Did You Know: Turing Centenary, Interdisciplinary Classrooms, and Sponsors

Did You Know? is a brief round-up of information and news that crossed NCWIT's radar this week that we think might be of interest to you. Practices or content of the news presented are not vetted or endorsed by NCWIT.


Alan Turing and Gender Identity

Did you know that this week marks 100 years since the birth of computer scientist Alan Turing? Regarded as one of the most historically influential persons in computing, Turing is noted for his work in forming the theoretical basis for the field of computer science, his cryptology achievements during WWII, and his mathematical approach. But he's perhaps best-known for creating the Turing Test, the yardstick for measuring and developing artificial intelligence systems that resemble humans. Reflecting on Turing's life and work, an editorialist at The Atlantic noted that the Turing Test is believed to be based on the "Imitation Game," a parlor game in which men and women would try to "pass" as members of the opposite gender, and speculated that Turing had a particular sensitivity to gender and identity because he was gay.  A form of the Imitation Game is now being used by social scientists to measure "interactional expertise," with the goal of determining whether the game can measure "differences in the extent to which groups are mutually understood in different societies."

Interdisciplinary, Hands-on Class = Better Grades?

Did you know that a class blending biology, computer modeling, mathematical analysis, and writing at Case Western Reserve University has won the Science magazine prize for Inquiry-Based Instruction? "Dynamics of Biological Systems," taught by Biology Professor Hillel Chiel and three graduate assistants, substitutes traditional lectures with "learning by doing" in what the instructors refer to as "the continual improvement model in education" (hands-on, continual development and reinforcement.) Students who submitted evaluation surveys after completing the course reported feeling increased competence in their non-dominant field: biology majors felt more competent in computer programming, and engineering majors cited greater competence in biology and programming. A paper published in Science notes that overall class scores were higher on the final conceptual exam and that final grades, on average, increased by more than a whole letter grade. "It is much more challenging to teach the class in this way," Chiel concludes, "but on the whole it's much more fun and effective for both students and teachers."

Women "Make Things into Things that Become Part of Our Everyday Lives"

Did you know that Intel employs a researcher to study what people think about technology? Genevieve Bell -- Intel's director of interaction and research -- recently shared some of her insights from her work studying women and technology, and in a comment on our culture of worshipping inventors as heroes, she posits that we overlook the contributions of women who take those inventions and integrate them into the fabric of everyday use. "We talk about Tesla and Marconi, but we don't necessarily talk about the people who were using radios all the time. We talk about the people who invented electricity but we don't celebrate a generation's worth of women who worked out how to cook on it, which was totally a nontrivial problem. ?The same is true now: we celebrate the people who invented the programs, but we don't always celebrate what happens when they become part of our everyday lives. And that's historically one of the things women do?: they make things into things that become part of our everyday lives."

Education Myths Keep Us from Fixing STEM Education

Did you know that U.S. K-12 students actually aren't performing worse on international standards of science and math now than they were decades ago? In fact, says an editorial at Slate, American students have always performed near the bottom on these international measures, and the perception among policy-makers and pundits that STEM performance has declined since they were "in the system" makes it harder to fix the problem of STEM education in the first place. What are the other "myths" that prevent us from focusing on the real problems? That aptitude for math and science matters more than hard work and practice, that curriculum reform (rather than good teaching) is key, that recruiting teachers is the most critical action when retention is the real issue, and that good teachers are only those who perform at the top of their class. What do you think about these "myths?"

Growing Technical Talent

Did you know that in the U.S., more than two-thirds of all states have few or no standards for teaching computing at the K-12 level, and fewer than 10 states out of 50 even allow a computer science course to count as credit towards high school graduation? What kids learn -- or don't learn -- today affects the tech talent you'll try to hire tomorrow. As noted in an editorial from The Atlantic, the Startup Act is all well and good but it assumes that tech talent isn't available here in the U.S., an assumption that should be questioned. Last week we shared a story with you about Hacker School's partnership with startups like Etsy, Yammer, and 37 Signals to train high school students to code and for the purpose of recruiting them directly into their companies; if your company wants to help schools produce tech talent, contact us for a short list of ways to get started.

Who You Know vs. How You Perform

Did you know that women's advancement in professional careers depends as much on whether they are connected to the right people on their company's career ladder as it does on their stellar performance? A study from the Center for Talent Innovation (in the United Kingdom) finds that women with sponsors are 52% more likely to be satisfied with their rate of advancement than those without a sponsor, and are 25% more likely to ask for a raise and 58% less likely to plan on quitting within a year. Sponsors have an even more powerful impact on working mothers: Working moms without sponsors are more than twice as likely to plan on leaving their firms within a year. Do you have sponsorship programs in place? Check out NCWIT's resources for mentoring, supervisory relationships, performance appraisals, and more.