AP (Advanced Placement) classes are now attracting a more diverse student population than in years past. Computer Science in particular may be the subject area that is creating the most interest. Ten years ago, girls were so scarce in American high school computer science classes that the number of female students taking AP tests in that subject could be counted on one hand in nine states. In five others, there were none. Latino and African American students were also in short supply, a problem that has bedeviled educators for years and hindered efforts to diversify the high-tech work force.
Now, an expansion of AP computer science classes is helping to draw more girls and underrepresented minorities into a field of growing importance for schools, universities and the economy. Testing totals for female, black and Latino students all doubled in 2017, following the national debut of an AP course in computer science principles. It joined a longer-established AP course focused on the programming language Java.
Maybe this growing interest in computer coding is driven by something more social in nature? One young female student said that the AP Computer Science Principles course had deepened her understanding of the powers of software to make objects come to life. “An iPhone, for example,” she said. “A block of metal, in all honesty. But when you add coding, it becomes something more.”
I hope that I am not overreacting here, but it seems that the U.S. government has been buying security software from a Russian firm. So I guess that since we now have that “special relationship” with Putin and his buddies, I should not worry so much about such minor details. But don’t we have some great American companies who can do this same kind of work. Maybe those greedy Yanks wanted too many rubles, sorry, dollars. Well, we have finally put an end to all that and taken some action at the highest levels, or has it really been that effective or timely enough?
“In a binding directive, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke ordered federal civilian agencies to identify Kapersky Lab software on their networks (hmmm, what about the military, and what other federal agencies are these civilian agencies working for?). After ninety days, unless otherwise directed, they must remove the software, on the grounds the company has connections to the Russian government and its software poses a security risk.”
Kapersky Labs has been on a federal government list of approved vendors. They have now been removed. How did they get there and when did they get there in the first place?
So it’s only a game as they say, but the geopolitical implications seem obvious. This board game is called Go and I have seen it played in parks around Hanoi, but please don’t ask me to explain it. But I will quote from a article by a Hong Kong reporter that might help shed some light. “Go, in which two players vie for control of a board using black and white pieces called stones, is considered complex because of the sheer number of possible moves. Even supercomputers cannot simply calculate all the possible moves, presenting a big challenge for AlphaGo creators.” But AlphaGo developers did accept the challenge and created the software that makes this game available online.
So far, AlphaGo seems to be the undisputed “artificial intelligence” champion, only being beaten once by South Korea”s Mr. Lee. China’s Mr. Ke seems more resigned to only playing against human opponents. He noted that he would focus more on playing with people saying that the gap between humans was becoming too great. He would treat the software as more of a teacher, he said, to get inspiration and new ideas about moves. Or maybe he should say that he has finally met his match, but when his “match” is basically artficial intelligence, it just may be too hard to admit defeat by a software program? Somehow this all sounds vaguely familiar, like Dr. Frankenstein being outsmarted by his own “monstrous” creation.
AlphaGo is also demonstrating an ability to learn from its gaming experiences. It is not just calculating moves, but learning from its own experiences. That is something that we can all benefit from, so that we can remain smarter than our machines, I hope.
P.S. Happy Memorial Day weekend. Be back on the 31st.
Now I know I wrote about too much tech in your car on Friday and how that is becoming an aggravation for many new car buyers, but today I am writing about some software that might help car owners pass those bothersome emission inspections in countries around the globe. Thus the term “defeat device” for this handy mechanism that will reduce your anxiety whenever your car might be subjected to some form of tailpipe exhaust testing. Unfortunately, having this software in your car may cause you more headaches than when you simply failed car inspection in the past. It might be more analogous to having passed an examination in school and then being caught for cheating.
What to do? I am not sure anybody really knows what the resolution of this corporate deception will be. I can remember a much simpler time when I drove a 1968 Volkswagen Beetle with the engine in the rear, and a sunroof on the top. A real deluxe model for the time with an AM radio, and turn signals that flashed in whatever direction you wanted to go (earlier 60s models had semaphores that would warn other motorists and pedestrians of which direction you would be turning, Google if you like).
And I think we were not so worried about car emissions back then. Gas was ridiculously cheap (I’ll let you Google that too). I may be getting a little nostalgic here, but I am not really interested in going back in time. It was fun while it lasted, but I think saving Mother Earth is a priority now, over half a century later.
I guess this is a good news, bad news blog. First the good news, I think, in terms of how teachers in Chicago can select preferred software from a secure portal site. Perhaps the only qualification about this would be that individual teachers may not find their favorite software there, but presumably they will find something there that will work for them and their students. A very positive district-wide strategy that is to be commended, but unfortunately there appear to be some nagging concerns that might overshadow this good news.
There was a recent student data privacy breach, and there continues to be a financial crisis over the funding of the teachers’ pension plans. While all of this may have very little or nothing to do with educational technology, the citizens of Chicago may begin to focus more on district budget priorities and student privacy protections than on the benefits of a software catalog for teachers. Edtech purchases may become less of a priority.
Let’s hope for the best here in terms of funding for the instructional tools that students and teachers need. In this data breach, transportation vendors received students’ personally identifiable information. This may have nothing to do with the educational practices within the schools, but we must be vigilant in securing students’ privacy in all school services.