A female computer science major “floored” by the sexism: Valuable first-person perspective

While disturbing, these first-person accounts of the sexism that women face in computing are also fascinating (see another one here and another one here). I haven’t had the experiences, and the accounts give me fresh insights into what others’ experience might be.

But dresses and kimonos stand out in a sea of techie uniforms—jeans and free tech company t­ee-shirts. I noticed I got better feedback from interviewers when I “looked the part.” So on days I had on­ campus interviews, I sacrificed my dresses for boxy company tee­-shirts. Even when I did wear company tee­-shirts, I was sometimes assumed to be a recruiter in the same way women in scrubs are assumed to be nurses.

My high-pitched voice also became an unexpected source of frustration as team meetings became small battlegrounds for respect. At another company (which I prefer not to name), I noticed that management listened more to what my male counterparts had to say even though I was offering insightful feedback. Managers asked my male coworkers about the status of projects, although I was touching all the same files. The guys were praised more on their progress although I was pushing the same amount of code.

via A female computer science major at Stanford: “Floored” by the sexism – Fortune.

March 13, 2015 at 7:34 am 9 comments

Helping states collect data about computing education for landscape reports

Back at the NCWIT meeting last May, we in ECEP (Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance) started promoting a four step process for starting to improve computing education in your state (see blog post here):

  1. Find a Leader(s)
  2. Figure out where you are and how you change
  3. Gather your allies
  4. Get initial funding.

Part of Step 2 includes writing a Landscape Report.  Does your state count CS towards high school graduation? As what?  Who decides?  Who can teach CS? Is there a CS curriculum? Do you have a Pathway? Do you have a certificate or endorsement to teach CS in your state? There are several of these available at the CSTA website, such as one from South Carolina and another on Maryland.

ECEP now has a page with resources for gathering data for a landscape report — see below.

Where is your state now? The resources linked below can help you quickly find state-level data about the status of computer science education in your state. These are good starting points for putting together a landscape report that answers common questions on CS education in your state.

via State-level Data for CS Education Advocacy | Expanding Computing Education Pathways.

March 11, 2015 at 8:02 am Leave a comment

WiPSCE 2015 Call for Papers and Participation

Barb and I went to this last year, and it was terrific — diverse and high-quality.

Call for Papers and Participation:

WiPSCE 2015

We invite you to submit a paper, report, or poster for the 10th Workshop in Primary and Secondary Computing Education (WiPSCE 2015) and join us inLondon, United Kingdom, on November 9-11, 2015. WiPSCE aims at improving the exchange of research and practice relevant to teaching and learning in primary and secondary computing education, teacher training, and related research.

Important 2015 Dates

Submission deadline: Monday, June 1

Re-submission deadline: Monday, June 8

Notification of acceptance: Monday, July 27

Submission of revised manuscripts: Monday, September 15

Early Registration deadline: Monday, October 19

Original submissions in all areas related to primary and secondary computing education are invited in the following categories:

  • Full paper (6-10 pages): expected to meet one of two categories – empirical research papers and philosophical research papers
  • Work in progress (3-4 pages): unpublished original research in progress
  • Practical report (4-6 pages): unpublished, original projects in the field of “primary and secondary computing education”
  • Posters (2 page abstract)

Topics include:

  • Learning: attitudes, beliefs, motivation, misconceptions, learning difficulties, student engagement with educational technology (e.g., visualization), conceptualization of computing
  • Teaching: teaching approaches, teaching methods, teaching with educational technology
  • Content: curricular aspects, learning standards, tools, educational approaches, context relevant teaching, assessment
  • Institutional aspects: establishing and enhancing computing education, professional development

Special Theme:Computing? How young is too young?
For more information, please contact:

Judith Gal-Ezer: galezer@cs.openu.ac.il

Sue Sentence: sue.sentance@kcl.ac.uk

Jan Vahrenhold: jan.vahrenhold@uni-muenster.de

March 9, 2015 at 7:44 am 1 comment

Sorting Is Boring: Computing Education Needs to Join the Real World, like MediaComp and worked examples 

Agree that we get it backwards in computing education.  We ought to do more with worked examples (a form of “word problems”) — see the argument here.  The point of Media Computation has always been to focus on relevance — what the students think that a computer is good for, not what the CS teacher thinks is interesting (see that argument here).

There are people who love math for math’s sake and devote themselves to proving 1 + 1 = 2. There are more people, however, who enjoy using math to prescribe medication and build skyscrapers. In elementary school, we use word problems to show why it’s useful to add fractions (ever want to split that blueberry pie?) or find the perimeter of a square. We wait until college, when math majors choose to devote four years towards pure math, to finally set aside the word problems and focus on theory. We do so because math is a valuable skill that is used in so many different professions and contexts, and we don’t want kids to give up on math because they don’t think it’s useful.

So, why does computer science start with theory and end with word problems?

via Sorting Is Boring: Computer Science Education Needs to Join the Real World | Jessie Duan.

March 7, 2015 at 8:29 am 30 comments

UToronto TA’s and graduate student instructors on strike: Pay and teaching are inversely correlated in Universities today

The graduate student Teaching Assistants and Instructors at the University of Toronto are on strike.  I wouldn’t normally be aware about graduate student labor disputes in other countries, but UToronto has an active CS Education research group and at least one (very) active CS Ed PhD student, Elizabeth Patitsas who was in the ICER Doctoral Consortium last year.  The website on the strike (see link below and here) is interesting in describing the situation for Canadian PhD students, both what’s different than in the US (Toronto PhD students pay tuition — it isn’t waived for them) and what’s similar.  I’ll bet that the fact 3.5% of the university budget pays for 65% of the teaching is just as true in the US.  The Chronicle had an article recently titled Teach or Perish (see link here) with this claim (that I’m quite certain is true where I’m at, success is measured in terms of salary): “While teaching undergraduates is, normally, a large part of a professor’s job, success in our field is correlated with a professor’s ability to avoid teaching undergraduates.”

Graduate students in PhD programs continue to pay full tuition – almost $8,000 – even when they are not enrolled in courses. In return, graduate students receive the ‘privilege’ of underpaid work for the University, a library card, and meetings with supervisors. All comparable universities in North America offer post-residency fees or tuition wavers for graduate students finished with course work. The university rejected our proposals for similar provisions.

CUPE 3902 membership has been without a permanent contract for more than eight months, despite carrying out more than 65% of the teaching across the three campuses at the University of Toronto.

The university allocates a mere 3.5% of its $1.9 billion budget to CUPE 3902 workers, the vast majority of which comes from tuition and taxes.

via We Are UofT.

March 6, 2015 at 8:30 am 1 comment

Starting from the students to build engaging computing courses for non-CS majors: Response to Goldweber and Walker

Michael Goldweber and Henry Walker responded to my blog posts (here in Blog@CACM and here in this blog) in the Inroad blog (see article here). My thanks to them for taking the time to respond to me. I found their comments especially valuable in helping to see where I was making assumptions about common values, goals, and understanding. It’s too easy in a blog to only get responses from people who share a common understanding (even if we violently disagree about values and goals). I found it helpful to get feedback from Dr. Goldweber and Dr. Walker with whom I don’t correspond regularly.

“Pedagogy” isn’t just “how to teach” for me. They argue that their articles are not about pedagogy but about what should be taught in a course that students might take to explore computer science. The page I linked to at the US Department of Education is about evidence-based education, not evidence-based pedagogy. The definition of pedagogy is “the discipline that deals with the theory and practice of education” (Wikipedia link). One meaning of pedagogy is the whole field of education, which is how I meant it in that piece (as in Pedagogy of the Oppressed.) What to teach is part of pedagogy. If we don’t use evidence for making decisions what to teach, we are practicing folk pedagogy.

My larger point was about the role of evidence rather than intuition. Whether we’re talking about how to teach or what to teach, I believe that we have to gather evidence (or in Paulo Freire’s terms, have a dialog with the students and stakeholders). Certainly, we want to gather evidence about the effectiveness of our teaching. We also need to gather evidence when designing education. My background is in education and HCI. For me, “Know thy users for they are not you” is a given in HCI, and “Student-centered” is a given in Education. Both saying suggest that we start with not-me: not the designer, not the teacher, not the domain expert.  But for Dr. Walker, “The starting point is identifying the themes and Big Ideas, not pedagogy.”

The unspoken assumption behind my posts, which may not be shared with Dr. Walker and Dr. Goldweber, is that any CS course for non-CS majors (whether a service, elective, or exploratory course) should aim to increase interest in the field of CS, and especially, should be designed to attract and engage women and under-represented minorities in CS. If we are happy with just having the male white and Asian students that we typically attract now, then sure, Dr. Goldweber’s right — we can just do like Philosophy does and build the course based on what we think is important.

Dr. Walker is absolutely right — there is too little time in a course to fit in everything that we think is important about CS. Even if we leave programming out, there is still too much material. How do we decide which Big Ideas to include?

In my process, I start with the students. What are their life goals and desired careers? What’s needed from computing for them to be successful? What are their values? How can I show that computer science is relevant to those values?  To choose among the ideas of computer science, we should use what the students need.  To teach the ideas that students may not know they need, we should speak to their values.

I disagree with Dr. Goldweber on these points:

The design of a non-major’s course in computing, which is not a service course for some other department/program, should belong in the hands of the CS faculty.  Students electing to explore a discipline take these courses.  Surely, discipline experts are those who can best decide what to present from the discipline.

We can just design courses for non-CS majors based on our own experience and intuition.  We shouldn’t be surprised, then, if we mostly attract white or Asian males and if we fail to engage diverse audiences.  Since all three of us (Dr. Walker, Dr. Goldweber, and me) are white, male, CS professors, I believe that we’re the wrong people to use only our own experience and intuition when designing courses for non-CS majors, for a more diverse student population. Yes, we’re disciplinary experts, but that’s not enough. It is our responsibility to design the courses — on that, we’re agreed. It’s our responsibility to design for the students’ success.

One of my favorite quotes about computing education comes from Betsy DiSalvo and Amy Bruckman. “Computer science is not that difficult, but wanting to learn it is.” (See article here.) If we our goal is for students to learn computer science, we have to figure out will make them want to learn it.

March 5, 2015 at 8:38 am 15 comments

AP CS 2014 Results: Big jumps in participation! Demographics still poor

Every year, Barbara Ericson does an analysis of the AP CS exam demographics by state. The 2013 analysis (see here) got a lot of media attention (see on-going list).  Here’s the run-down for 2014.  Her detailed national analysis (from which I quote in this document) can be found here, and her detailed race and gender analysis (which I include some) can be found here.

Nationally, 37,327 students took the AP CS A exam in 2014. This was a big increase (26.29%) from the 29,555 students who took it in 2013.

  • The number of schools who passed the audit  (which is a reasonable proxy for the number of AP CS teachers) went up by almost 300: 2,525 versus 2,252 the previous year.
  • The number of female exam-takers was 7,458 (20%) which was up from 5,485 the year before (18.5%).
  • The number of black students was 1,469 which was an increase from 1,090 the previous year. The number of Hispanic students was 3,270 up from 2,408 the previous year.

The top 10 states in terms of the number of exams taken were in 2014 were (with their 2014 and 2013 positions listed — Florida rose and Maryland dropped):


But California is also the largest state.  If we control for population, here are the top 10 states by # exams in 2014 / estimated 2012 population / 100,000:


Eight states had a decrease in the number of students taking the AP CS A exam from the previous year: Oregon, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Kansas, Montana, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Maine.

Eighteen states had less than 100 people take the AP CS A exam in 2014, with Wyoming still the only state with no students taking the exam.


Barbara had help from Phil Sands from Purdue this year in doing the demographic analysis.

Females: The top three states with the most women taking the exam in 2014 are:

  1. California with 1599 exams (24%) and a pass rate of 65%
  2. Texas with 1102 exams (24%) and a pass rate of 51%
  3. New York with 504 exams (18.4%) and a pass rate of 56%

The top three states with the highest percentage of females taking the exam are (number of women / number of exams)
Mississippi (1/4 = 25%), Washington (260/1048 = 25%), Oklahoma (42/171 = 25%).

Tennessee, which had 31% female exam-takers in 2012, is no longer in the top ten of states.

No females took the exam in Montana (0 women of 4 exam takers) or Wyoming (but nobody took the exam in Wyoming). Eight more states had at least one woman but less than 10 women take the exam:Mississippi (1/4), North Dakota (1/14), Nebraska (2/71), Kansas (3/40), Alaska (4/30), South Dakota (4/29) and Utah (5/104) and Delaware (7/79).

African American: The top three states that had the most African American students take the exam in 2014 are:

  1. Maryland with 192 exams and a pass rate of 30.2% for African Americans compared to the overall pass rate of 62.1%.
  2. Texas with 161 exams and a pass rate of 40% compared to the overall pass rate of 55.7%.
  3. Georgia with 155 exams and a pass rate of 23% compared to the overall pass rate of 45.8%.

Thirteen states had no African American exam-takers in 2014 (number of African Americans / number of exams)
Alaska (0/30), Idaho (0/58), Kansas (0/40), Maine (0/99), Mississippi (0/4), Montana (0/4), Nebraska (0/71), New Hampshire (0/108), New Mexico (0/61), North Dakota (0/14), South Dakota (0/29), Vermont (0/71), and Wyoming (0/0).

Hispanic: The top three states that had the most Hispanics take the exam in 2014 (the College Board separates this into Mexican American, Puerto Rican, and Other Hispanic)

  1. Texas with 968 and a pass rate of 32% compared to the overall pass rate of 55.7%.
  2. California with 610 and a pass rate of 45.2% compared to the overall pass rate of 67.3%.
  3. Florida with 450 and a pass rate of 39.1% compared to the overall pass rate of 42.5%.

Seven states had no Hispanics take the exam in 2014: Iowa (0/119) which is 5.5% Hispanic by population, Mississippi (0/4) which is 2.9% Hispanic, Montana (0/4), North Dakota (0/14), South Dakota (0/29), West Virginia (0/48), and Wyoming (0/0).

March 4, 2015 at 8:46 am 1 comment

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