Thursday, July 20, 2017

Algorithms, Bias, and Beautiful Women

I've been keeping my eyes open for things to discuss with students this fall, especially in Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles. This week bias in algorithms kept crossing my path. It was even a topic for the #EthicalCS Twitter chat this week. It's a real problem if we really want software to meet the needs of everyone. And really to keep people safe.

I've got a couple of good examples to share. One is attempts to scientifically determine what beautiful women look like. Personally I think that is a silly goal as beautiful is in the eye of the beholder but it sells magazines I guess. Take a look at this story. The 10 Most Beautiful Women in the World, According to Science. All of the women are white. Do we really believe that beauty is limited to white women or is there perhaps a bias involved? I would suggest the latter.

While that is sort of trivial in the scheme of things some biases in algorithms have a lot more risk. Take this story A white mask worked better': why algorithms are not colour blind about the discovery that some facial recognition doesn't recognize Black faces. More information at this TED Talk Joy Buolamwini - How I'm Fighting Bias in Algorithms. Imagine the possibilities. Police and other authorities use this sort of software and this suggests the possibilities for miss identification are frightening.

Take a look at this story as well Samsung adds and swiftly removes sexist Bixby descriptor tags Not so much an algorithm bias is a software inclusion of biased opinions. How did they miss that? I wonder how many women were in on that decision?

Biases are pretty much unavoidable. As one professor Tweeted me "Most biases are inherent/unavoidable part of cognition. See books by D. Kahneman, R. Thaler, or D. Arielly." If anything this agues for more diversity on software teams. Different biases may, one hopes, help to balance things out in algorithms and software in general. I think though that as educators it is the job of computer science teachers to discuss this issue with students. They need to be aware of the issue if they are to have any chance to moderate the effects.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

GP–A General Purpose Block Programming Language

GPLogo260I added GP to my list of block programming languages this morning. Mark Guzdial announced on his blog that it was available in Beta (The General Purpose Blocks Programming Language, GP, is now in beta)

According to the website “GP is a free, general-purpose blocks programming language (similar to MIT's Scratch) that is powerful yet easy to learn. It runs on most platforms, including laptops, Chromebooks, tablets, and web browsers.”

This one looks particularly interesting because the GP stands for General Purpose. What does that mean? I think it means more sorts of apps can be developed with it than the more domain specific block languages we have seen so much of.

Since I am not a fan of web apps, that it is available as an executable for a wide variety of platforms (Windows, Raspberry Pi, Mac, and Linux) I’m happy. Available as a web app as well for you Chromebook people!

The development team includes some pretty impressive people who have experience teaching with it. And they have some teaching resources available already because it has been used for teaching. This one seems really worth a deeper dive.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Teach Me How To Teach

Garth Flint hits it out of the part with It is not about coding

Key issue?

"Although both camps were for teachers neither dealt with any pedagogy on how to teach coding or programming. Both stressed syntax and how to read the curriculum they had designed. It was implied in both camps that although pedagogy was important it was something that would somehow be easier that coding and syntax."

This may be the biggest problem with professional development for computer science teachers - we are taught what to teach but not enough of how to do the teaching.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

CSTA 2017–Some Thoughts

Normally I write several blog posts during a CSTA Annual Conference. Not this year. Why? Too much going on! The sessions I attended were very good and my time not at sessions was never boring. Lots of great conversations connecting with new friends and regular attendees. And the exhibits were worth the time as well.
Let me start with the exhibits. I know that there are people with several different opinions about exhibits at conferences but I love them. This year there were over 40 exhibits and they were all relevant to attendees. What were my highlights? Well there was Rolls Royce showing off virtual reality technology that they use in manufacturing and development. They are a technology company make no mistake about it. They need our students.
WP_20170709_11_15_40_ProMaking things was a big topic in the exhibit hall as well. Several people were showing off things to make/create in CS classes. 3D printing, robots, and programmable gadgets. I think physical computing is a coming thing. Microsoft was showing some really cool projects using the Micro:Bit and AdaFruit Circuit playground. Much of these were also at ISTE BTW. They have a web site called MakeCode.com that lets students program several devices and Minecraft it
There were several exhibits showing robots with Wonder Workshop (makers of Dot anWP_20170709_14_40_28_Prod Dash) having the largest exhibit. There was a session on the legal ramifications of using drones in education as well.
There were very few sessions on using robots and programmable small devices though. Maybe that will change in the future as there seems to be a lot of interest in all of these things especially in K-8 CS education.
Cyber Security was another big topic at CSTA this year. Lots of people are looking into how that fits into the curriculum. Closely related was a session on ethics which has spawned conversations continuing over the summer on Twitter with the #EthicalCS twitter chat (See Ethics and Computer Science Education )
Social media was a big topic with a lot of people tweeting at the conference and a Birds of a Feature that included a short mini Twitter chat. I did tweet a good bit myself. The conference hashtag was #CSTA2017 and you can look for people’s tweets to see what others were interested in.
Conversations for me were wide ranging. Talks about these cool new devices. Chats about the growth of CS for all and what that means. How we teach different things. What different things. I talked to a number of people about AP CS Principles. Most of us agree it can be a really good course that is rigorous and interesting for both students and teachers. So many ways to teach it though!
A few other observations. I didn’t see as much interest or discussion of mobile phone development. Yes, people are using App Inventor more (or so it appears to me) but they are not as focused on phones. I didn’t hear any iPhone talk. That I didn’t hear something doesn’t mean it wasn’t talked about of course but I do hear a lot.
There was more talk about AP CS Principles than AP CS A. Maybe all the APCS A people feel more established in that course but of a lot of us are still working our way though Principles.
Interest in CS is sure growing. That we had 650+ people suggests that alone. And industry is being supportive with something like 150 people getting funding help from Infosys Foundation, Google, and Rolls Royce to attend. That’s all good. It feels like there were more K-8 teachers this year as well. That is a fast growing area in CS education.
All in all I think I picked the Computer Science Education Things I’m Watching in 2017 back in January. Movement on all fronts. We’ll see what happens in September and the new school year but I think the CSTA Conference is still a leading edge professional development experience for CS educators.
Were you at CSTA? There was much to much for any one person to see it all. What were the things that moved or interested you there?

Friday, July 14, 2017

Ethics and Computer Science Education

Are ethics and the effects of computer science a reason to teach CS to everyone? Increasingly we are seeing all sort of impacts on daily life because of computing. Some are unintended but others are intended and often some of these impacts are not good. What is going on? Basically I think two things. One is that people are not going beyond asking if something can be done to should it be done. The other is just plain unethical behavior done for profit. Perhaps education in ethical thinking can help. It is at least something we should try.

Computing and its effects are still relatively new. We’re doing things today with computers that were the stuff of science fiction not very long ago. Smart phones, GPS navigation, self-driving cars (I heard about self driving boats – big ones – at CSTA this week) and much more. Schools are teaching students how to make these things possible but are we teaching enough about how to weigh the consequences? Not always. But we should.

Teaching good behavior on the Internet and in social media is becoming very common. In fact in some places it is required to be taught. That’s great as far as it goes but computing is so much more than that.

The CS 2013 curriculum for undergraduate includes ethics and professional behavior. But what are we doing in K12? Are ethics part of the discussion in K12 standards? It is in the CS K12 Framework. Still it seems to be on the backburner for many teachers. Why? Well full curriculum for starters. There is not much room for it in the APCS A curriculum. There is in the AP CS Principles curriculum and hopefully there will be some good educational discussions in those classes.

Really though it shouldn’t be a separate topic in my opinion. Ethical behavior is something that we should bake into the curriculum in various contexts. We need students to be thinking about ethics from the very start. I argue that students need to learn to think about if something should be done as they learn how to do it. Take big data for example. Data analysis is a powerful and wonderful tool. It can be used to solve all sorts of problems from medical research to how to get around the neighborhood. But it can also be used in negative ways. Can you imagine what the  Nazis could have done with modern databases? Think on that for a while and realize that there are bad actors in governments in the world today.

Computers can be used to make car engines cleaner and more efficient. They can also be used, as we saw with Volkswagen, to cheat on emissions tests. Did the engineers who wrote that cheat code think about the ethical implications? We’ll probably never know but our students should be taught to think about it.

Some may argue that ethics belongs in a separate course or that CS teachers should leave that teaching to others but I think the special context of CS and in fact the special power that CS knowledge gives requires we, CS teachers, include it in out curriculum. More than that I think that everyone, not just the people who will be CS professionals, needs to understand how to think about ethical computing. Can we really expect business or political leaders to think about ethical use of computers if they don’t have training in the mix? I don’t think so.

The ethics of using computers, how and why they are used and what they can do, is increasingly an important life skill. Ethical computing is another reason we should teach CS for all.

BTW The other day there was a twitter chat about ethics and computer science education (Check the #EthicalCS twitter tag). Saber Khan is organizing them on Wednesday's during the summer (8pm Eastern time) and this was the first. It was an interesting conversation and brought a lot of ideas to light for me. I recommend joining in over the summer.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Computer Science Teacher or Teacher of Computer Science

In some respects we have an identity problem in computer science education. Some of us think of ourselves as computer science teachers. Generally that means we identify as teaching computer science first. Maybe that is all we teach. Other times it is not the only thing we teach but what we want to teach the most. Either way “computer science teacher” is how we self identify.

Other people see themselves as teachers who also teach some computer science. Some of these teachers see themselves as math teachers, science teachers, gym teachers, or art teachers who also teach some computer science. Others are K-6 or middle school teachers who teach several things or “everything” and computer science is just part of what they do. But many of these teachers feel like they are not in the same category as “real computer science teachers.”

This really shouldn’t be a problem as we all have computer science in common but sometimes it can be. It’s a problem when teachers who teach some computer science think that professional development for computer science teachers isn’t for them. It is though! When I look around the CSTA Annual Conference (which starts in a couple of days) I see all kinds of people who teach computer science and there is something for all of them there. No one asks if people teach something else at a CS PD event unless it is casual conversation or if they want to talk about cross curricula teaching. Many members of the Computer Science Teachers Association have membership in other subject matter associations of teachers and that is great!

I guess it can be a problem if someone really doesn’t want to teach CS and want to be purely some other sort of teacher. As much as I love CS and teaching CS I understand that some people have other priorities. There is only so much time in a teacher’s life for professional development.

Teachers of CS who want to learn more CS  shouldn’t hesitate to jump into things with people they see as computer science (specialist) teachers. As we in our society work to bring computer science to more and more (hopefully all) students there are going to be many more teachers who teach computer science along with other subjects. I hope we can mix CS with more subjects as well. It will make everything more interesting and relevant to teachers and students alike.

So computer science teacher or teacher of computer science – however you see yourself join CSTA, come to chapter meetings, come to our annual conference and know that we’re all in this together.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Twitter Chat - teaching computer science away from the computer #InfyEdChat

I'm going to host a twitter chat on Monday, July 10, 5PM PT / 8PM ET. Join me to talk about teaching computer science away from the computer. Bring your ideas and pick up more. Follow #InfyEdChat to take part.
#InfyEdChat (49)[483]

I think most of us are looking for ideas for helping students get the concepts and doing so away from the computer can be more comfortable for make. So jump in with what works to you. See you in Twitter on Monday!