Inclusive Management in Tech

Here’s our STEM Women on G+ Hangout with Google+’s Chief Architect, Yonatan Zunger, co-hosted by Buddhini Samarasinghe and me. We had limited time and we could have easily spoken longer. I was especially interested to hear Yonatan speak about his personal journey to learn additional leadership skills to support diversity, such as active listening.

I see that many individuals are invested in supporting women in STEM, which is heartening, but this often means taking a personal interest to read more on the issue, as Yonatan has done. My interest as a sociologist is how to improve these individual efforts to build a critical mass. How do we better maximise and pool our collective efforts to achieve broader change?

I’m a big advocate of mandatory equity and diversity training within organisations. I also see that issues of inequality for women and other minorities need to move into a central place within all the STEM fields. These matters need to be addressed earlier in research and applied careers, so that they are not marginal topics that we debate later. Instead, the conversation we’re having with STEM Women is: things are unequal, what are we going to do about it?

 

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The Sociology of Why People Don’t Believe Science

This the story of how sociology can improve public science. I discuss the social science research explaining why some sections of the general public resist research evidence. As some of you know, I’m one of around 20 Moderators who run Science on Google+. Our Community is managed by practising scientists and our membership includes researchers as well as members of the public who are interested in science. I run the Social Science stream (along with Chris Robinson who created the Community). Our Community aims to improve the quality of science posts and public outreach, by connecting the public to real scientists. This week, we celebrated the fact that our Community has grown to 200,000 members. The Community receives numerous posts each day. We want to move discussion away from people sharing their personal opinions on “fluff” science pieces that often end up distorted in the news, and instead we’d like to focus on the relevance, validity and reliability of peer reviewed science. Invariably, we get people coming to the Community specifically looking to argue about how all science is wrong (usually with regards to social science), corrupt (often regarding life sciences), or “just a theory” (creationist arguments against the physical sciences).

These critics do not focus on the scientific content of a study. They focus on moral and cultural arguments, which to them are scientific. For example, when discussing research on gender inequality in science, there’s a variation of: “In my engineering class there’s only two women. I think that most women just aren’t interested in science. That’s not sexism to point out the truth.” (Yes, it is sexist.) When discussing research on climate change: “There’s inconclusive evidence on this!” (No, the evidence is compelling.)

Judging you

Most of these people do not use credible scientific research to back up their claims, but they evoke some general statistics (“everyone knows…” and “countless studies show”).We ask for links to peer reviewed science, which never come.  Sometimes they post links to conspiracy videos that have no scholarly merit. Despite their lack of evidence, these people are thoroughly convinced that they are scientists or that they are very well informed on a topic. They cite ideas of science from popular culture (“science is about questioning everything!”). Otherwise they draw on something they heard in the news or they revert to personal anecdotes and subjective observations.

These critics are the exception, as most of our Community members are genuinely curious in science and learning. The problem is that these anti-scientist “scientists” take up a lot of time and they derail discussions. So what motives them?

Chad Haney, one of our colleagues and a Curator for the excellent Science Sunday, wrote a fantastic post about how social psychology concepts might explain why people refuse to engage with scientific evidence. Chad invited me to comment on his post, and this has led me to crystallise thoughts that I’ve had circling my head since I started blogging seven years a go. Other than a sheer love of the social sciences, why bother with public science? Who is our audience? Does it “work” and how do we measure its success? How can we improve it?

My post will discuss the sociology of beliefs, values and attitudes to describe the cultural, institutional and historical ways in which the public has engaged with science. I present two case studies of “hot topics” that usually draw anti-science comments to our Community regarding gender inequality and genetically modified foods. I show how cultural beliefs about trust and risk influence the extent to which people accept scientific evidence. I go on to discuss how sociology can help improve public science outreach. Continue reading The Sociology of Why People Don’t Believe Science

Importance of Intercultural Education for International Students

Importance of Intercultural Education for International Students in Australia. (Repost)

International students represent a large economic and international relations investment for Australia. Australian universities are increasingly relying upon overseas students for their revenue, but these institutions are not adequately addressing the special learning, linguistic, cultural and religious needs of these students. Despite their Australian education, international students experience various difficulties in finding work in their field of study after they graduate. Poor English-language, communication and problem-solving skills are the biggest obstacles to securing ongoing and satisfying jobs. Employer biases regarding international students are equally a problem. Below, I provide a demographic overview of the international student population in Australia. I argue that a stronger focus on the socialisation of international students is likely to increase their educational and career satisfaction.  Continue reading Importance of Intercultural Education for International Students

Autism Research and Policy

Today, our community, Science on Google+, is co-hosting an event with Autism Brainstorm. The Hangout includes autism experts who will speak about educational, policy and biological research into autism.  

Read my notes of the discussion below, plus links on the research discussed, as well as biographies of our guests. I focus on the research and policy developments highlighted by the speakers. I hope these notes might also facilitate our visually impaired community members.

In order to set the background for my Hangout notes, I begin by summarising the key research and policy recommendations on autism made by The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. The scientific focus on biology, social science and research practices are of interest to our multidisciplinary community.

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Using Technology to Improve Education in Bhutan

Bhutanese girls crowd in front of the camera, smiling broadly
Photo: Lai Ryanne via Flickr

Bhutan was the first country to install a national public wireless network. The photo set below documents the One Laptop per Child project that aims to revolutionise education and communication. It’s an especially innovative program given Bhutan’s geography encompasses many remote communities. Part of the aim is to bring laptops into the classroom while also to enabling community members to communicate over distance using email.

Bhutan’s Government Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications is undertaking research on how to improve democratic processes using information communication technologies (ICTs). I’m especially looking forward to reading more about their research programs on “smart” health, improving farming services, and cultural preservation through ICTs. 

Check out the first Linux website featuring Dzongkha, the official language of Bhutan. Visit the English version, which describes a little about the project and why they chose Linux to build their national community website. 

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Photos by Lai Ryanne via Flickr.

Paternalism, Colonialism and Indigenous Education

Photo by Mark Roy via Flickr
Photo by Mark Roy via Flickr

By Zuleyka Zevallos, PhD

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the content on this page may contain images and references to deceased persons. (Why this warning?)

The Council of Australian Governments has conducted a national review of Indigenous socio-economic outcomes. Its recent report finds that while some measures are improving, there is still a large gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. This post provides a snapshot of the findings with a focus on education and responses by the state. One of the solutions being offered to improve educational outcomes amongst Indigenous youth is to send them to boarding schools. I discuss this in relation to Australia’s colonial history and the Government’s paternalistic views on Indigenous welfare.

I review other approaches to Indigenous education, which focus on working to students’ strengths in order to improve outcomes. This means making curriculum more focused on applied skills, vocational training within remote communities, and ensuring knowledge is culturally relevant. At the same time, educational efforts must avoid “pigeon holing” Indigenous students and teachers. Instead, education needs to make leadership and career pathways more accessible, and ensure that Indigenous insights are being fed back into the education system.

Finally, my post explores how sociological teaching and activism needs to change in reflection of the history of Indigenous educational practices.

Continue reading Paternalism, Colonialism and Indigenous Education

Science as Creative Learning

The research on “emotional learning” in science presents an interesting model for engaging young people in science. As Dr Louisa Tomas Engel explains in the video  below, young people’s interest in science drops dramatically in the middle years of school. Tomas  Engel’s broader research draws on new pedagogical practices which aim to help young people see science as a creative endeavour, rather than a memory retention exercise. This research may be of interest to science educators, biodiversity researchers, as well as other scientists who are eager to grow public outreach.

Continue reading Science as Creative Learning

Hangout with Scientists on Google Plus

Want to learn more about what other scientists on Google+ are doing? Check out the Science Engager Circle on our Science on Google+ community. I curate the social science stream! Read an interesting and lively discussion about different research projects and the types of Googel Hangouts people are interested in as part of our community. You can still contribute to the conversation by telling us about your research. If you’re a scientist, add your name to our database to be included in discipline-specific circles that are shared by our community.

Adapting Sociological Teaching and Learning for Online Environments

ImageA new sociological study finds that students who study online perceive that they have learned less in comparison to students who attend face-to-face lectures. The researchers, Kelly Bergstrand and Scott Savage, find that online students also feel they have been treated with less respect by their lecturers and they generally rate their courses more negatively. Is there an issue with the way sociology is taught specifically that does not translate well to an online environment, or is there something broader at play? Today’s post examines the skills and resources that sociology demands of students, and questions whether the training and delivery of these skills are being adequately supported by the higher education system. I also discuss the influence of larger online courses that are offered “free” to the public and how this relates to funding cuts and a push for online learning in the tertiary sector.

Continue reading Adapting Sociological Teaching and Learning for Online Environments

Is Online Learning Creating Two Classes of Educated People?

Is online learning creating two classes of educated people? Only as long as society continues to place higher value on elite universities, argues OrgTheory.net. This post further argues that the “average” student doesn’t want specialised training; instead, they join higher education to get basic vocational instruction, which they can get online. The problem with online learning is connected to off-line socio-economic relations, as is the case with face-to-face learning. As one commenter points out, teaching people how to learn is difficult, despite the proliferation of information on the internet.

People who use online tools to further their education and employment outcomes tend to come relatively privileged backgrounds. Can online learning teach critical thinking skills and force people to overcome prejudices? As an ex-educator I believe so, but as with real life, it’s about having quality teaching staff working within a supportive network and with good resources at their disposal.

Staff also need a good allocation of time to properly engage students, rather than being overwhelmed with large classes and additional responsibilities.

What do you think?