January First always seems to be a good time to start thinking about the future. I don’t generally make New Year’s Resolutions but this seems like the time when a lot of people at least enumerate some goals. I’ve been thinking about both personal goals and things I think we, all of us involved in CS education, could have as goals for the new year.
Personally I’m focused on two things. One is improving the courses I have been teaching this past semester (two weeks left) and making the spring semester go as much better as it can. I’ve learned a lot this past semester and hope to incorporate it going forward. Second is a book proposal I am behind on writing. More on both of those things as they happen. But I want to focus on the wider question of CS education today.
I’m thinking about two big questions.
- How are we going to build on what happened during CS Education week in 2013?
- Is this the year we really make big gains in getting more females in computer science?
CS Education week had a huge effective effort called an Hour of Code that involved millions of students all over the world. It was great but is there follow up for this? Mark Guzdial put it this way in a Tweet - Hour of Code was an invitation that 15 million students opened. Now we have to make good on that invite into CS. (see also his blog post at CSEd Week 2013 was Amazing!) My related post was An Hour of Code–Now What?
One shot events are great. They get a lot of attention. They may in fact actually turn kids on to coding and computer science. If they don’t have an opportunity to learn more that can all fade quickly and be lost. We can’t afford to waste the moment. We need more CS in schools. I believe that after school and summer programs, while great in many ways, are by their nature too exclusive. They support students who already have a lot of support from parents. Far too many students need their education to be within the school day or it doesn’t happen at all.
Currently only 15 (or is is 16 now?) states allow computer science to count as meeting a graduation credit. That needs to change. Even if you feel that not everyone needs computer science we have to open the possibilities for more students and allowing a graduation credit helps there. Please think about visiting Make Computer Science Courses Count toward Graduation Credits and signing the petition for your state (at least).
Companies are starting to see the problem and work at it as well. See Tech Companies Work to Combat Computer Science Education Gap in US News and World Report. But we need more. More companies and more individuals in more companies. Computer science educators need support. They need more and better training and they need people to lobby for more CS in schools. Computer science teachers are trying – many though their local CSTA chapters and the CSTA Leadership Cohort – but industry has to join the call.
Now on to getting more women and girls in the field. Just as important as more CS courses in my opinion. We can’t continue to be missing half of the population in computer science. Here again industry is starting to take note and we’ve seen a lot more in the media about this over the last year. The venture capitalist Fred Wilson @fredwilson for example has been a big supporter of CS education and of outreach to girls and young women. His recent post Girls Who Code talks about several programs including one called Girls Who Code.
Tech Crunch asked the important question - What Makes Girls Fall In Love With Computers And Code? I ask myself this question all the time. Not being a girl makes it harder for me to answer I’m afraid. For far too long we have included only the girls who like the same things that boys who fall in love with computers do. That’s not enough. And oh by the way we’re probably losing some boys the way we do things now as well!
There are a lot of things we need to do here. One is about perception. Girls don’t have enough role models in computing so we need to let girls know about the ones who are there. We talk about the idea of a TV show or a movie with a computer scientist (perhaps a woman?) all the time but we can’t wait for something like that. (Would a TV Show Fix the CS Recruitment Program?)
I like this video for the recent Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing - WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT PROGRAMMING? though there are others out there as well. We have to let young women know that computer science is not something that happens in isolation. It is a collaborative effort. It involved communication. It is also more than first person shooters and other video games. It is about making things that make life easier, better, healthier and generally better for people.
We also have to make the environment more welcoming and accepting for women. I recently read a whole series of sexist experiences that women I know in computing have faced. It’s embarrassing for me as a man to read them. Yet I know there are far too many men (called them older boys) who have attitudes that exclude women. I think they are afraid of women to be honest. I think many of them at some level are worried that women will come in and show people that you can have a life outside of coding and still be good at it.
The women I have known in my 40+ years in computing have been great developers and computer scientists and still have lives! The more I work with women in the field the less I want to work with men whose lives revolve around being a “bro” or hacking all night over and over again. I love computer science but there is more to life than that!
It’s up to men to let other men know that it is not ok to discriminate against women. It is not ok to exclude them for reasons that have nothing at all to do with how well they can do the job. It is not ok to create an environment that only allows one sort of person with one set of values and interests. We need diversity in computing if we are really going to meet the needs of the whole population.
One of the things I have seen in my years teaching and have read about happing in other areas of computing is that men consistently over rate their abilities and women under rate their abilities. I don’t know which is harder for me to deal with – the boys who think they are amazing and aren’t or the girls who think they are terrible but are really doing quite well. I see it as my job to help them both though. That has to be a constant in the field. Let’s see how well we can all do that in 2014.