A Call to Celebrate Diversity in Computer Science

A primary goal for our #CSforAll initiative should be to develop positive computational identities among all students. This requires that students not only build strong foundational knowledge and skills; they must also understand how CS connects to their interests and, perhaps most importantly, believe that they can succeed in CS.

This is challenging because a small subset of the population has dominated the field of computer science, and our society has crafted a pervasive and narrow stereotype for who has access to and can achieve in CS. Even though the field is actually more diverse, these stereotypes are not surprising given the mostly homogenous population of the tech industry (see the Kapor Center’s Leaky Tech Pipeline report, 2018).

It is critical that we disrupt this narrative. We must highlight how people of all backgrounds have positively contributed to computing in diverse ways.

Describing the problem

Students as young as elementary school begin to adopt stereotypical beliefs in STEM. Research has shown the negative impact on students traditionally underrepresented in CS, namely women and people of color (e.g., Cheryan, Master, & Meltzoff, 2015). Professor Sapna Cheryan notes:

“People use these images to decide where they fit, where they’re going to be successful and what’s appropriate for them to pursue.”

Stereotypes negatively affect students’ interest, self-efficacy, career aspirations in STEM (e.g., Shapiro & Williams, 2011). If students do not fit those stereotypes and they don’t have role models that suggest otherwise, they are less likely to pursue CS.

What can we do about this?

Such a wicked problem cannot be fixed quickly, but we can make substantive impacts in our local schools. One strategy is to connect students to role models and mentors with whom they can identify, to provide inspiration and guidance. Exposure to role models of similar race and gender backgrounds leads to increased identification, self-efficacy and aspirations in STEM fields (Stout et al., 2011; Scott et al., 2018).

How to celebrate diversity in CS

Teachers can provide exposure to diverse role models through books, videos, and magazines and also through direct interactions including classroom visits, field trips, career fairs, and mentorship programs. These efforts should happen throughout the year. In addition, during cultural awareness months, we can use the opportunity to highlight people of specific backgrounds. March is Women’s History Month. This presents a great opportunity to connect students to female role models and showcase the incredible contributions of women in CS. Below are some suggestions from the #CSinSF team:

  1. Invite guest speakers to your class. If you don’t have connections through friends and family, try finding a local volunteer or a Skype connection. Here are some tips for classroom volunteers and a list of suggested questions to ask about their careers.
  2. Explore careers. Great videos featuring diverse professionals are available from Made w/ Code, Technolochicas, and Code.org. You can also have students read articles from the Careers with Code magazine, designed for teens to understand how computer science can help them create a dream career in any field, including health, sports, business, fashion, and virtual reality. The site features both profiles and videos of diverse people in diverse industries.
  3. Showcase influential figures in CS. Read books, watch videos, and lead activities that showcase influential figures in computing. For example, during Women’s History Month, hang these posters of seven incredible women in CS and lead related activities (e.g., matching activity, Bee-Bot challenges, Kahoot). Elementary teachers could read story books like Ada Lovelace: Poet of Science and Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code and show videos like Happy Birthday, Ada. Additionally, teachers of all levels can use Hidden Figures (original text, young readers’ edition, story book, or the film adaptation) and challenge students to retell stories of these incredible women (e.g., through Scratch animations).

Bryan Twarek, School District Representative

Use the SCRIPT to Develop Your District’s Own #CSforAll Plans

Individual teacher and school champions have enabled participation in K-12 computer science education to soar to new highs in recent years. However, true systemic change will occur when school districts across the nation create their own #CSforALL goals and implementation strategies. There is a need for districts across the nation to develop comprehensive and equity-minded plans to ensure that all students across all schools can access and achieve in computer science.

Creating these plans can be daunting, especially at early stages of implementation and when there are important competing priorities. It can be tempting to simply replicate plans that other districts have adopted, yet contexts may vary greatly from one district to another, making a single correct answer difficult. Districts should leverage local strengths and consider their unique contexts when developing their plans.

The CSforALL Consortium, a key partner of the CSTA, recently developed a tool to help with this challenge. The new tool is called the SCRIPT: School CSforALL Resource and Implementation Planning Tool. The SCRIPT engages school districts in reflection, review of examples, and goal setting related to six areas: (1) Leadership, (2) Technology Infrastructure, (3) Teacher Capacity, (4) Curriculum and Materials, Selection and Refinement, (5) Partners, and (6) Community.

The SCRIPT is still under development; however CSforALL has released rubrics for Leadership, Teacher Capacity, and Curriculum & Materials, Selection and Refinement. Recently, I helped facilitate a breakout session at a SCRIPT workshop held at the CSforALL Summit in St. Louis. Based on this experience, I believe the SCRIPT is useful for districts that are just getting started, as well as those that have already implemented their comprehensive plans, as there are many distinct elements and a wide continuum of success. The tools promote excellent reflection and conversation and help guide teams towards meaningful next steps.

Here is a suggestion for how to use the SCRIPT:

  1. Convene a leadership team from your local district to develop or update plans to support #CSforALL. Include teachers, principals, curriculum leaders, and district administration; where possible, include representatives from both early-adopting schools and schools that have yet to begin to implement.
  2. Together, focus on each of the six SCRIPT categories one at a time. Use the rubric to reflect on the current status, identify priority areas, and set goals. Consider setting three goals for each area of the rubric: one 3-month goal, one 6-month goal, and one long-term goal.
  3. Use the tools and examples in the SCRIPT, as well as other CSTA resources and CSforALL members, to help plan how you will meet these goals. Feel free to reach out to your local CSTA chapter to ask for advice and support.
  4. Reconvene periodically to monitor progress and update goals.

Creating meaningful and systemic change certainly does not come easily. Accordingly, you won’t find a list of answers within the SCRIPT. However, you will find many thought-provoking questions and topics for conversation. Use these to consider the big picture and develop plans for rigorous, inclusive, and sustainable K-12 computer science education in your local school district.

SCRIPT Cover

Bryan Twarek
School District Representative