Reflections on the NCWIT Summit

Last week, I attended the annual summit of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). (CSTA executive director Jake Baskin was there too.) The NCWIT summit is a meeting of about 700 people who are involved in the activities of NCWIT – K-12, higher education, workforce. It’s a working meeting – people come to discuss and learn ways to effectively increase the meaningful participation of women and girls in computing-related fields. It also always includes several inspiring keynote talks related to diversity, ranging from motivational to scholarly.

One thing that always has been special about NCWIT is the active participation of men as well as women. The issue of striving to improve the involvement of women and girls in IT is crucial to all of us in computing and to our entire society, and requires the involvement of all of us. The gender breakout at the summit reflected this.

Two of the keynote talks at the summit embraced this theme of shared responsibility and took it further. One, by Dr. Jackson Katz, addressed the more general issues of sexual harassment and gender violence by men towards women, and their hugely harmful effects that can go well beyond the people directly involved. The speaker stressed the responsibility of men not only not to behave like this, but to not tolerate this behavior by other men. Another keynote talk by well-known sociopolitical comedian Kamau Bell addressed racism in the United States, with an analogous message: the responsibility of Caucasian Americans not only to not behave in this manner but to stand up to this behavior by others.

How do these messages impact all of us, particularly educators in K-12 and other settings? Very directly. We each have the responsibility to assure that all voices are given equal opportunities to be heard, in our classrooms and in our professional meetings. We also need to model inclusive behavior, and to stand up to behavior that is discriminatory. Ideally, we will do this not by shaming, but by making responses that sustain a positive environment and often, create a teachable moment. Doing this in the heat of the moment isn’t easy and can be aided by some preparation, such as the NCWIT resource or many resources that have become available on “Bystander Training”.

Bobby Schnabel, Partner Representative

How Far We’ve Come – and How Far We Have To Go

Roughly ten years ago, the US computing community first started to really address policy about teaching K-12 computer science. The ACM Education Policy Committee was formed with K-12 education as its focus, and a few people – including Cameron Wilson (then ACM policy director, now COO and President of the Advocacy Coalition of, Chris Stephenson (then executive director of CSTA, now with Google), and I (as chair of the committee) spent quite a bit of time talking to education policy makers in DC about computing education. This included both staff members in Congress and people in science policy organizations in DC. It was shocking – almost to a person they had no idea of the importance of the computer science, e.g. that even then most STEM jobs openings were and were projected to be in computing. It was almost as if Silicon Valley and DC lived in different universes!
On the one hand, things have changed drastically in ten years – awareness of the importance of computing and computing education is universal, in DC, by state governors and legislatures, and to a good extent by the public. When STEM-oriented policy is created these days, computer science almost always is included, something that wasn’t true a short number of years ago. And there has been significant growth in the amount of K-12 computer science education, as exemplified by the over 5-fold increase in the number of students taking AP Computer Science exams over the past ten years.
On the other hand, US K-12 CS education is just getting started. If the entire K-12 curriculum were invented from scratch today, it is not implausible to think that computer science would be as fundamental as math or language arts, with as many specialized teachers or general teachers who are well-versed in computer science, and as many hours devoted to computer science as any other primary subject. We are very far from there – in our curricula, in the number of teachers, in the orientation of schools of education where most teachers are prepared. This is where CSTA and its partner organizations come in – in continuing to advocate for the importance of K-12 computer science education, in helping with curricular standards, and most importantly, in providing community for computer science teachers, particularly when often there are only one or two per school. Ten years from now, things will again look very different than now, and CSTA will have played a major role in the evolution.

Bobby Schnabel, Partner Representative