Talking Points & the Wisdom of Crowds

During the last week of June, thousands of educators, administrators, and policy-makers poured into San Antonio, Texas for the ISTE’s National Educational Computing Conference (NECC). I made the trek to represent NCWIT and introduce the first resource in our new “Talking Points” Series – a resource for parents and educators who wish to talk to girls about IT careers.  The cards debuted at the breakfast meeting for the Computing Teachers Special Interest Group (SIGCT) and were met with great interest and demand.  The SIGCT board members then distributed stacks of the Talking Points at selected conference sessions.  Additional cards were distributed at locations throughout the conference.
This was my second time at NECC but my first time meeting with the SIGCT group, which was particularly exciting.  While much of NECC is devoted to the important goal of increasing educator and student use of technology, this energetic group of educators also is dedicated to getting students excited about studying and creating new technology. With this in common, SIGCT and NCWIT have the potential for lots of valuable connections and exciting partnerships.
Some additional conference highlights for me included a session by Betsy Frederick, who has been teaching middle and high school technology and computer science courses for more than 30 years.  She gave an interesting overview of the GUTS (Growing Up Thinking Scientifically) program and the SuperComputing Challenge program.  Both programs use computational science to address “real world” problems.  For several years now, the Challenge program has seen approximately 40 percent female participation.
Also of interest was the opening keynote by James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds.  Surowiecki draws on the work of Scott Page and others who illustrate that under the right conditions, diverse groups outperform “highest-ability” groups.  At NCWIT, we have been particularly interested in Page’s research and have created new resources highlighting its importance and practical use.  It was exciting to see this research and the practical, “business case” rationale for increasing diversity also highlighted at NECC.
A special thanks to Leslie Conery, Chris Stephenson, Joe Kmoch, Barb Ericson, and the NCWIT K-12 Parent Resource Committee for helping design and distribute the Talking Points and for making possible more connections between NCWIT, NECC, and the broader K-12 community.
Dr. Catherine Ashcraft is a Senior Research Scientist for NCWIT in Boulder, Colorado.

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