Monday, July 28, 2008

Evidence from Science

Today I saw a report in Science Magazine online that a recent study, funded by the NSF, using data from NCLB scores has shown that "... for grades 2 to 11, the general population no longer shows a gender difference in math skills, consistent with the gender similarities hypothesis." *

It basically looks at the scores and finds no statistical evidence that gender implies a significant difference in math performance. There was some slightly greater male variability in scores that remains unexplained, but the data seem to indicate that young women do perform comparably with young men.

I also feel that this evidence supports this blog, that what we really need to increase access to the knowledge, and diversity will be a result (as will a greater range of contributions, more happy people, better products, wisdom, ...). The challenge is to understand different ways in which people learn, handle information, and other issues that can impact the realization of potential.

It's the main reason to attend SIGCSE, to see what works and learn from what did not work.
* Janet S. Hyde, Sara M. Lindberg, Marcia C. Linn, Amy B. Ellis, Caroline C. Williams. Gender Similarities Characterize Math Performance. Science 25 (July 2008) Vol. 321. no. 5888, pp. 494 - 495

Friday, July 25, 2008

Thanks, Randy ...

Today is the day we all knew was approaching, hoping it would recursively wait until tomorrow in the same way Groundhog Day worked -- Randy Pausch (photo left), CMU professor and 2008 SIGCSE Award winner, died overnight from complications due to pancreatic cancer. He has been a very impressive character in computing, and a fantastic representative for all of us in computing and education, especially after the wonderful and inspiring "Last Lecture" talk last Fall 2007 and book.

More impressively, Randy contributed significantly in many ways, from the Alice project at both UVA and CMU, to "forcing by sheer will" the bridges between computing and art/entertainment (hence the SIGCSE 2008 talk by Dennis Cosgrove, and the Randy Pausch's Memorial Footbridge at CMU).

I met Randy at a few SIGCSEs, but I had my deepest conversation (about 60 seconds, he was really energetic) in 2003 at Reno, he was wearing the Mad Hatter hat from "Alice in Wonderland." He was preparing for the conference Alice Tea Party, showing how to engage novice programmers with storytelling and immediate feedback (e.g., "hey, the arm flew off the body, now that's feedback!"). I am sad today, but look forward to seeing him in the next Star Trek film, that will also be bittersweet.

Alice will continue to develop and is a wonderful legacy (I just used it again myself in the spring for a cs0 course and a summer outreach workshop for K-12 teachers). Thoughts and prayers to his family in this tough time, and thanks Randy.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Darwin would need CS today ...

I thought it was a funny, telling note I read today about how much of Darwin's work, which was very impressive for his day, would need to be augmented:

If we were to go back in a time machine and fetch [Darwin] to the present day, he’d find much of evolutionary biology unintelligible — at least until he’d had time to study genetics, statistics and computer science. O. Judson, NY Times

Just more evidence of the ever increasing role that computing plays in scientific (and other) inquiry -- now if we can only learn to speak the same language ... but that will have to wait for another post!

Title IX and (Computing) Science

With a blog like this, I had to read the latest NY Times article on the possibility of applying Title IX to science. This federal law is intended to ensure a equal playing field for professionals, both women and men, and has been applied most often (and most prominently) in college sports. I understand that this law, and its implementation in sports, is still controversial but has provided more athletic opportunities for women than in the past. I am not here to debate this as applied to sports.

However, applying Title IX to science seems, on the surface, to be a potential response to diversity issues on gender, especially in computing sciences. Still, it feels "forced" if choices are no longer choices but mandated options.

The NY Times article cites research that I find worthy of further consideration. One reports discusses that women who enjoy manipulating objects and machines were just as likely to pursue computing/IT as men who feel this way.

It is this last observation that I want to note here -- I have always felt my role as an educator was less about retention than discovery -- retention has this implicit notion (perhaps undeservedly) of persuasion against one's actual wishes for the good of the discipline; on the other hand, discovery works first to uncover these individual wishes, and then nurture all students (women or men) to achieve their aspirations in a unfolding process of learning, adjusting and (hopefully) succeeding (i.e., make computing accessible). In this way, people work in careers that are more likely to be meaningful, successful, and thus contribute.

I stipulate that teaching in this ideal way is far more difficult that mandating equality through law and measuring it through counting; again, most worthwhile things are more challenging to achieve.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tongue-Drive; accessibile SW helps all

I just had to stop all I was doing and alert subscribers/readers to this neat example of "thinking outside of the box" -- a group at Georgia Tech has developed a way for people who use wheelchairs to navigate with their tongues, but instead of voice commands, they use magnets and muscle -- details at this article.

Personally, I am more impressed at the potential -- there are many people with many impairments, so use of the tongue becomes a viable option, and not just for wheelchairs. If the (software) system is design properly (abstraction, modularity, ...), one should be able to use it as input to other devices (computer, PDA, house, ...). I hope to explore these issues in my initial offering this fall of a course on software development for accessibility -- stay tuned.

I also stumbled across (thanks, ACM Tech News) an article that found (surprise?) that "Mobile users make same mistakes as disabled PC users," suggesting that "special software" to make a mobile device for a person with a mobility issue/disability may actually help all mobile users. I have found that this is more often that case than not, a direct, clear, "user-centric" focus on design can help all, and we expect this type of "thinking in the extremes" in general design with hopes that students develop solutions that work for a diverse a group of users as possible -- one definition of "accessibility" -- now do you see the connection between access and diversity? (sorry, just hopped off soapbox ;-) -- JD