This is the next blog in the continuing series of interviews with top-echelon and renowned professionals. In this blog, I interview Dr. Lecia Barker: Senior Research Scientist for the National Center for Women & IT, Leading Educator, and Top Thought Leader. Lecia shares her insights into unconscious bias, attracting diversity into computing, maximizing educational environments and technologies and much more.
Dr. Lecia Barker is a Research Associate Professor in the School of Information at the University of Texas in Austin and a Senior Research Scientist for the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). Barker’s research and evaluation studies fall in two areas:
- Attracting, retaining and advancing groups under-represented in professional computing and science careers, both industry and academic; these studies focus on social climate, identity/belonging, faculty adoption of alternative teaching and curricular practices and sustainable organizational change.
- Educational technologies from the viewpoint of learning outcomes and user studies; these studies focus on how situational factors influence use and usefulness of the technologies.
Some current projects include NSF Broadening Participation in Computing Alliance, intending to retain minority students in majority institutions; a project to diversify the user base of TeraGrid in terms of gender, race/ethnicity, and disciplinary field; study of use of video lectures with automatic indexing by a traditional, diverse, and urban student population; and study of tacit learning based on choice of browse terms in a digital library collection.
Prior to joining University of Texas in 2008, Barker was the founding director of the ATLAS Assessment & Research Center at the University of Colorado, which had two foci: adoption, uses, and implementation of innovative technologies in higher education; and recruitment, retention, and advancement of under-represented groups in computing. Barker and colleagues collaborated as evaluators on many exciting educational outreach projects, such as outcomes assessment for a Knee Anatomy learning module using the Visible Human data set (with Center for Human Simulation at the University of Colorado), formative evaluation of Web Weather for Kids (with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research), train-the-trainer workshop of GLOBE (with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research), and evaluation core center for the Digital Library for Earth System Education (with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at University of Colorado).
To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link
Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
Lecia shares a typical week and then month in her schedule including her activities, outcomes, and lessons learned.
“….You can find all of our National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) resources at http://www.ncwit.org….”
What can you tell us about yourself that few know?
“….People may not know that very little things bring me great happiness….”
What were the biggest obstacles in your career and how did you overcome them?
“….I’d say that the encouragement and support that I’ve gotten from other people have been a huge benefit to me….”
What are the milestones in your life and why?
“….I think milestones are marking out stages of life or somehow changing life’s path….”
You are an internationally recognized authority on diversity and education, so let’s drill down further into this area. How would you define unconscious bias and can you provide examples?
“….Scientists say that we are exposed to as many as 11 million pieces of information at any given time but can only consciously pay attention to about 40 – so that the way we deal with this is that we interpret and interact with the world according to what social scientists call knowledge schemas….They are based only on our experiences as we walk through our lives through cultures, society, being raised in certain families, school systems and all of our human experiences….Some people call them implicit biases….”
Can you talk about the negative effects of unconscious bias?
“….Negative effects can be shown in the case of gender schemas or unconscious gender bias…..It’s really important to stress that this isn’t just something that happens to women, it’s something we all do to ourselves and to each other and to recognize that we all carry unconscious biases and we use them to make judgments…..”
In my last discussion with Maria Klawe, President at HMC, she talks about some best practices on how she is able to achieve more than a 40% enrolment rate of young women into her programs. What are your recommendations in this area?
“….We’ve recently produced a workbook for developing a strategic recruiting plan and this is available for free at the http://www.ncwit.org website….”
If you have women enrolled, what can be done to keep them?
“….Create opportunities for student interaction in and outside of classrooms….It is important that examples given in lectures and meetings and as the basis for assignments be about things the students are interested in – especially ways that students can contribute to society….Revise the curriculum or add classes that are more interesting to students’ career goals….Make sure that students and faculty have opportunities to talk to each other….Evaluate results, find out what works on your campus and what does not work. Let us know at NCWIT, we are always interested in success stories and new ideas to share with our members. We also have a guide book and a summary of how to strategically plan for retention on the ncwit.org website ….”
Can you define “Classroom Climate” and its relationship to retention and learning?
“….Basically ‘Classroom Climate’ is the social aspect of the learning environment, though it can be influenced by the physical layout of the room….”
Lecia expands further on her work with middle school kids and the solutions that are being implemented.
What lessons can you share from your other roles and past experiences?
“….There is something to be learned from every situation….To ask for help even when I don’t think that I need it….”
You are quite engaged in the community through volunteer roles. Can you describe why you contribute and if others should engage?
“….There are some important competencies that I think I can share and which are very expensive to buy (for example, people don’t have time to go out and learn about program evaluations). People in non-profit organizations are making huge efforts with their own lives and they don’t have time to learn new things or to implement them even if they had time to learn. Yet they need program evaluation as much as any organization and have limited resources for doing them….”
You’ve participated in the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Education council meeting recently, and in the future computing summit. What kind of value do you get from those kinds of activities?
“….I’m a social scientist, an outsider to the computer science world, and it’s important for me to get a deeper understanding of people whose work and opinions are so important to my work….”
What top lesson can your share from the projects you have worked on?
“….Be open to disbelieving my own interpretations….Be open to surprises….”
Please make your predictions for the future in educational technologies, their implications and how we can best prepare?
“….Information retrieval systems are going to be improved based on increased data capacity and storage, and as scientists in the information field come with new ideas about what kinds of words and ideas tend to go together we can use new technologies to do better searching and get more information on particular topics….”
If you were conducting this interview, what questions would you ask, and then what would be your answers?
“….’What do you mean by gender parity?’….’Why are women under-represented in computing in so many countries of the world?’….’Who are some other interesting people who have stories to tell about other under-representation in computing?’….”
What do you see as the top challenges facing us today and how do you propose they be solved?
“….When I think about serious challenges facing us in the world today I don’t think that these are new challenges….People have the inability to accept different ideologies as valid, and that humans often are dogmatic and this leads to war….Peoples’ inability to share wealth….”