Web workshops produce IT work force research

Using the results of two workshops conducted entirely on the Internet, the National Science Foundation has released two reports on the information technology work force.

The reports identify causes of and potential solutions to the under-representation of women and minorities in IT occupations.

The workshops, held for six- and eight-week periods last fall, used Lotus Development Corp. Domino products to enable about 100 participants to interact on the World Wide Web, said Caroline Wardle, IT Workforce program manager at NSF.

The convergence of using IT to perform research about IT is no coincidence, Wardle said.

The electronic workshops encouraged "a broader scope of people joining in," she said. Participants included university faculty, members of professional societies and schoolteachers. Moderators were assigned to give a short position paper at the beginning of each session to start the discussion.

"The most difficult thing is getting a good technical infrastructure to support what you want to do," Wardle said. The Domino software was effective, but NSF will have to look at other products that may allow participants to use either the Web or e-mail, she said.

One of the most useful parts of conducting the workshops online were the weekly summaries, which would enable a participant who joins later to see the thrust and focus of a workshop, Wardle said.

Partially in response to the workshops, NSF in March announced a special funding emphasis on IT work force research. The agency has devoted $2.5 million to such research for fiscal 2000 and expects to double the amount next year, Wardle said.

Commerce Department and Census Bureau statistics show that women make up 46 percent of the total work force, but only 30 percent of the IT work force. Blacks fill 5 percent of IT jobs while making up more than 12 percent of the U.S. population. Nearly 12 percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic, but that group makes up less than 5 percent of the IT work force.

Research topics identified by the report from the workshop on minorities in IT include:

    * Access to computers and networks.

    * The connection between long-term education and short-term training.

    * Mentoring programs for minority students at all levels.

    * Standardized assessments of education and training programs.

    * Implications of distance education for minority participation in IT.

    Research topics identified by the report from the workshop on women in IT include:

    * Learning styles, teaching styles and tools that prompt women to enter IT.

    * The impact of computer games on girls' career choices.

    * The role of social expectations in education and career choices of girls and women.

    * Computer science curricula in high schools, two-year and four-year colleges.

    * Efforts to attract and retain women in the IT work force.

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