Introducing Computer Science Majors to (the Lack of) Diversity and Inclusivity

I suspect the computer science (CS) department at Ball State University is like most CS departments; we have few females, and Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) enrolled in the program are primarily international students from just a few countries. In response, I recently introduced pedagogical components that have students research the historical reasons for, and develop suggestions to address, this issue. The assignments and activities utilized in this initiative, which are described below, can easily be modified for use in any discipline, with many of them requiring no adaptation before use.

I undertook this initiative to challenge our CS students and faculty with respect to diversity and inclusivity issues. The problem begins long before students arrive at college; changes need to occur so that grade-school age children are exposed to CS concepts. But if we are to recruit and retain students as CS majors, we must provide an environment where all students feel welcome and included, especially women and underrepresented minorities (by whatever definition) who often feel they are on the fringe.

I introduced the topics of diversity and inclusivity into a one-credit course where we explore social and professional issues in the context of CS. I added a variety of pedagogical components into the course, with the following goals in mind:

  • Students and faculty members will recognize the benefits of a diverse CS student body and profession
  • Students and faculty members will understand out CS student body and profession are not currently diverse
  • Students will identify and develop:
    • potential reasons why our CS student body and profession are not diverse, and
    • potential actions that can be taken to make our CS student body more diverse

Activities for promoting diversity

I have grouped the various components I added to the course into categories, and discuss each below. More details are available in the resources section at the end of the article. The students themselves researched and presented most of the material. Besides gathering and developing content and the pedagogical approaches, my role was to serve as a coordinator, quality checker, cheerleader, and promoter. I also became an evaluator, as I considered whether the process could be generalizable to, and useful for, others departments and disciplines.

Discussion: I provided some background at the start of the semester by sharing data and thoughts about (the lack of) diversity and inclusivity in CS, leaving the students with unanswered questions to generate more interest in the topic.

Classroom activities: I added three simple activities that provide opportunities to recognize issues of diversity and inclusivity. Likes (resource 1) is an activity in which two participants who do not know each other are matched up and asked to record things they think the other person likes, and why, but without talking with one another first. This highlights how we all make assumptions—often unfounded—about others. In another activity, What Do You Bring? (resource 2), the students added words to a shared Google document that described themselves. As a class we reviewed the resulting document, “discovering” there are things that make each of us unique and that we also have a lot in common. The third activity, Paper Toss (resource 3), has each participant attempt to—from his or her desk—throw a piece of paper into a recycle bin placed at the front of the room. Obviously the participants closer to the bin are generally more successful, i.e., they are more privileged because of their position in the room. This then led to a discussion of privilege.

Research and presentations: Diversity Position is an assignment intended to help students consider what their position on diversity actually is (resource 4). They choose one of three scenarios, write about why they chose it, and discuss research they found to support their chosen position. Since a regular class activity is for small groups of students to present topics from the textbook, it was easy to include a requirement of sharing diversity material related to their assigned topic (resource 5). Additionally, they were to present information about an organization that strives to increase diversity in CS.

Reflective writing: For a reflective writing exercise, the students wrote a short essay describing how they had changed relative to three different course topics during the semester (resource 6). They could choose any two topics from the course, plus diversity.

Department colloquium and report: The students’ final group project was to create a five-minute presentation (and accompanying report) for an assigned section of a CS department colloquium, which included the following sections (resource 7):

  • Introduction and attention-getter
  • Discuss benefits of diversity in general, and in CS in particular
  • Present the current and historical state of diversity in CS
  • Present potential reasons why CS is not currently diverse
  • Propose actions that can be taken to make our CS student body more diverse
  • Discuss organizations that promote increased diversity in CS

Having students prepare and deliver a public presentation was an important piece of the process because it both challenged the students to come up with something worth saying and helped educate the presentation attendees.

Outcomes: The addition of these pedagogical components provided a variety of positive outcomes. Among them were working toward solutions to the identified diversity and inclusivity issues, becoming immersed in the search for data and solutions to circumstances similar to those they may experience as they enter the job market, and learning to appreciate diversity of opinions as they work together toward a solution. Most importantly, the students have become (more) aware of the lack of diversity in CS and, in some cases, to seriously consider what they can do to cause positive change to occur in their classes, the department, the community, and the profession.

Resources: More details and example documents for most of the items discussed above can be found at All of the materials can be shared freely and are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

David L. Largent is an instructor of computer science at Ball State University.