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#educate, #mentorate, #gamergate - encouraging STEM participation

January 04, 2015, 09:21:37 PM by kat
What can be done to address one of the main issues highlighted by #gamergate; there being too few women in the games industry (and IT & STEM generally). It's not a new problem. In the UK, central Government has spent the best part of the last last twenty plus years spending public money on the problem, largely to no avail (according to their own data and admission there are now fewer females entering STEM than twenty years ago). So if Government can't find a workable solution, even with access to (relatively speaking) infinitely deep public pockets, what can be done to remedy the situation that don't cause more problems, unintended or not.

Speaking to game developers about what they do the address the dilemma (and running the following past a charity/fund raising consultant incidentally [1]), the key seems to be acting locally, getting to the problem early and keeping it personal. In other words, it's not about throwing money around, rather it's a matter of getting to the students (girls in particular) whilst they're still in (middle) school (under 18's) [2]. Failing that, for older College or University students (18+), it's more important to 'mentor' rather than 'teach' - the critical factor in whether girls go on to a career in STEM in particular appears to have greater relation to their first hand and informal interaction with industry professionals and not necessarily their teachers or professors ("teachers teach, industry professionals inspire") [3].

With this in mind, the following are some ideas game studios and educational establishments can exploration at the local level;
  • Studio visits - onsite studio visits by local schools.
  • School visits - studio representatives visiting the classroom.
  • Run Computer/IT/STEM clubs and/or extra credit after school activities.
  • Studios working with educators to create extra credit projects.
  • Studios working with educators to create more involved course work.
  • Provide teachers data they need to develop study materials for the classroom.
  • Provide teachers information needed for policy change.
  • Preferential learning environments - programs tailored to either/or/both girls and boys.
  • Encourage either/or/both girls and boys to collaborate with, and compete against, each other [4].
  • Encourage critical thinking, exploration and problem solving [5].
  • Encourage female mentoring [6].
  • Encourage industry mentoring in general [7].
  • Parental involvement - help parents understand that "computer" is not synonymous with "toy/game".
  • Program & initiatives that cater to traditional biases [8].

[1] A specialist in the field of fund raising for charity and non-profit educational programs for school age youngsters (ostensibly 13-18).

[2] Generally speaking, it's preferable to get to students early as they likely won't yet have established any strong personal 'social' biases towards STEM subjects that might otherwise turn them away from study because they're not seen as 'cool' or fashionable by their peers. In other words, 'geeks' and 'nerds' are still considered stereotypically 'unfashionable'. Unfortunately only anecdotal evidence appears to be available to confirm this bias. In other words, girls don't get involved in tech  due to their not wanting to be seen as being 'geeky', 'nerdy' or 'unfashionable' by their friends and peers (who are not interested in STEM) - "geeks only need apply", a considerable 'negative' compared to the numbers wanting to be famous.

[3] This is not to denigrate or diminish the importance of what teachers do and their abilities to educate students (a thankless task?), rather it's an issue of the formal nature of the "student-teacher" relationship (similar in many respects to "Doctor-Patient" or "Client-Council"); because visiting professionals are not 'teachers' the relationship to students is more readily casual and informal, meaning it's more likely for students to be 'inspired' rather than 'educated' into action.

[4] Preferential or dedicated environments, otherwise know as "Safe Spaces", should be physical or virtual locations where program or project participants are able to be freely and openly creative or expressive rather than necessarily free from criticism, being questioned or being on the receiving end of 'lip' from fellow students/peers as a natural result of competitive or challenging interactions, actions the individual might subjective consider 'unsafe' (cf. #5 below).

[5] Game development (IT and STEM generally) is ostensibly about problem solving, the expression and explanation of thoughts, ideas and concepts to others (not always versed in what are often regarded as 'technical' subjects). As part of this process however, 'arguments' are likely so students need to be made aware that the difference between critical thought processes and analysis, the interpersonal interactions and differences in communication skill usually required for this, and that the 'heated' discussion and arguments that occur as a natural result of the expression/explanation of ideas, are just that, heated or passionate debate - students should be encouraged to understand this and be open to criticism as a means of improving their output rather than it being perceived as an 'attacked' on their person, identity or ideas.

[6] Mentoring has to be free of politics, agendas and ideologies, i.e. free from authority figures and individuals (teachers/mentors) that might be looking to use these environments for 'recruiting' purposes. This is of significance because part of the reason girls don't currently get into games development appears  (anecdotally) to be a result of the constant stream of 'fear porn' spread by a very vocal minority falsely accusing the games development Industry of being "misogynistic" and "women hating" when there is no empirical evidence for this (correlation does not imply causation).

[7] Non-gendered mentoring should be as valuable as gendered mentoring, in other words, industry involvement should be encourages based on the individuals experience, knowledge or expertise rather than their gender. With this said however, it should be acknowledged that some students may find it easier to relate to same-sex authority figures so this should be a consideration where possible.

[8] If the idea to to encourage girls to get into game development, in a general sense it may be advantageous to structure programs in a way that caters to traditional biases; because certain aspects of their world view are already familiar orienting complex concepts to those might make them easier to digest. Development of 'pink' (for girls and 'blue' for boys) educational materials should be embraced for their easy familiarity as a means to comfortably encourage individual participation.

Article Research Resources
IGDA - "Developer Satisfaction Survey 2014" (Game Developers at a glance)
Develop-Online - "Women make up 15% of UK games development industry"
Gamasutra - "Gamasutra salary survey 2014"
Video Games Lack Female and Minority Characters
Video Games and Gender: Game Representation, Gender Effects, Differences in Play, and Player Representation
Why Do Women Outnumber Men in College?
Black Women Students Far Outnumber Black Men at the Nation's Highest-Ranked Universities
Growth in the proportion of female medical students begins to slow
Why Do Women Outnumber Men in College?
Women in higher education
Postsecondary enrolements by institution type, sex and field of study
Women’s college enrollment gains leave men behind
University of West London - Student Statics HESA Equality data analysis
SAT® Percentile Ranks for Males, Females, and Total Group 2014 College-Bound Seniors — Mathematics
The 2014 math SAT test results confirm a pattern that has persisted for 40+ years — boys are better at math than girls
Girls better than boys at making story-based computer games, study finds
Graduate Careers Australia June 2014 - An analysis of the gender wage gap in the Australian graduate labour market, 2013
Why do boys outnumber girls for computer science?
(not primary data source NBC Science - Geeks drive girls out of computer science)
American Psychological Association - Men: A growing minority?
European Centre for Women and Technology - She Figures 2012: Gender in Research and Innovation
More women entering male-dominated specialties, finds GMC
Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education - Statistics
The Value of Fame: Preadolescent Perceptions of Popular Media and Their Relationship to Future Aspirations
Teenagers who 'want to be famous' face poorer job prospects in later life


[this post was originally part of the general 'gamergate' topic but split so it has it's own focused attention]

Guest posting is OFF/DISABLED

December 21, 2014, 04:51:15 AM by kat
Guest posting is OFF/DISABLED

Due to the amount of spambots and bots in general hitting the forums Guest posting has been disabled.

Membership (free) is now required to post messages to the forum.

Download sites and Copyright, sort of...

November 18, 2014, 12:44:56 PM by kat
One of the most annoying and frustrating aspects of running a site like KatsBits is the time it takes to deal with other websites that scrape content and offer it to their own visitors for download - note that there is a distinction between a site providing content that's scraped from other sites and one doing so based on content uploaded by users (either the content authors themselves or others uploading files with or without permission). Except there not even doing that, providing a service to users (which is what the originating site would likely have been doing).

Unfortunately what these types of file download sites do in fact is scrape content and offer it as a means to divert or hijack website traffic, visitors and potential users/subscribers from the original content authors site to theirs. Multiply that across thousands of other sites whose content has been scraped and these file download sites end up hijacking a significant amount of traffic from a lot of people.

Even worse is the fact that this diverted traffic is nearly always heavily monetised though on page advertising and paid access subscription services (that typically bypass adverts), not just one or two, but dozens that flood the page making it difficult to see where the actual download link is to the content a visitor might be after such that they induce 'fake' clicks - clicks that occur when a person thinks they're clicking a download link when they're actually clicking an advert designed to look like a link.

It's a pretty despicable practice, and very few of the people using such sites seem to really care, at least when it's not drawn to their attention - out-of-sight-out-of-mind.

For content authors this is a problem because it means indirect revenue streams, the very income that enables content to remain free, dries up. This leaves sites very few options, including the use of pay-walls or other means to charge for access. This is difficult to pull off though, especially when a site might have been providing free content for some time, and it often goes against the principles many site owners may have originally had in mind when content was originally made available for use.

So what's the answer?. Consider...;
  • if you need to download something take a moment to check, as best as possible, you're accessing the file(s) or material from the original source.
  • if you see content on another site you think shouldn't be there, drop the content author a note (if available) to let them know - they'll take it from there (don't contact the site hosting the iffy content because only the Copyright owner can sort these sorts of issues out).
  • inform other people you know that you suspect a site might be distributing materials without permission so they should check they have the correct permissions to be using those files (a file being freely available doesn't necessarily mean it's free, as in no cost/restrictions, to use).

Donations to KatsBits (and other websites)

November 12, 2014, 10:49:46 PM by kat
(image courtesy PayPal)

Over the years visitors to KatsBits and other websites have wanted to show their support by 'donating' or 'gifting' funds directly to a site rather than making Store purchases. Previously this wasn't an issue, site visitors could gift/donate to their hearts content. In recent years however, changes to Tax law & regulations, the US and UK in particular, have complicated the matter so that now most eMoney or ePayment gateways, PayPal included (see here US and here UK), can only accept 'donations' or 'gifts' on behalf of registered, authorised or properly recognised Charities or other non-profit entities and organisations.

In essence, to accept donations individuals and entities now have to be appropriately registered and recognised specifically as not-for-profit concerns by the eMoney provider through which payments are to be accepted - note this doesn't necessarily mean individuals or entities having to be Officially Registered Charities with a Charity Number (UK) or 501(c)3 Exemption status (US), it may simply require persons involved making legal/contractual declarations they are not collecting funds for profit.

Furthermore, whilst it may not be specifically against the law to accept donations without being duly acknowledged, doing so is a terms of service violation, one that often result in permanent account suspension or banning (blacklisting) - this is in fact one of the main reasons PayPal will shut down accounts without warning, something it is well within its 'rights' to do*.

So just how are KatsBits and other websites supposed to accept 'donations' or 'gifts' these days?

Well aside from their not being referred to as 'donations', 'gifts' etc. because of the above (the Tax man doesn't understand or care about semantics and word play, a 'donation' is a 'donation', a 'gift' is a 'gift', all of which have particular tax liabilities and burdens), visitors can show their support using PayPal's "Send Money Online" feature; all that's needed is a valid email address, "sales@katsbits.com" for example, or mobile number and an amount - if the recipient already has an account the transfer is immediate, if they don't an email notification will be sent requesting they create an account to access the waiting funds.

As a final note it's worth dropping site owners a note about this if they appear to be accepting 'donations/gifts' not attached to any immediately obvious charitable/non-profit activity if anything just to make them aware of the issue should they not be (and their running the risk of account closure and fund confiscation/return).


FootNotes:
* one of the primary reasons for the distinction between "donations" and standard "money transfers" is that the former, donations, don't incur transaction fees whereas normal money transfers do. For the recipient (account to which money is sent), fees are reduced for the former but not the latter. This means that eMoney and ePayment Gateway providers take a dim view of accounts using a faux charitable or non-profit status in an attempt to falsely reduce or avoid transaction fees. Essentially another terms of service violation that will get an account suspended or permanently banned.

Swatting

November 07, 2014, 08:04:37 PM by kat

[image courtesy KOMO news]

So yet another high-profile game development fell victim to "swatting", the [sarcasm]hilarious pranking[/sarcasm] of calling the police on an individual usually with fake bomb, gun or other immediate-danger threats to initiate an emergency response, usually armed - "cops surround home of video game exec after high-tech hoax". Thankfully police are generally level-headed when dealing with these calls so no-one has as yet been hurt or worse, killed - the police don't know the threat call is a prank so anyone at the receiving end is in real and immediate danger depending on their reaction to the sudden and unexpected arrival of armed individuals on their door-step (sadly there are far too many examples of accidental deaths resulting from the armed response of the police).

The perpetrators are rarely caught because calls are typically made anonymously, usually from a payphone, so whilst the phone number can be traced to a general location (and the actual box used) because they are public locations, unless each has a camera recording 24/7, it's unlikely to go any further than that (although depending on the location, call times can be cross-referenced with CCTV in the area, assuming it exists).

And this highlights a broader problem. Just how does society go about catching these people without infringing some pretty basic freedoms. Would it be OK to place (hidden) cameras on all payphones. Or cameras on-top of lamp-posts/light-poles to monitor daily life 24/7. Tying these types of indecent to general issues of high-profile online and/or game related harassment, would having Internet ID (SOPA, PIPA, CISPA, or other legislation to which 'terrorism', 'harassment, laws can be attached, et-al) be a means to make people feel safe ("feel" as in 'seem', 'appear'). Probably not. But that won't stop some very loud voices making that call based on the actions of a few; the idiots pulling these pranks for the lolz are basically giving them the rationale to do just that, so if we want to keep the Internet freely available for everyone, maybe it time its users step up to the plate.
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