination.  The focus in BPC should be on informing female students about the options in CS, then, not trying to correct for bias or discrimination.  However, we can take action like making academy for family-friendly so that more women choose academia, but that’s making the academy better for both men and women — not an issue of bias.

Check out the abstract: “To better understand women’s underrepresentation in math-intensive fields and its causes, we reprise claims of discrimination and their evidentiary bases. Based on a review of the past 20 y of data, we suggest that some of these claims are no longer valid and, if uncritically accepted as current causes of women’s lack of progress, can delay or prevent understanding of contemporary determinants of women’s underrepresentation. We conclude that differential gendered outcomes in the real world result from differences in resources attributable to choices, whether free or constrained, and that such choices could be influenced and better informed through education if resources were so directed.”

Instead, the taboo against discussing sex differences was reinforced, so universities and the National Science Foundation went on spending tens of millions of dollars on research and programs based on the assumption that female scientists faced discrimination and various forms of unconscious bias. But that assumption has been repeatedly contradicted, most recently in a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by two Cornell psychologists, Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams. After reviewing two decades of research, they report that a woman in academic science typically fares as well as, if not better than, a comparable man when it comes to being interviewed, hired, promoted, financed and published.

“Thus,” they conclude, “the ongoing focus on sex discrimination in reviewing, interviewing and hiring represents costly, misplaced effort. Society is engaged in the present in solving problems of the past.” Instead of presuming discrimination in science or expecting the sexes to show equal interest in every discipline, the Cornell researchers say, universities should make it easier for women in any field to combine scholarship with family responsibilities.

via Social Psychologists Detect Liberal Bias Within – NYTimes.com.

February 8, 2011 at 10:08 am 11 comments

What is Already ‘First’

Bertrand Myer did a Blog@CACM piece in response to my argument that there is no ‘first’ in CS1.  I meant it in the sense that students have some idea of computation. Bertrand explored what his students already knew about programming, which is a subset of computation.  He found that his students had mostly already had some programming experience, at least at ETH Zurich.

For the past eight years I have been teaching the introductory programming course at ETH Zurich, using the  “inverted curriculum” approach developed in a number of my earlier articles. The course has now produced a textbook,  Touch of Class [1]. It is definitely “objects-first” and most importantly contracts-first, instilling a dose of systematic reasoning about programs right from the start.

Since the beginning I have been facing the problem that Mark Guzdial describes in his recent blog entry [2]: that an introductory programming course is not, for most of today’s students, a first brush with programming. We actually have precise data, collected since the course began in its current form, to document Guzdial’s assertion.

via What ‘Beginning’ Students Already Know: The Evidence | blog@CACM | Communications of the ACM.

February 8, 2011 at 9:30 am 1 comment

Programming audio visually

Alex McLean is building a really cool new programming environment, described in a movie demo at Text update and source « Alex McLean.  He’s building a programming environment for audio programming, like CMusic, CSound, or SuperCollider.  In Alex’s system, you type the name of the oscillator or filter or generator, and typing the name generates the object.  You then draw lines to connect the pieces.

I want to draw two connections from the theme of this blog to Alex’s work.

  1. Occasionally, I point to geeky-fun work from here, because it is worthwhile for us to think about interesting and challenging ideas about computing and programming (like Alex’s unusual mix of textual and graphical programming) as exemplars to show and provoke students.
  2. Computer music is this strange stepchild of computer science that is almost nonexistent in most curricula, for reasons I don’t quite understand.  Making music with computers is really an old idea, and it’s super easy to do.  The tools and languages around computer music have become more and more esoteric, which does it make harder. I still have never been able to write a working CSound program without essentially copy-pasting examples. I just can’t quite wrap my head around it.  But the basic ideas are easy — I’ve played with sine wave generators in both Python and Squeak.  Yet, so few of us teach it or use it for examples.  Our computer audio class is always in danger of simply disappearing, because we can’t find anyone to teach it.  Why should something so easy and fun to do get ignored in computing education?

February 8, 2011 at 9:28 am 5 comments


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