Beyond Interests to Values: Drawing African-American teens into CS

August 26, 2011 at 10:25 am 12 comments

I’m eager to hear the discussion about Betsy DiSalvo and Amy Bruckman’s paper to appear in the August CACM (linked below).  The paper is on the Glitch project that I’ve talked about here.  Betsy and Amy are addressing a problem that many working in Broadening Participation in Computing are facing, and that we’ve had with Georgia Computes!  We’ve had dramatic success in drawing women and Hispanic students into computer science — and we’ve barely budged the African-American numbers.  Why?  Betsy’s results suggest that GaComputes initiatives play to students’ interests, but to really get students to dig into CS, we need to play to their values.  Glitch has been successful because they’ve figured out what African-American teen men in Atlanta most value, and then play to those values.  I’d bet that Betsy would say that the video games in Glitch aren’t why she’s had so much success — that’s an interest. It’s because she pays them and they’re training to be game-testers which is a real job.  Those are values, beyond just interests.  They start their paper with a bold claim:

Computer science is not that difficult but wanting to learn it is.

via From Interests to Values | August 2011 | Communications of the ACM.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

Why U.S. Teachers Work the Most But U.S. Students Stay Average Back when women were over a third of computer scientists

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ian Bogost  |  August 26, 2011 at 10:37 am

    Perhaps the most important outcome of Betsy’s work is how it identifies a blind spot in CS ed, which tacitly assumes that becoming an engineer means one thing and one thing only (something like, working as a software engineer at Google, or what have you). This believe makes a number of assumptions about race and class. The fact that African-American youth often start off in such a different position compared to mid/upper-class white youth should remind us that “budging the numbers” means different things in different contexts.

  • 2. BKM  |  August 26, 2011 at 10:55 am

    About 25% of the CS majors at my school are African-American men, mostly the first in their family to attend college, and mostly from large urban high schools. We also have a lot of Hispanic and mixed race students, all of whom are pretty similar in terms of background. I read the article, and pretty much agree with it. These students are far less motivated by the coolness factor of software, and are more motivated by the idea of being paid well. Our most popular track, in fact, is security. Our students aspire to work for the NYPD, not Google, because they know of family members on the NYPD but have no contact with anyone at Google. I was on a panel on diversity at last year’s Grace Hopper, and pointed out exactly the same conclusions.

  • 3. Baker Franke  |  August 29, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    The Exploring Computer Science curriculum really addresses this issue, and it has worked! Granted it’s K12 and not college, but if you’re hoping to have a more diverse population interested in CS in college, they need to be primed in high school at the latest.

    ECS has had great results in Los Angeles. We’re starting it in several dozen Chicago Public Schools next year. Talk to Gail Chapman.

  • […] Culture: Betsy diSalvo’s work on Glitch is a great example of considering culture in computing education.  I’ve written about her work before — that she engaged a couple dozen African-American teen men in computing, by hiring them to be video game testers, and the majority of those students went on to post-secondary education in computing.  I’ve talked with Betsy several times about how and why that worked.  The number one reason why it worked: Betsy spent the time to understand the African-American teen men’s values, their culture, what they thought was important.  She engaged in an iterative design process with groups of teen men to figure out what would most appeal to them, how she could reframe computing into something that they would engage with.  Betsy taught coding — but in a different way, in a different context, with different values, where the way, context, and values were specifically tuned to her audience.  Is it worth that effort?  Yeah, because it’s about making a computing that appeals to these other audiences. […]

  • […] like the ACM-WGBH image of computing, Stuck in the Shallow End, and Betsy DiSalvo’s work with Glitch all say that students value computing and want computing courses, but rarely get access to it. […]

  • […] understand the issues, and offered some of my stories as a way of connecting.  I told them about Glitch, which used a similar process of creating an educational intervention with community involvement. I […]

  • […] in terms of the HCC PhD students who informed my understanding of computing education: Mike Hewner, Betsy DiSalvo, and Erika Poole.  I struggled with the overall story, until I learned that Licklider’s […]

  • […] CS there — no one once said that they were there because their government encouraged them.  It had far more to do with values and family concerns.  I’ll bet that Georgia Tech has a far larger recruitment effort than at […]

  • […] An interesting paper I found reading Annie Murphy Paul’s blog.  An Expressed Interest is an answer to a question like “What career do you plan to pursue after College?”  A Measured Vocational Interest is measuring an interest in mathematics, and suggesting that the student go into accounting.  The former are far more predictive of future careers than the latter.  Why are we so bad at predicting what field someone should go into based on their base interests?  I’ll bet that it has to do with more things than just interests, like Eccles model of academic achievement (how do people think about this career? can you see yourself in this career?) and values (which are different than interests). […]

  • […] numbers are rising, but the percentage of women and under-represented minorities is not rising.  Betsy DiSalvo has demonstrated a successful “catch” and “hold” design with G….  Can we do this reliably?  What are the participatory design processes that will help us create […]

  • […]  She’s working on a problem we’ve had in GaComputes for years.  Besides Betsy DiSalvo’s work on Glitch, we’ve made little progress in increasing numbers of Black students taking AP CS A and even […]

  • […] Female and under-represented minority students don’t learn differently than the white and Asian males who dominate computing. But they’re much less interested in learning computer science. “Computer science isn’t that difficult but wanting to learn it is.” […]


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