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Poster Perfection

Four the last four months, CSTA has been working in partnership with ACM-W and the American School Counselors Association to create a classroom poster to help promote computer science and information technology, especially for young women and minority students. One of the things we have learned is that sometimes it is more important to do something necessary and good than something everyone agrees upon.

The poster (which can be printed standard paper sized, or as a 2x3 ft. or 3x4 ft.classroom poster) is intended to help students make the connection between their interests and abilities and the many fields of computing that are part of computer science and information technology.

Our work began with a small committee. Bettina Bair and Gloria Townsend (ACM-W), Michelle Hutton (our middle school computing teacher), Brenda Melton (our guidance counselor) and I met with our designer Beth Scandalios to brainstorm our poster message and work through some design options. Beth then created six poster designs (one of which was exactly what we asked for and the other five which were even better). From there, Beth and I got it down to three choices and then the whole committee reviewed and critiqued those choices. People selected the elements they liked best and made new suggestions for further revisions which helped Beth create a final design.

During the design phase, we also asked for advice from folks outside the committee. Leicia Barker from the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) provided us with a number of very valuable suggestions that we incorporated into the final poster design. I showed the poster design to a number of colleagues in other associations and to the CSTA Board of Directors and the CSTA Advisory Council. Bettina also took the design to the NCWIT meeting and we received feedback from a number of university folks. And Tracy Camp (who wrote the germinal research paper on the pipeline crisis) gave us great feedback and support all the way from New Zealand where she is working this year.

We also tested the poster design with teachers and students. The test group involved students in four classrooms (two middle schools, two high schools, two independent schools) and an online feedback site that involved both high school and university students.

The response to the poster was overwhelmingly positive, but that is not to say that everyone agreed. In fact, there were differing opinions on just about everything. The teachers who reviewed the poster were really pleased that the young woman was dressed "like our kids dress", but a couple of the university folks were concerned that some schools would find the tank top inappropriate. One person did not like the "IT is all about me" headline, but Michelle's response was "If they are in middle school, believe me, it really is all about them and they know it. That is what makes this such a catchy headline." And you will never believe how much time we spent discussing whether it should be "IT is" or "I.T. is"!

Our goal, however, was to get this poster ready for the upcoming conference season, so that we could get it in the hands (and classrooms!) of real teachers. And to date, conferences across the country have offered to distribute the poster to their attendees. These include the National Educational Computing Conference hosted by ISTE, the American School Counselors Association annual conference, the Grace Murray Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and a number of other folks who are offering great workshops for computer teachers.

The truth is, we could have spent a lot more time and a lot more money trying to hone our poster so that everyone would love it, but I am not sure we ever would have achieved that goal. Even though every single person who gave us feedback really wanted the poster to be a success, people's tastes and expectations are very different.

So, you might say that in the end we sacrificed complete consensus for getting something into teachers' hands right now, because the problem is right now and it is getting worse. We need immediate interventions to overcome students' beliefs that computing is not the field for them, that it does not welcome them and help them make important contributions to the world.

We really hope that you like the poster. We are proud of it. We hope that people will put it in their classrooms and offices. We hope that students will take notice. We are grateful to everyone who took the time to help us make it better.

Chris Stephenson
Executive Director


Comments

Hi Ms. Stephenson --

I thought you or your readers might be interested to know that my "Algorithmic Gymnastics" presentation originally scheduled for Friday has since been moved to 11-12 on Thursday. The presentation will cover advantages of and methods for teaching algorithms as part of introductory and advanced Computer Science courses and is a revised version of the presentation from last year. If you have any questions or need more specific information about the material I plan to cover, check the conference page:

http://center.uoregon.edu/ISTE/NECC2006/program/search_results_details.php?sessionid=16317291

or feel free to email me at justin.solomon@cox.net . I look foward to seeing everyone on Thursday!

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