Posts tagged ‘NCWIT’
Maria Klawe gets a lot of attention for promoting women in CS at Harvey Mudd College, but she’s the College President. Closer to the on-the-ground action is Ran Libeskind-Hadas who is the CS Department Chair there. In the post below, he lays out the argument for everyone taking CS in College.
I’m encouraged by an increasing number of innovative introductory courses that provide students with these rich experiences. And, I’m very excited to see students voting for these courses with their feet. At my institution, Harvey Mudd College, we developed a set of introductory courses that are not only required for all Harvey Mudd students but are now immensely popular among non-majors at our four sister institutions in the Claremont Colleges consortium. At a college of 800 students, we are teaching introductory computer science to all of our first-year students, regardless of their ultimate major. And, we are attracting hundreds of students each from our sister colleges in Claremont. They are literature, economics, and sociology majors – among many others. And Harvey Mudd does not have a monopoly on innovative introductory courses. A number of other institutions including the University of Washington, Harvard, and others have pioneered their own successful courses in a similar spirit.
I predict that if we did this study with CS teachers, we’d find the same result. The belief that CS is for males and not for females is deeply ingrained in the perceptions of our field. Kahneman would tell us that it’s part of our System 1 thinking (see NYTimes Book Review). What do you think teachers would draw if asked to “draw a computer scientist“? I predict that the gender bias that favors males as computer scientists would be greater for post-secondary teachers than for secondary or elementary teachers. Most secondary school CS teachers that I’ve met are sensitive to issues of gender diversity in computing, and they actively encourage their female students. Most post-secondary CS teachers with whom I’ve worked are not sensitized to issues of women in computing and have not changed how they teach to improve gender diversity (see example here).
In the study, teachers graded the math tests of 11-year-olds and, on average, the scores were lower for girls. But, when different teachers graded the same tests anonymously, the girls performed far better (out-performing the boys in many cases.)
Dr. Edith Sand, one of the researchers, told American Friends of Tel Aviv University, that the issue wasn’t overt and obvious sexism, but “unconscious discouragement.”
The study goes on to say that the gender biases held by elementary school teachers have an “asymmetric effect” on their students — the boys’ performance benefits and girls’ performance suffers based on the teacher’s biases. Boys do well because teachers believe they will, girls don’t because teachers believe they won’t.
I agree with the author of this recent NYTimes post. Women do seem to be more attracted to socially meaningful work than males. I don’t think that’s the complete solution, though. We have evidence that women are more likely to pursue studies in computer science if encouraged (see Joanne Cohoon’s work) and if they feel a sense of “belonging” with the department (see our work in Georgia). If we want more women in engineering, we have to think about recruitment (as this article does) and retention (as other work does).
Why are there so few female engineers? Many reasons have been offered: workplace sexism, a lack of female role models, stereotypes regarding women’s innate technical incompetency, the difficulties of combining tech careers with motherhood. Proposed fixes include mentor programs, student support groups and targeted recruitment efforts. Initiatives have begun at universities and corporations, including Intel’s recent $300 million diversity commitment.
But maybe one solution is much simpler, and already obvious. An experience here at the University of California, Berkeley, where I teach, suggests that if the content of the work itself is made more societally meaningful, women will enroll in droves. That applies not only to computer engineering but also to more traditional, equally male-dominated fields like mechanical and chemical engineering.
Bobby Schnabel has just been named the new CEO of ACM. This is a big win for computing education. Bobby has been an innovator and leader in efforts to improve computing education policy and broaden participation in computing. Now, he’s in charge of ACM overall, the world’s largest computing professional organization. That gives him a big pulpit for promoting the importance of computing education.
Schnabel has a long history of service to the computing community. He has served in several capacities, including chair, of ACM’s Special Interest Group on Numerical Mathematics (ACM SIGNUM). When Schnabel assumes his role as CEO, he will step down as founding chair of the ACM Education Policy Committee, which led to the creation of Computer Science Education Week in the US, and the formation of the industry/non-profit coalition, Computing in the Core. Schnabel also serves as board member of code.org, and as a member of the advisory committee of the Computing and Information Science and Engineering directorate of the National Science Foundation. He has served as a board member of the Computing Research Association.
Dedicated to improving diversity in computing, Schnabel is a co-founder and executive team member of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), a major non-profit organization in the US for the full participation of girls and women in computing and information technology. He also serves as chair of the Computing Alliance for Hispanic-Serving Institutions Advisory Board.
Lucy Sanders is terrific as always in this NYTimes piece. I particularly like that the article draws on evidence, which is too rarely used in making CS Ed decisions.
The focus on recruiting and retaining women might increase their numbers but also singles them out, say some critics of programs that change curriculums to attract more women or offer classes specifically for women. Students often say they want to be seen as a computer scientist, not a female computer scientist.
But Ms. Sanders says the American computer science curriculum is in need of a complete overhaul, not just for women.
“I don’t particularly think that the existing computer science curriculum has been effective for anybody,” she said. “It needs to be situated in a real-world or meaningful context so people understand why they’re doing it. That doesn’t make it less rigorous — students learn the same things, but in a different way.”
New Video “Code” and the Quest for Inclusive Software, and a big question for Broadening Participation in Computing
The article quoted below is about a new documentary on gender issues in the computing industry. More interestingly, the article raises an important question for broadening participation in computing: Can we come up with examples of where a lack of diversity impacts the software product?
“Code” also addresses a question that has been discussed less often. When Reynolds described the film’s theme to her mother, her mother asked, “Well, Robin, why does it matter who’s coding as long as we have the products?” It’s a valid question: If women don’t want to program, what’s the harm? Reynolds told me that it led her to seek out, in her interviews, cases in which less diverse engineering teams created worse products than they otherwise might have. “I said, ‘Can you give me an example of where not having a diverse coding team has affected the product?’” she recalled.
Maria Klawe Won’t Let CS Remain a Boys’ Club, and other schools are going to try to follow the HMC model
Always fun to read articles about Maria Klawe and the work going on at Harvey Mudd. The part that I found really interesting was the quote below. I hadn’t heard about this new program to try to replicate the interventions from Harvey Mudd at other schools. I suspect that the real challenge is getting the commitment (as described below) and understanding from the top down. I have heard administrators claim “We’re doing the same things as Harvey Mudd” when they very clearly aren’t. I suspect that the administrators don’t really understand what Harvey Mudd College is doing.
What the article doesn’t talk about is the bottom up support at Harvey Mudd. The “CS For All” course that HMC CS faculty created has four authors (see book here). HMC has 10 tenure track CS faculty (see list here). 40% of their faculty put time into creating materials for a new approach that engaged more female students. I know several of the other faculty in the department, and I know that they were supportive, even if not named authors. I bet that the broad-based support among faculty in the department had more to do with change at HMC than any top-down commitment.
Ms. Klawe, 63, is not content with gains at her own institution, however. Late last year, she announced a program, financed by companies including Google and Facebook, to export and adapt the changes made at Harvey Mudd to 15 other universities. Many of them, such as Arizona State University and the University of Maryland at College Park, are public and much bigger than her science-focused college of 800 students.
Getting women into computer science, and into engineering more generally, requires commitment from the top down, Ms. Klawe says. But it starts with a simple reframing. “It’s creative problem-solving,” she says. “It’s hard to find a young woman who doesn’t want to be seen as creative. They also like problem-solving.”