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Submission + - Microsoft Posts 'No Boys Allowed' Signs at State of RI High School CS Event 4

theodp writes: "Girls and women are half of the world's population," Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo told hundreds of high school girls gathered behind doors with signs that read "[Microsoft] DigiGirlz: No Boys Allowed". "They are half of the world’s brains, problem-solvers, leaders. This world cannot solve problems unless they are at the table. That’s why I started programs like CS4RI, partnering with Microsoft and other leaders [including Microsoft-backed Code.org] to offer computer science in every Rhode Island school." Raimondo also noted she was dismayed to learn that only 12 of Rhode Island's 42 students who took the AP Computer Science test were girls (RI has 43,000+ enrolled HS students). The best way to make girls feel welcome in K-12 CS education, some influence-wielding tech giants, politicians, and educators seem to agree, is by making boys even more unwelcome via things like gender-based federal K-12 CS education funding; girls-only learn-to-code initiatives, STEM schools and summer computer camps; and gender-weighted teacher incentive programs from Google and tech-backed Code.org (Google and the U.S. Government even sought to exclude boys from programming White House Christmas tree lights in 2014).

Submission + - Zuckerberg, Google Double-Down on Pet K-12 Personalized Learning Projects

theodp writes: Tech billionaires love the idea of K-12 personalized learning. Last week, Mark Zuckerberg announced that the Facebook-Summit Public Schools personal learning partnership would henceforth be the Zuckerberg/Chan-Summit Public Schools partnership, as Zuck and wife Priscilla let it be known that their nonprofit is "building a world-class engineering team" to build out the Summit Learning Platform and make it "available for free to any educator who wants to use it." Not to be outdone, Google this week added another $5 million to its Khan Academy investment. Both Summit and Khan Academy are supported and advised by a Who's Who of tech's richest individuals and their companies (and both organizations eat their benefactors' dog food). Later this year, Brian Dear's The Friendly Orange Glow will explain that Google's and Zuckerberg's New New Personalized Learning Thing actually has roots in the '60s and '70s.

Submission + - Does Google Research Raise Red Flag on Microsoft's HS Student Screening Advice?

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."

Submission + - Tech-Backed Code.org 'Disappointed' Trump Didn't Budget $400M for K-12 CS 1

theodp writes: After 'learning to code' from tech-backed Code.org, President Obama asked Congress to set aside $4+ billion for computer science education, but the windfall of federal funding never materialized. On Thursday, though, it was the Trump Administration the non-profit voiced disappointment in for not answering its call for 'an investment as small as $400M' in K-12 CS. Plan B, apparently, is targeting state budgets for K-12 CS funding, which a Microsoft-supported group not-so-long-ago argued should come from "a national STEM education fund, paid for only by businesses using green cards and visas." On the Saturday that President Obama unveiled his CS For All initiative, however, Microsoft President and Code.org Board Member Brad Smith changed that tune, blogging that the goal of K-12 CS could not be realized without public funding.

Submission + - Microsoft Goes All Jimmy Kimmel on Girls, Says Boys Will Solve World's Problems

theodp writes: In conjunction with International Women's Day 2017, Microsoft released a new ad challenging girls to stay in STEM so they can solve the problems they care about most. In the ad, four young actresses sporting Microsoft Hololenses vow to stop climate change, provide fresh water for everyone, ensure there's a self-sustaining environment, and discover a cure for cancer, only to have their STEM spirit crushed when they're informed that "odds are you won't solve these problems [because] only 6.7% of women graduate with STEM degrees," which produces a moment not unlike those Jimmy Kimmel I-Told-My-Kids-I-Ate-All-Their-Halloween-Candy videos (YouTube Doubler). But don't worry, the girls bounced back quickly. Unlike Adweek, perhaps they realized they'd been had by Microsoft's 'creative' use of statistics, and that things weren't nearly as bleak gender-wise in the biological and environmental life sciences fields they planned to work in as they might be at Microsoft.

Submission + - NCWIT Adviser Calls on Tech CEOs to Meet With Ivanka Trump, Make K-12 CS Happen

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.

Submission + - SPAM: Microsoft's International Women's Day STEM Video: Thumbs-Up or Thumbs-Down?

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).

Submission + - Blame Uber for Taking Hellbanning to a New Level. But Not for Inventing It. 2

theodp writes: With its widely-denounced "Greyball" tool, Uber was able to effectively give The Sixth Sense treatment to its pests, including law enforcement. Quincy Larson observes that "Greyball" is Uber's evil-software-genius take on Hellbanning (Wikipedia definition), a deceptive practice that has been called "the cruelest punishment of them all" to mete out on unsuspecting users, although variations on the practice have reportedly been embraced by some of tech's most admired. Like Hacker News, a go-to place for future Travis Kalanick's, whose use of Hellbanning was noted by but drew no real criticism from Pando or TechCrunch. Or Reddit. Or Twitter — in 2013 and 2017. Or Craigslist. So, blame Uber for taking Hellbanning to a whole new level, but not for inventing it or being the only one who used it.

Submission + - Google Exec Ditches Search Giant's K-12 CS Mission for Disney Job

theodp writes: In a recently-posted TEDx talk, Google Entertainment Industry Educator in Chief Julie Ann Crommett discusses the search giant's efforts to "shift perceptions of computer science in mainstream media and culture" to solve tech's so-called 'pipeline' problem. Google has already partnered with the likes of Disney Junior and Cartoon Network to convince young girls coding's cool, more recently teamed with 'Hidden Figures' to attract high school girls to study CS, and is teaming with Monumental Pictures and the National Academy of Sciences on an upcoming Ada Lovelace biopic. Google has developed software that judges Hollywood's portrayal of women, participated in White House meetings with its Hollywood partners, and is even using the repurposed Michigan Film Office to broaden the reach of its CS First program for 4th-8th graders. So, it's probably no surprise that Crommett is slated to discuss pitching the prospect of a Google career to young women as a way to close tech's gender gap at next week's SXSW conference. What is a surprise, perhaps, is that Crommett has apparently decided a career solving the CS 'pipeline' problem for Google is not for her — Crommett has joined The Walt Disney Studios as VP of Multicultural Strategies. Or maybe it's not such a surprise after all — Disney has shown a keen interest in CS as of late, perhaps piqued by the success it boasted it's had gaining the eyeballs of the nation's schoolchildren (not to mention 'coder-in-chief' President Obama) with its signature Disney-themed Hour of Code tutorials.

Submission + - AZ Bill Would Make Students in Grades 4-12 Participate Once In An Hour of Code

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."

Submission + - WA State Aims to Make 'Lovely Lemonade' Out of Trump's Executive Order Lemons

theodp writes: GeekWire reports that Washington State tech leaders are looking to mine political chaos for policies that benefit the industry. When Trump won, "it became obvious that everything is going to change, and in that chaos is an opportunity to have an influence for the benefit of Washington," said Michael Schutzler, CEO of the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA). "We’ll try to make the most out of the lemons we’ve been given," he added, "and maybe we’ll make some lovely lemonade." In his motion that successfully blocked Trump's travel ban, WA Attorney General Bob Ferguson cited 'irreparable harms' to WTIA members Amazon, Microsoft, University of Washington, and Washington State University. Two days before Ferguson's filing, the order's adverse impact on Microsoft (revealed that day by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella) was highlighted in a hastily called press conference attended by a who's who of national, state, and local WA politicians who swarmed to Sea-Tac airport, led by Port of Seattle Commissioner (and Microsoft attorney) Courtney Gregoire. Shortly after the press conference, protesters descended on Sea-Tac to decry Trump’s immigration ban.

Submission + - Zuck: I'd Like To Teach The World To Use Facebook (In Perfect Harmony) 2

theodp writes: OK, it's not quite Ted Kaczynski-length, but Mark Zuckerberg's new Facebook Humanitarian Manifesto weighs in at a whopping 5,700+ words. In it, Zuck envisions the world being bettered by greater adoption of an AI-powered Facebook, which may evoke memories in some of the iconic "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" commercial (video, lyrics), which envisioned a world vastly improved by increased Coca-Cola consumption. Hey, everything old is new again!

Submission + - WSU Submits $100 Receipt as Evidence of "Concrete Harm" From Trump Order

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).

Submission + - GoDaddy CEO: Americans Won't Be Smart Enough to Fill Tech Jobs for Decades

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?

Submission + - Disney Lobbying Florida to Let Kids Take Coding In Place of Foreign Languages

theodp writes: The Miami Herald reports that Florida lawmakers are again proposing a contentious plan that would put coding and foreign language on equal footing in a public high school student’s education. Under a proposed bill (SB 104 — Computer Coding Instruction), students who take two credits of computer coding and earn a related industry certification could then count that coursework toward two foreign language credits. "I sort of comically applaud that some would want to categorize coding as a foreign language," said Miami-Dade Schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho. "Coding cannot be seen as an equivalent substitute." Disclosure records show that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has three lobbyists registered to fight in support of the bill. Disney did not return an email seeking comment, but State Sen. Jeff Brandes said the company’s interest is in a future workforce. With tech-backed Code.org, Disney has provided signature tutorials for the nation's Hour of Code over the past three years, including the Disney Frozen Princess-themed tutorial credited with 'teaching President Obama to code.'

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We can found no scientific discipline, nor a healthy profession on the technical mistakes of the Department of Defense and IBM. -- Edsger Dijkstra