Tuesday Oct. 5, Empowering Who? cont.

Reading discussion led by Ricarose and Mike.

4 Comments so far

  1. ricarose on October 3rd, 2010

    This week’s readings take a look at the gender and racial inequalities present in computer science education, how these inequalities are produced, and what the consequences of these inequalities are to students and to the educational institutions charged to support them. While studies and findings from these readings focus on women and racial minorities in computing, they may have broader implications for inequalities that exist in other areas even beyond academia, as illustrated by Stuck in the Shallow End’s juxtaposition of swimming and computer science education. Together these readings challenge us to talk about these inequalities, why they are present, and to think about the changes that these authors recommend to address them.

    In Stuck in the Shallow End, Margolis et al present the violent history of swimming and its impact on the participation of racial minorities in the sport alongside their study of the racial gaps in computer science education. The authors use three high schools to illustrate how lack of focus, low expectations, and belief systems have denied valuable learning opportunities and preparation that students need to participate in a technology-rich society.

    In Unlocking the Clubhouse, the authors focus on the disappointing number of women enrolled in computer science programs, examine reasons behind these disappointing numbers, and explain potential changes in the curriculum, educational institution, and computing culture that may better facilitate the involvement of women. The authors specifically talk about how the needs, experiences and perceptions of women are different than men, and suggest institutional changes to support these differences.

    In contrast to the extensive interviews and observations conducted by both sets of authors in Stuck in the Shallow End and Unlocking the Clubhouse, Gibbons in Engineering by the Numbers provides statistics of the continued low participation in computing fields of women and racial groups such as African-Americans and Hispanics. His report highlights the continued relevance and importance of the work done by Margolis et al and Fisher and Margolis to understand the phenomena and stories behind the statistics and to continue the implementation of programs that address these gaps.

    Together these readings challenge us across multiple dimensions when thinking about their findings. In Stuck in the Shallow End, the authors challenge us to talk about race as a part of understanding how these underrepresented racial groups may be denied access to learning opportunities to participate in the 21st century. Margolis et al points out that technology alone is not enough to level the playing field. As designers and engineers, we cannot assume that our tools can be the “great equalizer” in areas of inequality.

    From these readings, we see that culture plays a pivotal role in determining access to and engagement in computer science education. Unlocking the Clubhouse mentions how the institution must develop a culture that embraces diverse motivations, interest, and identities. Although the embedded belief systems, which discourage African American and Hispanic students from computing, have not resulted in violence as in the history of swimming, the ways in which these systems remain pervasive and unquestioned is no less harmful.

    These readings indicate important aspects that influence the use and access to technology and education that may be overlooked, particularly in our educational institutions. Margolis et al quote John Dewey to further illustrate the importance of their findings, “Education will only prepare people for a life in democracy when the educational experience is also democratic.” In addition to illuminating the explicit and implicit forces hindering women, African Americans and Hispanics from computing, these readings also provoke us to turn the lens onto ourselves, asking us to think about our subconscious prejudices and how such prejudices may be in place to discourage others or ourselves.

  2. H on October 4th, 2010

    Data on Women in Tech from NYT:


    Blog post on Women in Tech:


  3. ricarose on October 5th, 2010

    Thanks H. I also found this recent HuffPost article relevant:

    Why Johnny Can’t Program: A New Medium Requires a New Literacy

  4. thvard on October 6th, 2010

    Following yesterday’s discussion:
    “Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Education and Profession in Greece: A study on gender unbalance”

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