Archive for October, 2012
A nice piece (with interviews with Barbara Ericson, Jeff Gray, Dan Garcia, and Maureen Biggers) on getting more women into computing. I like that the story reflects current thinking and research on best practices for drawing more women into computing. For example, we used to think that having more female professors was critical to provide role models. But Joanne Cohoon’s work showed us that male professors can motivate women to consider graduate work in computing as well as female professors.
Experts on the gender gap in computer science have increasingly come to believe that a multipronged strategy is needed to close it. The tactics would include the following:
- More-diverse programming activities, to seize the interest of middle-school girls, in the same way that role-playing video games are embraced by boys.
- A revamped introductory course, whether taken in college or as an Advanced Placement course in high school, to provide a broad overview of the real-world applications of computer science.
- Early exposure to research projects during the first year of college. (Ms. Lamm was paired with her mentor, Mr. Gray, during her first month at Alabama.)
- Opportunities for undergraduates to interact with women who have enjoyed successful careers in technology.
An interesting piece, which argues that proficiency with computing is an important part of a modern liberal arts education. The argument is a modern and updated version of the argument that Alan Perlis made back in 1961. The specific computing literacies being described go beyond computational thinking — it’s explicitly about being able to make with computing. Steve Jobs’ made a similar famous claim that computer science is a liberal art.
Students who graduate with a degree in liberal arts should understand the basic canon of our civilization as well as their place in the world, sure, but they also need to understand how to explore and communicate their ideas through visual communication, data manipulation, and even making a website or native mobile app. If they can’t, they’ll just understand the global context of their own unemployment.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS — the organization that publishes Science) sponsors a Science and Technology Policy Fellows program that places scientists and engineers into positions in the US government. The idea is to get more people who know science and engineering involved in public policy. In general, few of these fellows come from computer science and engineering, which is a real shame since an increasing amount of science and technology policy involves issues around computing.
I got a chance to chat with Becky Bates who was a AAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow last year, placed in the National Science Foundation (NSF). She told me, “I really care about the issue of policy, and the issue of how scientists and engineers interact with government.” She wanted to get involved because she saw that better understanding of science could inform policy, and that policy impacts what we do as scientists and engineers.
The program requires either a PhD in science or engineering or an MS in an engineering discipline plus eight years of experience. Many Fellows are placed at NSF, but there are also Fellows at NOAA, NASA, NIH, the State Department, Department of Defense, US AID, and other executive branch agencies as well as in various offices in Congress. Congressional Fellows are sponsored by professional societies (IEEE sponsors fellows, but ACM does not). What AAAS provides is matching, training, orientation, and coordination between all parties.
Becky’s degrees are in engineering, but she has worked as a CS professor for the last 10 years at Minnesota State University Mankato. She did the fellowship as a “not-quite sabbatical year.” It’s a fully-funded year, including travel money. Many of the fellows treat it as a kind of post-doc. Post-doctoral study years are still uncommon in computer science and engineering, so the fellowship doesn’t have a lot of visibility in computing.
She saw the fellowship as professional development and networking opportunities for her, and the government agencies appreciate having experts in science and engineering available. Fellows inform policy and help to create policy for issues that they care about. The AAAS-provided professional development goes on throughout the year. “Once a month, we go downtown to the AAAS mothership, to get seminars on cooperation, on working with the press, having ‘crucial conversations,’ on negotiation.”
“The first two weeks were pretty intense orientation. 8am to 5:30 of training for two solid weeks. It’s like a professional masters in two weeks: History of government, how policy happens, how budgets get decided.” That last part was particularly useful to Becky. “We know that money is good, and how it helps us to do what we want to do, but how it gets allocated and distributed is mostly hidden from us. We’re vaguely aware that it happens, and we definitely don’t know what kinds of influences are deciding who gets what.” That’s particularly important for readers of this blog, because how the money is allocated is important for STEM education and for support of research in computer science and engineering.
It’s a long application process, but both easier and shorter than a Fullbright. Written applications are due on December 5, 2012 (applications are now open at http://fellowships.aaas.org). You have to write a couple essays and provide some letters of recommendation. “Most importantly,” says Becky, “think about your interests and how that can connect to areas of fellowships.” Becky applied to Health, Education, and Human Services program area. “I had been doing a lot of educational research, and care about Broadening Participation in Computing. I made a convincing case that I fit into education. I mostly supervise undergraduate researchers doing AI and speech, and I look for connections to community in order to inform student engagement.” Another program is Diplomacy, Security, and Development, which could be a good fit for a computing person interested in information security.
In February, you learn if you are a semi-finalist, and then you have a month to prepare a policy briefing memo on some topic related to your area. Then you have a 30 minute interview in early March, where you present your policy memo to a committee. If you make it through that round, you’re a finalist, which isn’t a guarantee of placement, but many agencies want Fellows. “There’s a fun week, where you go around to different agencies to find the office for you. It’s almost like a residency match — they have to want you, and you have to want them.”
Becky said that producing the policy memo was challenging. She wrote about Race to the Top Funding. “I connected it to my research on connections to community and self-efficacy, presented some brief statistics about the pipeline and what we know works for under-represented students. I also thought about things happening at different levels. If we’re thinking about this at a national level, you can’t just say, ‘I want more faculty doing this in their classrooms.’ You need to go beyond your own classroom. Moving to a national level, who are all the stakeholders? Companies, state and national agencies, industry, etc. Think about what solutions would have an impact. Some things are expensive. But if I could plan partnerships with agencies to highlight things that are already happening, it could have a broader impact.”
She said that it was a great experience that she recommends to others. She finds herself thinking about education as an engineering problem, viewing education challenges from an engineering perspective. “Now, I think about engineering and STEM education. Can we imagine engineers engineering the education system? Modifying it using engineering principles? What would it mean to engineer the whole education system, mapping all the inputs, outputs and transformations, the way that engineers work with the power grid, or a transportation system, or even a very large software project?”
She told me, “Your perspectives get changed. It won’t ever again be as small as it was. I didn’t know how big it could be. I’ll go back to Mankato, but now think about state and federal levels. And think about how things I do at my university make an impact at multiple levels.”
Great news that the UK is putting up cash incentives to draw in CS teachers! This move addresses the biggest concern that I have for the CS10K project — where are we going to get the teachers? What will motivate them to study CS? A cash reward would certainly help.
Isn’t it a little surprising that Facebook, Microsoft, and IBM are being asked to design the training for the new teachers? Why them? Because they have so much experience training teachers? Or teaching people about CS? They may do a wonderful job. It’s just not an obvious set of choices.
High-flying graduates are to be given a £20,000 golden handshake to train as computer science teachers.
Ministers have asked Facebook, Microsoft and IBM to help design the training for the new teachers.
Education Secretary Michael Gove said current information and communications technology (ICT) teacher training courses would be axed from next year.
The move “could not be more welcome or more necessary”, said Prof Steve Furber of the Royal Society.
This week’s Time magazine piece on MOOCs is very good. The author was fair and even-handed in identifying strengths and weaknesses both of the current models of higher-education and of MOOCs. I was surprised by the sidebar on the results of a survey by Time and the Carnegie Corporation.
They reported that 68% of the general population believe that “Much of the teaching on college campuses can be replaced by online classes.” (Only 22% of the senior college administrators surveyed agreed with that statement.). 52% of the general population agree that “Students will not learn as much in online courses as they will in traditional courses.” (45% of college leaders agreed.). So the majority believes that courses will go online, and students won’t learn as much. This sounds like evidence for the argument made a while back that quality isn’t really a critical variable in decision-making about higher education. Completion rates and cost are two of the most critical variables in the Time piece.
The article says the economic burden of higher education is so great now, something has to change.
I was optimistic after reading the Time coverage — MOOCs could lead to positive changes in all of higher education. If MOOC completion is going to be accredited, it will have to be tested. If face-to-face colleges are going to demonstrate that they have greater value, they will want to show that they lead to testable performance, at least as good as MOOCs. The demand for better tests might lead to education research to develop more and better assessment methods. Actually measuring learning in higher education classes could be a real step forward, in terms of providing motivation to improve learning against those assessments — for both MOOCs and for face-to-face classes.
IEEE Computer Society and Educational Activities Board has launched a new website to help students understand computing and what university and career options are out there. There are also teacher resources, with alignment to various curriculum standards. Liz Burd championed the creation of the site, and its her vision and energy that made the site possible. There’s a page of interviews with career professionals, to give students concrete examples of what computing professionals do, including a couple former Georgia Tech students.
IEEE TryComputing.org is a free online pre-university computing education web site. IEEE TryComputing.org offers resources to inform and engage pre-university students, their teachers, school counselors and parents about computing and associated careers. Visitors can learn how to prepare for undergraduate computing studies and search for accredited computing degree programs around the world. They can also explore how computing careers can make a difference and meet computing professionals, students, and heroes. IEEE TryComputing.org features a variety of lesson plans on computing topics as well as tools and opportunities to support and encourage students in computing.
IEEE TryComputing.org is brought to you by the IEEE Computer Society and IEEE Educational Activities Board with funding from the IEEE New Initiatives Committee.
Holy cow! Most CS faculty that I know haven’t seen raises since the Great Recession hit. A 2.5% increase in a single year for software engineers is a pretty dramatic rise in comparison. How can we possibly keep people teaching when their knowledge is worth so much more in the marketplace?
In line with Economics 101, that increased demand for software engineers means increasing salaries. The national average for a software engineer’s base salary is currently $92,648, according to Glassdoor, marking an increase of 2.5 percent compared to 2011. But depending on where you work — both in terms of your employer and your geographical location — you could be take home more than $100,000 per year. Then again, even if you work for one of the major tech companies, your base salary may fall below the national average.
Where are the plum jobs these days for software engineers? According to recent data from Glassdoor, Google currently offers the highest average salary among 15 major tech companies at $128,336 per year. Ranked second is Facebook, which pays its software engineers an average of $123,626 per year. (Glassdoor came up with these figures based on at least 20 salary reports per company from October 2011 through October of this year.)