News on the Radar: 1/27/21

Here is a brief round-up of information and news that crossed NCWIT’s radar recently and which we think will be of interest to you. The practices or content of the news gathered (while not endorsed or vetted by NCWIT) is meant to spark new conversations and ideas surrounding the current diversity statistics and trends in the tech workforce. We encourage you to add your two cents on this month’s topics in the comments below.

Did you know that STEM lab activities can engage students by linking course content to real-world challenges?

When the Covid pandemic upended plans for in-person lab-based classes, a team comprising more than 60 administrators, faculty members, staff, and graduate teaching assistants at San Francisco State University decided to take the opportunity to design and implement a new biology lab curriculum. In addition to adapting courses so they could be taught either remotely or face-to-face, the team also sought to ground the curriculum in principles of equity and inclusion, which included “ensuring positive representation of diverse communities in the curriculum, fostering community among students and centering student voices.” After nine weeks of intensive collaboration, the group had created 10 new lab manuals and 120 new activities to be used in biology courses for both majors and nonmajors. In an article for Inside Higher Ed, members of the working group note that “In addition to being adaptable for remote learning, the new lab activities we developed explicitly linked science to society and incorporated positive representation of BIPOC scientists. What those activities have in common is that they teach biology through a social justice lens.” One lab activity, for example, “focuses on the microbiome and its connections to environmental inequities like access to food, housing security and medical care, and culminates with students being encouraged to write to their local politicians.”

Culturally responsive computing (CRC), as discussed in this NCWIT resource, is a pedagogical approach that seeks to involve students in “becoming technosocial change agents – that is, individuals who can interrogate and intervene in existing societal and power relations even as they design new technologies.” For educators who want to explore this approach and other ways to engage and retain diverse students in computing programs at the postsecondary level, the NCWIT Engagement Practices Framework is a good starting place. This resource compiles pedagogical and curricular practices that research suggests help engage all students, particularly those who may be at risk of leaving the field due to stereotypes about who does computing. The practices are organized around three concepts: making content matter by connecting it to students’ lives; building students’ confidence and sense of identification with the field; and growing an inclusive and supportive academic community.

Did you know that school counselors can play an important role in making computing programs more accessible?

Many students make choices about what field to study in college while they’re still in high school. Unfortunately, as NCWIT President and CTO Terry Hogan and NCWIT Counselors for Computing (C4C) Director Angela Cleveland note in this Education and Career News article, “despite the increasing demand for professionals in the field, some young women don’t automatically think of STEM careers when planning their future.” This can be due to a wide variety of factors, ranging from the local to the systemic. School counselors, however, are uniquely positioned to play a role in dismantling the barriers that prevent women students from fully exploring their options in STEM. For example, counselors can share information about career opportunities in technical fields. They can foster a growth mindset to help students develop persistence in learning new skills. Counselors can also make an impact on the structural level by “influenc[ing] school leaders on which courses to offer and evaluat[ing] how the courses match the existing experiences of students.”

For educators who want to recruit more women and other underrepresented students into computing programs, counselors can be valuable allies. This NCWIT resource suggests ten ways educators can engage counselors in efforts to make computing programs more accessible. Counselors and teachers can work together, for example, in collecting and analyzing data on enrollment patterns in computer science courses. Looking for more ideas? This pre-recorded NCWIT C4C webinar takes a deeper look at the ways computing educators and school counselors can collaborate to increase access, equity, and inclusivity in computing programs.

Did you know that some tech startups are using the term “AuthenTech” to express a commitment to community and equity?

Tech startup founder Rebekah Bastian’s business didn’t seem to fit the existing categories, so she created a new one. She coined the term “AuthenTech” to describe companies that focus on building inclusive, authentic communities first, and then develop products and services to meet that community’s needs in ethical and equitable ways. In a Forbes article in which she pitched the concept, Bastian argued that many people are feeling increasingly “lonely, commoditized and disempowered.” For this reason, she wrote, people “need to come together in uplifting, system-changing ways more than ever before.” According to GeekWire, the term is beginning to take off, and a range of other business leaders have adopted it to describe their own goals. Investors are taking notice, too: Tacoma Venture Fund Director Dennis Joyce said, “As we go deeper and deeper into a more inclusive investing role, we’re going to find more and more companies that don’t adhere to the traditional norms of the industry… That is where the excitement lies and the opportunity lies.”

Bringing diverse voices and perspectives to the table leads to the development of innovative ideas and approaches, such as the new category of AuthenTech. The NCWIT resource What Is the Impact of Gender Diversity on Technology Business Performance? summarizes the recent research on gender-diverse teams in the tech workforce. One study, which surveyed 1,400 team members from 100 teams at 21 companies in 17 countries, found that “gender-balanced teams were the most likely to experiment, be creative, share knowledge, and fulfill tasks.” Another study argued that “innovative change is less likely to emerge from a group with a more homogeneous knowledge base.” Explore more findings on the business case for gender diversity here.

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