Posts tagged ‘computing for everyone’

British girls “logging off” from CS: What’s the real problem?

The BBC reports (in the article linked below) that the “revolution in computing education has stalled.”  The data from England (including the Roehampton Report, discussed in this blog post) do back up that claim — see the quotes at the bottom.

In this post, I’m reflecting on the response from the British Computer Society. “We need to do more with the curriculum to show it’s not just a nerdy boys’ subject. We’ve got to show them it’s about real problems like climate change and improving healthcare.”  There are some interesting assumptions and warrants in these statements.  Do girls avoid CS because they think it’s a boys’ subject, or because it’s not about real problems?  How does the curriculum “show” that it is (or isn’t) a “nerdy boys’ subject”?  If the curriculum emphasized “real problems,” would it no longer be a “nerdy boys’ subject”?  Are these at all connected? Would making CS be like “climate change and improving healthcare” attract more female students?

First, I’d like to know if the girls choosing ICT over CS are actually saying that it’s because CS is “a nerdy boys’ subject,” and if the girls know anything about the curriculum in CS.  In our research, we found that high school students know very little about what actually happens in undergraduate CS, and undergraduate students in CS don’t even know what’s in their next semester’s classes. Changing the curriculum doesn’t do much good if the girls’ decisions are being made without knowing about the curriculum.  The former claim, that CS is perceived by girls as a “nerdy boys’ subject,” is well-supported in the literature.  But is that the main reason why the girls aren’t enrolling?

Do we know that this a curriculum issue at all? The evidence suggests that there are other likely reasons.

  • Maybe it’s not the curriculum’s “problem” focus, but the “learning objective” focus. Do the girls percieve that the point of the course is to become part of the Tech industry as a professional programmer?  Maybe girls are more interested in broadening their potential careers and not limiting their options to IT?  ICT can be used anywhere.  CS might be perceived as being about being a software developer.
  • Are the girls seeing mass media depictions of programming and deciding that it’s not for them?  A 2016 ICER paper by Colleen Lewis, Ruth Anderson, and Ken Yasuhara explored the reasons why students might not feel that they have a good “fit” with CS (see ACM paper link here).  But are those the reasons why women might not even try CS? Maybe they have had experiences with programming and decided that they didn’t fit? Or maybe the decided that syntax errors and unit tests are just tedious and boring?
  • Are the girls seeing mass media depictions of the Tech industry and deciding that they’d rather not be a Googler or work at Uber? They are probably hearing about things like the Damore memo at Google. Whether they think he’s right or not, maybe girls are saying that they just don’t want to bother.
  • Do the girls have more choices, and CS is simply less attractive in comparison?  It may be that girls know that CS is about solving real problems, but they’d rather solve real problems in law, medicine, or business.
  • Do the girls perceive that wages are not rising in the Tech industry?  Or do the girls perceive that they can make more money (perhaps with fewer negative connotations) as a lawyer, doctor, or businessperson?

I have heard from some colleagues in England that the real problem is a lack of teachers.  I can believe that having too few teachers does contribute to the problem, but that raises the same questions at another level.  Why don’t teachers teach computer science?  Is it because they don’t want to be in the position of being “vocational education,” simply preparing software developers?  Or are teachers deciding that they are dis-interested in software development, for themselves or for their students?  Or are the teachers looking at other areas of critical need for teachers and decide that CS is less attractive?

Bottom line is that we know too little, in the UK or in the US (see Generation CS), about what is influencing student and teacher decisions to pursue or to avoid classes in computing. The reality doesn’t matter here — people make decisions based on their perceptions.

In England, entries for the new computer science GCSE, which is supposed to replace ICT, rose modestly from 60,521 in 2016 to 64,159 this year. Girls accounted for just 20% of entries, and the proportion was a tiny bit lower than last year.

ICT entries fell from 84,120 to 73,099, which you would expect as the subject is disappearing from the national curriculum. But it had proved more attractive to girls. Even there, the proportion of female entries fell from 41% to 39%.

Combine the two subjects, and you find that the number studying either subject has fallen by over 7,000 in the past year. Back in 2015 more than 47,000 girls were getting some kind of computing qualification, and that has fallen to about 41,000 – just 30% of the total.

Source: Computer science: Girls logging off – BBC News

September 15, 2017 at 7:00 am 8 comments

Learning Programming at Scale: Philip Guo’s research

I love these kinds of blog posts.  Philip Guo summarizes the last three years of his research in the post linked below.  I love it because it’s so important and interesting (especially for students trying to understand a field) to get a broad explanation of how a set of papers relate and what they mean.  Blog posts may be our best medium for presenting this kind of overview — books take too long (e.g., I did a book to do an overview of 10-15 years of work, but it may not be worth the effort for a shorter time frame), and few conferences or journals will publish this kind of introspection.

My research over the past three years centers on a term that I coined in 2015 called learning programming at scale. It spans the academic fields of human-computer interaction, online learning, and computing education.

Decades of prior research have worked to improve how computer programming is taught in traditional K-12 and university classrooms, but the vast majority of people around the world—children in low-income areas, working adults with full-time jobs, the fast-growing population of older adults, and millions in developing countries—do not have access to high-quality classroom learning environments. Thus, the central question that drives my research is: How can we better understand the millions of people from diverse backgrounds who are now learning programming online and then design scalable software to support their learning goals? To address this question, I study learners using both quantitative and qualitative research methods and also build new kinds of interactive learning systems.

Source: Learning Programming at Scale | blog@CACM | Communications of the ACM

September 11, 2017 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Google study on the challenges for rural communities in teaching CS

Google continues their series of reports on the challenges of teaching CS, with a new report on rural and small-town communities in the US.  This is an important part of CS for All, and is a problem internationally.  The Roehampton Report found that rural English schools were less likely to have computing education than urban schools.  How do we avoid creating a computing education divide between urban and rural schools?

This special brief from our Google-Gallup study dives into the opportunities and challenges for rural and small-town communities. Based on nationally representative surveys from 2015-16, we found:

  • Students from rural/small-town schools are just as likely as other students to see CS as important for their future careers, including 86% who believe they may have a job needing computer science.

  • Rural/small-town parents and principals also highly value CS, with 83% of parents and 64% of principals saying that offering CS is just as or more important than required courses.

  • Rural/small-town students are less likely to have access to CS classes and clubs at school compared to suburban students, and their parents are less likely to know of CS opportunities outside of school.

  • Rural/small-town principals are less likely to prioritize CS, compared to large-city or suburban principals.

Source: Google for Education: Computer Science Research

September 4, 2017 at 7:00 am 1 comment

Google report in CACM: Is the U.S. Education System Ready for CS for All?

Jennifer Wang of Google has the Education Viewpoints column in CACM this month, and she reports on data that Google is collecting on systemic issues preventing CS for All.  It’s an important report that I recommend.

Interestingly, we also found that regardless of race/ethnicity or gender, 80% of students who have learned CS said that they learned CS in a class at school, about twice the rate of any other means of learning, including on their own, through afterschool clubs, online, or in any other program outside of school. This data strongly suggests formal education remains the best way to ensure widespread and equitable access to CS learning.

Yet, we found schools faced many barriers to offering CS classes. We asked principals and superintendents why they did not offer CS in their schools and districts. The most commonly cited barriers had to do with lack of qualified teachers and competing demands of standardized test preparation. Lack of qualified teachers was cited by 63% of principals and 74% of superintendents. Not enough funding to train teachers was cited by 55% of principals and 57% of superintendents. The need to devote time to testing requirements was cited by 50% of principals and 55% of superintendents. This indicates computing professionals can play an important role in expanding access to CS by supporting organizations that train teachers and by providing mentoring and resources to teachers and students.

Source: Is the U.S. Education System Ready for CS for All? | August 2017 | Communications of the ACM

August 25, 2017 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

It’s not about Google. Our diversity efforts aren’t working

The sexist “internal memo” from Google has been filling my social media feeds for the last few days. I’m not that excited about it.  Within every organization, there will be some people who disagree with just about any policy.  The enormous screed is so scientifically incorrect that I have a hard time taking it seriously.  

For example, the memo claims that the gap between men and women in CS is due to biology. That can’t be when there are more women than men in CS, especially in the Middle East and Northern Africa.  I saw a great study at NCWIT a few years ago on why programming is seen as women’s work in those parts of the world — it’s detailed work, done inside, sometimes with one other person. It looks like sewing or knitting. When told that programmers were mostly male in the US, the participants reportedly asked, “What’s masculine about programming?”  There’s an interesting take from four scientists who claim that everything that the internal memo says is correct.

The positive outcome from this memo is Ian Bogost’s terrific essay about the lack of diversity in Tech, from industry to higher education. It’s not about Google. It’s that our diversity efforts are having little impact. Ian explains how our problem with diversity is deeply rooted and influences the historical directions of computing. I highly recommend it to you.

These figures track computing talent more broadly, even at the highest levels. According to data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, for example, less than 3 percent of the doctoral graduates from the top-10 ranked computer science programs came from African American, Hispanic, Native American, and Pacific Islander communities during the decade ending in 2015.

Given these abysmal figures, the idea that diversity at Google (or most other tech firms) is even modestly encroaching on computing’s incumbents is laughable. To object to Google’s diversity efforts is to ignore that they are already feeble to begin with.

Source: A Googler’s Anti-Diversity Screed Reveals Tech’s Rotten Core – The Atlantic

August 9, 2017 at 7:00 am 13 comments

Helping students succeed in AP CS: GT Computing Undergraduate Female Rising Up to Challenge in CS

There’s a common refrain heard at “CS for All” and BPC events in the US these days. “AP CS A is just terrible. AP CS Principles will fix everything.” The reality is that there are bad AP CS A classes, and there are good ones. There is evidence that just having good curricula doesn’t get you more and more diverse students. The more important reality is that AP CS A accurately matches most introductory computer science classes in the United States. If you want students to succeed at the CS classes that are in our Universities today, AP CS A is the game to play at high school.

That’s why Barbara’s Rise Up programs are so important. She’s helping female and African-American students succeed in the CS that’s in their schools and on University campuses today. And she’s having tremendous success, as seen in the story below about a female high school football player who is now a CS undergraduate.

Barbara’s work is smart, because she’s working with the existing CS infrastructure and curricula. She’s helping students to succeed at this game, through a process of tutoring and near-peer mentoring. This is a strategy to get more female CS undergraduates.

That’s when she discovered Sisters Rise Up 4 CS, a relatively new program developed in Fall 2014 at Georgia Tech by Barbara Ericson. The program was based on Project Rise Up 4 CS, which aims to help African-American students pass the AP Computer Science A exam. Sisters Rise Up does the same for females.The program offers extra help sessions in the form of webinars and in-person help sessions, near-peer role models, exposure to a college campus, and a community of learners.“The program helped me get hooked on computer science,” Seibel said. “I started to actually learn. Seeing that some of the girls in the program had interned at Google or other places like that, and that they really loved CS, it gets you excited about it. They were only a few years older than me, and I was like, ‘Oh. That could be me.’”

Source: GT Computing Undergraduate Sabrina Seibel Rising Up to Challenge in CS | College of Computing

July 26, 2017 at 9:00 am 1 comment

Why are underrepresented minorities and poor over-represented in Code.org courses?

Code.org has a blog post describing their latest demographics results showing that they have remarkably high percentages of women (45%) and under-represented minorities (48%). In fact, their students are 49% on free and reduced meals.

Only 38% of students in the US are on free and reduced lunch.  44% of students in the US are Black or Hispanic (using US Department of Education data).

What does it mean that Code.org classes are over-sampling under-represented groups and poorer students?

I don’t know. Certainly, it’s because Code.org targeted large, urban school districts.  That’s who’s there.  But it’s not like the classes are unavailable to anyone else.  If the perception was these are valuable, shouldn’t more suburban schools be wanting them, too?

One explanation I can imagine is that schools that are majority poor and/or minority might be under-funded, so Code.org classes with their well-defined curriculum and clear teacher preparation models are very attractive. Those schools may not have the option of hiring (say) an AP CS teacher who might pick from one of the non-Code.org curriculum options, or even develop his or her own.

The key question for me is: Why aren’t the more majority and wealthier schools using Code.org classes?  CS is a new-to-schools, mostly-elective subject.  Usually those new opportunities get to the wealthy kids first.  Unless they don’t want it. Maybe the wealthy schools are dismissing these opportunities?

It’s possible that Code.org classes (and maybe CS in high school more generally) might get end up stigmatized as being for the poor and minority kids?  Perhaps the majority kids or the middle/upper-class kids and schools avoid those classes? We have had computing classes in Georgia that were considered “so easy” that administrators would fill the classes with problem students — college-bound students would avoid those classes.  We want CS for all.

Code.org has achieved something wonderful in getting so many diverse students into computing classes. The questions I’m raising are not meant as any criticism of Code.org.  Rather, I’m asking how the public at large is thinking about CS, and I’m using Code.org classes as an exemplar since we have data on them.  Perceptions matter, and I’m raising questions about the perceptions of CS classes in K-12.

I do have a complaint with the claim in the post quoted below.  The citation is to the College Board’s 2007 study which found that AP CS students are more likely to major in CS than most other AP’s, with a differentially strong impact for female and under-represented minority students.  “Taking AP CS” is not the same as “learn computer science in K-12 classrooms.”  That’s too broad a claim — not all K-12 CS is likely to have the same result.

Today, we’re happy to announce that our annual survey results are in. And, for the second year in a row, underrepresented minorities make up 48% of students in our courses and females once again make up 45% of our students…When females learn computer science in K-12 classrooms, they’re ten times more likely to major in it in college. Underrepresented minorities are seven to eight times more likely.

Source: Girls and underrepresented minorities are represented in Code.org courses

July 21, 2017 at 8:00 am 11 comments

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