theodp writes: Sharing its latest research on unconscious bias in the classroom, Google warns that educators may unintentionally discriminate against some of their students, discouraging them from pursuing certain fields of study, like computer science and STEM. "By focusing on educators," writes Google's head of R&D for CS education, "we can help them become aware of their unconscious biases [e.g., perceiving Black students as disruptive, inattentive, and less likely to complete homework; perceiving misbehavior as worse when observing students of a race different than their own] and learn how they can adjust their actions to support diverse students in computer science and STEM." So, one wonders what those who conducted the Google research might make of Microsoft TEALS, a pet program of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella that sends volunteer software engineers with no teaching experience from Microsoft, Google, Facebook, etc. into high schools across the nation to teach kids and their teachers computer science. "Our mission," states a TEALS booklet, is "to provide every student with the opportunity to study rigorous computer science in high school." Sounds good, but in a section entitled "Identifying Students Prepared to Succeed" in the TEALS Implementation Guides from 2014-2017, schools are advised, "Especially while the courses are new to your school, it is important to select only students who are interested in CS and able to handle the course work (including study skills, and behavioral issues). This is not a place to put students simply because they have an open period and expect that CS class is equivalent to playing games." A flyer for the 2017-18 school year boasts that "TEALS students scored 10% higher than the national average on their AP CS exams last year." Whether any of that lift may be attributable to screening out certain students will presumably be addressed by a still-underway 4-year, $1.5 million NSF study of the efficacy of TEALS "in an authentic high school learning context."
theodp writes: In an op-ed for The Hill, Paula Stern calls for President Trump and Tech CEOs to convene a second meeting, this time to "commit to bold solutions that funnel domestic talent into the tech pipeline" that would reduce their companies' reliance on H-1B visas. Stern writes, "The group should include a few more women — starting with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos — and rally state and local school boards to champion computer science in the K-12 curriculum. Ivanka Trump should also attend, adding this issue to her work/life agenda for both women and men in digital America. This meeting should also invite groups like the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) — for whom I am a senior adviser — to highlight the practices that prepare, attract and retain American talent." Last April, many of the tech leaders present in the first sit-down with the Trumps put their names to a Change.org petition calling for the Federal government to fund K-12 CS education that still hasn't been able to meet its 150,000-signature target despite widespread publicity and claims of a "groundswell" of support.
theodp writes: "Timed with International Women’s Day 2017," explains Microsoft Philanthropies in a blog post, "we released a new video to challenge girls to stay in STEM so they are empowered to solve the problems they care about most, ranging from finding solutions to climate change to curing cancer." Oddly reminiscent of Jimmy Kimmel's Halloween Candy Prank videos, the big payoff in the video comes when the four young girls — who have reaffirmed their vows to stop climate change, provide fresh water for everyone, ensure there's a self-sustaining environment, and discover a cure for cancer after being dazzled by Microsoft products — have their STEM spirit crushed briefly when they are informed that "odds are you won't solve these problems [because] only 6.7% of women graduate with STEM degrees." But as How to Lie With Statistics notes, "percentages offer a fertile field for confusion," and the video's failure to put that 6.7% figure into context may give some the incorrect impression that 93.3% of STEM degrees go to men. "Go into the breakdown of STEM fields by gender and you find out that while 18% of computer science majors are women," adds J. KB, "so are 60% of biology majors. So in the video, that girl that wants to cure cancer has a good chance of being one of the women who make up the 57% of STEM degrees earned in biological or life sciences." But the harsh truth, J. KB adds, is that the Microsoft video is spot on when it says the odds are the four girls won't solve these problems: "You can dedicate your life to a project and sometimes only make a tiny dent in solving the problem. The vast majority of engineers and scientists won’t ever become a Nobel Laureate or a famous inventor, regardless of gender. Welcome to the world of engineering." And, not to pile on, but Microsoft might want to check out an interesting ACM blog post — How We Teach Should Be Independent Of Who We Are Teaching — by CS prof and former NSF program director Valerie Barr, who warns against assuming that "women are motivated by social relevance, so when we teach them we have to discuss ways in which computing can contribute to the social good," saying it could actually drive away the very students we are hoping to recruit and retain. Painting women with a single brush in this way, she adds, implies they won’t ever be excited about the technology in its own right (interestingly, the girls in the Microsoft video seem to be most excited about the VR tech).
theodp writes: Christopher Silavong of Cronkite News reports: "A bill, introduced by [Arizona State] Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, would mandate that public and charter schools provide one hour of coding instruction once between grades 4 to 12. Kavanagh said it’s critical for students to learn the language – even if it’s only one session – so they can better compete for jobs in today’s world. However, some legislators don’t believe a state mandate is the right approach. Senate Bill 1136 has passed the Senate, and it’s headed to the House of Representatives. Kavanagh said he was skeptical about coding and its role in the future. But he changed his mind after learning that major technology companies were having trouble finding domestic coders and talking with his son, who works at a tech company." According to the Bill, the instruction can "be offered by either a nationally recognized nonprofit organization [an accompanying Fact Sheet mentions tech-backed Code.org] that is devoted to expanding access to computer science or by an entity with expertise in providing instruction to pupils on interactive computer instruction that is aligned to the academic standards."
theodp writes: As Trump's Executive Order on immigration awaits a vote on en banc rehearing, the Washington State Office of the Attorney General has notified the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that it has filed two additional declarations "concerning concrete harm to Washington’s universities". In his affidavit, Asif Chaudhry, VP for International Programs at Washington State University begins, "One student in WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, who is from Iran, was registered for an academic conference in Canada scheduled to take place February 5 — 8, 2017. His WSU department paid for the conference. The receipt, made out to his department chair, is attached as Exhibit A. The department also planned to cover his travel expenses. Due to the executive order, the student was unable to attend the conference." Per Exhibit A, the dollar amount of the loss to WSU was a whopping $100. Chaudhry adds that WSU will also be harmed if it has to forego an incremental $15K or so in tuition and fees from international students over that ponied up by WA residents. Boosting the ranks of international students, WSU explains, "is an essential step in the Drive to 25, the university’s commitment to achieving recognition as one of the nation’s top 25 public research universities by 2030" (WSU President Kirk Schulz suggested the initiative will also make WSU grads more attractive to Microsoft).
theodp writes: A day after his company joined the likes of Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Facebook in the Technology Companies amicus motion and brief against Trump's Executive Order on immigration, GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving advises Americans in FORTUNE that If You’re Against Outsourcing, You Should Support U.S. Visas For Skilled Foreigners. "With so much technical illiteracy in the US," Irving writes, "the H-1B visa program has become America’s secret weapon warding off economic catastrophe. Though STEM education is the clear long-term solution, the US is not going to see a vastly greater pipeline of domestic technical talent coming from our universities anytime soon. It will take us years, if not decades, to educate a new wave of students from elementary thru their advanced degrees. Until that next generation enters the elite technical workforce in mass, the most technical jobs (all 545,000 of them) will simply sit open if H-1B visas shrink or disappear." If Irving's piece gives you a sense of deja vu, Microsoft President Brad Smith similarly argued in 2012 that "an effective national talent strategy therefore needs to combine long-term improvements in STEM education in the United States with targeted, short-term, high-skilled immigration reforms." To bring this about, Smith suggested producing a crisis (video) would be key: "Sometimes when a small problem proves intractable, you have to make it bigger," Smith explained. "You have to make the problem big enough so that the solution is exciting enough to galvanize people’s attention and generate the will to overcome the hurdles that have been holding us back. I believe that if we can combine what we’re doing with respect to education with what we need to do with respect to immigration we have that opportunity ahead of us." So, is Big Tech now trying to make lemonade out of Trump's immigration lemons?