Did You Know?

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From the BBC this week we hear that the number of UK students choosing to take the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) had fallen 33% over the last three years. In addition there was a 33 decline, in the number of ICT A-level candidates (those eligible for college) between 2003 and 2009.  In response, the Royal Society -- the UK's national academy of science -- is undertaking a year-long study of computing in secondary schools.  Already officials are suggesting that the UK’s secondary-school  computing curriculum will need a major overhaul to engage more students. 

What do you think?  Are there parallels here with U.S. efforts? What if the U.S. had a “national” set of computing standards for secondary schools?

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The University of Washington this week hosted a CS4HS (Computer Science for High School) workshop and one of the organizers, a recent CS grad who also teaches CS at the high-school level, gives her perspective in a nice interview. “The target [of the workshop] is science and math teachers, the idea being that computer science is this amorphous thing that runs into math and science, and so if we can integrate it into courses that already exist, then that's a win. Historically there haven't been a lot of computer science programs at the high-school level, and those that exist are already doing good things and are fairly knowledgeable about the field. The idea is to look at folks who wouldn't already have access.”

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TechCrunch’s coverage this week (with video!) of Women 2.0 Labs, the five-week boot camp for start-ups, does a terrific job of explaining that the program is not about segmenting women or giving them special treatment; it’s about promoting “a new reality, where women voices are not isolated or merely highlighted but seamlessly integrated into the fabric of Silicon Valley entrepreneurship.”

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The Wall Street Journal’s Venture Capital Dispatch reported this week on a survey of 165 early-stage tech companies that had received their first round of venture capital in the first half of 2010, which found (surprise!)that the overwhelming majority of the founders were white: 87 percent were white, 1% African American, and 12% Asian.  This survey didn’t break down the founders by sex but the WSJ speculates, based on past research, that the overwhelming majority would be male.

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The CEO of Dice Holdings, Inc. , one of the top career services organizations for IT, spoke optimistically about IT jobs and hiring in an interview this week.  Scott Melland debunked fears of losing jobs to offshoring by touting the significant number of openings listed on its website.  He said that Dice’s data show fulltime hiring has picked up since early this year, and he predicted a forthcoming shortage of qualified IT professionals.  In noting both the growing influence and importance of IT jobs across all industries and the declining number of students pursuing IT education, he counseled parents that IT careers are great options for their children.

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We read with interest this week a story about the University of Houston receiving a $2.4 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), which will fund postdoctoral scientists at UH whose research combines cancer biology with computational disciplines like computer science, theoretical physics or chemistry. The CPRIT postdoctoral researchers funded by this new program will have two faculty mentors -- one in a computational field and one in cancer biology. With women earning more than 60 percent of all U.S. biology degrees, it’s clear that interdisciplinary computing programs like this one not only provide the opportunity to attract funding to a university, but to attract more women to the field.

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Half of U.S. first-year medical students are female, yet a new UCLA study shows that they volunteer for leadership roles in the classroom significantly less than their male counterparts. Subtle encouragement from teachers, however, can even out the playing field by boosting female students' willingness to identify themselves as leaders. "People assume that if you have parity in the numbers of men and women training to become physicians, then everything else will fall into place. Surprisingly, we found that wasn't the case," observed lead author Nancy Wayne, professor of physiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "We're talking about a group of smart, talented women who worked very hard to get to this point in their academic careers," said Wayne. "Yet under typical circumstances, they do not feel comfortable in a leadership role. Our study suggests this is something that teachers have the power to change."

Did You Know? is a weekly series of topics, pulled from recent news, that we think you may have missed and may find interesting.