Study: States are slowly embracing eTexts

Nearly all states with textbook adoption policies now include software, digital content, and other technology-based media in their definitions of “instructional materials,” according to a recent survey by the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA). But only a third have updated their submission or review processes to account for unique technology issues not otherwise faced with printed textbooks.

The survey’s results come almost a year after the SIIA launched a campaign to get states to update their archaic textbook adoption policies to accommodate digital resources (See “SIIA: Revise archaic textbook adoptions.”)

Mark Schneiderman, SIIA’s director of education policy, said that states are working to modernize their policies for adopting electronic instructional materials. But for Schneiderman, the survey confirmed what SIIA members already knew: that a great deal of education needs to take place at the state level when it comes to the adoption of eTexts.

“There’s a significant learning curve for states to even understand the issues involved in eText adoption,” Schneiderman said.

According to the SIIA, which is the principal trade association for the software and digital content industry, 21 states require approval for textbooks, usually on a six-year cycle: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Officials from 18 of these 21 states completed the group’s survey. Of these 18 respondents, only one–Oregon–said it doesn’t define “textbooks” to include electronic learning resources.

But the survey found that state contracts and budgeting often remain barriers to final approval of a subscription-based model for core curricular materials, as is typical with most online resources. It also found that only one-third of states that have a depository requirement provide exceptions for web-based materials, and at least eight states reported challenges with the distribution of electronic resources for reviewing.

Mark Tullis, vice president of business development for Learning.com and co-chair of SIIA’s education and workforce development policy committee, said his company has tried to navigate an arcane state adoption system that was established to work with printed textbooks since 2001.

“We noticed right away that certain things didn’t apply to us,” said Tullis. “It looked like the forms had not been updated since the 1980s. It asked questions about tapes and videodisks.”

Another problem with the adoption of state-approved materials is that reviewers often have limited experience in evaluating electronic learning resources and employing technology in the classroom.

The survey found that the majority of states don’t have any process to ensure that reviewers are tech-savvy enough to evaluate electronic materials. Only two states–California and Tennessee–ask reviewers about their computer skills, and three others–North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas–say they provide training to reviewers as needed.

“Sometimes, in submitting software [for review], you also need to provide a computer,” Schneiderman said. “That’s an indication that the reviewer doesn’t have the skills to carry out the evaluation, if the reviewer doesn’t even have access to a computer.”

Tullis of Learning.com had a blunter example.

“Once, we went through a full review process, knowing that eight out of 10 reviewers had not looked at our materials because they had not logged onto the web site,” he said.

The SIIA survey found that about half of the 18 responding states made room for digital correlations to state standards. Publishers typically are required to submit a printed correlation worksheet demonstrating which book chapter or page correlates to which state standard. But that structure often is not applicable to digital materials, which are non-linear, adaptive, and interactive.

The study also notes that many states do not rely on publishers’ correlations to state standards and, in that case, the question “becomes again whether reviewers are trained to determine alignment for electronic content.”

One of the flashpoints in the survey was whether states have provided flexibility in their policies for publishers to update or change the information in their online resources over time.

The study found that only six of the 18 responding states allow for marginal content changes and require publishers to track and present the changes to the state, though seven others surveyed are considering this possibility. In addition, just nine of the 18 respondents allow eTexts to link to other web-based resources, provided publishers ensure that all such supplemental materials are appropriate.

“The problem for the state is that they don’t want objectionable content sneaking in that doesn’t meet state standards,” Tullis said. “But how do you balance that with the value of having current information for students?”

Schneiderman added, “Everyone uses the example today of students who have textbooks that were purchased in early 2001. These don’t reflect the events of September 11. There are lots of books on our shelves, in libraries, in our homes that don’t reflect those events–but there are opportunities using electronic media to keep those materials more current in our schools.”

Another difficult issue that organizations such as SIIA and the National Association of State Textbook Administrators (NASTA) are addressing is payment schedules. Online content is often sold through a subscription or license that lasts for one year. This payment and distribution model, its proponents say, must be accommodated along with the engrained, up-front payment model of textbook purchases, which run on a six-year cycle.

The study found that 12 states have some provision to allow for a subscription or license-based model. All but one of the others were considering this possibility.

Four of the states surveyed–Louisiana, Texas, Utah, and Virginia–also allow for a staged pricing model, in which the price per student for the subscription increases over time. The idea is that such a model encourages the improvement of electronic learning resources over the six-year cycle.

“A lot of the states do technically allow for subscription or an annual payment model,” said Schneiderman. “They allow it, but in reality, they’re not set up to support it. They just allocate the funding once every six years. If districts want to spend that allotment every year, that’s fine. But that’s really challenging.”

He added, “Some states have not changed their contract language to allow the publisher to use a subscription model. There are some liabilities there on all fronts if issues were to arise, because the contracts don’t reflect a subscription model. But they’re so different, sometimes it’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.”

Yet another source of frustration for publishers of web-based curricular materials is negotiating state requirements that textbook vendors store their wares in a depository within the state. The idea is to grant state officials greater ease of access to curricular materials when they are needed. Clearly, such a policy does not apply to online materials, which are managed and stored electronically.

The study found that at least eight states permit alternative depositories for web-based curricular materials, three do not, and the others are considering the option. States that offer the option of an alternative depository may permit vendors to act as their own depository.

But those who deal in electronic materials want more progress.

“Some states require that even online facilities are somehow housed in a warehouse facility. They say that this is required of all materials, including online materials. You put materials on a server located within state boundaries, and that server acts as a depository,” said Tullis.

“That [practice] shows that the state doesn’t understand how this works–that the internet is the method of delivery,” he continued. “It’s an extra expense [that is] contrived and unnecessary.”

SIIA is encouraging state textbook administrators to review its survey questions and results as “an analytical tool for further internal reform.” The group says it will work with NASTA and individual states to promote further reform.

“There are a lot of states that are considering … these issues and making changes,” Schneiderman said. “Our bottom-line goal is that, if school districtd … want to adopt electronic materials, states have put in place a means for making them available.”

SIIA’s education division represents more than 150 companies that provide educational software, online courseware, computer-based assessments, and other technology tools for schools. Many also provide print-based curricular materials and assessments. The group’s education board includes representatives from Apple, Learning.com, McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, Scholastic, and Red Hat.

Links:

Software & Information Industry Association

Learning.com

National Association of State Textbook Administrators

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Four-day school week proposed to offset high fuel costs

The Indianapolis Star reports that school officials across the state are toying with the idea of moving to a four-day school week in order to cope with rising fuel costs. Prices, which already eclipse $3 a gallon in some parts of the state, could jump even higher in the winter months, officials say. By moving to a four-day week and adding an hour and 20 minutes to the school day officials estimate they could save $1,500 or more in gas prices alone, the paper said.

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One side can be wrong

It sounds so reasonable, doesn’t it? Such a modest proposal. Why not teach “both sides” and let the children decide for themselves? As President Bush said, “You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes.” At first hearing, everything about the phrase “both sides” warms the hearts of educators like ourselves.

One of us spent years as an Oxford tutor, and it was his habit to choose controversial topics for the students’ weekly essays. They were required to go to the library, read about both sides of an argument, give a fair account of both, and then come to a balanced judgment in their essay. The call for balance, by the way, was always tempered by the maxim, “When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly half way between. It is possible for one side simply to be wrong.”

As teachers, both of us have found that asking our students to analyze controversies is of enormous value to their education. What is wrong, then, with teaching both sides of the alleged controversy between evolution and creationism or “intelligent design” (ID)? And, by the way, don’t be fooled by the disingenuous euphemism. There is nothing new about ID. It is simply creationism camouflaged with a new name to slip (with some success, thanks to loads of tax-free money and slick public-relations professionals) under the radar of the U.S. Constitution’s mandate for separation between church and state.

Why, then, would two lifelong educators and passionate advocates of the “both sides” style of teaching join with essentially all biologists in making an exception of the alleged controversy between creation and evolution? What is wrong with the apparently sweet reasonableness of “it is only fair to teach both sides”?

The answer is simple.

This is not a scientific controversy at all. And it is a time-wasting distraction because evolutionary science, perhaps more than any other major science, is bountifully endowed with genuine controversy.

Among the controversies that students of evolution commonly face, these are genuinely challenging and of great educational value: neutralism versus selectionism in molecular evolution; adaptationism; group selection; punctuated equilibrium; cladism; “evo-devo”; the “Cambrian Explosion”; mass extinctions; interspecies competition; sympatric speciation; sexual selection; the evolution of sex itself; evolutionary psychology; Darwinian medicine; and so on. The point is that all these controversies, and many more, provide fodder for fascinating and lively argument, not just in essays but for student discussions late at night.

Intelligent design is not an argument of the same character as these controversies. It is not a scientific argument at all, but a religious one. It might be worth discussing in a class on the history of ideas, in a philosophy class on popular logical fallacies, or in a comparative religion class on origin myths from around the world. But it no more belongs in a biology class than alchemy belongs in a chemistry class, phlogiston in a physics class, or the stork theory in a sex education class. In those cases, the demand for equal time for “both theories” would be ludicrous.

Similarly, in a class on 20th-century European history, who would demand equal time for the theory that the Holocaust never happened? So, why are we so sure that intelligent design is not a real scientific theory, worthy of “both sides” treatment? Isn’t that just our personal opinion? It is an opinion shared by the vast majority of professional biologists, but of course science does not proceed by majority vote among scientists. Why isn’t creationism (or its incarnation as intelligent design) just another scientific controversy, as worthy of scientific debate as the dozen essay topics we listed above?

Here’s why.

If ID really were a scientific theory, positive evidence for it, gathered through research, would fill peer-reviewed scientific journals. This doesn’t happen. It isn’t that editors refuse to publish ID research. There simply isn’t any ID research to publish. Its advocates bypass normal scientific due process by appealing directly to the non-scientific public and–with great shrewdness–to the government officials they elect.

The argument the ID advocates put, such as it is, is always of the same character. Never do they offer positive evidence in favor of intelligent design. All we ever get is a list of alleged deficiencies in evolution. We are told of “gaps” in the fossil record. Or organs are stated, by fiat and without supporting evidence, to be “irreducibly complex”: too complex to have evolved by natural selection.

In all cases there is a hidden (actually they scarcely even bother to hide it) “default” assumption that if Theory A has some difficulty in explaining Phenomenon X, we must automatically prefer Theory B without even asking whether Theory B (creationism in this case) is any better at explaining it. Note how unbalanced this is, and how it gives the lie to the apparent reasonableness of “let’s teach both sides.” One side is required to produce evidence, every step of the way. The other side is never required to produce one iota of evidence, but is deemed to have won automatically, the moment the first side encounters a difficulty–the sort of difficulty that all sciences encounter every day, and go to work to solve, with relish.

What, after all, is a gap in the fossil record? It is simply the absence of a fossil that otherwise would have documented a particular evolutionary transition. The gap means that we lack a complete cinematic record of every step in the evolutionary process. But how incredibly presumptuous to demand a complete record, given that only a minuscule proportion of deaths result in a fossil anyway. The equivalent evidential demand of creationism would be a complete cinematic record of God’s behavior on the day that he went to work on, say, the mammalian ear bones or the bacterial flagellum–the small, hair-like organ that propels mobile bacteria. Not even the most ardent advocate of intelligent design claims that any such divine videotape will ever become available.

Biologists, on the other hand, can confidently claim the equivalent “cinematic” sequence of fossils for a very large number of evolutionary transitions. Not all, but very many, including our own descent from the bipedal ape Australopithecus. And–far more telling–not a single authentic fossil has ever been found in the “wrong” place in the evolutionary sequence. Such an anachronistic fossil, if one were ever unearthed, would blow evolution out of the water.

As the great biologist J B S Haldane growled, when asked what might disprove evolution: “Fossil rabbits in the pre-Cambrian.” Evolution, like all good theories, makes itself vulnerable to disproof. Needless to say, it has always come through with flying colors.

Similarly, the claim that something–say, the bacterial flagellum–is too complex to have evolved by natural selection is alleged, by a lamentably common but false syllogism, to support the “rival” intelligent design theory by default. This kind of default reasoning leaves completely open the possibility that, if the bacterial flagellum is too complex to have evolved, it might also be too complex to have been created. And indeed, a moment’s thought shows that any God capable of creating a bacterial flagellum (to say nothing of a universe) would have to be a far more complex, and therefore statistically improbable, entity than the bacterial flagellum (or universe) itself–even more in need of an explanation than the object he is alleged to have created.

If complex organisms demand an explanation, so does a complex designer. And it’s no solution to raise the theologian’s plea that God (or the Intelligent Designer) is simply immune to the normal demands of scientific explanation. To do so would be to shoot yourself in the foot. You cannot have it both ways. Either ID belongs in the science classroom, in which case it must submit to the discipline required of a scientific hypothesis. Or it does not, in which case get it out of the science classroom and send it back into the church, where it belongs.

In fact, the bacterial flagellum is certainly not too complex to have evolved, nor is any other living structure that has ever been carefully studied. Biologists have located plausible series of intermediates, using ingredients to be found elsewhere in living systems. But even if some particular case were found for which biologists could offer no ready explanation, the important point is that the “default” logic of the creationists remains thoroughly rotten.

There is no evidence in favor of intelligent design: only alleged gaps in the completeness of the evolutionary account, coupled with the “default” fallacy we have identified. And, while it is inevitably true that there are incompletenesses in evolutionary science, the positive evidence for the fact of evolution is truly massive, made up of hundreds of thousands of mutually corroborating observations. These come from areas such as geology, paleontology, comparative anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, ethology, biogeography, embryology, and–increasingly nowadays–molecular genetics.

The weight of the evidence has become so heavy that opposition to the fact of evolution is laughable to all who are acquainted with even a fraction of the published data. Evolution is a fact: as much a fact as plate tectonics or the heliocentric solar system.

Why, finally, does it matter whether these issues are discussed in science classes? There is a case for saying that it doesn’t–that biologists shouldn’t get so hot under the collar. Perhaps we should just accept the popular demand that we teach ID as well as evolution in science classes. It would, after all, take only about 10 minutes to exhaust the case for ID, then we could get back to teaching real science and genuine controversy.

Tempting as this is, a serious worry remains. The seductive “let’s teach the controversy” language still conveys the false, and highly pernicious, idea that there really are two sides. This would distract students from the genuinely important and interesting controversies that enliven evolutionary discourse. Worse, it would hand creationism the only victory it realistically aspires to. Without needing to make a single good point in any argument, it would have won the right for a form of supernaturalism to be recognized as an authentic part of science. And that would be the end of science education in America.
______________________________

Richard Dawkins is Charles Simonyi professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford University, and Jerry Coyne is a professor in the department of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago. This article first appeared in the Chicago Tribune and the Guardian of London and is reprinted here with permission from the authors.

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S.C. schools use tech to customize building security

A report in The Anderson Independent-Mail looks at how educators in select South Carolina schools are using technology to keep students–and teachers–safer. Though closed-circuit security cameras and other innovations can provide some much-needed comfort for school officials and parents, experts say, administrators must toe a very thin line between protection and personal privacy.

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‘Intelligent design’ court battle begins

Eighty years after the Scopes Monkey Trial, the latest legal chapter in the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools opened in a federal court in Harrisburg, Pa., yesterday in a case that could decide if schools should be allowed to introduce ‘intelligent design’ (ID) as an alternative theory to evolution.

The case comes as the nation’s high-tech sector is urging U.S. schools to improve science education or risk forfeiting America’s position as a global leader in science and technology. Critics of ID–including Eric Rothschild, the attorney representing eight families who are challenging a Dover Area School District policy on the grounds that it violates the constitutional separation of church and state–believe ID is a religious theory with no real scientific underpinnings.

The Dover Area School District “did everything you would do if you wanted to incorporate a religious point of view in science class and cared nothing about its scientific validity,” Rothschild told U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III on Sept. 26. Jones was appointed by President Bush in 2002.

In an opening argument, the school district’s attorney defended Dover’s policy of requiring ninth-grade students to hear a brief statement about ID before biology classes on evolution.

“This case is about free inquiry in education, not about a religious agenda,” argued Patrick Gillen of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. “Dover’s modest curriculum change embodies the essence of liberal education.” The center, which lobbies for what it sees as the religious freedom of Christians, is defending the school district.

About 75 spectators crowded the courtroom for the start of the non-jury trial. But the scene outside the courthouse was business as usual except for a lone woman reading the Bible.

Arguing that intelligent design is a religious theory, not science, Rothschild said he would show that the language in the school district’s own policy made clear its religious intent.

Dover is believed to be the first school system in the nation to require that students be exposed to the ID concept, under a policy adopted by a 6-3 vote last October.

It requires teachers to read a statement that says ID differs from Darwin’s view and refers students to an ID textbook, “Of Pandas and People,” for more information.

ID, a concept some scholars have advanced over the past 15 years, holds that Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection cannot fully explain the origin of life or the emergence of highly complex life forms. It implies that life on Earth was the product of an unidentified intelligent force.

Critics say ID is merely creationism–a literal reading of the Bible’s story of creation–camouflaged in scientific language, and it does not belong in a science curriculum.

Brown University professor Kenneth Miller, the first witness called by the plaintiffs, said pieces of the theory of evolution are subject to debate, such as where gender comes from, but told the court: “There is no controversy within science over the core proposition of evolutionary theory.”

On the other hand, he said, “Intelligent design is not a testable theory in any sense, and–as such–it is not accepted by the scientific community.”

Miller also challenged the accuracy of “Of Pandas and People” and said it almost entirely omits any discussion of what causes extinction. If nearly all original species are extinct, he said, the intelligent design creator was not very intelligent.

The history of evolution litigation dates back to the famous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, in which Tennessee biology teacher John T. Scopes was fined $100 for violating a state law that forbade teaching evolution. The Tennessee Supreme Court reversed his conviction on the narrow ground that only a jury trial could impose a fine exceeding $50, and the law was repealed in 1967.

In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned an Arkansas state law banning the teaching of evolution. And in 1987, it ruled that states may not require public schools to balance evolution lessons by teaching creationism.

The clash over ID is evident far beyond this rural district of about 3,500 students 20 miles south of Harrisburg. President Bush has weighed in, saying schools should present both concepts when teaching about the origins of life.

In August, the Kansas Board of Education gave preliminary approval to science standards that allow ID-style alternatives to be discussed alongside evolution.

Richard Thompson, the Thomas More center’s president and chief counsel, said Dover’s policy takes a modest approach.

“All the Dover school board did was allow students to get a glimpse of a controversy that is really boiling over in the scientific community,” Thompson said.

Links:

Dover Area School District
http://www.dover.k12.pa.us

National Center for Science Education
http://www.ncseweb.org

Thomas More Law Center
http://www.thomasmore.org

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Pa. town makes good on cyber school boom

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports how officials in Midland, Pa., are cashing in on the rising popularity of online charter schools, counting on one of the nation’s largest cyber institutions to help revive the local economy and breathe life back into a town that saw its employment rate plummet in the 1980s with the closing a local steel mill.

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Four-day school week proposed to offset high fuel costs

The Indianapolis Star reports that school officials across the state are toying with the idea of moving to a four-day school-week in order to cope with rising fuel costs. Prices, which already eclipse $3 a gallon in some parts of the state, could jump even higher in the winter months, officials say. By moving to a four-day week and adding an hour and 2o minutes to the school day officials estimate they could save $1,500 or more in gas prices alone, the paper said.

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Fla. teachers use tech to upgrade classrooms

As technology continues to become more a part of everyday instruction, The Sun-Sentinel reports that a growing number of teachers in the Sunshine State are trading in more traditional tools such as paper and pencil for a variety of high-tech gadgets–from VCRs and DVD players, to internet-connected document and imaging cameras and ceiling-mounted projectors, among other innovations.

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Ga. schools close in response to high fuel costs

The Gwinnett Daily Post reports that Ga. Gov. Sonny Perdue on Sept. 23 asked every school in the state to shut its doors for two days this week in order to cut back on higher fuel costs resulting from storms in the Gulf Coast region. Perdue, who is referring to the closings as “early snow days,” estimates officials could save 500,000 gallons of diesel fuel used to power school bus fleets as well as electricity used to light and cool school buildings. At least three districts across the state announced Friday that they planned follow Perdue’s suggestion.

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Webcast tackles IT gender gap

To engage girls in the study of science and technology, educators need to convey the right message about the roles these fields play in society and the skills they require–and they also need to provide more hands-on activities that have some social value.

These were the main lessons imparted during a Sept. 21 webcast hosted by the National Science Foundation’s Information Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program. Concerned about the disparity between the number of men and women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers, ITEST convened the webcast as a way to share ideas for how to spark–and retain–girls’ interest in these fields.

The webcast included a panel of speakers from the ITEST community, the private sector, and research and policy communities.

“We really need women in the IT [information technology] arena, because we need to have diversity of thought, generate new ideas, and create a workforce that mirrors the world we’re a part of,” said Carroll McGillin, the national initiatives manager for Cisco Systems’ Networking Academies program. Cisco Systems and the Cisco Learning Institute have developed the Gender Initiative Project, which explores ways to increase women’s access to IT training and careers.

To attract young girls and women to IT fields, McGillin said, educators and employers need to tell them there is a bright future in IT–and that, while technical capabilities are important, prospective IT employees also should have a flexible and collaborative nature, as well as the ability to think critically and learn quickly.

“We want girls to see how technology can help the world, and that it’s an engaging environment,” McGillen added, putting forth a notion that was echoed throughout the webcast: that girls tend to be drawn toward the social implications of technology use, whereas boys are more drawn to the nuts and bolts of technology.

That theme was later taken up by Deborah Muscella, principal investigator for the Technology at the Crossroads project, an initiative at Simmons College that engages middle school youth (with a particular emphasis on girls) in the use of geographic information systems (GIS) technology, global positioning systems (GPS) technology, and hypertext markup langauge (HTML) programming for use in conducting environmental research in Boston.

“Girls have reservations about the computer culture, and they’re concerned about the passivity of their interactions with computers,” Muscella said. “Girls think that technology isn’t taught in the context of real-world problem solving and that technology is devoid of an understandable human context.”

Customizing activities around community resources and focusing on what girls want to learn and experience are key steps in attracting girls and women to STEM careers, said Marcia Kropf, the chief operating officer of Girls Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring girls to be “strong, smart, and bold.”

“Encouraging experimental learning and creating a network with community professional STEM members will go a long way” toward interesting girls in these fields, Kropf said.

Science, math, and technology projects “have to be of interest to female students,” agreed Randal August, principal investigator for the Robotics: Fundamentals of Information Technology and Engineering project at Northeastern University. Through this project, TechBoston and Northeastern University are working collaboratively to integrate an innovative robotics curriculum into STEM courses in Boston public schools and in other racially diverse and economically disadvantaged Massachusetts school districts.

Research and self-reflection also are important. “We have to ask the question that, as we develop something that works well, will it transfer over and appeal to women and girls?” said Claudia Morrell, principal investigator for the Enhancing Science and Technology Education and Exploration Mentoring (ESTEEM) project.

In this project, the University of Maryland-Baltimore County’s Center for Women and Information Technology, the Shriver Center, and the Chabot Space and Science Center have teamed up to implement and beta test Chabot’s TechBridge curriculum in six middle schools. Activities include an after-school program, weekend fieldtrips, and a four-week summer program. The ESTEEM program focuses on encouraging girls’ interest and involvement in elective IT classes and supports their pursuit of IT careers.

“An important aspect is to ask girls and women what motivates them to establish themselves to stay in technology fields,” Muscella added.

Engaging girls in STEM activities can be accomplished “through hands-on activities, all-girls environments, encouraging the girls to take risks, and introducing them to interesting women in STEM fields,” Kropf said. But to keep girls and women interested, a number of different issues, such as the “geek” and “gross” factors, have to be eliminated, August added.

“Things like the ‘gross’ factor keep young girls and young women from wanting to join in, and our biggest goal is to present robotics, math, science, and engineering in a way that will keep these kids interested,” he said. August’s Robotics program targets sixth, seventh, and eighth graders in an effort to keep those girls interested in the sciences as they enter high school.

Part of the problem might be this “gross” factor. “Encouraging girls to take risks, get messy, and try things that are interesting and gross” will help them become more involved in IT fields, Kropf said. In fact, one formula for success is to assume that girls are interested in math, science, and technology, and then help them get past the “yuk” factor, she added.

All of the speakers agreed that women are greatly underrepresented in STEM fields and that much can be done to increase the number of girls and women who become interested in, and remain in, science-related careers and fields. Women constitute just 20 percent of the total technology workforce, according to 2002 U.S. Department of Labor statistics.

Women represent 51 percent of the population, but just 26 percent of computer scientists, nine percent of engineers, and 20 percent of the IT workforce, Muscella said. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, women in 2001 earned 28 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in computer science, 34 percent of master’s degrees, and 18 percent of all doctoral degrees.

When girls have reservations about the computer culture, educating them about technology and its importance in the future workplace might be key in attracting them to IT fields.

The top five fastest-growing U.S. occupations between 1998 and 2008 are all IT-related occupations that require advanced computer skills, and currently fewer women than men occupy those positions, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau published online at the Girls Inc. web site.

Many resources are available to help recruit girls and women into science and technology fields. Women in Technology, a Hawaii-based stateside program run by the U.S. Department of Labor, encourages girls and young women to enter science, technology, engineering, and math careers. Women in Technology International, founded in 1989, helps women advance by providing access to and support from other professional women working in all sectors of technology. The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology aims to increase the impact of women on all aspects of technology.

Links:

ITEST Learning and Resource Center
http://www.edc.org/itestlrc

Cisco Networking Academy Programs Gender Initiative Project
http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/netacad/digital_divide/gender/index.html

The Center for Women in IT ESTEEM Project
http://www.umbc.edu/cwit/add/esteem.html

Robotics: Fundamentals of Information Technology and Engineering
http://www2.edc.org/itestlrc/itestprojects/Robotics_ma.htm

Technology at the Crossroads
http://www2.edc.org/itestlrc/itestprojects/Crossroad_ma.htm

Women in Technology
http://www.womenintech.com

Girls Inc.
http://www.girlsinc.org

Women in Technology International
http://www.witi.com

The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology
http://www.anitaborg.org

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