Closing the computer science gender gap: how one woman is making a difference in many lives

Maria Klawe has written an interesting and insightful article on the issue in The Conversation recently. Here’s the essence…

I’ve been working on this issue for decades. When I came to Harvey Mudd College in 2006, the CS department was averaging only about 10% women majors. The faculty had decided to make significant changes to attract more women.

They redesigned their introductory computer science courses to focus less on straight programming and more on creative problem-solving. They included topics to show the breadth of the field and the ways in which it could benefit society.

In order to reduce the intimidation factor for women and other students with no prior coding experience, they split the course into two sections, black and gold (Harvey Mudd’s colors), with black for those who had prior programming experience and gold for those with no prior experience.

This worked wonders to create a supportive atmosphere. […]
Within four years, we went from averaging around 10% women majors to averaging 40%. We have continued to average 40% since 2011.

via Closing the computer science gender gap: how one woman is making a difference in many lives.

Coding across the curriculum

Last Wednesday the PM likened teaching kids coding to child labour, but shortly after he reassured us that the government is already implementing this (coding across the curriculum, that is, not child labour).

While we can safely leave it to the politicians to comment on this pointless flip-flopping, it is worthwhile to reflect on the reasons how such an argument can even arise….

Who would object to introducing kids in primary school to structured, logical reasoning? Not even the PM, I suspect. And this is exactly what we are advocating: to introduce them to Computational Thinking, a conceptual framework for structured problem solving that is on par with mathematics as a discipline of rational thought.

Calling this “coding” doesn’t help our case.

What does the term “coding” evoke for many? Pale hackers slaving away in sunlight deprived cubicles. Arguably that is exactly the picture Tony Abbott has in mind.

We have no one but ourselves to blame for this terminology.

Sometimes history seems to repeat itself: In the 90s the formula “computing=multimedia and the web” briefly gave IT an enormous boost in popularity, but in the long run it all but killed its credentials. The PM’s statement can at least serve as a warning that riding the currently fashionable “everybody needs to learn coding” wave may take us in a similar direction.

Coding is only one aspect of Computational Thinking, and just like advanced mathematics it may not be for everyone. But children need to be introduced to all the mental frameworks that can help them to understand the real world and to tackle its problems. Computational Thinking is a very powerful and fundamental method in this arsenal. Introducing kids to it as early as possible will empower the next generation to cope with many challenges far beyond coding.

If you missed the original event, one of the many newspaper articles can be found here in the SMH.

New VCE Study “Algorithmics” announced

Exciting times! The new fully scored computer science study in the VCE, provisionally titled “Algorithmics”, that we are developing with VCAA and the University of Melbourne has just officially been announced for introduction in 2015.

The announcement only came out just before the weekend, and initial interest from schools has been fantastic.

See this Notice to Schools and also Page 12-13 of this earlier VCAA position paper where the study was still titled “Computational Logic”: Strengthening Senior Secondary Pathways.

  • The study is a first in two regards:1) it is a radical departure from what is normally taught as IT in school curricula, emphasising Algorithmics, the core of computer science. 2) it is the first study under a new schema that is designed to let high performing students get early access to tertiary learning.
  • The study will be delivered in collaboration between schools and the universities and will ideally prepare students planning to enter tertiary studies in computing. However, its appeal is much broader than this: it will benefit students in any field that requires formal, abstract reasoning.
  • The study is specifically designed to have no gender bias and should have particular potential for engaging girls with the field. It radically moves away from the often-found IT obsession of “wrangling a machine” and focuses on the underlying theory and conceptual aspects.

As always, feel free to get in touch if you want to hear more!