Building bridges and breaking barriers
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Building Bridges and Breaking Barriers. Panel on Diversity and Inclusion in Computer Science Education. Moderator Meg Dickey-Kurdziolek. PhD Candidate @ Virginia Tech Research on the bridge between Education and Computing. Why Diversity Matters? (Manuel Pérez-Quiñones)

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Building Bridges and Breaking Barriers

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Building Bridges and Breaking Barriers

Panel on Diversity and Inclusion in Computer Science Education

ModeratorMeg Dickey-Kurdziolek

  • PhD Candidate @ Virginia Tech

  • Research on the bridge between Education and Computing

  • Why Diversity Matters? (Manuel Pérez-Quiñones)

  • Institutional efforts (Bonnie MacKellar)

  • Classroom climate (Amy Csizmar Dalal)

  • Best Practices for Inclusion (Stephanie Ludi)

  • Strategies for the Teaching Assistant (Megan Olsen)

  • Questions from the Audience

  • Continue the discussion - CS Educators for Diversity

Outline for Panel Discussion

Manuel Pérez-Quiñones What Diversity Means

  • Assoc. Prof, CS

  • Assoc. Dean, Grad School, Virginia Tech

  • Chair CDC

Diversity is...

Individual differences (e.g., personality, learning styles, and life experiences) and differences (e.g., race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, and ability as well as cultural, political, religious, or other affiliations)

 ...that can be engaged in the service of learning and working together.


Inclusion describes the active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity—in people, in the curriculum, in the co-curriculum, and in communities.

Understanding diversity

  • Stereotype Threat - disrupted performance when faced with negative stereotype (Claude Steele)

  • Privilege (Peggy Mcintosh) - special advantage enjoyed by an individual, group, or class

  • Implicit Bias - processing of information in ways that leads to biased judgements

  • Minority Tax - unfair use of minority (or women) in groups as the only representative of their groups

    • Corollary: expectations that minorities (or women) will join particular causes

  • Associate Professor in Computer Science,St John's University, Queens, NY

  • On Women in Science Advisory Board at St John's

  • Spent 10 years working in the software industry before returning to teaching

Bonnie MacKellarInstitutional Efforts to Support Diversity

  • 97% of our students receive financial aid, and 42% are classified as Pell eligible.

  • 23% of the CS majors are African-American, Asian-Americans account for 15%, Hispanics for 16%, white, non-Hispanic for 27%, unknown for 12% and foreign students are 11%.

  •  Two resources that helped me understand what my students struggle with :

    • Stuck in the Shallow End, Education, Race and Computing, by Jane Margolis

    • Making Computer Science Minority Friendly, by Roli Varma, CACM,Feb. 2006

  • The importance of socioeconomic class

    • need to work while going to college

    • more focused on immediate career goals

    • less exposure to core computing concepts before college

  • The intimidation factor

    • need to level the playing field by ensuring preparation for each level of the major

  • Mentoring and community

  • The effect of course offerings and curriculum choices

  • Outreach

  • Recommendations

    • Flexible scheduling and distance education

    • A structured curriculum in which courses build upon each other

    • Extra workshops on tools and standard practices

    • Data driven mentoring

    • Building a sense of community through special programs

    • Outreach through community-based groups

    • Recognizing that students educational goals may be very career driven

    • Certain specialized programs may seem more “accessible” to women or minorities

Amy Csizmar Dalal Creating positive classroom environments

  • Associate Professor of Computer Science, Carleton College

  • Co-chair of MinneWIC (regional women in computing celebration)

Creating an Engaging Classroom  @ Carleton (Intro CS)

  • Level the playing field with language

  • not many students come in knowing Python

  • Language choice matters!

  • print("hello") vs public class HelloWorld{ public static void main...

  • Pair programmingmakes programming less "scary" esp @ the start

  • Role modeling (TAs, lab assts, student leaders)

  • "TA looks like me"/sensitivity training

  • Choose interesting and engaging problems

  • cryptography, image processing, graphics, earthquake data, ...

Creating an Engaging CS Experience  @ Carleton

  • "Flatter" class structure

  • Intro --> Data Structures OR Software Design OR Org&Arch OR Math of CS

  • CS2 != Weed-out course

  •  remove the stigma:  word of mouth, etc.

  • Minimal pre-reqs for (most) electives

  •  makes it easy for non-majors to take many CS courses---great recruitment strategy!

  • Challenges:

    • creating a culture from scratch

    • spaces (labs, lounges) less than ideal

  • Associate Professor, Graduate Program Coordinator, Software Engineering @ Rochester Institute of Technology

  • Focus on pre-college outreach for girls and students with disabilities

Stephanie LudiInclusion in the classroom

Best Practices

  • Many best practices help all students, including students who are disabled.

    • Announcements should be in writing and verbally stated.

    • Clear instructions and expectations on assignments, tests, etc.

    • Avoid use of red-green for color coding on the whiteboard

    • Use of class web site for class materials and announcements.

    • Call the student by name as they may not be able to see you or read your body language.

  • Expectations for the course should not change for disabled students.

Strategies: Disabled Students

  • Whenever possible work with the student and the disabled student services office BEFORE the term.

    • Try to have the text selected in advance of the term (in case a non-print version needs to be acquired)

    • Use accessible media (e.g. captioned videos, documents)

    • Set up of lab computer/software to work with assistive technology (e.g. screen reader, adjustable desk)

      • Software such as Visual Studio and Eclipse have good accessibility

      • Proprietary software may have issues

    • Test/Lab practicum accommodations may require extra time or alternative means of recording answers

  • Most accommodations are inexpensive and take little time to do.

  • DO NOT ask the student about their disability, focus on the accommodation

  • Department and course websites should be accessible (W3C Accessibility standards).

  • Include discussion about working with disabled students as part of TA training

Strategies: Disabled Students

  • If a sign language interpreter is assigned to the class or if a student reads lips, be sure that you do not “speak to the whiteboard”

  • If you need to meet with a deaf/hard of hearing student or a student with a severe speech impediment you can communicate via the whiteboard or IM if needed for understandability.

  • Always speak directly to the disabled student, not at their notetaker, aide, friend, or interpreter.

  • Graduate Research & Teaching Assistant,   UMass Amherst

  • Faculty diversity committee

  • CS Women's Group

Megan Olsen

Getting Involved in Teaching as a TA

  • Take a class on teaching

  • Get the position you want!

    • Talk to professor you will TA for

    • Talk to professor in charge of assigning TAs

    • There may be 1 credit or even 3 credit classes you could teach on your own

    • Make your intentions clear!

  • Summer teaching at other colleges & universities is also an option

    • A great way to help encourage more diverse people to continue studying computer science!

Helping Diversity as a TA - 

Things you may control

  • Be aware of diversity teaching tips

  • Be aware of your students if you're teaching a lab

  • Know what to do if a student appears to be struggling

  • There are more types of diversity than the ones you can see physically

  • Grade fairly.  Put extra effort into grading fairly, especially if you are new to grading.

  • Be willing to get advice from faculty members!

Helping Diversity as a TA - 

Things you may NOT control

  • Seemingly unfair policies set by the professor or department - what can you do? what should you do?

  • You have a grader, who doesn't seem to grade fairly


  • Find events in your community or your department where you can help teach computers to a diverse set of people

    • Will give you teaching experience

    • Will help diversity

    • Will open up more opportunities than you expected!

  •  Get involved in your department!

    • You may be able to be a student member of a faculty Diversity committee, or similar group that works toward increasing diversity in your department 

    • Your experiences will be invaluable! Share them!

Questions for the panel?

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