News on the Radar: 10/31/19

Here is a brief round-up of information and news that crossed NCWIT's radar recently and which we think will be of interest to you. The practices or content of the news gathered (while not endorsed or vetted by NCWIT) is meant to spark new conversations and ideas surrounding the current diversity statistics and trends in the tech workforce. We encourage you to add your two cents on this month's topics in the comments below.

Did You Know That NCWIT Researchers Find Five ‘Types’ of Computing Students?

NCWIT Senior Research Scientists Beth Quinn and Wendy DuBow surveyed 500 students attending eight community colleges across the country to analyze how community college students feel about introductory computing classes, as featured in this Boulder Daily Camera article. The Research Scientists asked about students’ previous experience in computing, their level of interest, their feeling of belonging, whether they saw others like them in the field, and their expected outcomes, amongst other things.

Through a cluster analysis, they found five types, with different genders and races/ethnicities sprinkled throughout:

  • Inexperienced and alienated students, who feel they don’t belong, have little experience and low expectations.
  • Experienced and onboard students, who have previous experience, confidence in their skills and high expectations.
  • Inexperienced but onboard students, who have low experience but high interest levels.
  • Experienced but alienated students, who have experience but lack confidence.
  • Semi-experienced and open students, who have some experience with non-programming activities like building a network but score in the middle on sense of belonging.

Beth noted that research tends to focus on differences between men and women, but lose variations across gender and race/ethnicity. This analysis “helps complicate and enrich people’s … understanding of where students are,” Wendy said.

With this better understanding, faculty can make adjustments in how they teach. For example:

Shahzad Bhatti, who teaches computer information systems at Front Range Community College, said he has learned to look at things “from a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset.” Shahzad compared computing to exercise, saying that if students continue to practice, they will improve their skills.

Beth and Wendy recently completed “Building Sustainable Initiatives for Diversifying Undergraduate Computing Programs: An Introductory Self-guided Course,” an NCWIT resource available at www.ncwit.org/Course1_UGPrograms, that educates faculty about employing a growth mindset and more. This modular sequence is designed for computing and information technology faculty and administrators who are beginning work on diversifying undergraduate computing programs or are trying to reignite existing initiatives. It is broken down into several modules starring NCWIT social scientists and others from partner organizations, as well as Academic Alliance faculty and administrators who have implemented successful initiatives. Upon completion of the course, faculty and administrators will have a concrete plan for implementing doable recruitment and retention strategies, and an evaluation plan. 

This course is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (1525652, 1725018).

Did You Know That You Can Actively Recruit Middle School Girls Into High School Computing Classes?

As presented in this blog from Code.org, an NCWIT K-12 Alliance member organization, that’s exactly what High School Computer Science Teacher Peggie Birch did at Caesar Rodney High School in Camden, Delaware when she assessed the gender breakdown of students participating in her classes and noticed the “ratio was far from balanced.”

In Peggie’s school system, middle school students were required to make their high school schedules at the end of eighth grade. But, she said, “they simply didn’t know computer science was an option” at that time. Building connections with these students and instilling a sense of belonging before they make their high school schedules would be key. “So the idea was to give younger students a connection with an older student who was already in the program,” said Peggie.

The idea became a reality with the launch of Middle School Girl’s Day of CS during CSEdWeek 2018. The full-day event featured various talks and activities hosted by Peggie’s current high school students.

Watching my high school girls advocate for CS and work directly with the younger girls was not only heart-warming but very effective,” Peggie said. “During one programming activity, I heard one young lady say ‘Hey, I’m good at this!’”

And, by 2019, Peggie said, “the percentage of girls in her intro to CS courses jumped from six percent to almost 20 percent.”

You too can reach out to students. Connecting current students with prospective students is just one way to do so. “You Can Actively Recruit a Diverse Range of Girls into High School Computing Classes: A Workbook for High School Teachers,” an NCWIT resource available at www.ncwit.org/HSTeacherWorkbook, provides more actionable recommendations as part of a four-part plan.

Did You Know That D&I Efforts Have Pitfalls That Are Avoidable?

Whether in the form of consultants, online courses, or task forces, the diversity and inclusion business is thriving, as captured in this Time article. Yet, many groups are underrepresented in the computing workforce. For diversity and inclusion efforts to work, there must be a multi-pronged, research-based, strategic plan for creating inclusive cultures that enhance innovation and productivity. And, as Ford Foundation President Darren Walker says in the Time article, “It requires incumbent leaders and managers to change their behavior and practices.”

For more than 30 years, workplace diversity and inclusion efforts have failed to move the needle across a wide swath of industry sectors. Too often companies rely on piecemeal interventions or one-off, checkbox solutions that are not only expensive, but also ineffective. Recent research published in Harvard Business Review and other venues identifies some of the key problems with these past efforts: an overreliance on “diversity training,” negative messaging, the mandatory nature of these trainings, and other “control tactics” that attempt to legislate manager behavior. 

“When you keep choosing the options on the menu that don’t create change, you’re purposely not creating change,” says Cyrus Mehri, a civil rights lawyer who has experience with instigating progress.

NCWIT provides online tips and resources, organized by your company’s priorities and needs, to help you, as an industry leader, break the cycle and avoid common pitfalls: www.ncwit.org/industryresources.