Posts tagged ‘women in computing’

The Backstory on Barbie the Robotics Engineer: What might that change?

Professor Casey Fiesler has a deep relationship with Barbie, that started with a feminist remix of a book.  I blogged about the remix and Casey’s comments on Barbie the Game Designer in this post. Now, Casey has helped develop a new book “Code Camp with Barbie and Friends” and she wrote the introduction. She tells the backstory in this Medium blog post.

In her essay, Casey considers her relationship with Barbie growing up:

I’ve also thought a lot about my own journey through computing, and how I might have been influenced by greater representation of women in tech. I had a lot of Barbies when I was a kid. For me, dolls were a storytelling vehicle, and I constructed elaborate soap operas in which their roles changed constantly. Most of my Barbies dated MC Hammer because my best friend was a boy who wasn’t allowed to have “girl” dolls, and MC was way more interesting than Ken. I also wasn’t too concerned about what the box told me a Barbie was supposed to be; otherwise I’d have had to create stories about models and ballerinas and the occasional zookeeper or nurse. My creativity was never particularly constrained, but I can’t help but think that even just a nudge — a reminder that Barbie could be a computer programmer instead of a ballerina — would have influenced my own storytelling.

I’ve been thinking about how Barbie coding might influence girls’ future interest in Tech careers.  I doubt that Barbie is a “role model” for many girls. Probably few girls want to grow up to be “like Barbie.” What a coding Barbie might do is to change the notion of “what’s acceptable” for girls.

In models of how students make choices in academia (e.g., Eccles’ expectancy-value theory) and how students get started in a field (e.g., Alexander’s Model of Domain Learning), the social context of the decision matters a lot. Students ask themselves “Do I want to do this activity and why?” and use social pressure and acceptance to decide what’s an appropriate class to take.  If there are no visible girls coding, then there is no social pressure. There are no messages that programming is an acceptable behavior.  A coding Barbie starts to change the answer to the question, “Can someone like me do this?”

September 24, 2018 at 7:00 am 2 comments

Why Don’t Women Want to Code? Better question: Why don’t women choose CS more often?

Jen Mankoff (U. Washington faculty member, and Georgia Tech alumna) has written a thoughtful piece in response to the Stuart Reges blog post (which I talked about here), where she tells her own stories and reframes the question.

Foremost, I think this is the wrong question to be asking. As my colleague Anna Karlin argues, women and everyone else should code. In many careers that women choose, they will code. And very little of my time as an academic is spent actually coding, since I also write, mentor, teach, etc. In my opinion, a more relevant question is, “Why don’t women choose computer science more often?”

My answer is not to presume prejudice, by women (against computer science) or by computer scientists (against women). I would argue instead that the structural inequalities faced by women are dangerous to women’s choice precisely because they are subtle and pervasive, and that they exist throughout a woman’s entire computer science career. Their insidious nature makes them hard to detect and correct.

Source: Why Don’t Women Want to Code? Ask Them! – Jennifer Mankoff – Medium

September 21, 2018 at 7:00 am 2 comments

US National Science Foundation increases emphasis on broadening participation in computing

The computing directorate at the US National Science Foundation (CISE) has increased its emphasis on broadening participation in computing (BPC).  (See quote below and FAQ here.) They had a pilot program where large research grants were required to include a plan to increase the participation of groups or populations underrepresented or under-served in computing. They are now expanding the program to include medium and large scale grants. The idea is to get more computing researchers nationwide focusing on BPC goals.

CISE recognizes that BPC requires an array of long-term, sustained efforts, and will require the participation of the entire community. Efforts to broaden participation must be action-oriented and must take advantage of multiple approaches to eliminate or overcome barriers. BPC depends on many factors, and involves changing culture throughout academia—within departments, classrooms, and research groups. This change begins with enhanced awareness of barriers to participation as well as remedies throughout the CISE community, including among principal investigators (PIs), students, and reviewers. BPC may therefore involve a wide range of activities, examples of which include participating in professional development opportunities aimed at providing more inclusive environments, joining various existing and future collective impact programs to helping develop and implement departmental BPC plans that build awareness, inclusion, and engagement, and conducting outreach to underrepresented groups at all levels (K-12, undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate).

In 2017, CISE commenced a pilot effort to increase the community’s involvement in BPC, by requiring BPC plans to be included in proposals for certain large awards [notably proposals to the Expeditions in Computing program, plus Frontier proposals to the Cyber-Physical Systems and Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace (SaTC) programs]. By expanding the pilot to require that Medium and Large projects in certain CISE programs [the core programs of the CISE Divisions of Computing and Communication Foundations (CCF), Computer and Network Systems (CNS), and Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS), plus the SaTC program] have approved plans in place at award time in 2019, CISE hopes to accomplish several things:

  • Continue to signal the importance of and commitment to BPC;
  • Stimulate the CISE community to take action; and
  • Educate the CISE community about the many ways in which members of the community can contribute to BPC.

The long-term goal of this pilot is for all segments of the population to have clear paths and opportunities to contribute to computing and closely related disciplines.


August 31, 2018 at 7:00 am 1 comment

High school students learning programming do better with block-based languages, and the impact is greatest for female and minority students

I learned about this study months ago, and I was so glad to see it published in ICLS 2018 this last summer.  The paper is “Blocks or Text? How Programming Language Modality Makes a Difference in Assessing Underrepresented Populations” by David Weintrop, Heather Killen, and Baker Franke.  Here’s the abstract:

Broadening participation in computing is a major goal in contemporary computer science education. The emergence of visual, block-based programming environments such as Scratch and Alice have created a new pathway into computing, bringing creativity and playfulness into introductory computing contexts. Building on these successes, national curricular efforts in the United States are starting to incorporate block-based programming into instructional materials alongside, or in place of, conventional text-based programming. To understand if this decision is helping learners from historically underrepresented populations succeed in computing classes, this paper presents an analysis of over 5,000 students answering questions presented in both block-based and text-based modalities. A comparative analysis shows that while all students perform better when questions are presented in the block-based form, female students and students from historically underrepresented minorities saw the largest improvements. This finding suggests the choice of representation can positively affect groups historically marginalized in computing.

Here’s the key idea as I see it. They studied over 5,000 high school students learning programming. They compared students use block-based and text-based programming questions.  Everyone does better with blocks, but the difference is largest for female students and those from under-represented groups.

Here’s the key graph from the paper:


So, why wouldn’t we start teaching programming with blocks?  There is an issue that students might think that it’s a “toy” and not authentic — Betsy DiSalvo saw that with her Glitch students. But a study with 5K students suggests that the advantages of blocks swamp the issues of inauthenticity.

The International Conference on the Learning Sciences (ICLS) 2018 Proceedings are available here.

August 20, 2018 at 7:00 am 10 comments

SIGCSE 2018 Preview: Black Women in CS, Rise Up 4 CS, Community College to University CS, and Gestures for Learning CS

While I’m not going to be at this year’s SIGCSE, we’re going to have a bunch of us there presenting cool stuff.

On Wednesday, Barb Ericson is going to this exciting workshop, CS Education Infrastructure for All: Interoperability for Tools and Data Analytics, organized by Cliff Shaffer, Peter Brusilovsky, Ken Koedinger, and Stephen Edwards. Barb is eager to talk about her adaptive Parsons Problems and our ebook work.

My PhD student, Amber Solomon, is presenting at RESPECT 2018 (see program here) on a paper with Dekita Moon, Amisha Roberts, and Juan Gilbert, Not Just Black and Not Just a Woman: Black Women Belonging in Computing. They talk about how expectations of being Black in CS and expectations as a woman in CS come into conflict for the authors.

On Thursday, Barb is presenting her paper (with Tom McKlin) Helping Underrepresented Students Succeed in AP CSA and Beyond, which are the amazing results from the alumni study from her Project Rise Up effort to help underrepresented students succeed at Advanced Placement CS A. When Barb was deciding on her dissertation topic, she considered making Rise Up her dissertation topic, or adaptive Parsons problems. She decided on the latter, so you might think about this paper as the dissertation final chapter if she had made Rise Up her dissertation focus. Project Rise Up grew from Barb’s interest in AP CS A and her careful, annual analysis of success rates in AP CS A for various demographics (here is her analysis for 2017). It had a strong impact (and was surprisingly inexpensive), as seen in the follow-on statistics and the quotes from the students now years after Rise Up. I recommend going to the talk — she has more than could fit into the paper.

On Friday, my PhD student, Katie Cunningham, is presenting with her colleagues from California State University Monterey Bay and Hartnell College, Upward Mobility for Underrepresented Students: A Model for a Cohort-Based Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science.  The full author list is Sathya Narayanan, Katie, Sonia Arteaga, William J. Welch, Leslie Maxwell, Zechariah Chawinga, and Bude Su. They’re presenting the “CSin3” program which drew in students from traditionally underrepresented groups and helped them earn CS degrees with remarkable success: A three year graduation rate of 71%, compared to a 22% four-year graduation rate, as well as job offers from selective tech companies. The paper describes the features of the program that made it so successful, like its multi-faceted support outside the classroom, the partnership between a community college and a university, and keeping a cohort model. The paper has been recognized with a SIGCSE 2018 Best Paper Award in the Curricula, Programs, Degrees, and Position Papers track.

On Friday, my colleague Betsy DiSalvo is going to present at the NSF Showcase some of the great work that she and her student, Kayla des Portes, have been doing with Maker Oriented Learning for Undergraduate CS.

On Saturday, my EarSketch colleagues are presenting their paper: Authenticity and Personal Creativity: How EarSketch Affects Student Persistence with Tom McKlin, Brian Magerko, Taneisha Lee, Dana Wanzer, Doug Edwards, and Jason Freeman.

Also on Saturday, Amber with her undergraduate researchers, Vedant Pradeep and Sara Li, are presenting a poster which is also a data collection activity, so I hope that many of you will stop by. Their poster is The Role of Gestures in Learning Computer Science. They are interested in how gesture can help with CS learning and might be an important evaluation tool — students who understand their code, tend to gesture differently when describing their code than students who have less understanding. They want to show attendees what they’ve seen, but more importantly, they want feedback on the gestures they’ve observed “in the wild.” Have you seen these? Have you seen other gestures that might be interesting and useful to Amber and her team? What other kinds of gestures do you use when explaining CS concepts? Please come by and help inform them about the gestures you see when teaching and learning CS.

February 21, 2018 at 7:00 am 2 comments

Why Tech Leadership May Have a Bigger Race Than Gender Problem

The Wired article linked below suggests that race is an even bigger issue than gender in Tech industry leadership.  While Asians are over-represented in the Tech labor force, they are under-represented in Tech leadership, even more than women.  I was somewhat surprised that this article considers “Asians” so generally.  The most-often visited blog post I’ve written is the one that shows the differential success rates of different Asian populations in US educational attainment (see post here).

Gee says this study came about because an earlier report in 2015 that used EEOC data from companies like Google and LinkedIn ended up on the desk of Jenny Yang, the outgoing commissioner of the EEOC. Yang asked if the lower proportion of Asian executives was the result of discrimination and might be applicable for lawsuits, Gee says. He told her no. “We have never seen any overt discrimination or policies that create these disparities,” Gee explains. Rather, after conversations with 60 or 70 Asian executives, the authors say they noticed a pattern of cultural traits among some Asians that did not align with leadership expectations in Western corporate culture, such as risk-taking and being confrontational.

Gee gave the example of an executive who started the first Asian affinity group at Intel decades ago. He noticed that Chinese engineers were unhappy and not succeeding in Intel’s culture of “constructive conflict,” which involved heated debates during meetings.

“Some people call it unconscious bias. For Asians, it’s actually a very conscious bias,” says Gee. Studies show that assumptions that Asians are good at math, science, and technology make it easier for them to get in the door, but the same bias is reversed when it comes to leadership roles, he says.

Source: Why Tech Leadership May Have a Bigger Race Than Gender Problem | WIRED

October 23, 2017 at 7:00 am 1 comment

Study says multiple factors work together to drive women away from STEM

I wrote recently in a blog post that we don’t know enough why women aren’t going into computing, and I wrote in another blog post that CRA is finding that we lose women over the years of an undergraduate degree in CS.  Here’s an interesting study offering explanations for why we are not getting and keeping women:

The study analyzed a large, private university on the East Coast, using data from 2009-16, broken down semester-by-semester to track students’ changes in grades and majors in as close to real time as possible. While other studies have suggested that women came out of high school less prepared, or that increasing female STEM faculty could help provide women mentors, the Georgetown study didn’t support those findings.

“Women faculty don’t seem to attract more women into a field, and that was sort of sad news for us,” Kugler said. “We were hoping we could make more of a difference.”

One of the reasons women might feel undue pressure in STEM fields might actually be because of how recruiting and mentoring is framed. Many times, those efforts actually end up reinforcing the idea that STEM is for men.“Society keeps telling us that STEM fields are masculine fields, that we need to increase the participation of women in STEM fields, but that kind of sends a signal that it’s not a field for women, and it kind of works against keeping women in these fields,” Kugler said.

And while many STEM majors are male-dominated, the framing of recruitment and mentorship efforts can sometimes paint inaccurate pictures for STEM fields that aren’t male-dominated, and contribute to an inaccurate picture for STEM as a whole, the paper says:

While men may not have a natural ability advantage in STEM fields, the numerous government and other policy initiatives designed to get women interested in STEM fields may have the unintended effect of signaling to women an inherent lack of fit.

While computer science, biophysics and physics tend to be male-dominated, Kugler said, neurobiology, environmental biology and biology of global health tend to be female-dominated.

Source: Study says multiple factors work together to drive women away from STEM

October 13, 2017 at 7:00 am 1 comment

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