Survey Comments

Who's in the Class?

There are 114 students current enrolled in the UVa class. There are 102 people on the open (non-credit) students mailing list and 33 of them submitted the PS0 form.

Other majors include: Economics (6), Mathematics (5), Physics (3), Cognitive Science (2), Chemistry, Commerce, Music, and Religious Studies.


109 out of 114 students (and 31 of the 33 open students who submitted PS0) were able to finish the tutorial.

There is no grading penalty for not finishing the tutorial for PS0, but if you were not able to complete the tutorial by the PS0 deadline, you should still do it. If you do not feel like you have the background necessary to do this, you should come to my office hours this week or arrange another time to me. If it is just a time management issue, you will need to learn quickly how to manage your time and plan better. The later assignments will be much longer than this one, and some will be spread over several weeks. You will not be happy or successful if you wait until the last days to get started on them.

Implicit Assumptions

These questions were based on Philip Guo's essay on Silent Technical Privilege.

What should we do to make things better? (Selected responses and comments)

In this specific class, I think that it is more difficult to devise group projects in which everyone does a fair share. That being said, the last time that I worked in a group for programming was in 2110, and I believe that at this point in the curriculum everyone should have an effective way to tackle programming problems. Therefore, it is likely more important to stress the ability of everyone to perform cooperatively to solve problems regardless of appearance or previous experience. Making this article required reading for the class is probably one of the best avenues to making people aware (in this class).

On an individual basis, we should be more open-minded and not make assumptions based on someone's demographic. It's a matter of perspective, and Guo's point of imagining a parallel universe where the same white or Asian male programmers were of a different demographic is a good way to think about it. I think it would help a lot if we placed ourselves in the shoes of others and gained a sense of sympathy for the struggles that others have had to face and overcome.

We? That's an awful big thing to ask a 3rd Year undergrad. I know that I don't care what someone looks like, everybody is different. I also do not wish to consider myself to be a part of the CS profession, because I do feel that they have a stigma attached. Especially when the CS field is essentially like the gold rush with everybody saying that they are the best with no source of validity and everyone out to be the next big thing, its no wonder that implicit technical privilege exists in this field.

Perhaps - but in general, it is 3rd-year undergrads (and other students and new graduates) who have the most power and opportunity to change things!

I think the computer science department does a good job of trying to be inclusive; the real change needs to happen at the student level. The only means of doing so that I can think of is to make students more aware of the problem. Reading this essay was certainly eye-opening to me because this was not an issue that I had really ever thought about. Upon considering it, however, I think that it is something I have seen happen many times. Being aware of how prevalent this problem is means I will definitely attempt to be more conscious of how I interact with people in the future to be sure that I am not part of the issue. I think that if more students were aware, they would likely think along the same lines.

I don't know if there is anything we can do. People have their own personal prejudices, and the only thing that can change that is a significant amount of exceptions to what people consider to be a "typical" programmer. I look up to female programmers, and I hate being treated like an idiot, so I totally understand this article.

Encourage the formation of and participation in welcoming computer science-related extracurricular activities; UVA sadly appears to have very few of those.

You should check out ACM@Uva. How much they do depends on individual students willingness to organize things, but many semesters it is quite active and there are many interesting (and hopefully welcoming!) events.

Create some sort of digital forum where students can discuss ideas, propose projects and collaborate through anonymous interaction. Doing this would put more focus on the participants mind and behavior instead of outward physical characteristics that carry negative connotations.

You are welcome to use this forum.

I think it is amazing and wonderful that you are bringing up this very serious and sadly neglected issue. Acknowledgement is definitetly the first step towards improvement. There is some very good research on this topic in journals of psychology and gender studies. I think one of the issues is that most people associate discrimination with egregious offenses, but do not feel culpable for small slights which compounded over time can be just as damaging. The blog sociological images has some very good resources and information on stereotype threat. They would take a while to dig up, but I think dissemination would really help give people pespective. It's really important that we realize that our society is constructed and sustained by our choices and interactions. In the US, computer science and more generally engineering is seen as a field for men, with many (idiots) claiming that the gender gap is due to inherent biological differences. There's a great article from the NYTimes which points out that men outperforming women in math is in a very large part a Western characteristc. In Thailand, which doesn't have a similar stigma for women in science, women outperform men math. Similarly, according to the same article, in Malaysia computer science is considered a women's field. Our ideas about roles and skills are backward looking, researchers in 2008 from Berkeley pointed out that women had matched men scores in mathematics, but related research shows that the belief that men are somehow superior in math and technical skills is still prevalent throughout our society and worse widely held by teachers at all levels of academics.

I think this is the article mentioned: Girls Lead in Science Exam, but Not in the United States, New York Times, 4 February 2012.

Lose the stereotypes and judgment. This, of course, is easier said than done. I think it primarily comes down to giving everyone an equal chance up front, and if one must judge, then only judge after everyone has been given an equal chance. Even then, one still shouldn't judge. Perhaps some have prior experience than others, and are therefore better. As the internet claims Einstein has allegedly stated: "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." Another great article:

Honestly, I think that a big part of the solution is allowing time to run its course. My generation handles racial and cultural differences better than my parent's or grandparent's did, and I believe that trend will continue. Implicit in that trend is a widespread disgust, among even the more privileged social groups, at the inequality we see, and there is a desire, even within my generation, to see equality become a reality. I know that I personally think inequality and discrimination, even if it is accidental or inadvertent, is stupid and wrong. I know that I'm not alone - most if not all of my friends feel the same way. And I think the key to taking a part in continuing that trend forward is realizing that everyone I work with on any assignment/job has the same inherent value as I think that I do. Because of that, I should give them the same trust and opportunities that I would want to be given if I were in their shoes.

Blindfold everyone! Honestly, I'm not sure. I think having a professor focus on eliminating these stereotypes will help students identify their own individual biases and slowly overcome them, but it is not a simple or trivial process. In a smaller, discussion oriented class, it might be a useful exercise to have students share what makes them atypical or sets them apart from their peers, as a way of encouraging their peers to uncategorize them, or stop using generalizations to judge other students, but in a large, lecture oriented class, I'm not sure this is really possible, and I doubt many students would feel comfortable sharing facts about their lives in front of so many peers.

In general, we can do our best to ignore people's outward appearance and to give everybody an equal chance to participate. More specifically, we could perhaps create some kind of system where people meet and talk anonymously (over the internet or something) before actually meeting in person. This would hopefully allow people to become familiar with others' computing experience without prejudice.

Encourage everyone to code! I've been sending links to CodeAcademy to a bunch of my friends, just so that they all know how interesting and accessible coding really is. You don't need anything (other than a computer, perhaps) to try out and even go further with writing code.

Please excuse the paradox, but stop listening to young white males like me. Other people deserve a voice.

I think I see what you are saying, but I hope that isn't the answer! We should be able to listen to everyone. I do wish more different people, especially people who don't fit the stereotypical implicit privilege demographic, would participate in class. I don't want to call on people who don't volunteer, but do encourage everyone to participate more in class.

The greatest frustration I have had with college has always been that it often feels as though it were designed to generate a lot of numbers and any learning that may happen is purely a side effect of the process. Given wikipedia's analysis of stereotype threat, it seems like any solution to this problem can do nothing but help to ameliorate that one. I recognize that I'm not providing an actual solution by saying this, but I felt it was an observation worth making.

I try to avoid this as much as possible (see the section on grading from my wrapup of last semester's course) - generating numbers should not be the main focus of anything we do in teaching, and certainly not your main focus as students.

I think as a class, we could minimize the technical privilege and stereotype threat by changing our attitude to more of a pure learning one, where our goal is to share our knowledge while gathering others' instead of passing a course. If we are more accepting of others and want to learn as a class, it shouldn't matter if someone knows a little less or more; we are all headed to the same goal, and it is much easier to work with someone and learn with them if I am not constantly worried about the A I will or won't get depending on how I work or how others work.

I'm not actually sure about this. I've seen this happen in many team situations before - and it's quite unnerving. The fact is that it's difficult to change people's perspective on one another. You can emphasize that you want an implicit-assumption free zone, but some will still do so.

Do you plan to randomize teams for group assignments? I'm under the thought that letting people choose who they want to work with works for the best as they'll be less likely to suffer from any implicit assumptions. I can't say the same about everyone though, along with the stragglers who don't know many people in the class.

I plan to let students choose their own partners, but appreciate there are no great solutions to this (in <3000-level classes, I would usually assign teams, at least for the first several projects). I would encourage you, though, to choose your partners openly and wisely!

Not assign groups based on the number of women: women in CS don't care if we're only working with guys, because it's just what we're used to in our profession and field of study. If the people who could potentially be affected don't care, neither should the people in charge ESPECIALLY if it doesn't affect them either.

Treat everyone based on the contents of their character as opposed to judging them by their cover. We have no clue what kind of life someone else has lived until we spend the time to get to know them so lets skip the immature, judgemental tendencies and ask before assuming.

Something that came to mind that may be able to help is doing groupwork completely online. This would free us from any preconceived and implicit judgement of others because we would not see anyone we are working with. Obviously group work is usually better when members meet in person and can work directly with others, however, I am not sure of any other way to ensure this does not happen. I think it's a very important concept to address and I can certainly see the relevance due to this being a 4000 level Computer Science course. And I think this in itself of bringing these topics to students' attention will go a long way in discouraging this sort of behavior.

I think its useful to learn to work with people in-person as well as remotely (which depending on what you do after graduating, is fairly common in the real world). I wouldn't want to deny co-located groups the opportunity to work closely in-person, but will also try to provide opportunities for students who want to work with remote participants.

Don't be a bystander: Speak out when we see or hear people, especially our own friends, make comments that involve unfair stereotyping.

This is really important! The overwhelming majority of people are not bigoted themselves, but also lack the courage to point out and stand up to observed stereotyping (and lots of time when someone is negatively stereotyping they may not even be aware of it themselves). When no one speaks out, it sends the message that everyone agrees and exaccerbates the damage.

The best thing with regard to this course would just be to explain things clearly and explain the context in which we are working, so that we'll be able to apply our knowledge easily, and don't have to fake it till we make it.

When I read the first part of that article, I immediately stereotyped Philip Guo. My first thoughts were that he is Asian so he must have been a child prodigy or at least his parents must have taught him programming from a very young age. I was not surprised at all and believed the first part of the article. This is what is wrong with todays' society. We tend to judge people based on steoreotypes without giving them a chance to learn and grow from those experiences. To make things better, we should let go of our stereotypical thoughts and give everyone an equal chance. If people want to learn, help them learn. If people want to challenge themselves, cheer them on, help them, and support them. Work together and assume the best of people as stated above in the sentence "You should explicitly assume all of your classmates are honorable, creative, smart, capable, and well-intentioned..."

For CS specifically, for someone with no experience it's very much a black box. I really think everyone should take at least one programming class in their academic career since computers are now such a large part of our lives. Understanding the basics of programming would help remove some of the biases people hold about CS since it would demystify it. At the same time, it would help get more people to consider studying CS who might not have done so before.

Forget the stereo-types and prejudice about certain groups of people. We are all students and we all deserve the same, equal opportunities to pursue what we want to pursue.

I don't believe there is a simple solution to this problem as many of these preconceptions stem from stereotypes that society as a whole has placed on these various groups. It would require a large change in public perception for it to go away completely, but by educating individuals about these issues is a step in the right direction.

It is difficult to change the way people think, this requires a lot of work and a lot of time. However, I believe that the first step in this process is through education. What I mean by this, is that everyone should be aware of how they may jump to harsh conclusions sometimes before even thinking the situation through. It is important for people to take a second to think before they act.

I'm of the belief that, inherently, not all of us are completely equal and therefore each of us exist as distinct and beautiful human beings. It boggles my mind that there are seven billion of us out there, and every single one of us has our own families, stories, backgrounds, interests, dislikes, loves, fights, favorite foods, and so on. To make things better, we shouldn't focus on the differences between ourselves; instead, I think we need to do two things: (1) accept that everyone is indeed different, and (2) acknowledge that the true judge of one's character comes from who he/she is, what his/her motivations and intentions are, and how hard he/she tries. In a lot of people, the idea of difference breeds contempt and fear. But, we should embrace difference, as long as its not detrimental to the common good, and think of it as just another part of a beautiful world.

Affirmative action is an issue for me. Not that the discussions of either of these topics advocate affirmative action, but coddling someone because their skin reflects a different wavelength of light than another rubs me the wrong way. Again, it's easy for me to say this because I'm white, which means that I definitely haven't struggled much with race-based barriers. I think that using socioeconomic status (as opposed to diversity of race) is a much more interesting way to implement diversity programs, if we're using diversity programs at all. In the context of this class: the bottom line is that its UVa. Everyone is here for some reason, which is the most important thing to keep in mind. The article about implicit privilege was interesting, though. Never thought about that.

Affirmative action is a very complicated and difficult issue, and if done, needs to be done very carefully, but avoiding implicit assumptions should be unrelated to affirmative action. One of the problems is that the practice of affirmative action or even the belief that it is being done can exaccerbate stereotype biases, and can lead to situations where someone is advanced/admitted to something they are not well-qualified or well-prepared for because of being a member of an affirmative action group. The University's official statement on this is muddled and confusing. Job listings are required to include the text, "The University of Virginia is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer." I had several emails with the EOP office trying to get them to clarify what the "/" is supposed to mean in this sentence, without getting a really satisfactory answer. Their website uses "/" to mean both "and" and "or", as in this wonderful sentence from their website: "the accommodation the employee and/or the employee's doctor/medical professional believe will enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the position. The employee should provide his/her doctor/medical professional with the definition of a disability as defined by the American's with Disabilities Act Amendment Act of 2008..." One of the students in last year's course provided the best definition of "/": "and/or".

I think that teachers should continue to open about why they do things the way they do in class. Teachers want to prepare students for the real world and I think that these honest teachers are what will make computer science students better.

The responses below are from open students:

Continue to point it out. I have seen these issues and gender imbalance in the programming/tech industry in the news (such as Hacker News) a lot lately. Keeping it in your mind reinforces better behavior. I'm also reminded of a book I once read that studied marketing and behavior - people tend to act in ways that they think everyone else is acting. If you focus on bad behaviors (behaviors you don't want) and point out people doing them, then the implication is that people are doing that so it must be "normal" even if "bad". If you focus on good behaviors, you give the opposite impression. Some interesting psychology and marketing studies have been done along these lines.

Education is still the better way to make things better.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. (Nelson Mandela)

Speak up. There's nothing like making people aware of these things.

I think it starts in the home. Parents have an enormous influence over their child's interest in the first few years of their life and we need them to make STEM something EVERYONE can do, not just something for nerds or boys. A lot of this environment is linked to social-economic status, so I suspect it will take a century to properly work out. Dealing with poverty and mental health are probably the two best things we can do to help this.

Actually, the old saying "on the Internet no-one knows you're a dog" is the best method. You have no idea (by username alone) what kind of person sits on the other side of the screen.

I always thought it was, "on the Internet, everyone assumes you're a dog".

Other Comments

I find the essay on 'silent technical privilege' a good read. As an Asian female in the computing field, I've experienced little external stereotype threat but I would sometimes be unconfident internally just because of my gender. Interestingly, when I worked in a place (internship, research lab) where females were minorities, there would be a feeling of competition among females for getting recognition of their aptitudes from male co-workers, which I personally disliked. I'd rather be less sensitive about the gender gap in computing to live a better life.

I do not feel that "You agree to grant the course staff permission to reproduce and distribute excerpts from my submissions for teaching purposes" constitutes an appropriate clause for what is ostensibly an honor policy. I do not think it is dishonorable to refuse to license one's code to the school (of course, the same sentiment applies to "you will ask for help" &c, but I think this particular clause is much more egregious).

You're right! I shouldn't mix up the "expected and desired" behavior clauses with the "honor code" ones. I do want people to take the other expectations seriously and follow them, but failure to do so would not be an honor violation. I've revised the posted syllabus accordingly.

On the clause about being able to use code excerpts for teaching purposes, this is used in very limited ways, but I don't want to feel like I need to arrange permissions before using actual code for an anonymized example. But, if you don't want your code to be used for this, you can include a comment that states this. I do encourage everyone to make any code you write for your final projects available under an open source license, but it is your choice to do that.

Although I'm a little intimidated by this class, I'm looking forward to it! I'm still a little confused about how the final project will work.

No need to be intimidated! I'll talk more about the final project as the semester goes on, but it will be very open ended and up to you to decide what you want to do. Look at the projects from last semester to get some ideas.

I hope I get a good grade in this class.

I can understand hoping for a Rust sticker which has some practical uses and may dazzle your friends and neighbors, but what do you expect a good grade in this class to do for you? Getting a good grade in most classes is hopefully evidence that you learned something worthwhile and accomplished something useful, so that is a good thing to hope for, but the later you get in your academic career, the less value the grade itself should have to you or anyone else.

This website can be somewhat tricky to navigate. I was hoping in in the homepage, there could be a page for ps0, ps1, ps2, in a list layout. I look forward to this course!

As they are posted, they will be linked on the top bar and side menu of the site.

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