How women's colleges helped win World War II

Author Liza Mundy speaks at ASU + GSV Summit about her 'Code Girls' book

April 16, 2018

Editor's note: Read more of the highlights from the ASU + GSV Summit on our blog.

Monday at the ASU + GSV Summit, author Liza Mundy gave the audience a history lesson tied to her book “Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II.” A partial transcript follows: Author Liza Mundy speaks at ASU GSV Summit Author Liza Mundy speaks about the role of women in coded communications at the ASU+GSV Summit 2018 in San Diego on Monday. Mundy’s book, "Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II," shares the story of college women and teachers being recruited for the clandestine work. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now Download Full Image

"World War II was a time when the freedom of democracy hung in the balance, and diversity and a willingness to be inclusive was truly a reason we won World War II.

"Much of our tech industry was born during World War II. It was really women doing that work because the men were doing the fighting.

"Goucher College was a women’s college founded in the 19th century when people thought higher education for women was a bad thing. It was a rigorous institution, but there was enormous pressure on the women to get married. One of the women from Goucher was Jackie Jenkins, mother of Bill Nye the Science Guy, so you get a sense of her intellectual chops.

"She had been tapped by the U.S. Navy and spent weekends being ushered into an arcane field called cryptanalysisCryptanalysis is the study of ciphertext, ciphers and cryptosystems in order to understand how they work and find ways to defeat them.. She was one of thousands.

"Everything took place over the radio waves using Morse code. We had to figure out how to break those. Americans had led code-breaking responsibility for the Pacific Ocean.

"A bureaucrat in the U.S. Navy literally typed in a memo: “New source: women’s colleges.”

"They (female candidates) were asked two questions: “Do you like crossword puzzles?” and “Are you engaged to be married?” If they said yes and no (respectively), they were recruited.

Code Girls book cover

"The Army sent their handsomest soldiers to do the recruitment because they thought these women would be susceptible to the charms of a young man and that’s why they would take this work. They were so wrongheaded about why an educated woman would want a way to do work.

"Thousands of schoolteachers from the South learned the geography of Asia and the code systems of the ships supplying the Japanese army, spread out on islands all around the Pacific. They were trained to read an encrypted message, and they were doing an early form of hacking.

"There was an African-American unit breaking the code of the private sector. They were also former teachers. Just as banks and companies do today, encrypting all their financial info before sending it out on the internet, banks and companies were doing that in World War II. They were figuring out who was doing business with Hitler or Mitsubishi.

"I interviewed 20 women for the book and have heard from many more. They had to do complicated math to strip out the encryption. The intelligence would go out to American submarine commanders waiting on the horizon.

"We sank thousand and thousands of Japanese ships. Most Japanese army deaths were from starvation and disease because they weren’t getting supplies.

"When they learned that their efforts led to a convoy being sunk, these women felt pure satisfaction. Later in their lives they had more complicated feelings about the lethal intelligence work they were part of.

"They made an incredible contribution to the end of World War II. Our willingness to innovate, and be diverse when freedom hung in the balance, was a central reason we won World War II."

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter, ASU News


Panelists discuss future of personalized learning

Goal of 'the right content, to the right student, at the right time' faces obstacles in widespread acceptance

April 16, 2018

Editor's note: Read more of the highlights from the ASU + GSV Summit on our blog.

Monday at the ASU + GSV Summit, Leap Innovations founder Phyllis Lockett moderated a discussion about the future of personalized learning, featuring panelists Larry Berger, CEO, Amplify; Nick Gaehde, president, Lexia Lerning; Phil Regier, university dean for educational initiatives and CEO of EdPlus at Arizona State University; and Joel Rose, co-founder and CEO, New Classroom Innovation Partners. Crowds of people walk through a conference hallway About 4,300 people are signed up to attend the three-day ASU + GSV Summit this week. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now Download Full Image

The education-technology experts discussed the challenges that exist in developing technology-based tools and systems at scale. Primary to the discussion was the notion of personalization, and how K-12 and higher education institutions can implement technology without losing the personalization that is integral to successful learning outcomes.

According to Gaehde, “When we think about personalized learning, we think about the engineering model, which is something that is technology-driven only, but that’s often the problem with some of the personalized learning solutions that are put in place. When we talk about personalizing learning for the student, we are also talking about personalizing for the educator to make sure they have the right data about the student, at the right time, and the right instructional sequences to address strengths and weaknesses.”

The panel discussed how striking a balance between technology and in-person instruction was critical to achieving successful learning outcomes, but also to broadening acceptance of technological tools in the classroom. The objective of personalized learning tools, they agreed, is not to replace the instructor, but rather to support instructors by providing them the data needed to understand what their students know, where they are struggling, and then adapt accordingly.

“I have a very simple idea here, that personalization is the right content, to the right student, at the right time,” Regier said. “The challenge we have is how to reach more and more students with declining resources. The technology of the underlying system is absolutely critical. We can’t scale without the technology.

The panel discussed how the implementation of personalized technology in the classroom has been slow. Said Lockett, “Part of the challenge is that the development is happening so far away from the needs of our educators and our students, and then we wonder why adoption is so slow.”

Misconceptions about the role of education technology software, a lack of transparency from the industry and a lack of investment have hindered the widespread adoption of technological tools in the classroom, panelists said.

“There has been a profound lack of investment in K-12 R&D (research and development),” said Rose. “We are stuck in an ecosystem that can’t really generate the type of revenue that is required to develop a totally transformative experience.”

Personalized education technology has been around long enough that its efficacy has been demonstrated. The challenge, according to Gaehde, is that “the research is not getting into the hands of the decision makers. The decisions are happening at too high of a level. This doesn’t give access to people who actually need it.”

Katherine Reedy