With technology even more embedded in every aspect of our lives, it’s crucial that the people and companies that create the tools of tomorrow reflect the diversity and complexity of our communities.
This drive led Sehome High School’s Jenny Styer, CTE teacher, on a journey of professional development to develop both her skills as a computer science instructor and now, as a 2021-22 Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) Equity Fellow.
Styer is one of 15 computer science (CS) teachers from across the nation chosen for this one-year fellowship to help build a more inclusive vision of computer science as a subject accessible to all students.
Styer became interested in applying for the CSTA fellowship after noticing what many other computer science instructors see: that students don’t always perceive computer science as “for someone like me.” Whether that’s due to their race, gender, neurodiversity or some other factor, Styer wants to combat the stereotype of CS and improve access for all students.
“I noticed I didn’t have diversity in my classes,” Styer said. “I had thought—’I’m a woman, that’ll do it.’” Finding this not to be entirely true, she pursued continued professional development, earned a master’s degree in diversity in technology from Antioch University and achieved her National Board Certification, learning throughout that diversifying CS means making big changes to programs.
“You have to work for inclusion,” Styer said.
Styer shared that making CS more inclusive means reconsidering everything: from making classrooms more welcoming, to adjusting teaching and grading practices, to actively recruiting students who don’t fit the CS stereotype, to writing and revising instructional materials. Styer notes that a lot of CS programming problems are based around niche or stereotypical topics, like Pokemon or video games. But when students apply CS to solve a wide range of problems that connect to other areas of interest or learning, such as the migration of a species, building cars or food access, they start to see how CS can help the world.
Tech companies and universities alike want CS students to come prepared to collaborate and create as a team. Students learn to reframe their idea that CS is a solitary, independent pursuit and realize that inclusive teaming and collaboration produce superior tech products, products that bring more people to the table and serve more end users better.
During the year-long fellowship, the 15 fellows will meet regularly on Zoom and in person. Styer will write blog posts, collaborate on workshops and lessons, and present through videos and at conferences.
Jenny has spent her career as a technology educator and has been teaching computer science since she began teaching in 2000 at Granite Falls High School. She recalls teaching from a CD-ROM and learning along with her students as she went.
Now, with support from community volunteers, including WWU students and local CS professionals, she teaches AP Computer Science A, which introduces students to computer science through programming. She also teaches the recently-created AP Computer Science Principles class. This class “introduces students to the foundational concepts of the field and challenges them to explore how computing and technology can impact the world,” the College Board’s website said.
“Students’ tech usage is high, but their understanding can be low,” Styer said. “I want to go deeper and really make change; I wanted to dig in and get computer science noticed. I want to make it a class that everyone feels welcome in and everyone takes.”