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Submission + - Facebook's 2016 EEO-1 Diversity Report Still MIA on MLK Day

theodp writes: EEO-1 reports for 2016 were due to be submitted to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by 9-30-2016. So, it's not too surprising that Microsoft, Apple, and Google have gotten around to posting theirs to company diversity sites, albeit with footnotes urging visitors not to pay much heed to the government-mandated raw numbers and to instead trust the tech company-provided as-seen-in-How-to-Lie-With-Statistics percentages. Move-fast-and-break-things Facebook, on the other hand, is still dragging its feet on disclosing its numbers. For all its talk of making the world more open and transparent, Facebook had to be dragged kicking-and-screaming to the EEO-1 disclosure table. Last year, Facebook didn't see fit to reveal its 2015 EEO-1 report until July 2016 (and oddly did so with a no-copy-and-paste-allowed .png), with a mea culpa for its lack of improved numbers and a $15 million pledge to Mark Zuckerberg-backed Code.org to make U.S. kids more CS-savvy. To be fair to (legally) H-1B visa-dependent Facebook, its Black employees may actually make up a higher percentage of U.S.-born (vs. U.S. payroll-based) Facebook employees than 1.72%, although one doesn't imagine Facebook — or Google or Microsoft or Apple for that matter — will be using that defense and voluntarily disclosing those numbers anytime soon.

Submission + - Google-Funded ALA Project Envisions Nation's Librarians Teaching Kids to Code

theodp writes: Citing the need to fill "500,000 current job openings in the field of computer science," the American Library Association (ALA) argues in a new whitepaper (pdf) that "all 115,000 of the nation’s school and public libraries are crucial community partners to guarantee youth have skills essential to future employment and civic participation." As such, the ALA's Google-funded Libraries Ready to Code (RtC) project has entered Phase II, which aims to "equip MLIS [Master's in Library Science] students to deliver coding programs through public and school libraries and foster computational thinking skills among the nation’s youth." The RtC Phase II timeline (pdf) calls for a review of “lessons learned for national strategy” in Q4 of this year. "Particular attention will be paid to addressing challenges and opportunities for underrepresented groups in CS and related fields (e.g., Hispanic, Native American, African American, and girls)," explained the ALA. “Libraries play a vital role in our communities, and Google is proud to build on our partnership with ALA," added Hai Hong, who leads US outreach on Google's K-12 Education team. “We're excited to double down on the findings of Ready to Code 1 by equipping librarians with the knowledge and skills to cultivate computational thinking and coding skills in our youth. Given the ubiquity of technology and the half-a-million unfilled tech jobs in the country, we need to ensure that all youth understand the world around them and have the opportunity to develop the essential skills that employers — and our nation's economy — require.”

Submission + - Did President Obama Pad the K-12 Computer Science for All Bill by $3.6 Billion? 1

theodp writes: Back in January, President Obama's announcement of his $4 billion Computer Science for All initiative drew kudos from Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and tech-backed Code.org. But the President's budget request fell on deaf Congressional ears, so now it looks like Plan B for CS for All is Trump bucks. K-12 CS presents a trillion-dollar opportunity for America, suggest Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi and COO Cameron Wilson in a LinkedIn post that drew an 'amen' from LinkedIn chairman and Code.org Gold Supporter Reid Hoffman. In the "memo from @codeorg to @realDonaldTrump", Partovi and Wilson appeal to Trump's aversion to $4B projects, saying the President-elect can forget about that outrageous Obama budget request. "Provide federal funding for K-12 schools to teach computer science," the pair urge Trump. "Every school should teach computer science. President Obama suggested that this is a $4B problem. As a nonprofit that has been addressing this problem at a national scale for years, we disagree. A simple analysis shows the true cost is closer to $400M, as a one-time expense that could be spread over 4 years" (the Code.org execs also call for Trump to slash interest rates on student loans for CS majors). So, how much money would really be needed to provide "CS for All" for the nation's 55+ million K-12 students?

Submission + - With Only 44 CS Grads, Is Harvey Mudd's CS Program's Success a Tad Overhyped?

theodp writes: "As US universities struggle to encourage women to study computer science," reported Quartz last summer, "one small college [Harvey Mudd] is having uncommon success attracting them to the field. [...] This year, for the first time, more women than men graduated with a degree in computer science. Nationally, about 16% of undergraduate computer-science majors are women. At Harvey Mudd, that figure is 55%." Citing the same 55%-of-the-latest-class-of-CS-grads-were-women measure of success, the LA Times chimed in last week with the headline, "Most computer science majors in the U.S. are men. Not so at Harvey Mudd." Oddly, 55%-of-what is a question left unanswered by both articles. But a look at raw CS major graduation figures by gender estimated by combining published Graduates by Major and % of Female CS Graduates statistics paints a less rosy picture than the percentage view of things, suggesting that only 24 degrees were awarded in 2016 to female CS majors, who made up 55% of all CS major grads largely due to a 43% YOY decrease in the number of males (35 in 2015 vs 20 in 2016). So, while 24 newly-minted, whip-smart CS grads are nothing to sneeze at, the Harvey Mudd CS program is hardly resulting in "a dramatic increase in women’s representation in computing" in terms of raw numbers. "Sometimes it is percentages that are given and raw figures that are missing," reminds the 1954 classic How to Lie With Statistics, "and this can be deceptive too."

Submission + - Is Using Big Data to Influence Elections Right Up There With Fake News, Hacking?

theodp writes: While the use of hacking and fake news to influence the 2016 Presidential election have been widely-decried, the ethics of using Big Data to make a President — a practice embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike — has received less scrutiny. Inspired by the Obama team's pioneering use of Big Data to defeat Romney in 2012, both the Clinton and Trump campaigns used data analytics to mess with voters' heads, tailoring messages to make their candidate look better and the other candidate look worse. And, as DAWN pointed out, the data scientists who wield increasing influence over election outcomes have their own political agendas. Reflecting on the 2012 election, Obama for America Chief Scientist Rayid Ghani, whose family lived in London while he worked in the U.S., recalled what drove him to help the Obama campaign: "At this point I really don’t know what I am," he said. "It's less about country than about the larger world. For me it was a really easy decision, 'Is Obama better for the world than (Mitt) Romney?' Absolutely."

Submission + - Blockly Everywhere: MIT's Scratch Changing From Flash to Google's Blockly

theodp writes: In a blog post last month, Google engineer Neil Fraser noted that Blockly, Google's client-side JavaScript library for creating visual block programming editors, "is set to grow even bigger next year, as the next version of MIT's Scratch switches to use Blockly as its rendering library (their current version is based on Flash)." Explaining the Scratch + Google partnership, the MIT Scratch team wrote, "Scratch and Google share a common vision of coding, seeing it as more than just a set of technical skills but rather a valuable tool for everyone, empowering kids (and adults) to imagine, invent, and explore." Blockly is currently used by Google-backed Code.org to introduce programing to millions of students (and President Obama) in its Hour of Code program. Blockly is also used by MIT's App Inventor for Android, which is being used to teach high-schooler students Mobile CSP, a new Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles offering endorsed by The College Board, who partnered with Google in 2012 to boost AP CS enrollment. After being dumped in 2011 by Google, which had touted its software as a game-changer for introductory computer science, App Inventor quickly found a home at MIT's new Google-funded Center for Mobile Learning.

Submission + - NSF K-12 CS Program Focuses on All But Asian/White Boys Who Aren't Poor/Disabled

theodp writes: "This program aims to provide all U.S. students the opportunity to participate in computer science (CS) and computational thinking (CT) education in their schools at the K-12 levels," explains the synopsis for the NSF's new $20 million Computer Science for All Researcher Practitioner Partnerships program that was teased by the White House earlier this month. "With this solicitation, the National Science Foundation (NSF) focuses on researcher-practitioner partnerships (RPPs) that foster the research and development needed to bring CS/CT to all schools. Specifically, this solicitation aims to provide high school teachers with the preparation, professional development (PD) and ongoing support that they need to teach rigorous computer science courses, and K-8 teachers with the instructional materials and preparation they need to integrate CS/CT into their teaching." And in case anyone's unclear as to what 'for all' means, the NSF explains it thusly: "In order to ensure that advances in computing education are inclusive of our diverse student populations (the 'for All' part of 'CS for All'), proposals on either strand must address, in a significant manner, the longstanding underrepresentation in computing. Groups traditionally underrepresented or underserved in computing include women, persons with disabilities, African Americans/Blacks, Hispanic Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, Native Pacific Islanders, and persons from economically disadvantaged backgrounds." The NSF's singling-out-by-omission of Asian and White boys in its CS for All grant program evokes memories of a $1 million dollar Google grant program called Promoting Introductory CS for All that offered up to $4,000 in DonorsChoose credits to high school teachers who got students other than Asian/White boys ("girls, or boys who identify as Black, African American, Native American, or Latino") to complete either Codecademy or Khan Academy’s 15-hour intro to computer science course. Wording similar in spirit to the Google and NSF grant programs (i.e., "female students, minority students, English learners, children with disabilities, and low-income students who are often underrepresented in critical and enriching subjects,") found its way into the K-12 CS-inspired sections of the Every Student Succeeds Act, a tech-backed sweeping rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act that elevated CS to the same status as other K-12 academic subjects when it comes to funding. Interestingly, in a recent ACM blog post — How We Teach Should Be Independent Of Who We Are Teaching — CS prof and former NSF program director Valerie Barr took a more inclusive view of 'for all', suggesting that discussions of what we should be doing in the CS classroom that are silent on the subject of White/Asian men are problematic. "We have to use varied content and pedagogies regardless of whom we see in the room and work to connect to what students know or care about," Barr argues. "This approach will guarantee that all students, including those from the groups that currently dominate computing, will be exposed to a rich, multi-faceted, view of computing, be better equipped to address the challenges of the field, and be better equipped to work collegially within a diverse workforce."

Submission + - Does Computer Science Education Need to Be Tailored for Girls? 1

theodp writes: Just days after neuroscientist Lise Eliot railed against a comeback in gender-segregated education with a warning that mistaken beliefs that "boys and girls learn differently" and that STEM instruction needs be tailored to one or the other gender are not supported by brain and behavioral research, the Washington Post ran an op-ed by Girls Who Code CEO Reshma Saujani and Accenture North America CEO Julie Sweet that seems to dismiss Eliot's science. "It’s not that girls and young women are not being taught computer science," write Saujani and Sweet, "they are and have been for years. It’s how they are taught that is not working. Boys and girls learn and are motivated in different ways. For example, for boys, it doesn’t matter whether their teacher is a man or a woman, but our research shows that girls are 26 percent more likely to study computer science if they have a female teacher. This is compounded by strong gender imbalances we see every day — from the classroom to the boardroom to the movie screen — where men are primarily seen and depicted as our society’s computer scientists. Cracking the gender code requires tailoring computer science education to girls." Saujani and Sweet close their op-ed arguing that, "it is also vital for teachers to show girls that computer science is relevant across all aspects of life — from health care to clean energy — and that they as individuals can make a real impact on the world through computing careers," although that argument was challenged in Valerie Barr's recent ACM blog post, which warned against painting any group in a monochromatic way.

Submission + - In 2005, Donald Trump Was Microsoft's Kind of Leader 1

theodp writes: With Microsoft distancing itself from Donald Trump in 2016, it's interesting to look back to 2005, when Microsoft seemed to feel The Donald embodied all-things-Microsoft as it turned to The Apprentice to launch Office Live Communications Server 2005, Office Communicator 2005 and Live Meeting. Asked why Microsoft chose The Apprentice, a Microsoft marketing director replied, "We thought, 'What more culturally engaging program could there be that speaks so well to our demographics with a business-centric message?' It was a bold Microsoft think tank move. A high percentage of information workers and business decision-makers watch 'The Apprentice,' and they are one of Live Meeting’s primary targets." About what it was like to work with The Donald, she added, "He was very nice. It definitely changed my perception of him as a somewhat haughty guy. He definitely knows his business, but he was very friendly, self-effacing and helpful — he put us all at ease." Even Bill Gates got in on the act, and the NY Times reported on Microsoft's plans to have Trump's Apprentice wannabes perform tasks to boost the new Microsoft products' commercial exposure (photo of Microsoft execs w/Trump). And in a Season 4 episode, The Apprentice teams were tasked with creating a 60-second promotional video for Microsoft Office Live Meeting. In firing the Project Manager responsible for making the losing commercial (winning commercial here), Trump had this to say, "You see, I'm not a big computer person. I love buildings, okay. But to me, that doesn't...I don't know what it means." More Microsoft-Trump partnership memories can be found at the archived nbclivemeeting.com website.

Submission + - How Google.org Stole the Christmas Spirit

theodp writes: The Register notes that even the most innocuous sounding Christmas theme turns out to have a promotional value for Google. Over at Santa’s Village, for instance, Google instructs children to "support the charity organizations that help keep our world beautiful and resourceful" by coloring ornaments that promote Google.org's pet charities, hanging them on their Xmas trees, and "gifting them to your loved ones." And a blog post on how Google is supporting nonprofits around the world this holiday season explains how Google.org has teamed with one of the five promoted charities — teacher 'begfunding' site DonorsChoose.org — to support classrooms in need "by funding projects that have requested Chromebooks and other technology via the educational giving platform DonorsChoose.org." Nice, but one can't help but wonder if Google.org's decision to award $18,130 to teachers at Timberland Charter Academy for Chromebooks to help make students "become ‘Google'licious" while leaving another humbler $399 request from a teacher at the same school for basic school supplies — pencils, paper, erasers, etc. — unfunded is more aligned with Google's interests than the Xmas spirit. Google, The Register reminds readers, lowered its 2015 tax bill by $3.6 billion using the old Dutch Sandwich loophole trick, according to new regulatory filings in the Netherlands.

Submission + - Gender Segregation the Problem Not the Solution for STEM Diversity?

theodp writes: Much to her dismay, neuroscientist Lise Eliot reports that gender-segregated education is making a comeback largely based on mistaken notions. Beliefs that "boys and girls learn differently," Eliot explains, is not supported by brain and behavioral research. She adds, "[Girls-only] schools like GALS and GALA are often promoted as good at preparing girls for predominantly male STEM fields such as engineering and computer science. But there is no evidence for this. In fact, research finds that women who attend single-sex colleges or enroll in all-female science classes are not likelier to pursue and persist in STEM careers. That’s because the problem is not girls’ academic ability or even their confidence in STEM subjects. It’s the culture of gender segregation: Young women turn away from careers in engineering and computer science because they feel uncomfortable and unwelcome in overly male environments. On the flip side, it is also cultural separation that inhibits many men from entering careers like nursing and teaching. In other words, gender segregation is the problem, not the solution for getting more women to advance in STEM and for more men to enter the HEAL professions — health, education, administration and literacy."

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