Lessons Learned from NCWIT

Shortly after attending an impressive presentation by NCWIT (National Center for Women in IT and Technology) at a conference in Pittsburgh, the National Convergence Technology Center (CTC) joined the organization and became part of NCWIT’s “Academic Alliance.” If your school isn’t already a member, consider joining today. The “Academic Alliance” is 100% free. In return, you and your colleagues will not only get access to what seems like unending NCWIT resources (including posters and brochures you can use at your campus) to improve diversity and boost female participation in computer science and IT, but you’ll also get plugged into a network of other like-minded schools.

To view a copy of that 2016 Pittsburgh presentation click here.

Our membership in NCWIT’s Academic Alliance included an invitation to attend their annual three-day summit meeting. It was an incredibly productive experience, packed full with meeting keynotes and group workshops and networking opportunities and best practices.

Below are a few highlights:

  • One way to encourage women to consider pursuing CS/IT is to have all incoming first-year students take a computer literacy test to measure aptitude. Women who may have never considered CS/IT might do so if they score well.
  • Faculty should embrace mistakes in the classroom. Students need to know that mistakes happen.
  • Remember the value of instructors knowing their students. That connection is important, especially in making students feel safe to tell their instructors the truth. It’s easy to be biased against students who are tardy or struggle with assignments, but remember there could be extenuating circumstances. Those students may have good reasons, but you won’t know unless you know the students.
  • Consider steering your student IT Club towards service learning to help the community. For example, maybe the IT Club helps a non-profit organization update its website or secure its network. In general, not only do clubs like this foster teamwork, but they also strengthen the bond between the student members and the faculty sponsor.
  • Clear degree pathways are essential. Students need to know what’s coming, where they’re going, and what’s involved. And just as students need to know degree specifics, high school counselors should also be familiar with your degree pathways.
  • Dual enrollment programs bond the high school student to the community college offering the class. This makes the student (and the student’s family) more likely to enroll in that community college.
  • In addition to providing one-day events for female students to expose them to STEM activities and to build soft skills, consider also creating content for the parents. One school delivered parallel training to parents on the same day, focusing not just on STEM but also financial planning for college tuition. In other words, make your event useful to the entire family.
  • It can be frustrating when students “just can’t get” the CS or IT lessons. But keep in mind the number of students who struggle with math concepts despite math being taught for hundreds of years. Contrast that with the relative short time that CS and IT has been taught. The point is to have empathy for students who are having trouble.
  • Don’t allow students to call out the answers. This shuts down the less assertive and introverted students. Insist on giving everyone time to think of the answer and contribute.
  • Encourage collaboration by making small groups of students present a chapter to the class while the instructor sits at the back of the room.
  • Keep your goals realistic. Baby steps are okay. It’s easy to hear an amazing case study success story at a conference and then try to quickly implement the whole thing at your home school, without realizing the success story took many years of smaller strategies and practices.

To see another sample of the useful resources available through NCWIT, take a look at their “Critical Listening Guide” that offers clear strategies to overcome misconceptions related to female participation in CS/IT.

NCWIT’s annual summit meeting next year will be held in our own back yard, just down the interstate in Dallas. We hope to see you there.

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