Lecia Barker

Last week, 1,200 of my colleagues and I attended the 37th annual ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education -- sponsored by the ACM Special Interest Group in Computer Science Education, or SIGCSE -- in Houston, Texas. I have been attending SIGCSE for the past several years, both to disseminate my research in computer science education and to better understand the issues faced by computing educators.

Sessions on Women in Computing

At this year's SIGCSE, Gloria Townsend (DePauw University), Bettina Bair (Ohio State), and Paula Gabbert (Furman University) held a "Town Meeting" on behalf of the ACM's Committee on Women (ACM-W). Several people gave "lightning talks" about how they are promoting women's issues, and there was a discussion on how to increase the visibility of women's issues in the SIGCSE community. Committee members presented their new guidebook for holding small, Regional Women in Computing conferences -- also known as RWICs, or "mini-Hoppers," after the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. Like the main Grace Hopper Celebration, these conferences provide a setting where women are surrounded by other technical women, a situation they rarely experience and which helps them to overcome feelings of isolation and difference. The guidebook contains everything from how to raise funds to how to attract speakers to how much food undergraduate women will need (a lot, says Bettina!)

I gave a five-minute update on NCWIT and encouraged anyone holding a RWIC to include relevant survey items on their evaluations, and to share that data with me and Joanne Cohoon. We hope this will help to make up for the small number of female respondents on most computing surveys.

Dynamo Bettina Bair organized a panel on research on women in undergraduate computing. Lori Carter, who gave one of the three talks, surveyed high school students to find out what they knew about computer science. Not surprisingly, they knew little about what a computing professional really does.

CSTA in the Spotlight

"One of these days I'm going to run down the hall to the religion teacher and shout 'you've got to come right away: there's a crisis of faith in the computer room!"

Chris Stephenson, Executive Director of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), presented this high school computing teacher's quip during her plenary talk with CSTA Chair Robb Cutler. A membership organization under ACM, CSTA advocates for computer science education in K-12 settings, offers professional development opportunities for teachers, and provides research and resources for curriculum and teacher development.

Stephenson presented survey findings in which computing teachers reported that their colleagues have no idea what they teach and that they feel isolated, interacting with other teachers only when "the printer stops working in the lab." Stephenson and Cutler charged the SIGCSE community with reaching out to K-12 education to recruit and prepare the next generation of computing undergraduates. Their recommendations for how universities can get involved with K12 include:

  • promoting a better understanding of computing (telling high school counselors that there are jobs in computing!)
  • developing resources (getting involved in the development of a national resource repository)
  • supporting the development of national standards (yes, they do consider this a "pipe dream")
  • helping teachers remain up-to-date by offering CSTA events, such as JETTS and TECS workshops

To find out more about CSTA you can visit their website; or better yet, attend the Computer Science and Information Technology Symposium in San Diego on July 8, 2006.

Upcoming SIGCSE Events

SIGCSE is a welcoming and interesting community. For those of you who attend next year, you will be treated to a "newcomer's lunch," thought-provoking talks, and many interesting and concerned people. Better yet, attend the European sibling, ITiCSE, in Bologna, Italy next June.

Lecia J. Barker is NCWIT Senior Research Scientist and leads the Evaluation and Research Group of the ATLAS Institute at the University of Colorado at Boulder.