People of ACM - Alison Clear

April 6, 2021

How did you first become interested in computing curriculum development?
In the mid 1970s, when the national curriculum we were supposed to be teaching seemed out-of-date to me, I organized a group to redesign the curriculum. My interest and involvement in curriculum development grew from there.

There are many computing curricula guidelines; why is CC2020 especially important?
CC2020 is an overview of what is happening globally; previous curriculum documents tended to be US-centric, so for this project, we were asked to look globally. CC2020 is also important because we set out guidelines for future curriculum development for all the different fields of computing.

The CC2020 report stresses the importance of transitioning from knowledge-based learning to competency-based learning. Will you discuss the difference between these two approaches?
CC2020 sets out the guidelines for competency-based education as a way forward in the future. We have been teaching knowledge-based (knowledge plus skill) for many years. Industry leaders, and our students, are asking for more. It is not enough in the modern era to just teach or impart knowledge. Students are different and have different abilities or dispositions, so we, as educators, need to build on these differences to develop work-ready computing professionals. This is what industry leaders have told us they want and what they demand of new graduates. Plus all of this must be done in context. It is no longer acceptable to just teach students knowledge unless they know how and why it is to be used.

What is an important challenge that we, as a society, need to overcome in the area of information and communications technologies for development?
The most important thing we can do is to provide people with current and ongoing information. In remote areas of the world, they don’t have access to the information that will make their farms better, and their way of life better, in order to rise above poverty. They need information about how they should feed their families or how they should improve education. We want to change communities to provide a way of bettering the way people do things, and we can do this by providing access to information and education that will address medical, agricultural and environmental concerns.

What has been a focus of your work in attracting and supporting more women to the computing field?
I have been interested in this area since the 1980s when I realized we were getting fewer and fewer female students. (In my own class in the late 1960s it was half men and half women!) There has been so much research on why the recent disparity emerged, but we really haven’t found a way to address it yet. We are still talking about the lack of females entering the computing profession and not developing enough strategies to change this dynamic.

This is really sad and disappointing. I have looked at reasons why women don’t enter the profession and have organized interventions including school holidays, girls’ computing camps, mentoring programs, guest speakers, and other initiatives to hopefully increase their awareness. Universities themselves need to change, as contemporary teaching methods are important too.

We must make sure that the girls know about the huge variety of jobs within the computing profession and not be put off by the distorted media representation of what the computing profession is all about. The culture in many organizations needs to change as well in order to keep female graduates in the profession. A statement by computer science education researcher Linda Selby written over two decades ago remains relevant today. She wrote: “Currently it would seem that we have a large pool of competent, intelligent and creative women who are choosing to use their talents in other fields of endeavour. The lack of inclusion of women in areas of computing and information technology will not serve society well. The fact that women have practically no voice in the creation of major technological innovations that will control our lives is cause for concern.”

Alison Clear is an Associate Professor at Eastern Institute of Technology in Auckland, New Zealand. Her research interests include computing curriculum development, women in information technology, and information and communications technologies for development (ICT 4D), an effort that aims to bridge the divide between technological “haves” and “have nots” based on factors such as demographics or geography.

Clear was recently recognized with the ACM SIGCSE Lifetime Service to the Computer Science Education Community Award. She was selected for sustained commitment and dedication to computing educators, computing education, excellence in teaching and research, and innovative curriculum design nationally and internationally.

Clear is Co-chair (along with Allen Parrish of the University of Alabama) of the CC2020 Task Force, which recently published the ACM/IEEE-CS report Computing Curricula 2020: Paradigms for Future Computing Curricula (CC2020). The report is the first comprehensive update of the ACM IEEE-CS curricula guidelines for baccalaureate degrees in 15 years.