Friday, January 20, 2017

A Growth Mindset Workshop

I recently gave a workshop on the growth mindset with first year computer science students working as part of this amazing program. It went well, so it seems worth sharing. What follows is the workshop plan.


Take the following quiz and share results:

Share definition of growth and fixed mindset (read quote, put key parts on a slide):
“When we ask people to tell us what the growth mindset is, we often get lots of different answers, such as working hard, having high expectations, being resilient, or more general ideas like being open or flexible. But a growth mindset is none of those things. It is the belief that qualities can change and that we can develop our intelligence and abilities. 
The opposite of having a growth mindset is having a fixed mindset, which is the belief that intelligence and abilities cannot be developed. The reason that this definition of growth mindset is important is that research has shown that this specific belief leads people to take on challenges, work harder and more effectively, and persevere in the face of struggle, all of which makes people more successful learners. 
It is hard to directly change these behaviors without also working to change the underlying understanding of the nature of abilities.” (source)
Watch TEDx talk by Carol Dweck. Have students write down everything they found interesting, surprising, or useful. Pair up, pick the top three points of interest, share them.

Share printout with the following quotes from Mindset and have them read them individually. While reading, think about times in your studies (especially in the fall!) where you might have approached something with a fixed mindset, and other times you have used the growth mindset.
I [Carol Dweck], on the other hand, thought human qualities were carved in stone. You were smart or you weren’t, and failure meant you weren’t. It was that simple. If you could arrange successes and avoid failures (at all costs), you could stay smart. Struggles, mistakes, perseverance, were just not part of this picture. 
...children with the fixed mindset want to make sure they succeed. Smart people should always succeed. But for children with the growth mindset, success is about stretching themselves. It’s about becoming smarter. 
Why is effort so terrifying? There are two reasons. One is that in the fixed mindset, great geniuses are not supposed to need it. So just needing it casts a shadow on your ability. The second is that … it robs you of all your excuses. Without effort, you can always say, “I could have been [fill in the blank].” But once you try, you can’t say that anymore.
In this course [in our research study], everyone studied. But there are different ways to study. Many students study like this: They read the textbook and their class notes. If the material is really hard, they read them again. Or they might try to memorize everything they can, like a vacuum cleaner. That’s how the students with fixed mindset studied. If they did poorly on the test, they concluded that chemistry was not their subject. After all, “I did everything possible, didn’t I?”

The students with the growth mindset completely took charge of their learning and motivation. Instead of plunging into unthinking memorization of the course material, they said: “I looked for themes and underlying principles across lectures,” and “I went over mistakes until I was certain I understood them.” They were studying to learn, not just to ace the test. And, actually, this was why they got higher grades – not because they were smarter or had a better background in science. 
[Benjamin Bloom, eminent educational researcher, says:] “After forty years of intensive research on school learning in the United States as well as abroad, my major conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn, if provided appropriate prior and current conditions of learning.” 
Just because some people can do something with little or no training, it doesn’t mean that others can’t do it (and sometimes do it even better) with training. This is so important, because many, many people with the fixed mindset think that someone’s early performance tells you all they need to know about their talent and their future. 
[Story from one particular student, Tony:] In high school I was able to get top grades with minimal studying and sleeping. I came to believe that it would always be so because I was naturally gifted with a superior understanding and memory. However, after about a year of sleep deprivation my understanding and memory began to not be so superior anymore. When my natural talents, which I had come to depend on almost entirely for my self-esteem (as opposed to my ability to focus, my determination or my ability to work hard), came into question, I went through a personal crisis that lasted until a few weeks ago when you discussed the different mindsets in class. Understanding that a lot of my problems were the result of my preoccupation with proving myself to be “smart” and avoiding failures has really helped me get out of the self-destructive pattern I was living in.
After the exercise, have students pair up and discuss the consequences of using the fixed or growth mindset in different scenarios. Share one or two stories with the group.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

GHC16 / What Are Tech Tools Doing That The Best Diversity Initiatives Aren't?

How can software help companies recruit and hire more diversely? Erica Joy Baker, Laura I. Gomez, Stephanie Lampkin, Liz Kofman, and Aline Lerner tackled this question on a panel at Grace Hopper this year. Most came from the perspective of creating the tools or working in tech, and one came as a social scientist studying the problem. It turns out that technology can do a lot, from removing biases to helping employees find good matches in prospective employers.

Here are my live notes from the session, edited slightly since I took them.

- we'd like to have the tech to kill the resume and allow for anonymous processes where everyone is evaluated the same
- what drives behaviour change? show candidates what's really going on in companies
- "I don't believe in unconscious bias training. I believe in results."

- compelling to see results of a fairer, more competitive process
- many challenges in academic research: one group, no change, another group, huge difference (why?); the more data we have, the more we can figure out what's really going on
- early feedback is that demystifying 'the pipeline' idea has been valuable

- technical interviewing it totally broken; interviewing as a process is as effective as putting names on a dartboard and throwing the dart (this is especially true of unstructured interviews, which have no correlation to success outcomes; structured interviews have a tiny amount of correlation)
- competency-based interviewing helps structure interviews as well as check later whether the interview ended up being a good predictor of future performance; issue is that managers don't know what competencies matter, so hand-holding in that regard is needed
- big companies need to have the same vocabulary and awareness of where the issues are

- want companies to dissect what makes a high performing employee, then capture that about a candidate; again, because traditional interviewing sourcing process is broken; need chances to capture data in soft skills, behaviour science, neuroscience...

- hiring processes are antiquated; why haven't we seen much innovation in this space?
- change is hard partly because those responsible for letting folks into the pipeline don't have the skills they're recruiting for; they have the wrong incentives

- anonymizing applicants: is this the same as that Wall Street Journal author's suggestion, which made many women and other feminists upset?
- even when we remove the name, there are other indicators; how you write can identify you, even when what you said doesn't change
- anonymization doesn't take away identity; it lets folks look at us differently

- audience question: should companies be aiming to improve diversity? how will anonymization help them identify those candidates?
- yes, there are companies actively sourcing; mixed evidence on blind identity (may not help companies that were already trying); have to understand the context of the companies, each of which are so complex
- not as simple as sourcing underrepresented groups; need efforts to improve the process and give resources to those that don't have them
- recognize that we do have biases, and give tools to interrupt them

- audience question: has bias affected how much funding your companies have received?
- bias toward funding previously successful founders, even though data shows this isn't a good indicator of success
- needs to be more examples of success because there's a lot of pattern matching going on
- Stephanie: need to set the example as a young gay black woman, farthest from an old white man as you can get
- having a personal brand ended up helping some of the panellists (though not deliberate); e.g doing a lot of writing on the broken hiring process and sharing data

Sunday, October 30, 2016

GHC16 / Building a Better Classroom: Lessons from Ed-Tech

One of the panels I attended at this week's Grace Hopper Celebration featured women from various companies engaging in ed tech, whether as their sole purpose or as a smaller part of their mission. Panellists included Prachie Banthia (moderator, Google), Lauren Janas (Microsoft), Stephanie Killian (Knewton), Jen Liu (Quizlet), and Sha-Mayn Teh (Teachers Pay Teachers).


The panel began with a discussion of the challenges in getting classrooms to adapt ed tech. Unsurprisingly, cost and difficulties in rolling it out topped the list. Then each panellist discussed what problems specifically they are trying to solve:
  • Learning can be static, tedious, and boring. Quizlet makes it more fun. Most users are middle and high schools using it for language learning, math science, etc. Some adults use it too, for things like med school and even bartending. Today, their focus is on K-12.
  • Knewton focuses on the problem in ed of 'one size not fitting all.' Standard models of education treat everyone the same (curriculum, pace).
  •  Some teachers were really focused on using tech in the classroom, e.g. to scale learning to class sizes of 45. Google Apps tries to support and reach the majority of teachers that aren't currently doing this.
  •  MS Office Mix supports developing materials for flipped classrooms. You can record yourself talking over a PowerPoint presentation, include quizzes, and distribute to students. The software provides analytics to improve lessons and see how well students are learning.
  • Teachers Pay Teacher helps teachers search for the right resources quickly.
Another one of the challenges faced by creators of ed tech is surviving the peak time of back-to-school. Advance planning is required to figure out how to scale the load capacity based on projected numbers of students. Launching any time after August 1 is really like launching the following year on August 1, because you've missed the critical window for adoption. The holiday season is the down-time, and that's where fixes and be made.

So how do these panellists view adoption of ed tech? They say tech in schools is fragmented, and so it is difficult to target a particular platform. It is very important for a company to earn the trust of teachers and administrators. Teachers are reluctant to test things on students. Too much setup time will make adoption harder: class time is precious. You have to make the barrier to entry as low as possible. And, of course, there are many issues around school networks / wifi. 

When it comes to the fear that ed tech might be trying to replace teachers, the panellists say this isn't the case; they want to empower teachers. Some call themselves teacher-preneurs and they all have such passion, and find creative ways to use technology to make their point with students.

A controversial question: are larger companies like Google and Microsoft more likely to succeed than the smaller companies, thanks to their resources? Having a lot of spare resources does give bigger companies a leg up. Smaller companies with education as a core product need to find a revenue model, which is challenging. Enterprise partnerships can help. All agree that it is good having the larger companies there, but also the smaller disrupters. Large companies have scale, and people already know how to use their products. Even still, monetization is hard for everyone (even Google struggles with this still). Smaller companies have the advantage when it comes to the ability to disrupt: Google can't take a pedagogical stance (65 million users whose trust can be lost), but smaller companies can.

Friday, October 21, 2016

GHC16 / Lyndsay Pearson on Valuing Inclusive Game Design

Invited technical speaker Lyndsay Pearson spoke at Grace Hopper this week about inclusive game design. Lyndsay has, as she puts it, grown up with The Sims, having working on the game in various capacities since nearly the beginning of the franchise. She shared some universally applicable advice on inclusive game design while sharing examples from The Sims.

By Dinosaur918 (Own work)

The first lesson, of course, is that the players are out there. Long gone are the days of believing all players are high-volume males in their late twenties whose central hobby is gaming. With such a huge diversity in players, there's an opportunity to develop games for even more inclusive audiences. To do that, we need to expand beyond the current factors most values in games: time, money, and number of games played.

So what can we do? Respect all players, invite different opinions, and intentionally build relatable experiences.

Respect All Players

Respecting players means truly recognizing them and their diversity. Coming to a game for a different reason that "most" gamers doesn't make you less valuable. Designers should ask themselves: how can I continue to connect with that player and relate to them? First impressions matter, which is why The Sims offered more options for body type and so on in their character creation.

Invite Different Opinions

The thing is that you have to do this even when it's uncomfortable. "We need to help bring people in and help them not bounce out," as Lyndsay puts it.

One example of this is ensuring you tune yourself to cultural sensitivity. For example, the Sims team learned that women were not allowed on game boxes in Saudi Arabia. Despite the fact they really didn't want to, they created a box with all men so that the game could be sold, and still be accessible in all the same ways to people in that country (especially women!).

Another example is religious sensitivity. They thought The Sims was good at avoiding overtly religious objects, but they later realized that the ghosts and voodoo dolls they included in the game also have religious origins. Thus, they realized were actually consistently inconsistent in this area. They had to own the fact they had no clean line and try to make decisions as consciously as possible.

The bottom line is that you need to get uncomfortable with these kinds of conversations. Do know that you get better at it the more you do it, though.

Build Relatable Experiences

Connect, relate, and interact with current world experiences. What's going on in the world that can be incorporated into the game? A nice example is finally incorporating women's team into the FIFA game. When they decided to do that, they became fully invested, considering all kinds of new possibilities, like a player leaving partway through a season to have a baby. The Sims also now has much more fluidity in its gender selection, helping break gender norms as we are trying to do in real life.


Lyndsay gave us a lot to think about when it comes to designing inclusive games, but as she pointed out, the lessons apply to all software design. Let's all make sure to keep these things in mind in our own endeavours.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

HLF2016 / Spotlight on Preethi Srinivas: HCI Researcher Improving Coordination and Communication in Hospital ICUs

This blog post originates from the Heidelberg Laureate Forum Blog. The 4th Heidelberg Laureate Forum is dedicated to mathematics and computer sciences, and takes place September 18-23, 2016. Abel, Fields, Turing and Nevanlinna Laureates will join the forum and meet 200 selected international young researchers.

Meet Preethi Srinivas, our next featured young researcher in a series about some of the women attending this year’s Heidelberg Laureate Forum in September 2016.

Photo courtesy of Preethi Srinivas

Preethi is currently wrapping up her PhD at Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing and is originally from Chennai, India. She is also a Senior UX Designer at Regenstrief Institute Inc.

Preethi’s dissertation work has the potential for making a huge impact on communication in hospital intensive-care units. Notes made on paper and synchronous communication in ICUs can lead to issues in awareness and coordination. Preethi proposes a method for “rapidly generating, managing, and sharing clinical notes and action-items among ICU providers” as well as a “visual and tactile notifications system that induces minimal interruptions to an ongoing activity.” Long term, her research provides novel guidelines for mobile communication tools for ICUs. She says she is “proud of this little accomplishment although this research is a small, design-based contribution to the medical and HCI communities.”

As for many graduate students, Preethi’s ultimate success comes from learning to embrace failure. She also learned that it’s ok to switch projects if you aren’t engaging sufficiently with your current research direction.
I started my PhD program working on a research project that seemed to work well, but I soon learnt that I was not meant to be working on the project since I did not really find myself interested, even though I was working hard. This experience taught me that one of the huge factors to research is involvement or drive to being committed to a project. I soon moved onto another project that kept me committed, without which I would have never made as much progress as I did.
As someone who switched topics completely between Masters and PhD, and who went through a few project ideas before settling on a thesis topic for my PhD, I can relate to this completely!

Preethi is excited for HLF for the opportunity to interact with some of the world’s best and most passionate researchers. The forum’s interdisciplinary nature is also very appealing. She hopes to receive some great advice from fellow researchers on how to embark on independent research post-PhD, and is “looking forward to making new friends with whom I could potentially collaborate in future.” Plus, she loves to travel, and who wouldn’t want to visit such an interesting city as Heidelberg!

I believe you won’t be disappointed in the city nor the forum, Preethi. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Stay tuned to meet other young researchers, a special post about mentors, and the advice our featured women want to share with others.