Voices – LATICE 2017

[Edit: The conference is now being held in Hong Kong. I don’t know the reason behind the change but the original issue has been addressed. I have been accepted to Learning @ Scale so will not be able to attend anyway, as it turns out, as the two conferences overlap by two days and even I can’t be in the US and Hong Kong at the same time.]

There is a large amount of discussion in the CS Ed community right now over the LATICE 2017 conference, which is going to be held in a place where many members of the community will be effectively reduced to second-class citizenship and placed under laws that would allow them to be punished for the way that they live their lives. This affected group includes women and people who identify with QUILTBAG (“Queer/Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans (Transgender/Transsexual), Bisexual, Asexual, Gay”). Conferences should be welcoming. This is not a welcoming place for a large percentage of the CS Ed community.

There are many things I could say here but what I would prefer you to do is to look at who is commenting on this and then understand those responses in the context of the author. For once, it matters who said what, because not everyone will be as affected by the decision to host this conference where it is.

From what I’ve seen, a lot of men think this is a great opportunity to do some outreach. A lot has been written, predominantly by men, about how every place has its problems and so on and so forth.

But let’s look at other voices. The female and QUILTBAG voices do not appear to share this support. Asking for their rights to be temporarily reduced or suspended for this ‘amazing opportunity’ is too much to ask. In response, I’ve seen classic diminishment of genuine issues that are far too familiar. Concerns over the reductions of rights are referred to as ‘comfort zone’ issues. This is pretty familiar to anyone who is actually tracking the maltreatment and reduction of non-male voices over time. You may as well say “Stop being so hysterical” and at least be honest and own your sexism.

Please go and read through all of the comments and see who is saying what. I know what my view of this looks like, as it is quite clear that the men who are not affected by this are very comfortable with such a bold quest and the people who would actually be affected are far less comfortable.

This is not a simple matter of how many people said X or Y, it’s about how much discomfort one group has to suffer that we take their concerns seriously. Once again, it appears that we are asking a group of “not-men”, in a reductive sense, to endure more and I cannot be part of that. I cannot condone it.

I will not be going. I will have to work out if I can cite this conference, given that I can see that it will lead to discrimination and a reduction of participation over gender and sexuality lines, unintentionally or not. I have genuine ethical concerns about using this research that I would usually reserve for historical research. But that is for me to worry about. I have to think about my ongoing commitment to this community.

But you shouldn’t care what I think. Go and read what the people who will be affected by this think. For once, please try to ignore what a bunch of vocal guys want to tell you about how non-male groups should be feeling.

SIGSCE Day 2, “Focus on K-12: Informal Education, Curriculum and Robots”, Paper 1, 3:45-5:00, (#SIGCSE2014)

The first paper is “They can’t find us: The Search for Informal CS Education” by Betsy DiSalvo, Cecili Reid, Parisa Khanipour Roshan, all from Georgia Tech. (Mark wrote this paper up recently.) There are lots of resources around, MOOCs, on-line systems tools, Khan academy and Code Academy and, of course the aggregators. If all of this is here, why aren’t we getting the equalisation effects we expect?

Well, the wealth and the resource-aware actually know how to search and access these, and are more aware of them, so the inequality persists. The Marketing strategies are also pointed at this group, rather than targeting those needing educational equity. The cultural values of the audiences vary. (People think Scratch is a toy, rather than a useful and pragmatic real-world tool.) There’s also access – access to technical resource, social support for doing this and knowledge of the search terms. We can address this issues by research mechanisms to address the ignored community.

Children’s access to informal learning is through their parents so how their parents search make a big difference. How do they search? The authors set up a booth to ask 16 parents in the group how they would do it. 3 were disqualified for literacy or disability reasons (which is another issue). Only one person found a site that was relevant to CS education. Building from that, what are the search terms that they are using for computer learning and why aren’t hey coming up with good results. The terms that parents use supported this but the authors also used Google insights to see what other people were using. The most popular terms for the topic, the environment and the audience. Note: if you search for kids in computer learning you get fewer results than if you search for children in computer learning. The three terms that came up as being best were:

  • kids computer camp
  • kids computer classes
  • kids computer learning

The authors reviewed across some cities to see if there was variation by location for these search terse. What was the quality of these? 191 out of 840 search results were unique and relevant, with an average of 4.5 per search.

(As a note, MAN, does Betsy talk and present quickly. Completely comprehensible and great but really hard to transcribe!)

Results included : Camp, after school program, camp/afterschool, higher education, online activities, online classes/learning, directory results (often worse than Google), news, videos or social networks (again the quality was lower). Computer camps dominated what you could find on these search results – but these are not an option for low-income parents at $500/week so that’s not a really useful resource for them. Some came up for after school and higher ed in the large and midsize cities, but very little in the smaller cities. Unsurprisingly, smaller cities and lower socio-economic groups are not going to be able to find what they need to find, hence the inequality continues. There are many fine tools but NONE of them showed up on the 800+ results.

Without a background in CS or IT, you don’t know that these things exist and hence you can’t find it for your kids. Thus, these open educational resources are less accessible to these people, because they are only accessible through a mechanism that needs extra knowledge. (As a note, the authors only looked at the first two pages because “no-one looks past that”. 🙂 ) Other searches for things like kids maths learning, kids animal learning or kids physics learning turned up 48 out of 80 results (average of 16 unique results per search term), where 31 results were online, 101 had classes at uni – a big difference.

(These studies were carried out before code.org. Running the search again for kids computer learning does turn up code.org. Hooray, there is progress! If the study was run again, how much better would it be?)

We need to take a top down approach to provide standards for keywords and search terms, partnering with formal education and community programs. The MOOCs should talk to the Educational programming community, both could talk to the tutorial community and then we can throw in the Aggregators as well. Distant islands that don’t talk are just making this problem worse.

The bottom-up approach is getting an understanding of LSEO parenting, building communities and finding out how people search and making sure that we can handle it. Wow! Great talk but I think my head is going to explode!

During question time, someone asked why people aren’t more creative with their searches. This is, sadly, missing the point that, sitting in this community, we are empowered and skilled in searching. The whole point is that people outside of our community aren’t guaranteed to be able to find a way too be creative. I guess the first step is the same as for good teaching, putting ourselves in the heads of someone who is a true novice and helping to bring them to a more educated state.