Archive for October, 2013

UK higher education lecturers and staff strike

I have a CS Ed PhD depth exam meeting later this morning.  One of the committee members can’t make it, because she’s a UK faculty member who is going on strike today. (BBC coverage here.)

The concerns of the strikers (press release linked below) seem pretty similar to the issues that we have in the United States: No pay raises for faculty (University System of Georgia faculty haven’t had a pay raise since 2008), big salaries for upper administration, and increasing middle management bloat.  Interesting to see if this picks up on this side of the Atlantic.

UCU, UNISON and Unite trade unions announced today that their members working in higher education will walk out on Thursday 31 October in an increasingly bitter row over pay.

Staff have been offered a pay rise of just 1% this year, which means they have suffered a pay cut of 13% in real terms since October 2008. Will Hutton this weekend highlighted that as one the most sustained cut in wages since the Second World War.

The squeeze on staff pay comes at a time when pay and benefits for university leaders increased, on average, by more than £5,000 in 2011-12, with the average pay and pensions package for vice-chancellors hitting almost £250,000.

via UCU – University and College Union – University strike dates announced.

October 31, 2013 at 9:21 am 1 comment

Marvel Girls in Stem Mentor Contest: The value and challenge of role models

I’m glad to hear that Marvel wants to get involved in drawing more women into STEM.  The involvement of Natalie Portman is interesting, but also challenging.  There are these interesting studies showing that role models of women in STEM can trigger a kind of stereotype threat: “That can never be me, so I’d better not even try.”  They’ll have to be careful in how they frame her involvement in science.  Since I’ve been thinking about live coding, I’ve been wondering more about the importance of seeing embodiments of STEM workers that are otherwise invisible.  Perhaps Marvel can provide that through this effort.

Marvel has announced the Ultimate Mentor Adventure, part mentor program, part contest, that gives American girls in grades 9-12 the resources to find and interview professional women in science, technology, engineering, and math, and then rewards them for doing it.

Natalie Portman has always been a consistent voice for greater screentime and opportunities behind the scenes for female characters and real women in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so it doesn’t surprise me at all to learn that she’s the first face you see on the Ultimate Mentor Adventure’s explanatory video. Portman talks about her character Jane Foster, an astrophysicist, amid finished and behind the scenes clips of Jane in Thor: The Dark World, and, while the bombastic music of the trailers plays, she says, “the truth is, I really do love science. And the role gave me an amazing opportunity to explore science in all its possibilities.”

via Marvel Girls in Stem Mentor Contest | The Mary Sue.

October 31, 2013 at 1:44 am 1 comment

Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function

An interesting experiment, with a deeply disturbing result.

The poor often behave in less capable ways, which can further perpetuate poverty. We hypothesize that poverty directly impedes cognitive function and present two studies that test this hypothesis. First, we experimentally induced thoughts about finances and found that this reduces cognitive performance among poor but not in well-off participants. Second, we examined the cognitive function of farmers over the planting cycle. We found that the same farmer shows diminished cognitive performance before harvest, when poor, as compared with after harvest, when rich. This cannot be explained by differences in time available, nutrition, or work effort. Nor can it be explained with stress: Although farmers do show more stress before harvest, that does not account for diminished cognitive performance. Instead, it appears that poverty itself reduces cognitive capacity. We suggest that this is because poverty-related concerns consume mental resources, leaving less for other tasks. These data provide a previously unexamined perspective and help explain a spectrum of behaviors among the poor. We discuss some implications for poverty policy.

via Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function.

October 30, 2013 at 1:34 am 3 comments

Role model to lead women into tech world

It’s great to hold this woman up as a role model, but isn’t it a shame that she is so unusual.  Only girl in AP CS? One of only five women in CS at Iowa State?

Cassidy Williams was the only girl in her AP computer science class at Downers Grove South High School.

Now, she is one of only five women majoring in computer science, along with 57 men, in the 2014 graduating class at Iowa State University.

It’s a trend the 21-year-old Downers Grove native hopes to help change for future girls studying computer science.

“If we don’t have women in computer science, we’re only seeing half the picture,” Cassidy said. “We need to have women in the computing workforce to bring their diverse perspectives to a development team, thus creating the best products.”

via Suburban wiz wants to lead women into tech world – DailyHerald.com.

October 29, 2013 at 1:49 am 3 comments

A theory for why there’s so little CS Ed in the US

I have a theory that predicts when (if?) we will see more computing education research students in the US.  I think that it might also help understand when computer science education (e.g., an AP course in CS) might reach the majority of US high schools.

Why are there so few CS Ed research students in the US?

Recently, I hosted a visit from Dr. Nick Falkner (Associate Dean (IT), Faculty of Engineering, Mathematical and Computer Sciences) and Dr. Katrina Falkner (Deputy Head and Director of Teaching, School of Computer Science) from the University of Adelaide. We got to talking about the lack of CS education research (CER) graduate students in the United States. There are lots of PhD students studying CER in Australasia, Europe, and Israel. To offer a comparison point, when we visited Melbourne in 2011, they had just held a doctoral consortium in CS Ed with 20 students attending, all from just the Melbourne area. The ICER doctoral consortium at UCSD in August had 14 students, and not all 14 were from the US. The Australasian Computing Education will have its own DC, and they’re capping enrollment at 10, but there are far more CER PhD students than that in the region. I get invitations regularly to serve on review committees for dissertations from Australia and Europe, but rarely from the US.

Why is CER so much more popular among graduate students outside of the US? I’ve wondered if it’s an issue of funding for research, or how graduate students are recruited. Then it occurred to us.

Check out the Falkners’ titles: Associate Dean, Deputy Head (Katrina will be Head of School next year), Director. I remarked on that, and Nick and Katrina started naming other CS education research faculty who were Chairs, full Professors, and Deans and Directors in Australia. We went on naming other CS education researchers in high positions in New Zealand (e.g., Tim Bell, Professor and Deputy Head of Department), England (e.g., the great Computing Education Group at Kent), Denmark (e.g., Michael Caspersen as Director of the Center for Science Education), Sweden (e.g., CS Education Research at Uppsala), Finland, Germany, and Israel.

Then I was challenged to name:

  1. US CS Education researchers who are full Professors at research intensive universities;
  2. US CS Education researchers who are Chairs of their departments or schools;
  3. US CS Education researchers who are Deans or Center Directors.

I’m sure that there would be some quibbling if I tried to name US researchers in these categories. I don’t think anyone would disagree that none of these categories requires more than one hand to count — and I don’t think anyone needs more than a couple fingers for that last category.

We have great computing education researchers in the United States. Few are in these kinds of positions of visible prestige and authority. Many in the ICER community are at teaching institutions. Many who are at research intensive universities are in teaching track positions.

Computing Education Research is not as respected in US universities as it is in other countries. In these other countries, a graduate student could pursue computing education research, and might still be able to achieve tenure, promotion, and even an administrative position in prestigious institutions. That’s really rare in the United States.

There are many reasons why there isn’t more CER in research-intensive universities.  Maybe there’s not enough funding in CER (which is an outcome of lack of respect/value).  Most people don’t buy into computing for all in the US.  Unless there’s more CER in schools, maybe we don’t need much CER in Universities.  I’m actually not addressing why CER gets less respect in the US than in other countries — I’m hypothesizing a relationship between two variables because of that lack of respect.

The status of CER is definitely on the mind of students when they are considering CER as a research area. I’ve lost students to other areas of research when they realize that CER is a difficult academic path in the US. My first CS advisor at U-Michigan (before Elliot Soloway moved there) was strongly against my plans for a joint degree with education. “No CS department will hire you, and if they do, they won’t tenure you.” I succeeded into that first category (there was luck and great mentors involved).  It’s hard for me to say if my personal path could ever reach categories 2 or 3, and if barriers I meet are due more to my research area than my personal strengths and weaknesses.  All I can really say for sure is that, if you look around, there aren’t many CER people in those categories, which means that there is no obvious evidence to a graduate student that they can reach those kinds of success.

So, here’s my hypothesis:

Hypothesis: We will see more computing education research graduate students in the US when CER is a reasonable path to tenure, promotion, and advancement in research-intensive US universities.

Why is there so little computing education in US high schools?

Other countries have a lot more computing education in their high schools than we do in the United States.  Israel, New Zealand, Denmark, and England all have national curricula that include significant computer science.  In Israel, you can even pursue a software engineering track in high school.  They all have an advantage over the US, since we have no national curricula at all.  However, Germany, which has a similarly distributed education model, still has much more advanced computing education curricula (the state of Bavaria has a computing curriculum for grades 6-12) and CS teacher professional development.  What’s different?

I suspect that there are similar factors at work in schools as in Universities.  Computing education is not highly valued in US society.  That gets reflected in decisions at both the University and school systems.  I don’t know much about influence relationships between the University and the K-12 system. I have suggested that we will not have a stable high school CS education program in the United States without getting the Schools of Education engaged in teacher pre-service education. I don’t know how changes in one influence the other.

However, I see a strong correlation, caused by an external social factor — maybe some of those I mentioned earlier (not enough funding for CER, don’t need more CER, etc.). Professors and University administrators are not separate from their societies and cultures. The same values and influences are present in the University as in the society at large. What the society values has an influence on what the University values.  If a change occurs in the values in the society, then the University values will likely change.  I don’t know if it works in the other way.

So here’s where I go further out on a limb:

Second Hypothesis: We will see the majority of US high schools offering computer science education (e.g., AP CS) when CER is a reasonable path to tenure, promotion, and advancement in research-intensive US universities.

Here are two examples to support the hypothesis:

  • Consider Physics. No one doubts the value of physics. Within society, we’re willing to spend billions to find a Higgs Boson, because we value physics. Similarly, we strive to offer physics education to every high school student. Similarly, physics faculty can aspire to become Deans and even University Presidents. Physics is valued by society and the University.
  • Consider Engineering Education Research. Twenty years ago, engineering education research was uncommon, and it had little presence in K-12 schools. Today, there are several Engineering Education academic units in the US — at Purdue, Clemson, and Virginia Tech. (There’s quite a list here.) Engineering education researchers can get tenured, promoted, and even become head of an engineering education research academic unit. And, Engineering is now taught in K-12 schools. Recently, I’ve been involved in an effort to directly interview kids in schools that offer AP CS. We can hardly find any! Several of the schools in the Atlanta area that used to offer AP CS now offer Engineering classes instead. (Maybe the belief is that engineers will take care of our CS/IT needs in the US?)  Engineering has a significant presence in K-12 education today.

I don’t think that this hypothesis works as a prescriptive model.  I’m not saying, “If we just create some computing education research units, we’ll get CS into high schools!”  I don’t know that there is much more CS Ed in schools in Australia, Sweden, or Finland than in the US, where CER is a path to advancement. I  hypothesize a correlation.  If we see changes at the Universities, we’ll be seeing changes in schools.  I expect that the reverse will also be true — if we ever see the majority of US high schools with CS, the Universities will support the effort.  But I thnk that the major influencer on both of these is the perception of CER in the larger society.  I’m hypothesizing that both will change if the major influence changes.

(Thanks to Briana Morrison, Barbara Ericson, Amy Bruckman, and Betsy DiSalvo on an earlier draft of this post.)

October 28, 2013 at 1:48 am 48 comments

ACM NDC Report Confirms Growth in Graduates With Computing Skills

The first ACM study of non-doctoral computing (NDC) departments has just released its report (to contrast with the Taulbee Survey which is focused on doctoral-granting department).  Below is the coverage in the Huffington Post.

The study shows that enrollment in undergraduate computer science (CS) programs within these departments increased 11 percent between 2011-12 and 2012-13. Computer science bachelor’s degree production in these departments is expected to increase nearly 14 percent during this period. Other areas of computing, such as software engineering and information technology, also are experiencing growth according to the report. Only in the information systems area is there no real evidence of growth. Master’s degree production in the NDC departments also generally is increasing, adding to the skilled employment base in these key technology areas.

via ACM Report Confirms Growth in Graduates With Computing Skills | Stuart Zweben.

October 26, 2013 at 1:45 am 1 comment

MOOCs as Colonialism: Let Them Eat MOOCs

Great blog post that really captures the most important criticism of MOOCs (thanks to Karen Head for forwarding it).  We had Armando Fox of Berkeley’s “MOOC” Center visit (video of his GVU Brown Bag talk), and he said explicitly in his talk, “MOOCs are not about democratization of education.  They’re really about the rich getting richer.”  I blogged on these themes this month for Blogs@CACM: Results from the first-year course MOOCs: Not there yet

Worst of all, they may become a convenient excuse for giving up on the reforms needed to provide broad access to affordable higher education. The traditional kind, that is, which for all its problems still affords graduates higher chances of employment and long-term economic advantages.

Seen from this perspective, the techno-democratization of education looks like a cover story for its aristocratization. MOOCs aren’t digital keys to great classrooms’ doors. At best, they are infomercials for those classrooms. At worst, they are digital postcards from gated communities.

This is why I am a MOOC dissenter. More than a revolution, so far this movement reminds me of a different kind of disruption: colonialism.

via Let Them Eat MOOCs – Gianpiero Petriglieri – Harvard Business Review.

October 25, 2013 at 1:57 am 3 comments

IU project to understand how children learn about complex systems

I got to see some of this when I visited Indiana last year.  It’s really interesting — young children (kindergarten) play at understanding systems by exploring how bees work.

The National Science Foundation has awarded over $999,000 to three Indiana University faculty members for a unique effort intended to shed light on how children best learn about complex systems and how new technologies can best serve that learning.

The NSF is granting the money to Kylie Peppler and Joshua Danish, both assistant professors in the Learning Sciences program at the IU School of Education, and Armin Moczek, associate professor in the Department of Biology in the IU College of Arts and Sciences. Specifically, the project will develop electronically enhanced puppets, or “e-puppets,” that allow students to simulate biological phenomena such as honeybees collecting nectar or ants scavenging for food. Work on “Design and Implementation (DIP) BioSim: Developing a Wearable Toolkit for Teaching Science Through Embodied Play” begins immediately.

via Federal grant funding IU project to understand how children learn about complex systems: IU News Room: Indiana University.

October 24, 2013 at 1:51 am 1 comment

Unreliable research: How replicable is Stereotype Threat?

The Economist has an article in a recent issue that’s leading to lots of discussion: Are we making mistakes with science?  Can scientists really tell the good stuff from the bad stuff?  Are we really making sure that our key results are replicable?

One of the topics that they explore is “priming” research.

“I SEE a train wreck looming,” warned Daniel Kahneman, an eminent psychologist, in an open letter last year. The premonition concerned research on a phenomenon known as “priming”. Priming studies suggest that decisions can be influenced by apparently irrelevant actions or events that took place just before the cusp of choice. They have been a boom area in psychology over the past decade, and some of their insights have already made it out of the lab and into the toolkits of policy wonks keen on “nudging” the populace.Dr Kahneman and a growing number of his colleagues fear that a lot of this priming research is poorly founded. Over the past few years various researchers have made systematic attempts to replicate some of the more widely cited priming experiments. Many of these replications have failed. In April, for instance, a paper in PLoS ONE, a journal, reported that nine separate experiments had not managed to reproduce the results of a famous study from 1998 purporting to show that thinking about a professor before taking an intelligence test leads to a higher score than imagining a football hooligan.

via Unreliable research: Trouble at the lab | The Economist.

Stereotype threat is a kind of priming effect.  Stereotype threat is where you remind someone of a negative stereotype associated with a group that the person belongs to, and that reminding impacts performance.  The argument is that stereotype threat might be leading to the gaps between races and genders.

A common situation of stereotype threat for girls and women is when they are tested on their knowledge of math or science. The Educational Testing Services performed an experiment to see if girls performed better or worse on a math exam if they were asked their gender either before or after the exam. Researchers found that the group of girls who were asked their gender before the exam scored several points lower than the boys, while girls who were asked their gender after the exam scored on par with the boys.

via The Stereotype Threat and How It Affects Women in Computing » Anita Borg Institute.

If there are questions being raised about “priming” research, I got to wondering about whether anyone was checking the reliability of the stereotype threat research.  They are, and it’s not promising.

Men and women score similarly in most areas of mathematics, but a gap favoring men is consistently found at the high end of performance. One explanation for this gap, stereotype threat, was first proposed by Spencer, Steele, and Quinn 1999 and has received much attention. We discuss merits and shortcomings of this study and review replication attempts. Only 55% of the articles with experimental designs that could have replicated the original results did so. But half of these were confounded by statistical adjustment of preexisting mathematics exam scores. Of the unconfounded experiments, only 30% replicated the original. A meta-analysis of these effects confirmed that only the group of studies with adjusted mathematics scores displayed the stereotype threat effect. We conclude that although stereotype threat may affect some women, the existing state of knowledge does not support the current level of enthusiasm for this as a mechanism underlying the gender gap in mathematics. We argue there are many reasons to close this gap, and that too much weight on the stereotype explanation may hamper research and implementation of effective interventions

via Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog: Shortage of female math geniuses not due to “stereotype threat”.

As I dug into this further, I found that there has been a lot of misinterpretation of the research on stereotype threat.  There is already a gap between genders and between races on many of these tests.  If you remind someone of a negative stereotype, that can make the gap larger.  But if you don’t remind someone of the stereotype, the gap is just the same.  The gap was already there.  If you adjust the scores so that they’re the same pre-test (that’s the “statistical adjustment of the preexisting mathematics exam scores” referenced above), you find no difference absent the threat invocation. The measured impact of stereotype threat has worked when the test-takers are consciously aware of the threat.  The blog post cited below goes into alot of detail into the efforts to replicate, the problems with interpreting the result, and how the methodology of the experiment matters.

Thus, rather than showing that eliminating threat eliminates the large score gap on standardized tests, the research actually shows something very different. Specifically, absent stereotype threat, the African American–White difference is just what one would expect based on the African American–White difference in SAT scores, whereas in the presence of stereotype threat, the difference is larger than would be expected based on the difference in SAT scores.

via Race and IQ : Stereotype Threat R.I.P. « Meng Hu’s Blog.

I come away with the opinion that stereotype threat is real, but it needs more experimentation to understand just how reliable the effect is and what triggers it. It’s probably a small impact, more like the impact of general test anxiety than an explanation for much of the gaps between genders and races.

October 23, 2013 at 1:27 am 1 comment

On-Line Course in Educational Robotics

This is from Jennie Kay, who was one of the organizers of the SIGCSE Robot Rodeo a few years ago, and is a leader in the use of robotics in CS education in the SIGCSE community.

Educational Robots for Absolute Beginners:

A Free On-Line Course that teaches the basics of LEGO NXT Robot Programming

Got a LEGO NXT robot kit but don’t know where to begin? Come learn the basics of LEGO NXT Robot Programming and discover a new way to bring math, science, and computer science content to your students both in and out of the classroom. By the end of this class, you (YES YOU!) will have built your own robot and programmed it to dance around the room.

This course, developed by the Rowan University Laboratory for Educational Robotics and supported by a generous grant from Google CS4HS, is specifically designed for K-12 teachers, but is free and open to anyone who is interested in learning about LEGO NXT robotics. The course will be starting at the end of October. Preregister now and we’ll send you an email when we open up the course. To preregister, as well as to see our video “trailer” and get the answers to frequently asked questions please visit: http://cs4hsrobots.appspot.com/

October 22, 2013 at 1:56 am 1 comment

A Collision Between Changes in Higher Education and Changes in Publishing | The Next Bison: Social Computing and Culture

Amy Bruckman has been doing a great job of finding the interesting issues in our on-line MS in CS degree program.  She’s doing innovative work in making project-based learning work in MOOCs.  In this blog post, she considers a  problem with doing graduate classes in a MOOC setting.

How do you assign readings to a large number of people in a free online course?

I’ve been puzzling over this question this week. I voted against the creation of our online master’s of computer science, and I still have serious reservations about it–particularly about the hastiness of the development plan. But since we’re going ahead with the program, I was thinking maybe I’d offer a class.  (We’re doing it–I might as well help.)  Our model is that classes have a for-credit section for which students pay a low tuition, and a free not-for-credit one (MOOC).  The for-credit students will have access to our library. The free students of course can’t.  So this week I asked what I thought was a simple question: how do we get readings to the MOOC students?

I asked colleagues teaching online classes, administrators, and our library. No one really had an answer.  One colleague suggested the students “will just have to find the reading on their own.”  (That seems like a lawsuit in the making–encouraging copyright infringement.) Another said “I might not assign any reading, since the MOOC students can’t get access to it.”  (Really?  Does the future of higher education involve watching videos and not reading?)

via A Collision Between Changes in Higher Education and Changes in Publishing | The Next Bison: Social Computing and Culture.

October 21, 2013 at 1:44 am Leave a comment

Computer science wins Chemistry Nobel prize

A big win for computational science, and for the argument that computer science is important, even for people who aren’t going to be professional software developers.

When he conceived his prestigious prizes in 1895, Alfred Nobel never imagined the need to honor an unknown field called computer science.

But the next best thing happened on Wednesday: Computing achieved a historic milestone when the Nobel Prize for chemistry went to a trio of researchers — one of them a Stanford University professor — for their groundbreaking work using computers to model the complex chemistry that sustains life.

“Computers in biology have not been sufficiently appreciated. Now they have been,” said ebullient winner Michael Levitt of Stanford’s School of Medicine, the university’s second Nobel winner this week.

via Stanford’s Nobel chemistry prize honors computer science – San Jose Mercury News.

October 18, 2013 at 1:51 am 6 comments

Andrew Williams reflects on diversity at Apple

Interesting blog from Andrew Williams, reflecting on his interactions with Steve Jobs about diversity at Apple.

Two years later, I wonder if Steve would be happy with the progress made at Apple and other major computing companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and Twitter. The issue of diversity in engineering and computing goes way beyond just finding students in college. It starts when they are born, nurtured, educated in their families and communities. If children are not valued and exposed to technology, engineering, and science when they are young and encouraged throughout their developing years, they will not be equipped to meet the opportunities of meeting a Steve Jobs or a Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO, in the cafe to talk about issues of engineering, computing, and diversity.

via Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D. – Out of the Box: Building Robots, Transforming Lives – Marquette University – Blog Large.

October 16, 2013 at 1:15 am Leave a comment

Black Enrollment Falls at UMich as Michigan Voters Reject Affirmative Action

This is a big deal that the Supreme Court is facing this week.  The NYTimes is in support of striking down the Michigan constitutional amendment.  Let me put the below statistic in a bit of CS Ed context.  As mentioned previously, UMich just graduated last year the first Black female CS PhD.  Barb’s analysis of AP CS stats includes Michigan.  Michigan has 9.8 million residents. It is 14.3% Black.  In the last six years, only 27 Black students have taken the AP CS exam, never more than 7 in any year.

A decade ago, the University of Michigan waged a successful U.S. Supreme Court fight to save affirmative action. Now Michigan is learning to live without it.

Three years after the court allowed race-based admissions, Michigan voters blocked them at state schools through a ballot initiative. The result is fewer black students crisscrossing the Diag, the wide space that cuts through the heart of the university’s Ann Arbor campus. Black enrollment is down about 30 percent at the undergraduate and law schools.

via Black Enrollment Falls as Michigan Rejects Affirmative Action – Bloomberg.

October 15, 2013 at 1:33 am Leave a comment

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