theodp writes: If you never got around to reading Dave Eggers' novel The Circle, the tale of a powerful tech company that bears a more-than-passing resemblance to Google (and has an Apple Spaceship-like HQ) is coming to the big screen and the first trailer is out. The film has a release date of spring 2017, and stars Tom Hanks, Emma Watson and John Boyega. Remember, sharing is caring!
theodp writes: "2016 as a year of action builds on a decade of national, state, and grassroots activity to revitalize K-12 computer science education," reads the upbeat White House blog post kicking off Computer Science Education Week. But conspicuous by its absence in the accompanying fact sheet for A Year of Action Supporting Computer Science for All is any mention of the status of President Obama's proposed $4B Computer Science For All initiative, which enjoyed support from the likes of Microsoft, Facebook, and Google. On Friday, tech-backed Code.org posted An Update on Computer Science Education and Federal Funding, which explained that Congress's passage of a 'continuing resolution' extending the current budget into 2017 spelled curtains for federal funding for the program in 2016 and beyond. "We don’t have any direct feedback yet about the next administration’s support for K-12 CS," wrote CEO Hadi Partovi and Govt. Affairs VP Cameron Wilson, "other than a promise to expand 'vocational and technical education' as part of Trump’s 100-day plan which was published in late October. I am hopeful that this language may translate into support for funding K-12 computer science at a federal level. However, we should assume that it will not."
theodp writes: In a late Friday blog post entitled An Update on Computer Science Education and Federal Funding, tech-backed Code.org explains that Congress's passage of a 'continuing resolution' extending the current budget into 2017 spelled the death knell for President Obama's proposed $4B Computer Science For All initiative, which enjoyed support from the likes of Microsoft, Facebook, and Google. So, wait'll next year? Perhaps not. "We don’t have any direct feedback yet about the next administration’s support for K-12 CS," wrote CEO Hadi Partovi and Govt. Affairs VP Cameron Wilson, "other than a promise to expand 'vocational and technical education' as part of Trump’s 100-day plan which was published in late October. I am hopeful that this language may translate into support for funding K-12 computer science at a federal level. However, we should assume that it will not." The nonprofit may have ruffled the new administration's feathers — among the recent WikiLeaks disclosures was correspondence from Code.org's founders advising the Clinton campaign that the issue of K-12 CS education could be used to win Hillary the election.
theodp writes: In its Open Letter to President-elect Donald Trump and the Trump-Pence Transition Team, the Internet Association — whose members include Google, Facebook, and Amazon — included a rural-lives-matter passage that might strike some as pandering, coming as it did just days after Trump was unexpectedly propelled to victory by his rural constituency. From the letter: "Increase Diversity in Tech: Support policies that build a long-term foundation for improving diversity in the tech industry, including providing additional funding to support tech education pipelines for individuals from rural America and underrepresented communities." Interestingly, the diversity pages for Google, Facebook, and Amazon don't seem to reflect the same high-priority concern about rural America diversity.
theodp writes: The Guardian reports: "Google has reversed its decision to disable the accounts of customers who resold the company’s new Pixel phone, after a chorus of complaints over the company’s imposition of a “digital death penalty” for a minor infraction. The company emailed users who had been banned, noting that it had reviewed their appeals and re-enabled their accounts. Users had been shut down after they were accused of taking advantage of tax loopholes to earn a profit reselling the phone. [...] The bans were first reported on Wednesday by Daniel Eleff, the owner of money-saving site Dan’s Deals. Multiple members of his forum had found their Google accounts deactivated, after they’d taken advantage of a deal involving shipping the phone to a reseller in New Hampshire, a US state with no sales tax, who would then split the profit with them after the phone was sold on."
theodp writes: In September, Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi dissed Stephen Wolfram's ambitious plan to teach computational thinking in schools in an EdSurge op-ed, arguing that "the Wolfram Language has serious shortcomings for broad educational use" (an assertion some challenge). So, it's probably no surprise that you won't find the Wolfram Language among this year's Hour of Code tutorials. Like last year, Code.org on Tuesday announced it has partnered again with Microsoft on a Minecraft-themed signature tutorial for the 2016 Hour of Code. "The new tutorial," Code.org explains, "begins in a Minecraft world where sheep don’t move, the chickens don’t cluck, and nothing attacks: it’s a blank slate without movement or defined action. Over the course of an hour, students will bring this world to life using computer science. At the final level, they get to define the rules of Minecraft however they wish. If they want, the cows can lay eggs, sheep can explode, and zombies can run away from players." In an accompanying press release, Microsoft — a Code.org Platinum supporter (Microsoft President Brad Smith sits on Code.org's Board — boasted that 31 million schoolchildren sat through last year's Minecraft-themed Hour of Code tutorial. “We are partnering with Code.org again this year to make computer science more accessible to millions of youth around the world with 'Minecraft' and Hour of Code,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. “I am inspired by the 'Minecraft' generation who view themselves not as players of a game, but as creators of the new worlds they dream up. This is the generation that will imagine, build and create our future, and together we can equip them with the computational thinking and problem-solving skills to seize the opportunities ahead." The press release ends with a plug for (non-free) Minecraft: Education Edition, "a fully featured title that brings the magic of 'Minecraft' to the classroom for more immersive, long- term lesson plans."
theodp writes: "One of the most rewarding parts of the Hour of Code, blogged Code.org last December, "is that one school in every US state (plus Washington D.C.) wins $10,000 worth of technology for getting the entire student body to join together start learning to code! With this prize, 51 schools that need the extra help will use new resources to continue learning computer science beyond one hour." But the nonprofit backed by the world's richest techies and their corporations is discontinuing the three-year-old tradition this holiday season. "We're not giving away any 10k hardware prizes to classrooms this year," explains a post entitled Are you ready to Rock the Hour of Code 2016? Why the change? "With last year’s success, we’re hoping we won’t have to rely on these prize incentives to get teachers to sign up (they’ll sign up because teachers + students love it). This is a HUGE decrease in cost as well, which helps as we move toward a community-owned Hour of Code event." There may be other reasons why the favorable PR-generating giant $10K checks are less important this year than in years past. After years of lobbying, U.S. education funding laws were finally overhauled last December to make Federal dollars available for K-12 CS education, providing the means for President Obama to ask for $4.2 billion to kickstart schoolchildren's CS training with his Computer Science For All initiative. Microsoft President and Code.org Board member Brad Smith applauded the moves, explaining that the private sector and philanthropy was counting on federal funding to scale up a national K-12 CS effort (not unlike that called for by Microsoft's 2012 National Talent Strategy). In April, Smith joined other impatient tech CEOs and billionaires to petition Congress for $250 million in upfront Federal funds to get the K-12 CS ball rolling.
theodp writes: Over at Bridge to Tomorrow, Paul Cottle takes a look at recently released state, ethnicity, and gender-level Advanced Placement Computer Science exam score data and laments that Florida fell further behind in 2016 as the state's growth in AP CS exam takers and passers slowed compared to the rest of the nation. "In Florida," Cottle writes, "2,688 students took the AP Computer Science exam in May 2016, of whom 1,182 passed, for a passing rate of 44%. The number of students taking the exam in Florida was 6.3% higher in 2016 than in 2015, while the number passing rose by 2.8%. Meanwhile, the number of students taking the exam throughout the nation rose by 17.3% to 54,379, while the number of passers rose by the same percentage, to 34,680 – a passing rate of 64%, much higher than Florida’s." In addition to being unevenly distributed by geography — 32 states saw less than 100 additional exams taken in 2016 than 2015 — the College Board data shows AP CS adoption and performance are also unevenly distributed by race/ethnicity and gender. Of the 5,116 incremental passing AP CS exam scores registered in 2016, Asian students accounted for 1,874 or 36.6% of those gains, while there was no YOY increase in the number of Black students with passing scores. "This fall," Cottle notes, "the College Board introduced a new, easier, AP Computer Science Principles course. Florida students may be more interested and successful in the new, easier course than they have been in the more demanding course, which is also being offered this year."
theodp writes: Reflecting on Tuesday's election outcome via his LinkedIn account, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella refers readers to a blog post by Microsoft President Brad Smith for "Microsoft’s thoughts and recommendations for the new Administration and Congress." In Moving forward together: Our thoughts on the US election, Smith writes, "First and foremost, the vote yesterday registered a strong concern about the plight of those who feel left out and left behind. In important respects, this concern is understandable. In recent months we’ve been struck by a study from Georgetown University. It shows that a quarter-century of U.S. economic growth under Democrats and Republicans alike has added 35 million net new jobs. But the number of jobs held by Americans with only a high school diploma or less has fallen by 7.3 million. The disparity is striking. The country has experienced a doubling of jobs for Americans with a four-year college degree, while the number of jobs for those with a high school diploma or less has fallen by 13 percent." But not to worry — Microsoft has the cure for what ails 'em. "As we’ve had the opportunity to learn more," Smith explains, "we’ve concluded that new technology tools can play an important role. This was part of the conviction that led Microsoft to decide earlier this year to acquire LinkedIn, a deal that has already been cleared to close by regulators in the United States. LinkedIn is a good example of what one increasingly sees among both tech companies and tech-based non-profit groups. New technology services and tools help individuals develop new skills and connect with new jobs. As we look to the future, these can better help more people develop so-called middle skills – the types of technical skills that can ensure that those with less than a college degree can not only learn valuable new skills, but obtain the certifications and credentials that will be valuable in the workplace. And we believe that new data tools such as LinkedIn’s Economic Graph can serve even more cities and states to help those in government match their worker training and economic development resources with the strongest opportunities in the market. These are but a few of the roles where new technology can help."
theodp writes: As Obama's presidency winds down, writes the NYT's Jenna Wortham, Silicon Valley and Washington seem to be getting closer. "In his final months in office," chief of staff for the Office of Digital Strategy at the White House Clay Dumas told Wortham, "President Obama wants to empower the generation of people that helped launch his candidacy and whose efforts carried him into office." The Obama administration, notes the NYT, embraced some of the tech industry’s best ideas — but also some of its worst values. Wortham explains, "South by South Lawn presented an image of America as a start-up and technology as a small-batch industry, full of dreamers and inventors. I was invited to moderate a panel, 'How Do We Fix Real Problems With Technology?' As much as I enjoyed our conversation, the premise felt flawed. 'Fixing' problems with technology often just creates more problems, largely because technology is never developed in a neutral way: It embodies the values and biases of the people who create it. Crime-predicting software, celebrated when it was introduced in police departments around the country, turned out to reinforce discriminatory policing. Facebook was recently accused of suppressing conservative news from its trending topics. (The company denied a bias, but announced plans to train employees to neutralize political, racial, gender and age biases that could influence what it shows its user base.) Several studies have found that Airbnb has worsened the housing crises in some cities where it operates. In January, a report from the World Bank declared that tech companies were widening income inequality and wealth disparities, not improving them." So, as the story's URL asks, is bringing Silicon Valley to Washington a Good Thing?
theodp writes: In case you were worried that Sheryl Sandberg's request for a sit-down between Mark Zuckerberg and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta — so Zuck could "inform his understanding about effective political operations to advance public policy goals on social oriented objectives (like immigration, education or basic scientific research)" — fell on deaf ears, worry no more. WikiLeaks subsequently released a 2015-08-07 dated email from firstname.lastname@example.org to email@example.com with a subject line of "Thanks," which suggests Podesta came through on Sandberg's Make-A-Wish request for Zuckerberg: "John, I enjoyed spending time with you yesterday and our conversation gave me a lot to think about. Thanks for sharing your experiences with CAP and some of the choices you made as you put the organization together. I hope it's okay if I reach out as my thinking develops to get your ideas and reactions. If there are any other folks you think I should talk to, please let me know. Thanks again. I look forward to continuing our conversation. Mark". CAP apparently refers to the Center for American Progress (CAP), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit think tank which was founded by Podesta, and/or its "sister advocacy organization," the Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAP Action), a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which allows it to devote more funds to lobbying. Several months after meeting with Podesta, on the day of his daughter's birth, Zuckerberg unveiled his and wife Priscilla's Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a limited liability company ("we gain flexibility to execute our mission more effectively," explained Zuck) to be funded by Zuckerberg's $45B in Facebook stock, which may explain why Zuckerberg was so "hungry" for Podesta's advice.