In many respects we think of artificial intelligence as being all encompassing. One AI will do any task we ask of it. But in reality, even when AI reaches the advanced levels we envision, it won’t automatically be able to do everything. The Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems has been giving this a lot of thought.
AI gesture training
Okay, so you’ve got an AI. Now you need it to learn the tasks you want it to perform. Even today this isn’t an uncommon exercise. But the challenge that Fraunhofer IMS set itself was training an AI without any additional computers.
As a test case, an Arduino Nano 33 BLE Sense was employed to build a demonstration device. Using only the onboard 9-axis motion sensor, the team built an untethered gesture recognition controller. When a button is pressed, the user draws a number in the air, and corresponding commands are wirelessly sent to peripherals. In this case, a robotic arm.
At first glance this might not seem overly advanced. But consider that it’s running entirely from the device, with just a small amount of memory and an Arduino Nano. Fraunhofer IMS calls this “embedded intelligence,” as it’s not the robot arms that’s clever, but the controller itself.
This is achieved when training the device using a “feature extraction” algorithm. When the gesture is executed, the artificial neural network (ANN) is able to pick out only the relevant information. This allows for impressive data reduction and a very efficient, compact AI.
Obviously this is just an example use case. It’s easy to see the massive potential that this kind of compact, learning AI could have. Whether it’s in edge control, industrial applications, wearables or maker projects. If you can train a device to do the job you want, it can offer amazing embedded intelligence with very few resources.
Over the last 20 years, researchers and educators have increasingly aimed to develop computing curricula that are culturally responsive and relevant. Designing equitable and authentic learning experiences in computing requires conscious effort to take into account the characteristics of learners and their social environments, in order to address topics that are relevant to a diverse range of students. We previously discussed this topic in a research seminar where the invited speakers shared their work on equity-focused teaching of computer science in relation to race and ethnicity.
Culturally relevant teaching in the classroom demonstrates a teacher’s deliberate and explicit acknowledgment that they value all students and expect all students will excel. Much of the research on this topic stems from the USA. In the UK, it may be that a lack of cultural responsiveness in the computing curriculum is contributing to the underrepresentation of students from some ethnic backgrounds in formal computing qualifications  by negatively affecting the way these young people engage with and learn the subject.
Guidelines for creating culturally relevant learning resources for computing
Addressing this issue of underrepresentation is important to us, so we’re making it part of our work on diversity and inclusion in computing education. That’s why we’re delighted to have received an ACM SIGCSE Special Project Award for a project called ‘Developing criteria for K-12 learning resources in computer science that challenge stereotypes and promote diversity’. Our overarching aim for this project, as with all our work at the Raspberry Pi Foundation, is to broaden participation in computing and address the needs of diverse learners. Through this project, we will support computing educators in understanding culturally responsive pedagogy and how to apply it to their own practice. To this end, we’ve set up a working group that will use research into culturally responsive pedagogy to develop a set of guidelines for creating culturally relevant learning resources for computing. Our primary audience for these guidelines are teachers in the UK, but we are confident the project’s results will have value and application all over the world.
There is increasing awareness across all education, and in computing education in particular, that culturally responsive approaches to curriculum and teaching fosters relevancy, interest, and engagement for student learners. This exciting effort brings together computing classroom teachers and education researchers to identify approaches and resources that England’s educators can leverage to enact culturally responsive approaches to teaching computing.
Joanna Goode, Sommerville Knight Professor at the University of Oregon, member of our Special Project working group
What do we mean by culturally relevant resources?
A learning resource obviously has learning objectives, but it is also always set in a particular context, which may or may not be relevant to young people. It may contain images, video, and other media assets in addition to text. Presenting computing stereotypes, for example in the media assets and language used, or situating resources in an unfamiliar context can cause learners to feel that they do not belong in the subject or that it is not relevant to them and their life. On the other hand, providing resources that allow learners to relate what they are learning to issues or tasks that are personally meaningful to them and/or their culture or community can be empowering and engaging for them. For example, a common scenario used to introduce basic algorithm design to young people is making a cup of tea, but tea preparation and drinking may be culturally specific, and even if tea is drunk in a young person’s home, tea preparation may not be an activity they engage in.
Ensuring that a more diverse group of young people feel like they belong in computing
The expected long-term outcome of this project is to remove significant obstacles to young people’s participation in computing by ensuring that a more diverse group of young people feel represented and like they belong in the subject. The working group we have established consists of seven practising computing teachers from a diverse range of UK schools and a panel of four experts and academics (Lynda Chinaka, Mike Deutsch, Joanna Goode, and Yota Dimitriadi) working with young people and their teachers in the UK, USA, and Canada.
Yota Dimitriadi, Associate Professor at the University of Reading and a member of the expert panel, says:“I am delighted to participate in this project that enables conversations and positive action around inclusive and intersectional computing practices. It is more important than ever to enhance a global perspective in our curriculum planning and further our understanding of culturally responsive pedagogies; such an approach can empower all our students and support their skills and understanding of the integral role that computing can play in promoting social justice.”
Such an approach can empower all our students and support their skills and understanding of the integral role that computing can play in promoting social justice.
Yota Dimitriadi, Associate Professor at the University of Reading, member of our Special Project working group
The group has started to meet and discuss the guidelines, and we aim to share early findings and outputs in the summer months. We’re very excited about this project, and we think it is an important starting point for other work. We look forward to updating you in the summer!
 Students of Black, non-Chinese Asian, and Mixed ethnicities; Kemp, P.E.J., Berry, M.G., & Wong, B. (2018). The Roehampton Annual Computing Education Report: Data from 2017. University of Roehampton, London.
The Wilson Center’s Science and Technology Innovation Program has released a new policy brief advocating for government policy support of open source hardware in science. The brief looks at recent developments in government policy surrounding open hardware, highlights the unique ability of open hardware to accelerate innovation and reduce costs, and addresses implementation challenges. Download the policy brief, and read the complimentary series of articles hosted by the Journal of Open Hardware.
Over the nine-ish years since the release of our first model, we’ve watched grow a thriving global community of Raspberry Pi enthusiasts, hobbyists, and educators. But did you know that Raspberry Pi is also increasingly used in scientific research?
Dr Jolle Jolles, a behavioural ecologist at the Center for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications (CREAF) near Barcelona, Spain, and a passionate Raspberry Pi user, has recently published a detailed review of the uptake of Raspberry Pi in biological sciences. He found that well over a hundred published studies have made use of Raspberry Pi hardware in some way.
How can Raspberry Pi help in biological sciences?
The list of applications is almost endless. Here are just a few:
Plant phenotyping (These clever people made a ‘Greenotyper’ with Raspberry Pi)
Smart bird-feeders (we shared this one, which teaches pigeons, on the blog)
High-throughput behavioural recording systems
Autonomous ecosystem monitoring (you can listen to the Borneo rainforest with this project)
Closed-loop virtual reality (there are just too many VR projects using Raspberry Pi to choose from. Here’s a few)
Onwards and upwards
Jolle’s review shows that use of Raspberry Pi is on the up, with more studies documenting the use of Raspberry Pi hardware every year, but he’s keen to see it employed even more widely.
“It is really great to see the broad range of applications that already exist, with Raspberry Pi’s helping biologists in the lab, the field, and in the classroom. However, Raspberry Pi is still not the common research tool that it could be”.
How can I use Raspberry Pi in my research?
To stimulate the uptake of Raspberry Pi and help researchers integrate it into their work, the review paper offers guidelines and recommendations. Jolle also maintains a dedicated website with over 30 tutorials: raspberrypi-guide.github.io
“I believe low-cost micro-computers like the Raspberry Pi are a powerful tool that can help transform and democratize scientific research, and will ultimately help push the boundaries of science.”
‘Pirecorder’ for automating image and video capture
Jolle has also previously published a very handy software package especially with biological scientists in mind. It’s called pirecorder and helps with automated image and video recording using Raspberry Pi. You can check it out here: https://github.com/JolleJolles/pirecorder.
You can keep up with Jolle on Instagram, where he documents all the dreamy outdoor projects he’s working on.
Drop a comment below if you’ve seen an interesting scientific application of Raspberry Pi, at work, on TV, or maybe just in your imagination while you wait to find the time to build it!
Today is International Women’s Day, giving us the perfect opportunity to highlight a research project focusing on Black girls learning computing.
Between January and July 2021, we’re partnering with the Royal Academy of Engineering to host speakers from the UK and USA to give a series of research seminars focused on diversity and inclusion. By diversity, we mean any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another. This might be, for example, age, gender, socio-economic status, disability, ethnicity, religion, nationality, or sexuality. The aim of inclusion is to embrace all people irrespective of difference. In this blog post, I discuss the third research seminar in this series.
The Supporting Computational Algorithmic Thinking (SCAT) programme started in 2013 and was originally funded for three years. It was a free enrichment programme exploring how Black middle-school girls develop computational algorithmic thinking skills over time in the context of game design. After three years the funding was extended, giving Jakita and her colleagues the opportunity to continue the intervention with the same group of girls from middle school through to high school graduation (7 years in total). 23 students were recruited onto the programme and retention was extremely high.
The SCAT programme ran throughout each academic year and also involved a summer camp element. The programme included three types of activities: the two-week summer camp, twelve monthly workshops, and field trips, all focused on game design. The instructors on the programme were all Black women, either with or working towards doctorates in computer science, serving as role models to the girls.
The theoretical basis of the programme drew on a combination of:
Cognitive apprenticeship, i.e. learning from others with expertise in a particular field
Black Feminist Thought (based on the work of Patricia Hill Collins) as a foundation for valuing Black girls’ knowledge and lived experience as expertise they bring to their learning environment
Intersectionality, i.e. considering the intersection of multiple characteristics, e.g. race and gender
This context highlights that interventions to increase diversity in STEM or computing tend to support mainly white girls or Black and other ethnic minority boys, marginalising Black girls.
Why game design?
Game design was selected as a topic because it is popular with all young people as consumers. According to research Jakita drew on, over 94% of girls in the US aged 12 to 17 play video games, with little differences relating to race or socioeconomic status. However, game design is an industry in which African American women are under-represented. Women represent only 10 to 12% of the game design workforce, and less than 5% of the workforce are African American or Latino people of any gender. Therefore Jakita and her colleagues saw it as an ideal domain to work in with the girls.
Another reason for selecting game design as a topic was that it gave the students (the programme calls them scholars) the opportunity to design and create their own artefacts. This allowed the participants to select topics for games that really mattered to them, which Jakita suggested might be related to their own identity, and issues of equity and social justice. This aligns completely with the thoughts expressed by the speakers at our February seminar.
What was learned through SCAT?
Jakita explained that her findings suggest that the ways in which the SCAT programme was intentionally designed to offer Black girls opportunities to radically shape their identities as producers, innovators and disruptors of deficit perspectives. Deficit perspectives are ones that include implicit assumptions that privilege the values, beliefs, and practices of one group over another. Deficit thinking was a theme in our February seminar with Prof Tia Madkins, Dr Nicol R Howard, and Shomari Jones, and it was interesting to hear more about this.
Data sources of the project included analysis of online journal data and end of season questionnaires across the first three years of SCAT, which provided insights into the participants’ perceptions and feelings about their SCAT experience, their understanding of computational algorithmic thinking, their perceptions of themselves as game designers, and the application of concepts learned within SCAT to other areas of their lives outside of SCAT.
In the first three years of the programme, the number of participants who saw game design as a viable hobby went from 0% to 23% to 45%. Other analysis Jakita and her colleagues performed was qualitative and identified as one theme that the participants wanted to ‘find meaning and relevance in altruism’. The researchers found that the participants started to reflect on their own narrative and identity through the programme. One girl on the programme said:
“At the beginning of SCAT, I didn’t understand why I was there. Then I thought about what I was doing. I was an African American girl learning how to properly learn game design. As I grew over the years in game designing, I gained a strong liking. The SCAT program has gifted me with a new hobby that most women don’t have, and for that I am grateful.”
– SCAT scholar (participant)
Jakita explained that the girls on the programme had formed a sisterhood, in that they came to know each other well and formed a strong and supportive community. In addition, what I found remarkable was the long-term impact of this programme: 22 out of the 23 young women that took part in the programme are now enrolled on STEM degree courses.
This research intervention obviously represents a very small sample, as is often the case with rich, qualitative studies, but there is much we can learn from it, and still much more to be done. In the UK, we do not have any ongoing or previously published research studies that look at intersectionality and computing education, and conducting similar research would be valuable. Jakita and her colleagues worked in the non-formal space, providing opportunities outside the formal curriculum, but throughout the academic year. We need to understand better the affordances of non-formal and formal learning for supporting engagement of learners from underrepresented groups in computing, perhaps particularly in England, where a mandatory computing curriculum from age 5 has been in place since 2014.
Next we’ve got three online events coming up in quick succession! In our seminar on Tuesday 20 April at 17:00–18:30 BST / 12:00–13:30 EDT / 9:00–10:30 PDT / 18:00–19:30 CEST, we’ll welcome Maya Israel from the University of Florida, who will be talking about Universal Design for Learning and computing. On Monday 26 April, we will be hosting a panel discussion on gender balance in computing. And at the seminar on Tuesday 2 May, we will be hearing from Dr Cecily Morrison (Microsoft Research) about computing and learners with visual disabilities.
To join any of these free events, click below and sign up with your name and email address:
Today, I discuss the second research seminar in our series of six free online research seminars focused on diversity and inclusion in computing education, where we host researchers from the UK and USA together with the Royal Academy of Engineering. By diversity, we mean any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another. This might be, for example, age, gender, socio-economic status, disability, ethnicity, religion, nationality, or sexuality. The aim of inclusion is to embrace all people irrespective of difference.
In this seminar, we were delighted to hear from Prof Tia Madkins (University of Texas at Austin), Dr Nicol R. Howard (University of Redlands), and Shomari Jones (Bellevue School District) (find their bios here), who talked to us about culturally responsive pedagogy and equity-focused teaching in K-12 Computer Science.
Equity-focused computer science teaching
Tia began the seminar with an audience-engaging task: she asked all participants to share their own definition of equity in the seminar chat. Amongst their many suggestions were “giving everybody the same opportunity”, “equal opportunity to access high-quality education”, and “everyone has access to the same resources”. I found Shomari’s own definition of equity very powerful:
“Equity is the fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement of all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups. Improving equity involves increasing justice and fairness within the procedures and processes of institutions or systems, as well as the distribution of resources. Tackling equity requires an understanding of the root cause of outcome disparity within our society.”
This definition is drawn directly from the young people Shomari works with, and it goes beyond access and opportunity to the notion of increasing justice and fairness and addressing the causes of outcome disparity. Justice was a theme throughout the seminar, with all speakers referring to the way that their work looks at equity in computer science education through a justice-oriented lens.
Removing deficit thinking
Using a justice-oriented approach means that learners should be encouraged to use their computer science knowledge to make a difference in areas that are important to them. It means that just having access to a computer science education is not sufficient for equity.
Tia spoke about the need to reject “deficit thinking” (i.e. focusing on what learners lack) and instead focus on learners’ strengths or assets and how they bring these to the school classroom. For researchers and teachers to do this, we need to be aware of our own mindset and perspective, to think about what we value about ethnic and racial identities, and to be willing to reflect and take feedback.
Activities to support computer science teaching
Nicol talked about some of the ways of designing computing lessons to be equity-focused. She highlighted the benefits of pair programming and other peer pedagogies, where students teach and learn from each other through feedback and sharing ideas/completed work. She suggested using a variety of different programs and environments, to ensure a range of different pathways to understanding. Teachers and schools can aim to base teaching around tools that are open and accessible and, where possible, available in many languages. If the software environment and tasks are accessible, they open the doors of opportunity to enable students to move on to more advanced materials. To demonstrate to learners that computer science is applicable across domains, the topic can also be introduced in the context of mathematics and other subjects.
Learners can benefit from learning computer science regardless of whether they want to become a computer scientist. Computing offers them skills that they can use for self-expression or to be creative in other areas of their life. They can use their knowledge for a specific purpose and to become more autonomous, particularly if their teacher does not have any deficit thinking. In addition, culturally relevant teaching in the classroom demonstrates a teacher’s deliberate and explicit acknowledgment that they value all students in their classroom and expect students to excel.
Engaging family and community
Shomari talked about the importance of working with parents and families of ethnically diverse students in order to hear their voices and learn from their experiences.
He described how the absence of a background in technology of parents and carers can drastically impact the experiences of young people.
“Parents without backgrounds and insights into the changing landscape of technology struggle to negotiate what roles they can play, such as how to work together in computing activities or how to find learning opportunities for their children.”
Shomari drew on an example from the Pacific Northwest in the US, a region with many successful technology companies. In this location, young people from wealthy white and Asian communities can engage fully in informal learning of computer science and can have aspirations to enter technology-related fields, whereas amongst the Black and Latino communities, there are significant barriers to any form of engagement with technology. This already existent inequity has been enhanced by the coronavirus pandemic: once so much of education moved online, it became widely apparent that many families had never owned, or even used, a computer. Shomari highlighted the importance of working with pre-service teachers to support them in understanding the necessity of family and community engagement.
Building classroom communities
Building a classroom community starts by fostering and maintaining relationships with students, families, and their communities. Our speakers emphasised how important it is to understand the lives of learners and their situations. Through this understanding, learning experiences can be designed that connect with the learners’ lived experiences and cultural practices. In addition, by tapping into what matters most to learners, teachers can inspire them to be change agents in their communities. Tia gave the example of learning to code or learning to build an app, which provides learners with practical tools they can use for projects they care about, and with skills to create artefacts that challenge and document injustices they see happening in their communities.