Friday, January 29, 2010

AP Tests

So I've been conducting focus groups with International students recently. I've been listening to lots of different inputs and insights into computer science perception and how women fit into the picture of computer science both in their home country and in the United States. A recurring theme has been the exposure to computing and computer science prior to arriving in college and being forced to make an educational decision that will impact the next 4 years of their life at least and how women aren't enrolling at numbers comparable to men in computer science. At one point one person told me that making computer science compulsory in high school would close the gap significantly. This got me to wondering exactly how many people in high school are getting exposed to computer science in some way, shape, or form.

Now, I know the AP test is by no means an exact or even remotely close to exact figure of how many people are taking computer science in high school. I also know that the AP test is more a measure of your programming knowledge than anything else. However, for someone to take the Computer Science AP test, it suggests that they believe to have had some exposure to something akin to collegiate level in computer science. After digging around on the College Board website for a while, I made a list of the number of people who took all of the AP tests in 2009. The chart is below:

From this information we've learned some information that at least to me is a little bit shocking. I mean, I know that not very many people get exposed to computer science prior to high school. Going in I knew computer science would be dominated by tests like Calculus and English. However, there were quite a few that surprised me considerably. For one Art History has significantly more takers than Computer Science, almost 33% more. More people in high school are exposed to a collegiate level of art history than they are to computer science. I have never met anyone who's met anyone who's taken the Art History exam but it's still taken more often than Computer Science. In fact, about the same number of people are exposed to Computer Science as are exposed to Spanish literature. I don't know this for a fact but I get the feeling there's a lot less people majoring in Spanish literature than in computer science. Why then are the numbers taking the AP tests comparable? While collecting this data I cringed with every new page I opened up (and not just because half of College Board's data is corrupted, which is why several figures are missing including Spanish Language and Music Theory). I could make arguments for issues of class difference that keeps computer science being as popular as microeconomics since it's probably more expensive to teach, but it's hard to make that argument for all of the tests it's outstripped by.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Comparing Global Statistics

This week I've been trying to compile some data on global levels on computer science enrollment. I think it would be really interesting to be able to access an all-in-one resource that would give data on computer science students all around the world so that I had a better picture of what exactly was happening internationally. However like most things the reality of the data is a lot more complex than it is in my head. I've run into more than a few little caveats that make my question just how valuable any numbers I find will be.

Finding data in the US generally isn't a problem. The NSF keeps statistics regularly for most disciplines and for computer science we have the luxury of the Talbee reports which have demographic information for undergraduate and graduate students that give a very nice picture of how Ph.D. granting America universities are doing enrollment wise.

However, looking internationally the picture gets a lot more confusing. It is difficult to find the equivalent of the NSF or other large reporting organization body that will handle statistics like this if they have one at all. Reports are littered with all kinds of figures that are often outdated or not sourced at all. It's hard to find where exactly these numbers come from if they arise at all.

Vashti Galpin has been sort of my inspiration for a lot of this as her 2002 paper Women in Computing Around the World gave one of the clearest pictures I've seen of the international enrollment levels. However, 2002 was 8 years ago and I imagine some of these numbers have changed so I was hoping to get updated data. It's only once I've begun digging that I've realized how important the many footnotes her paper included on the statistics are.

Most specifically, I've been wondering about the large section of her paper that details the many different computing disciplines she found statistics for. I remember blogging early about our lack of a common language but I'm wondering how can we measure a degree in Informatics against a degree in Computer Science. I've spoken to many people who say they're the same but I wonder again how a name can affect enrollment.

I find this point especially intriguing after our first focus group. A couple of the participants who are now graduate students at Carnegie Mellon in computer science did not do their undergrad work in computer science. Rather, they found their passion through computer engineering. The work they were doing in computer engineering was still computer science by Carnegie Mellon's definition but in their home countries they still had computer science programs. While I've been so focused on collecting statistics for only computer science it's becoming more obvious that I may need to be doing more investigating into computer engineering, informatics, and other disciplines.

I think if I stop and take my bigger question of "Who is doing Computer Science?" I can look at numbers all I want but I'll never get the answer. Only a closer reading of Galpin and the actual work being done around the world can I better understand where my data is coming from.