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Thursday, February 8 • 10:30am - 12:00pm
Session 5.1C - Juried Papers: Coding with a Critical Lens: A Developing Computer Programming Curriculum for Diversity and Equity.

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As LIS and computer science programs expand to educate students for the ever-growing array of jobs in the information professions, they are beginning to address issues of diversity and equity in their computer programming courses. To date, the focus is primarily on how to help students learn programming skills more successfully with course material that is more relevant to the interests of diverse students and by adopting more inclusive teaching practices (Alvarado, Dodds & Libeskind-Hadas, 2012). Only a few programming courses directly address these issues as part of the course content (Kules, 2017a; Salo, 2016). This is important because as students transition to their professional careers they will need to understand, navigate, overcome and undo inequitable practices and cultures within their work environment (Reynolds & Hartman, 2014).
This paper describes a developing curriculum to help students recognize, analyze and take action when they encounter these issues. It has been used at both the graduate and undergraduate level. This paper describes the rationale, conceptual frameworks, and some practical consideration. It concludes by identifying some of the challenges and arguing for stronger, more explicit connections between technical skills courses and program-level diversity and inclusion themes.
There are compelling ethical and practical reasons why information professionals need to understand these issues in their organizations and communities (Forsgren & Humble, 2016; Sinclair, 2004; Wajcman, 2009; Wolske, Rhinesmith & Kumar, 2014). Within organizations, the value of diverse teams is well established (Phillips, 2014), but organizational success depends on teams managing diversity effectively (Jackson & Ruderman, 1995). Programmers and other technical professionals will be more effective team contributors if they understand how these issues intersect with team dynamics. Thus an important element of this curriculum is helping students to understand the dynamics of teams and particularly the relationship to issues of team culture and individual bias.
The curriculum uses two primary conceptual frameworks: social justice teaching and organizational/team dynamics. The social justice approach addresses issues of social identity and how this impacts power relationships and confers advantages or disadvantages. It helps students to recognize and analyze issues more deeply then common approaches to diversity, which emphasize cultural and social differences and commonalities (e.g., cultural competency) without necessarily addressing issues of inequality (Adams & Zúñiga, 2016). Structural inequality occurs at multiple levels – individual, institutional, cultural (Hardiman, Jackson, & Griffin, 2013) and reinforces unearned, inequitable, and often-unrecognized forms of privilege and oppression (McIntosh, 1988).
All of these elements are evident in teams. Teams reflect their organization, but team culture is more easily changed than the larger organizational culture, so they provide a useful entry point for this curriculum. We also use small groups extensively in class so they provide a natural learning environment where patterns of privilege and oppression emerge. By analyzing and acting upon these issues within their groups, students can develop skills in a supportive environment, where mistakes are recognized as learning opportunities.
The initial curriculum was part of a graduate level to JavaScript course taught in Spring 2016. It has been refined and used in five more classes, including two semesters of a mid-level undergraduate Python course and one section of an introductory undergraduate Python course.
Readings and activities are used for weekly reflective discussion on the "bigger picture" of computer programming. I introduce a reflective practice at the beginning of the semester, starting with more pragmatic questions focused on the programming language and computational thinking concepts. The diversity and equity elements are introduced about half way through the semester, after the students have settled in and gotten to know each other. At the end of the semester students write a final essay analyzing one example of a diversity or equity issue in technology.
Discussion topics include:
  • Coding for social good
    Coding in its social context
    Systems of power in tech: individual, organization, culture
    Forms of inequity, unearned privilege and oppression in tech
    Taking action and forms of resistance in tech
    Team dynamics - structures to support equitable practices
    The discussions with students are tremendously satisfying, but there are a number of challenges in teaching this curriculum. It requires changing the way the course is taught by using more inclusive pedagogy (Kules, 2017b; Alvarado, Dodds & Libeskind-Hadas, 2012). It takes time to develop a level of trust within the class, and not all students are willing to engage. Student essays and course evaluations reflect a range of reactions and levels of growth. Some students are enthusiastic and grateful for the opportunity to discuss programming in a larger context. They find it meaningful and motivating. Some students continue to question the rationale. One current challenge is to help students – especially more privileged students – recognize how this is relevant to their own careers. Overall, most student essays demonstrate an ability to recognize and analyze diversity and equity issues.
    Developing this curriculum has stimulated conversations with the iSchool. Presentations have prompted faculty colleagues to discuss how diversity and equity themes could be integrated into their own courses. It has also provided an opportunity for discussions with the student diversity group, iDiversity. In turn, this led to significant contributions to the readings and suggestions on structure.
    In the larger academic context, this curriculum demonstrates one way for programs to respond to the ongoing challenge in LIS education of meaningfully engaging curricula with issues of diversity, inclusion and equity (Jaeger et al., 2015). This can be visualized as a part of a “T-shaped” curriculum. Courses focused on diversity and equity provide deep understandings, and other courses, like this one, examine how they intersect with the course topic. This can help students develop the technical and ethical skills needed to be successful as they move into their careers as information professionals.

Thursday February 8, 2018 10:30am - 12:00pm
Meadowbrook I

Attendees (5)