Archive for April 6, 2011
I am pleased to announce that Barbara and I have been awarded the ACM Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Education Award for 2010. The citation reads: “For their contributions to computing education, through the Media Computation (MediaComp) approach that they have created, supported, and disseminated, and its impact on broadening participation in computing.” We are deeply honored and pleased to be counted among the ranks of the past winners of the award. We are particularly pleased that we are the first pair to be given the award, and it looks like Barb is only the second woman (after Nell Dale).
Our thanks go to our collaborators, all the students who have worked with us in developing and testing our approach, all the brave teachers who gave it a shot and gave us valuable feedback, to Prentice Hall -> Pearson who published the Media Computation books (to Alan Apt who originally bought in to MediaComp, and Tracy Dunkelberger who’s supported the series), and to the National Science Foundation that has supported our work with Media Computation and now Georgia Computes!. For the award, we owe thanks to the (many!) letter writers (some of whom read this blog, so do know that we deeply appreciate your effort and support!), and most of all, to Jim Foley who championed the nomination.
The author of the below referenced piece and I disagree when it comes to method, but not goal. There are too few women in Physics (and CS), points out the article. Shirley Tilghman (President of Princeton) says women are making that choice, so there is no more problem to fix. The author argues that there are influences that encourage women not to choose Physics (and CS). The author, Shanahan, says at the beginning of her piece (end of the second paragraph) that for her the question is “Why?” Why don’t women choose to go into science? Shanahan seems to suggest that the women who are choosing not to go into science because they’ve been led astray in K-12, thus the choice that Tlighman suggests is constrained and may not reflect their choice if they had been raised without bias. (When I told Barb about this piece, she asked, “Then why were there 40% women back in the 80’s? Did the K-12 school system become so biased so quickly?”)
I take a more proactive/prescriptive stance. It’s a problem that women aren’t going into science (and CS) regardless of whether they had a biased up-bringing. While Shanahan is suggesting that we seek to determine if there was bias (her “why?” question), I’m proposing that we insert bias (as necessary) in favor of having more women, e.g., “how do get more women to choose CS?”. I’m less concerned with correcting potential inequality, and I am more concerned about too few women as being detrimental to our field. In a sense, I’m proposing more of a marketing approach than a sociological one, more engineering/problem-solving than science/knowledge-building.
ABI and NCWIT argue that having too few women in CS hurts CS, e.g., in terms of too little diversity in design decisions. Sue Rosser showed years ago how a lack of women in medicine led to decisions that were good for men, but actually cost women’s lives.
It’s great that women have choices. That they’re not choosing CS is our problem — maybe it’s a marketing problem, maybe it’s an image problem, maybe it’s a cultural problem. But in general, the community should come to agreement that it’s our problem to fix. Quite apart from an equality issue or how teachers are steering students, we in CS are worse off for having too few women, and that’s the problem that we own and have to address. I agree with Shanahan that it’s always good to ask “Why.” But if you’re sick, you’re less concerned with how you got it, and more concerned with finding a cure.
“When will we know when we can declare victory? For years I proceeded on the assumption that victory was equal participation of men and women in all branches of science and engineering. Today I’m not so sure…. It’s possible that we will come to understand that some fraction of the asymmetries in the distribution of women in the sciences, with women far more well represented in the life sciences and less so in the physical sciences, is the result of women seeking those fields in which they are able to make the greatest contribution in their own judgement. As scientists we have to be open to that possibility.”
– Shirley Tilghman, President of Princeton University, speaking at Queen’s University 
The question of gender representation in science is an incredibly difficult one. Women are underrepresented in science as a whole, especially in senior positions, but the disparity can be even more dramatic, or in other cases disappear, when we narrow the focus to particular fields.
Over the last half-century, efforts to recruit and encourage women to pursue careers in science have been very successful, but they have not been evenly distributed. In 1966, for example, women earned only a quarter of the undergraduate biology degrees awarded in the U.S. By 2007, however, women out numbered men, taking 60 percent of these same degrees. In physics, though, these numbers have barely budged, with the percentage of undergraduate degrees earned by women rising from 14 percent to only 21 percent over the same time period. The question, of course, is why?