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Google Suggests Separating Students With 'Some CS Knowledge' From Novices 307

theodp writes To address the challenge of rapidly increasing CS enrollments and increasing diversity, reports the Computing Education Blog, Google in November put out an RFP to universities for its invite-only 3X in 3 Years: CS Capacity Award program, which aims "to support faculty in finding innovative ways to address the capacity problem in their CS courses." In the linked-to RFP document, Google suggests that "students that have some CS background" should not be allowed to attend in-person intro CS courses where they "may be more likely to create a non-welcoming environment," and recommends that they instead be relegated to online courses. According to a recent NSF press release, this recommendation would largely exclude Asian and White boys from classrooms, which seems to be consistent with a Google-CodeCademy award program that offers $1,000 bonuses to teachers who get 10 or more high school kids to take a JavaScript course, but only counts students from "groups traditionally underrepresented in computer science (girls, or boys who identify as African American, Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native)." The project suggested in the Google RFP — which could be worth $1.5 million over 3 years to a large CS department — seems to embrace-and-extend a practice implemented at Harvey Mudd College years ago under President Maria Klawe, which divided the intro CS offering into separate sections based upon prior programming experience to — as the NY Times put it — reduce the intimidation factor of young men, already seasoned programmers, who dominated the class. Google Director of Education and University Relations Maggie Johnson, whose name appears on the CS Capacity RFP, is also on the Board of Code.org (where Klawe is coincidentally an Advisory Board member), the K-12 learn-to-code nonprofit that has received $3+ million from Google and many millions more from other tech giants and their execs. Earlier this week, Code.org received the blessing of the White House and NSF to train 25,000 teachers to teach CS, stirring unease among some educators concerned about the growing influence of corporations in public schools.
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Google Suggests Separating Students With 'Some CS Knowledge' From Novices

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 14, 2014 @10:55AM (#48593451)

    I'm all for keeping experienced CS students out of intro classes! I was forced to take one of those idiotic intro courses in college, even though I already knew the material! Attendance was mandatory, and no test out option allowed. Complete waste of my time, and it certainly ruined the curve for the true intro level students. I suspect other readers had similar experiences.

    • Same thing happened to me. (Long story as a cross-over from Physics.) As a CSci senior, they made me take the Intro class - even though I knew the material inside-out and was a tutor for the class. I volunteered to take every test in one sitting and write every programming assignment the same day. Instead, I got to sit through boring lectures and steal an A from some deserving student.

      • Instead, I got to sit through boring lectures and steal an A from some deserving student.

        I didn't know that American classrooms were a zero-sum game... Is that common?

        • The grandparent was more alluding to the fact that by him taking the class possibly meant someone else couldn't. In many cases, classes are bound by how many students can take them. Especially in lower division/intro courses that people from many majors have to take (Calculus, Basic Science, etc.). So he "stole" an A or even a grade period if he was forced to take the class instead of letting him skip out of it and let another person take the class instead of him.
          • I don't know but that still doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Surely these intro courses have many more classes/groups in order to accommodate all the people who need them? You can't admit a thousand freshmen and then open classes for a required course for only eight hundred of them.
          • On the other hand because he didn't use any of the additional resources such as going in during office hours of the extra tutorials etc he freed up some time that had been allocated for him to be used for others.
        • I didn't know that American classrooms were a zero-sum game... Is that common?

          Many teachers grade on a curve, where the highest grade in the class becomes an "A", and everyone else is graded relative to that "A".

          • As far as I'm concerned, this is completely unheard-of in my country. Standards are generally pre-set, and if half of the class fails where the previous year's students had few problems, well, that's their problem, nobody's going to lower the standards for this year's class.
          • (GP here) This is what I was referring to. Several of my undergrad classes were graded on a curve, where only the top percentage of students receive "A"s. If it happens to be an easy class or there are a lot of top performers, then nit-picky things become enough to push your grade down to a B.

            That said, I don't know if Intro to CS was one of those classes. It was only an assumption. So, criticism of my earlier statement might be called for.

        • by Richy_T ( 111409 )

          I've often read about the classes being marked on a curve. That always seemed a little weird to me.

    • And it just makes for a miserable experience for everyone.

      When I took Chinese,* 80% of the class spoke some dialect of Chinese at home, and were there to a) learn Mandarin b) learn to read and write c) get an easy language credit. Okay, I'm enough of a masochist that I kind of enjoyed the challenge of trying to keep up in this environment as someone who came in speaking no Chinese at all, but it could be pretty depressing, and for someone with a less twisted disposition than I it would probably have been pr

    • by richieb ( 3277 )
      If you take AP classes in High School and get decent grade on the AP test, you can skip past the intro courses. I started with second year calculus after doing AP Math in High school.
  • by CaptainDork ( 3678879 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @11:03AM (#48593489)

    ... the way to address the diversity issue is to dumb everybody down? Sure, that sounds like it would provide a level playing field, but the goddam field would be below sea level.

    Back to the drawing board.

    • ... the way to address the diversity issue is to dumb everybody down?

      I don't think that is what they are saying. I have kids in elementary school, and I volunteer to help out in class and in an after-school programming and robotics program. There are HUGE differences in ability between kids, and dumping them all into one class doesn't make much sense. A typical Chinese-American boy is going to be lightyears ahead of a typical Latino girl. If you direct instruction toward the smart kids, the dumb kids will be lost. If you focus on the dumb kids, the smart kids will be bo

    • the way to address the diversity issue is to dumb everybody down? Sure, that sounds like it would provide a level playing field, but the goddam field would be below sea level.

      The geek's natural instinct to assert his god-given superiority at the worst possible moment can ruin the experience for everyone.

      This isn't about "dumbing down," it's about getting the know-it-alls, the intellectual bullies, the inflated egos, out of the room, so others can prosper.

  • Admit it. (Score:5, Funny)

    by pushing-robot ( 1037830 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @11:05AM (#48593501)

    You read it as "Harry Mudd College"

  • reduce the intimidation factor of young men, already seasoned programmers, who dominated the class.

    Why not assign each of these to pair up with someone who isn't as far along, instead of saying "you can't go here"?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 14, 2014 @11:15AM (#48593551)

      You'd also then have to teach them to teach.

      • Isn't there a distinct chance that highly accomplished graduates would have to do this in their jobs anyway, at least unofficially, as part of their normal workplace interaction? It seems like a useful skill in cooperative workplaces.
        • It would be. So would learning how to change the paper in a printer. So would be training for reading documentation thoroughly. And giving presentations. And enough accounting and finance to get by talking with a CFO. There are many things that could be useful to many students. But this is CS. And there's already a lot of material to cover. Teaching is no more important than any of those other things.

      • You'd also then have to teach them to teach.

        No. Kids "teach" each other all the time just by playing. All they'd need is supervision, which the teacher is supposed to be providing anyway.

      • You would think that the professors should have been taught that skill too but from my time at university it was a skill sorely lacking. They were there for the research that they had done and not for their ability to pass information on to students.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Because they think they're hotshots and have the kinds of attitudes you see in the posts for this story.

      "Here, give me the keyboard, why don't you write up the results or something."

      • Honestly, if you are a "hotshot" and you are sitting next to someone who can barely type a word per minute, and have to wait 5-10 min. for just a few lines of code to be written, that is pretty frustrating and not of benefit to anyone. Sometimes when a colleague asks for my help and is slow in typing etc. I just politely ask if I can type and they always agree, and I can do it 5-10x faster than they can, saving time for both of us. Then they have more time to study the solution at their own pace. That has n
        • by reg106 ( 256893 )
          Unfortunately, studying the solution is not the same as developing a solution. Students with less experience need time to figure out the solution themselves. Being given the solution hurts the weaker student more than it helps. I speak from experience, specifically as a professor who has taught an intro programming course (as well as senior design and graduate level courses, where the same concepts apply). In the intro programming course, students were paired with partners of similar strength, NOT stro
      • Because they think they're hotshots and have the kinds of attitudes you see in the posts for this story.

        "Here, give me the keyboard, why don't you write up the results or something."

        You seem to have forgotten that teachers will be supervising the activities.

    • by Nemyst ( 1383049 )
      Because then the kids who actually perform well feel like they're being punished by being straddled with someone who's not performing well (which may include people who'll never get it, people who don't give a shit to learn, and much more besides). Not all kids ardently desire to get matched with poor students to help them, and that's even more prevalent at a younger age where the students may not yet be articulate enough to teach properly. You frustrate the student who's good because they can't formulate g
      • Part of learning is learning how to communicate knowledge to others as well, not just passively receiving knowledge. I'm not saying the other student should be the exclusive instructor - just that pairing them up, under the guidance of the teacher, is not only a good lesson in learning teamwork and communications skills, but also breaks down the gender divide - kill two birds with one stone.
    • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
      I went to college to learn, not to teach other people or get a piece of paper that said I knew something. If I'm not learning, I want my money back.
    • Most of the studies on pair programming that I've read have suggested that this is a bad idea. The person who knows what they're doing might not have the patience for someone who doesn't and the person who doesn't know what they're doing might just go along for the ride. A lot of the early studies (Laurie Williams [ncsu.edu] and Charlie McDowell [ucsc.edu]) found that it's better to pair people of similar ability levels, the idea being that two individuals who are less skillful will be able to struggle and grow together rather t
  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @11:18AM (#48593573)

    How about you just let these "seasoned programmers" test out of the introduction classes and jump directly into the non-intro classes? Can't have that, though, as that would promote inequality further by giving them a chance to take sophomore level classes as freshman. Oh the humanity...

    • by OzPeter ( 195038 )

      How about you just let these "seasoned programmers" test out of the introduction classes and jump directly into the non-intro classes?

      That would certainly work if the sole goal of attending introductory classes was the material at hand.

      I'd wager that a significant part of the into level courses is indoctrinating the students to the educational/class framework that they have to work in (this is how you behave in class, this is how you treat fellow students, this is how you layout your coursework etc). Thus by letting them skip class levels, you are potentially pushing non-indoctrinated students into the midst of the indoctrinated ones and

      • Also, even a beginner class should introduce good practices. Just because someone taught themselves to hack out javascript doesn't mean they have a clue how to code properly. Pushing them into an advanced class won't do them any favors.

    • by CODiNE ( 27417 )

      Colleges hate letting people skip intro classes. And usually allow only one class to be skipped. When skilled students take intro classes it makes a lot of money for the school. Also you don't want native foreign language speakers testing their way to a degree in their own language.

    • How about you just let these "seasoned programmers" test out of the introduction classes and jump directly into the non-intro classes? Can't have that, though, as that would promote inequality further by giving them a chance to take sophomore level classes as freshman. Oh the humanity...

      Indeed, I was thinking the same. If a student already has some CS background, he/she should be allowed to skip intro courses. We already do that with college assessment and AP programs for subjects such as Math, Chem, Physics and English Writing. So why not with CS? Put CS students through a comprehensive series of tests, and depending on the results, they should be allowed to skip intro-level courses (either granting full credit, or letting them take more advance courses for those credits).

      • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
        Based on the design of many high profile opensource programs, or big projects in general, I assume most seasoned programmers with 10+ years of programming could not test out an intro Computer Science class. CS has little to do with programming and everything to do with theory.
    • by crt ( 44106 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @12:33PM (#48594005)

      Stanford had a good approach to this, at least when I went there (probably still do).

      The intro-CS courses were offered in two parts (CS106A/B) or a single accelerated course (CS106X), with the requirement that students taking the accelerated course have previous programming experience.

      All students end up covering the same material (which is important, since high school instruction varies greatly in quality), but you don't have half the class getting bored and the other half lost at the same time.

    • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
      At some Unis, there are no "intro" classes for non-generals subjects, like CS. They assume you already have a background and jump strait into hard stuff.
  • by mnooning ( 759721 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @11:27AM (#48593631) Journal

    This was played out already, albeit in a different scenario.

    Over 25 years ago I was admitted into the SUNY Binghamton (NY) CS masters degree program. I had no CS training at all and did not qualify. However, their affirmative action program included something like extra entry points for veterans so I got in. I was required to take tough summer long CS course, along with many African American and female students. It brought us up to speed enough to compete next semester with those who were already knowledgeable . Otherwise we would not have made it.

    Affirmative Action students spent their own money and their own time. The reward for America was a raising of the skills level for a lot more people, white (me) as well as black. I don't know if AA like this is still legal, but what Google is suggesting - the effective sequestering of unprepared individuals until they are ready - is a good idea.

    PS: I finished 11th of an original 100 on the MS overall final

    • the effective sequestering of unprepared individuals until they are ready - is a good idea.

      Certainly: if you are trying to teach a class it is a pain in the neck if half of the sudents doen't actually know the prerequisite material. The obvious solution is to teach them the prerequisiste material.

      • And the other half of this is that students who not only have the pre-requisites but have already learned the course material should be able to test out. Perhaps required to test out, because cocky young know-it-alls can be distracting, and perhaps intimidating, to the rest of the class.

  • by paradigm82 ( 959074 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @11:27AM (#48593637)
    Having a CS degree and having 10+ years of professional experience in industry, it is clear that a significant amount of those taking CS (or related IT/programming-oriented programs) don't really have the qualifications for a CS-career, and even after years of employment are still struggling with rather basic programming tasks and are having problems handling just a few levels of abstraction, which is routinely required in any serious programming. Some of the skills required seem to be an "either you have it, or you don't thing" at least after a few years into a career. The saving grace for them is the good job market (for employees) and the ability to go into more management or PM-oriented roles, or at least very soft CS-roles. That, and the fact that many employers are not able (or make no effort) to truly compare the productivity between different employees, so that the weaker ones are somewhat shielded by the performance of the stronger ones.
    With this in mind, it's concerning with this big ramp-up in number of CS-trained individuals. I feel we have been at the bottom of the barrel for some years already. Given that it has been well-known to everyone for many years that IT is one of the easiest areas to find employment in and that the salary is comparatively good, and the constant media focus on smartphones, apps and whatnot, it seems reasonable to assume that most people with just a faint interest and ability in IT would have pursued that path already. With this ramp-up, it seems there's a high risk that the market will be flooded by sub-par candidates and that it will be much more than what the market is already absorbing. The result will be massive unemployment among those newly trained CS-people, who were never meant to study CS to begin with.
  • I think I could buy into the intimidation theory. It seems feasable. The other side of the problem is what pisses me off: why are charging me three credit hours' + book amount of money for something I have already mastered!? ...
  • MeritNOTcracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cryptoluddite ( 658517 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @11:52AM (#48593755)

    Whether you negatively discriminate against some group or positively discriminate for every other group, it doesn't matter what your motives are it's always an injustice.

    Liberals: it's racist to help poor blacks from the city while excluding poor whites from Appalachia -- by definition. There's no such thing as "good racism". It's sexist to help girls get into coding while excluding boys. There's no such thing as "good sexism".

    The fair way to help some people over others is when you do it based on need and merit. Help poor kids of all types to get into coding. Help kids who's schools don't offer a programming class. Don't test somebody's genes or say their skin has to be darker than 0xE0A070 to qualify -- that's sexist and racist.

    • by Trepidity ( 597 )

      Isn't this based on merit? As far as I can tell they're proposing that kids who already know some programming be put into a different CS101 track than those who can't. White and black kids who know programming would go into one track, and white and black kids who don't know any programming would go into the other one. You might expect there to be a different mix of kids in each of these groups (because more white kids have been introduced to programming before college), but the decision is not based on race

      • Re:MeritNOTcracy (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cryptoluddite ( 658517 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @01:54PM (#48594567)

        The very fist sentence states the goal to "attract and retain women and underrepresented minorities" and criteria include "enrollment growth and retention of women and diverse students" and funding based on increasing "underrepresented groups in computer science: women, underrepresented ethnic minorities".

        The entire purpose of this program is to selectively favor women and some minorities. A poor white or asian boy is actively discriminated against by this program. It's unabashed liberal racism and sexism.

        If you were born white or asian into a bad situation, should you be further punished by Google specifically excluding you based on your accident of birth, something that you cannot change? Because that's what this program is, and it's disgusting.

        • by Trepidity ( 597 )

          How are poor white or asian boys discriminated against? They are the least likely to have had any programming experience before college, so would be treated the same as underrepresented minorities who have no programming experience before college.

          A goal of the program is indeed to retain women and underrepresented minorities, but the mechanism used to do so is solely by separating the intro classes between "have no programming experience" and "have programming experience". They believe that doing so will ma

          • A goal of the program is indeed to retain women and underrepresented minorities, but the mechanism used to do so is solely by separating the intro classes between "have no programming experience" and "have programming experience".

            This is one suggestion, a "possible project idea", but the rules Google lays out are clear: increase the proportion of women and minorities or lose funding.

            Google set up this program as a competition among colleges to see who can come up with the most effective and least blatant ways to discriminate for women and some minorities, and against men and whites/asians. This is in the rules, in the selection process, and in the evaluation for continued funding. If a college comes up with a program that accident

    • You do realize that Appalachia gets a ton of Federal aid [wikipedia.org]. The official region covers a broad swath ranging from New York to the deep south.

  • This reminds me of a common practice in foreign language classes -- if a student shows up to a language class (e.g. Spanish) and is obviously too advanced for the level, then the student will not be allowed to return to that class. This is partially done for reasons of fairness (getting an A that's too easy), but mostly because it's actively detrimental for the basic students to have an advanced student in the classroom. They speak too quickly for the other students to understand, and their presence can be

  • University of Illinois CS Courses [illinois.edu]: CS101 (Engineering & Science), CS102 (Non-Tech), CS125 (CS Majors). What seems to be missing is providing slower on-ramps for those who did not have good early training [wordpress.com] that may be interested in majoring in CS, perhaps one or two courses for no credit, not unlike what CS undergraduate degree holders seeking an MBA would be required to take [una.edu] to catch up on Business/Finance subjects before they can start coursework that counts towards the MBA degree.

  • Streaming (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The university where I studied and, briefly, taught, began splitting Intro to Programming three ways, all three groups were self-selecting and migration to the other groups was unlimited and without penalty. Intro is a first year course and thus has no effect on your overall degree rank, it matters only that you can pass it.

    - A high flyer group. Virtually all students who'd written a non-trivial program before applying tended to start in this stream. This group covers the assigned work very quickly, and the

  • I had some programming background when I took CS101. I found that being good at writing spaghetti code (or even simple OO code) that works is not something that puts you ahead of other students in a computer science course, and that you actually have to learn the course material in order to pass. Who would have guessed!

    If people like me don't have to take CS101 then we're slowly but surely going to end up with a community of programmers/engineers who don't have a firm enough grasp of basic concepts in compu

  • by awilden ( 110846 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @01:11PM (#48594265)

    As a CS professor, I can't tell you how many times we've lost students with great potential in CS because they had no prior experience but were comparing themselves to inferior students with a year or two of programming experience in high school. If you get the students who have prior experience into a "fast track" class (e.g. that compresses the first year into a single term) then both the "experienced" and "naive" students can actually learn at their own pace. Fortunately, I teach at a small college, and so most times we can identify those students and get them into a better class. And I'm actually in favor of having students with a lot of experience start by skipping a class or two. The sooner students are surrounded by their "peers" in ability/experience, the faster and more reliably they're going to engage.

    But to be clear: the issue isn't that people should be actively sorting the students so that only female and non-white students are in the CS1 class. That's a horrible idea, racist, sexist, and all the other "ists" you can come up with. It is likely that the "normal" track will have more non-white and female students in it because that's what the high school demographics say: non-white/non-Asian/female students are less likely to have prior experience. But it's also true that there will be more students from rural schools in the "normal" track, because rural schools are less likely to have computer programming courses.

  • I knew nothing in my intro to programming class, but there were some guys in the class who were already programmers, and I liked having them there. They were helpful and I could see where the class might take me. My brother-in-law on the other hand had the opposite experience. He felt like he was constantly getting left behind because everyone else in the class could go further, faster.

    Sounds like it's time to allow for students to test out of CS classes.

  • You can look at it in two ways, either against those with prior experience or a rapid learning rate or against those with little experience or a slower learning rate. Why are we speaking about putting people into ghettos[1]?

    In any event there are two important questions that come to mind:
    1) What happens when the AP twits have to work in a heterogeneous environment? Will they have the "soft skills" they need to function in such a work place?

    2) There is the question of whether online courses are even effectiv

    • [1] I actually have the same question about student athletes and folks in a specific discipline on a near by campus where they live in the same dorm; really condos; have their own library or study area, their own dining areas (no longer cafeterias, now called food courts), rec centers etc. I do not think that is condusive to getting a good education.

  • Grading is mostly bogus. You have a maximum of 30 numbers on a sheet of paper at the age of 19 that's supposed to determine wether you are suitable for this or that specialist job. Utter bullshit in specialist cases such as CS.

    Think of specialist cases as the same with musicians. If you haven't plaved the piano since the age of 12 at least - good luck finding a conservatory that will take you. Same with ballett: You have to be good and dancing and have the right body measures and start in your single digit

  • Little boys have just as much right to an education as little girls

"In my opinion, Richard Stallman wouldn't recognise terrorism if it came up and bit him on his Internet." -- Ross M. Greenberg