The modern computer science education movement, commonly referred to as Computer Science for All or #CSforALL, has been gaining momentum nationwide since 2004 and is poised to be the most significant upgrade to the US education system in history.
History is recorded and codified through the journalism, social media, and public policy, and tends to emphasize the voices of those already in the public eye. Moreover, we know that media frequently amplifies the loudest voice in the room, and often misses the contributions of those without social capital and power, including women and minorities. Recent films like Hidden Figures and The Computers show this phenomenon by documenting the lost history of women’s contributions to engineering and technology fields.
Unfortunately, reporting on the Computer Science for All movement is already showing evidence of the erasure and dismissal of the contributions of educators, and in particular women and minorities.
On March 3, 2019, 60 Minutes ran a segment on increasing girls’ participation in computer science that excluded the contributions of all of the women-led organizations working to increase girls’ involvement in tech. The segment credited Code.org with solving the problem “once and for all,” sparking nationwide outrage and pushback from community stakeholders including Girls Who Code, littleBits, AnitaB.org, NCWIT, and CSforALL.
Even more damaging, the 60 Minutes piece incorrectly claimed that the number of women majoring in computer science has declined. The number of women receiving undergraduate degrees in computer science has quadrupled since 2009 thanks to efforts of organizations like the National Center for Women & Information Technology, CSTA, and AnitaB.org, as well as investments by the National Science Foundation, Microsoft, Google, Apple, and many others over the past decade.
I was excited to watch the 60 Minutes piece and wrote a quick blog post titled littleBits Is Helping To Close The Gender Gap in Technology with a teaser about it. I then watched the whole episode and was incredibly upset. I fumed for a while and then emotionally supported several women, including Ayah Bdeir, littleBits CEO, who wrote An Insider’s Look at Why Women End Up on the Cutting Room Floor.
I wrote a draft of a blog post but realized that it wasn’t additive to the discussion. I was mad at 60 Minutes, felt incredibly frustrated, and was sad for all the women who were once again marginalized by the way things were portrayed.
I’ve been living in this problem since 2004 when I joined the board of a nascent organization called the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). I’ve learned an incredible amount about gender issues in technology – and in general – from working alongside Lucy Sanders and her wonderful organization since then. I’ve tried to be the living embodiment of a male advocate (now commonly referred to as a male ally) and, while I’ve made plenty of mistakes over the years, have been on a learning journey that has made me a much better human.
When Ruthe Farmer, the Chief Evangelist for CSforALL (and formerly of NCWIT) reached out to me about helping with a new project called CSbyALL, I immediately said yes. Amy and I have been supporters of CSforAll for several years and count a number of the board members as friends, especially Fred and Joanne Wilson who helped get CSforAll up and running.
Amy and I, along with Fred and Joanne, are proud to be the first contributors to this new project to document the actual history of the modern computer science education movement. CSbyALL will be a crowd-sourced interactive timeline and data visualization tool that will surface and illuminate the collective stories, artifacts, and events from the distributed CS education community. It will recognize the contributions of not only national leaders and policymakers, but also local advocates like teachers and school administrators, out-of-school time educators, local organizations, and researchers.
If you are interested in supporting this effort or getting involved in any way, drop me an email.
This morning, President Obama and the White House made an awesome announcement of a new initiative called Computer Science for All. The goal is to empower a generation of American students with the computer science skills they need to thrive in a digital economy.
NCWIT (where I’m the chair of the board) is deeply involved in this. Rather than try to recreate Lucy Sanders (the CEO of NCWIT’s) message to the extended NCWIT community, I’m just republishing it below.
This morning the entire NCWIT community has reason to celebrate. President Obama just made an historic call to action that provides all students access to computer science education through policy and financial support. We encourage everybody to amplify and support this announcement within your networks using the hashtag #CSforAll. You can also follow updates from @whitehouse on Twitter, as well as the NCWIT social media channels.
This moment comes after a long journey of advocacy and work by the entire NCWIT change leader network. Those of you that have been around since the early years of NCWIT may remember the first time President Obama spoke publicly about computer science at the 2006 NCWIT/NSF Innovation & Diversity Town Hall at the National Academy of Engineering. We are grateful that he has continued to support computer science education throughout his presidency and look forward to seeing what is ahead in the final months of the administration.
Universal access is a critical element when working toward inclusion for all underrepresented students in computing. In addition to the growing library of NCWIT research-based resources for K-12 educators, families and girls, today NCWIT joins many other partners in making additional commitments to the #CSforAll initiative:
NCWIT will equip 1,400 school counselors with tools for advising high school students on computer science education and career pathways. NCWIT Counselors for Computing (C4C) helps counselors paint a new picture of who is right for computing and supports their strategic action toward increasing access to computer science education and career pathways for all students. Through a $1 million commitment, NCWIT will scale up its Counselors for Computing initiative to equip 1,400 new school counselors with training and resources, increasing access for more than half a million students to the growing and lucrative careers in technology.
NCWIT, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Google will collaborate to expand CS options for more than 400 girls living in HUD-supported housing by extending the NCWIT AspireIT outreach program to local HUD partners. NCWIT AspireIT enlists high school and college women to lead computing outreach experiences for K-12 girls using a novel approach in which near-peer role models teach younger girls fundamentals in programming and computational thinking in fun, creative environments.
NCWIT will host a series of roundtables aimed at increasing access for girls from underrepresented groups. NCWIT will partner with Intel to host a convening on Native American students’ and tribes’ access to technology careers, and will host with Google a conversation on the image of African-American girls in technology. Also with Google, NCWIT will bring together leaders of peer-led computing-outreach programs to identify promising practices, collaborate on evaluation and outcomes measurement, and build strategies for scaling-up programs for students nationwide.
We look forward to continuing our work with the entire computing community on the important mission of inclusion and diversity. We can’t wait to see what problems get solved, and what solutions emerge, when diverse people are inventing the technology upon which we all depend. We welcome your thoughts and collaboration, and don’t forget the NCWIT Summit is coming right up, May 16-18, 2016.
The first time I met President Obama was at an NCWIT event in 2006 when he was a senator. It was the first time he spoke publicly about computer science.
With the endless vitriol going on in the US political world right now given our election cycle, it’s wonderful to see President Obama and his staff (including the amazing Megan Smith, our U.S. Chief Technology Officer) focus on things that really matter for the long term health of our country and society – and get them done.