theodp writes: Tech backed-Code.org explains in a blog post that it encountered technical difficulties Friday that temporarily made the work of 16 million K-12 students who have used the nonprofit's Code Studio offering disappear. Code.org CTO Jeremy Stone gave the kids an impromptu lesson on the powers of two with his explanation of why The Cloud ate their homework: "This morning, at 9:19 am PST, coding progress by students stopped saving on Code Studio, and the issue briefly brought the Code Studio site down. We brought the site back up shortly thereafter but student progress was still not being saved, and instead students saw an outdated message about the Hour of Code from December. [...] The way we store student coding activity is in a table that until today had a 32-bit index. What this means is that the database table could only store 4 billion rows of coding activity information. We didn’t realize we were running up to the limit, and the table got full. We have now made a new student activity table that is storing progress by students. With the new table, we are switching to a 64-bit index which will hold up to 18 quintillion rows of information. On the plus side, this new table will be able to store student coding information for millions of years. On the down side, until we’ve moved everything over to the new table, some students’ code from before today may temporarily not appear, so please be patient with us as we fix it."
theodp writes: Q. How many Facebook employees does it take to produce Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook page? A. More than a dozen! CNET's Ian Sherr offers his take on the news that Facebook has a team that handles Mark Zuckerberg's page: "Ever notice the photos, videos and posts on the profile page for Facebook's CEO are a lot nicer looking or better written than yours? Don't feel bad. Mark Zuckerberg has a team of people who are increasingly managing his public persona, according to a Wednesday report from Bloomberg Businessweek. Not only do they help write speeches and posts, but they also take photographs of his family and his travels, interspersing them with infographics about the company's user growth and sales. There're even people who delete harassing comments and spam for him. A Facebook spokeswoman said the company's service is an easy way for executives to connect with people." Wonder how many people it took to help craft the latest post, in which Zuck fired back at "some misleading stories going around" about "some land" he purchased in Hawaii (which another Zuck post noted also serves as a petting zoo of sorts for his daughter).
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.”
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."
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."
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."
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.
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."