News on the Radar: 11/18/20


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 inclusive design processes can help correct for unconscious bias in tech product development?

When tech products are designed by people with very similar backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences, the end results tend to reproduce their builders’ unconscious biases. This often leads to innovations that work less well for some groups than for others, or technology that reinforces systemic discrimination. In this Harvard Business Review article, Felix Chang gathers insights from “design and tech leaders with experience at organizations ranging from Microsoft to Airbnb about actions that any product leader or team can take to create more inclusive products and services.” An important first step in inclusive design, he suggests, is to build with, rather than for, diverse communities. For example, Microsoft Devices Inclusive Lead Bryce Johnson advises designers to “spend some time reflecting on your product team’s biases, then identify and build relationships with people who are traditionally excluded from the product development process. Trust their knowledge, lived experiences, and perspectives, and use it to direct product strategy and development.”

In fact, studies find that there are numerous business benefits to building diversity into the design process. This recent blog post by NCWIT Social Scientists Brad McLain and Catherine Ashcraft reviews research showing that team diversity is a major driver of tech innovation. The authors emphasize, however, that it’s not enough to simply assemble a diverse team. “In order to reap the innovative potential of that diversity,” they write, “leaders must activate those different viewpoints and life experiences and encourage influence for ALL team members” by fostering an inclusive workplace culture.

Did you know that CSTA has resources to help educators teach online?

As the pandemic continues to evolve, many educators are finding themselves switching back and forth between virtual and in-person classes – sometimes with little time to prepare. NCWIT K-12 Alliance Member CSTA has put together an extensive collection of resources to support educators who are navigating the challenges of teaching in the time of COVID-19. Organized by categories, this curated selection includes curriculum materials and lesson ideas for bringing computing instruction online; resources for teaching students about topics related to the pandemic; and a special section on self-care for educators themselves.

Educators can also find a collection of ready-to-use activities for teaching computational thinking skills in the NCWIT resource, Computer Science in a Box: Unplug Your Curriculum. Designed for use with students ages 9 to 14, these participatory lessons explain how computers work while addressing critical mathematics and science concepts such as number systems, algorithms, variables, and logic.

Looking for other ideas on how to help students make the connection between computer science and their own lives? The NCWIT resource How Do You Introduce Computing in an Engaging Way? offers several case studies in which teachers model algorithmic thinking while also calling on students’ existing knowledge or interests, a practice which can help students stay engaged in coding classes, even if they don’t have prior programming knowledge.

Did you know that “gatekeeper” courses disproportionately impact students from marginalized groups?

An article by Celia Henry Arnaud in Chemical & Engineering News investigated the ways “weed-out” or “gatekeeper” courses contribute to systemic inequality within STEM fields. Required introductory classes with inflated fail rates prevent many students from advancing toward a STEM degree or career, and these roadblocks disproportionately impact “marginalized groups [that] are more likely than other students to have attended high schools where advanced math and science classes weren’t offered.” The article also covered numerous positive interventions that STEM faculty and departments have developed to mitigate this effect, such as designing true entry-level courses, fostering active and cooperative learning, and offering additional academic support for high-risk students.

The impact of gatekeeper courses as a barrier to participation was one topic addressed in The Color Of Our Future: Black Women in Postsecondary Computing Education, a panel discussion that took place earlier this year as part of a series of conversations hosted by NCWIT. This summary highlights key takeaways about the specific challenges faced by Black women as both college students and faculty, as well as recommendations for how academic institutions can better support Black women in computing programs.

Curriculum design is a key element when it comes to developing computing programs where students with diverse backgrounds and experiences can thrive. This NCWIT resource collection offers several approaches that can improve recruitment and retention rates for students from marginalized groups. Faculty and administrators who are interested in exploring what action steps they can take to make their departments more inclusive can also access the free, self-paced online course, NCWIT 101: Introduction to Diversifying Undergraduate Computing Programs.