Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

September, 2009

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Why Does Diversity Matter


    One of the things I make clear in a lot of talks and meetings is that I want to see more women and minorities in the computer field. Surprisingly a lot of people ask me “why?” I get that question from women and minorities as much if not more than I do from white males. I’m not sure if they wonder why “I” care or if they wonder why anyone should care. Certainly a lot of women and minorities are under the impression that they are unwanted or unneeded in computer science careers. This is sort of surprising to me. I think most people understand that different groups often view the world differently, from different perspectives and want different things. Clearly many fields in the market place have gotten serious about targeting products and marketing to different groups. But computer science? Not so much.

    I found this message on Twitter the other day and it serves as a great example of the problem of having a majority men in the field.

    Why is the "default" image on most sites a male silhouette? I find it offensive when women are represented as a shadow of a man. by danah boyd

    Well that should be an obvious problem right? Apparently not to a lot of men. Frankly I never thought about the impact on a male silhouette on women. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that BTW. But frankly I am a middle aged white male and that means there are some filters that I have grown up with. We all have these filters and I’m not convinced that is necessarily bad or good. But I am convinced that it exists and that we have to find ways around that to make sure that products, career fields and society in general is inclusive. I think you require diversity of participation to make that happen.

    As I explained to a young African-American female at one talk I gave “I’m very good at knowing what middle aged white men want but figuring out what African-American teenage girls want is a little outside of my experience.” As a selfish capitalist I want/need a society where products, services and opportunity are open to everyone and where everyone at least has a chance to have their needs met. The way I see it, to paraphrase a commercial I have heard for decades, “an educated consumer is our best hope for a bright economic future.” I believe that an education in computer science is an absolutely critical piece of that education.

    I’ll leave you with one example of how diversity can change things. Once upon a time almost all business travelers were men. Suitcases might get heavy but the male attitude was “I can carry it.” Then women started to enter fields in which business travel was a big thing. The attitude over heavy suitcases by women was more along the lines of “I’m not carrying that thing. Put wheels on it.” Most suitcases today have wheels on them and men happily drag them behind rather than carry them. Women made a difference. (Thanks BTW :-) )

    You have to wonder what sort of differences we’d be seeing in computer user interfaces (besides a default male silhouette) if more women were in the field and having both the ability and the authority to make changes. Maybe there will be the next “wheels on suitcases” idea that will transform how we all use computers. We can hope.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Interesting Links September 28th 2009


    I love the idea of one to one computing. While it has gotten a lot of attention with mixed results in the US its only starting in many parts of the world. From  @Microsoft_EDU I found this post called  Improving teaching and learning in Kenya with 1:1 computing which talks about some joint efforts in Kenya and other places to expand this sort of program.

    ISTE’s Twitter account @isteconnects regularly posts interesting links and information. Last week they asked this question -  Do you know a young edtech educator who deserves recognition? ISTE is accepting nominations for this technology educator recognition program.

    Every so often something comes along and reminds me about the CIA Kids page Yes THAT CIA. Check it out. It may surprise you.

    Last week was Talk Like a Pirate day. At the CSTA blog Dave Reed talks about using Talk Like A pirate day in his classes It’s fun, its interesting, it gets kids interested. Check it out.

    People tend to think of Microsoft as a software company which it is. But it is also involved in hardware as well. Channel 9 just started a six part series of videos about the Hardware lab at Microsoft, Part 1 of 6 is now up.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Imagine Cup Game Design Competition


    This year the US Imagine Cup Game Design Competition is wide open for participation by high school students over the age of 16. Yes this is primarily a college/university level competition but I’ve seen high school students compete at high levels in the past. Frankly I am hearing stories of high school kids developing some very fun and interesting games for the Xbox 360 using XNA Game Studio. Why not make a little competition part of the plan for the better students. Perhaps for the independent studies students?

    What is in it for the students? A couple of things. First there is the potential for prize money and a trip to Washington DC for the US finals. And perhaps the world-wide finals in Poland and more prize money. But you are going to say that is a long shot and maybe it is (or maybe not if your students are smart and we know they have a great teacher) but at the very least they could wind up with a competitive game that they can include in their portfolio for college or for future jobs.

    And if they win at any level you know that will look good on both college and career applications.

    I should tell you that if games are not your thing the U.S. Imagine Cup Software Design Competition (aka the main event) is also open to high school students over the age of 16. There was a high school student on a team with his college age brothers last year and they won in the US championship and traveled to Egypt for this year’s finals. Similar benefits to this one.

    If you are a college/university student you will want to enter as well. Maybe win some money but definitely there is good potential for impressing future hiring managers with your initiative and creativity. In the past a good number of high level finishers have taken their Imagine Cup projects and turned them into businesses. Participation in the competition will give you exposure to industry and venture capital experts. Of course it is then up to the competitors to be impressive.

    Note: As I was reminded in the comments:

    Just as an FYI, any eligible US student that registers for ImagineCup is automatically eligible for a $10,000 prize just for entering. Also, register on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 2:00 and 4:00 PT and be entered in a drawing for a copy of Halo 3: ODST

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