Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Can't Rise, We're Stuck

Two reports to read that (apparently) complement (eh, perhaps "amplify" is better) each other regarding computing, science, education and technology, especially among underrepresented groups. I discovered these two report from a recent article by Richard Tapia of Rice University that the ACM Tech News directed to me.

The first is Rising above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future (or, RAGS), mandated by Congress and facilitated and published by the National Academies (2007). The goal of the report is noble; to best prepare the US citizens to leverage such things as conceptual understanding and technology to increase our standard of living. Cool. The problem is that we are way behind in not only leading the world in innovations, but even filling the expected wave of skilled careers that are expected. Uncool.

Well, to "fix" this problem, one considers the low hanging fruit. We have lots of people in computing of a certain, dare I say, overrepresented demographic -- people like me. Fortunately this is not a new call (e.g., SIGCSE 2008 :-). So onto the people presently underrepresented, that should provide a rich source of competent and capable talent.

Sadly, the answer appears to be no, as indicated in the second book, Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing, by Jane Margolis. It seems that simple, tried-and-true teaching techniques (e.g., noticing and encouraging achievement, mentoring) are not as popular for these underrepresented groups as well might expect. Here is an interview with Jane Margolis as well.

My intent with "diversity through accessibility" is to ensure that if we provide means for students to excel, then a more diverse groups will likely emerge. These reports suggest the complement; there are still too many unintentional obstacles that keep students stuck.

Well, two more books to read this summer.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

SoftHum & HFOSS

Hello from the ground floor of the Rush Building at Drexel University where I am part of the NSF-sponsored workshop to explore Open Source Software for Humanity, unofficially abbreviated to SoftHum. After just finishing introductions, we hope to explore how to utilize open source projects in our respective curricula to engage and deepen the understanding and appreciation of software development for our students.

So, the morning involved lots of presentations from the team leaders (Greg and Heidi), as well as a few participants such as Cliff Kussmaul at Muhlenberg (interesting approach, sort of like "backing into" teaching software development), Greg DeKoenigsberg of Red Hat and Frank Hecker of the Mozilla Foundation. We then had a group exercise (no surprise at a SE workshop :-) on teaching and learning exercises & activities for OSS.

Lunch was great, the some summary of the group work, presentations more participants, and onto Ralph Morelli discussing the HFOSS project -- I really am interested in Sahana and working with POSIT on Google Android.

Next Darius Jayazeri (not sure if this is the right spelling) presented OpenMRS.


Day 2: There is an interesting debate arising about what puts the "F" in HFOSS, and what would not be HFOSS, politics, perspective, even "political agnosticism." This discussion has a few sides as I see it:
  • Humanitarian is clearly the application of FOSS for the classics of disaster management, conflict issues and poverty in developing countries (i.e., paternalistic)
  • Humanitarian also includes education, even locally (i.e., own bootstraps)
  • Humanitarian is all application, so what if the military argue that their work saves more lives than are lost (i.e., greater good)
  • Humanitarian is really not applicable to software, as it is a tool and thus "morally neutral."
Libertarian flavor of software was then mentioned, interesting point. Discussion then turned to the concept, attributed to Dave Humphrey, that students should be "productively lost." Heidi and Greg added the technical presentation, including templates and grading rubrics.

Now it's panel time: Greg, Darius, Frank, Clif and Heidi fielded questions and discussed how they teach their courses using HFOSS.

For details, please check back later -- JD

Friday, June 5, 2009

NYTimes: Women and Science

So, now there is a new article from the NY Times that discusses the apparent improvement in science opportunities for women at major research universities; that is good news, we need all the help we can get. Still, there remains unequal access to certain opportunities (such as salary). Another report suggests that the performance gap between girls and boys in math is decreasing "to the vanishing point." Still more good news.

My big issue with this NAS report is that the panel surveyed six disciplines, including math and physics and engineering, but excluded computer science. And the fight for visibility continues ....

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

XO in the next CACM

Heads-up -- it seems that the XO (image right), the accessible-by-design (and low-cost) product of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) group, is featured in an article in the June 2009 issue of the Communications of the ACM where vision is juxtaposed with reality. The next generation XO is featured in the image below-left.

Please read when the article you can, but I came away with the sense that while the output and in-place numbers of XOs in the developing world are each less than promised, the shake-up in the PC industry to respond to the "threat" of losing potential market share has certainly had impact -- again, IMHO -- JD

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Evidence of Gender Gap in HS Students

There is a new report from a NSF study by the ACM and the WGBH Educational Foundation has found evidence supporting the perceived gender gap in interest in computing as a career/profession among high school students -- from the ACM press release:

The gender gap extended to computer science as a potential career choice as well as a field of study. From a selection of 15 possible careers, computer science came in fourth among the respondents, with 46 percent rating it “very good” or “good.” However, while 67 percent of all boys rated computer science highly as a career choice, only nine percent of girls rated it “very good” and 17 percent rated it “good.”

Details in the full report (PDF).