What can undergraduate courses do to improve diversity in computing?
Dan is one of the best computer science teachers I know, and I strongly agree with the goals he describes below. I’m not sure how much intro courses can do to recruit more diverse students. At Georgia Tech, Media Computation has been over 50% female since we started in 2003, but that’s because of what majors are required to take it and the gender distribution in those majors. I know that Harvey Mudd, Stanford, and Berkeley have grown their percentage of females, but their undergraduates get to choose their majors while on-campus. At schools like Georgia Tech, where students have to choose their major on the application form, the decision is made off-campus.
One clear thing we can do in undergraduate courses is retain more diverse students. In our BS in CS, we graduated 16% female BS in CS students in Spring 2015, which is pretty good. Taulbee Survey says that the national average is only 14.1% (see report here). But our enrollment in CS is 25% female. We lose a LOT of women who decide to try CS. I’ve talked about some of the reasons in past blog posts (see post here about bad teaching practices and here about my daughter’s experience in CS at Georgia Tech).
Dan Garcia says there’s another important issue: Once courses are created, educators must make sure they’re reaching a diverse audience. Women and minorities are grossly under-represented, not just in tech fields, but also in computer science classes.Teachers should shake the trees and reach out to more kinds of students, not just the student who’s doing well in math. And, he says, connect computer science to bigger, more controversial topics, Garcia says, because coding and data are connected to issues of power. With the persistent digital divide, he says, educators must ask, “What does that mean for equity? What does that mean for fairness? Privacy issues? Hopefully the curriculum brings equity as part of it,” he says.