The role of single-gender schools in promoting STEM graduates

September 2, 2011 at 10:20 am 3 comments

This op-ed from the President of Bryn-Mawr is about all kinds of STEM, but the discussed example is a computer science student.  I got the chance to visit Bryn-Mawr recently and really enjoyed it.  The students are sincerely excited about what they’re studying, far more than most students I see at Georgia Tech.  What’s the role of being a single-gender school in that?  I also visited at Haverford the same week, and found similar excitement.  Is it the liberal arts school culture, the small school culture, or the single-gender school?

When I asked Barb about this, she reminded me of the findings from our Georgia Computes workshops.  The mixes of gender matters.  For example, if a female is leading a mixed gender workshop, the boys change their attitudes about whether girls can do programming — but not if a male leads the workshop. She says that she finds that the girls enjoy the robot workshops more when the boys aren’t there, because if the boys are there, they hog the robots and the girls don’t get a chance.  Girl Scouts and Girls Inc are better settings for robot workshops for girls than are mixed-gender summer camps.

At Bryn Mawr we want to engage all types of students in STEM coursework and believe they all can succeed. Offering students a variety of entry points into the sciences allows those who arrive at college with advanced preparation to enroll in higher-level courses that immediately challenge them, while students who have had negative prior experiences in STEM coursework or poor preparation can take and enjoy courses at various points in the introductory level.

An institution can also use innovative pedagogy that teaches the applications of science to attract more students to STEM subjects. For example, in introductory courses in computer science at Bryn Mawr, students apply CS principles to create graphic design projects. Across the sciences, our lab exercises focus on problem-solving rather than the execution and replication of a series of instructions.

via Views: Closing the Gap – Inside Higher Ed.

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Study: Some are born with math ability You can now program the Finch robot from JES

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alfred Thompson  |  September 2, 2011 at 10:37 am

    Environment matters. It is easy to jump to the conclusion that school size determines environment or coed/single sex or Liberal Arts vs Engineering focus but I think it is much more complex than that. Those details make it easier, in some ways, to create an environment but that doesn’t mean it is impossible in other types of schools.
    The other key point in your post, which will shock many I am sure, is that boys and girls are different. It’s not thought of as a good thing to admit that but we ignore it at great risk.

    Reply
  • 2. Deepak Kumar  |  September 10, 2011 at 7:53 am

    Thanks Mark, for highlighting this! We at Bryn Mawr are proud of our efforts and our accomplishments. For three years running, we are now attracting over 10 percentage of the entire college’s student body in our CS1 courses. Within these courses there are different themes or contexts ( personal robots, creating coding and computational art, etc.). Besides the context, we have paid special attention to the level of engagement…by carefully chosing the kinds of examples and assignments, by putting computing in the larger context in real life, by bringing exciting folks (like yourself, and some of our alumnae) back to the classroom to talk and spend time with students, by engaging and encouraging students to pursue research opportunities, by giving open ended and creative assignments, by giving students ownership of the program, etc. and, above all, we are also lucky to have some great dynamic professors in the department. I cannot stress the importance of the presence of a great teacher in the classroom who is committed to the above aspects of CS education…and they are both male and female.

    Two things stand out in our experience:

    1. When we focus on the above aspects of the classroom experience, we have found that not only does it engage female students, but also engages the male students (we do have some in our classes). This was reported in a cross institutional study we did along with Lisa Meeden at Swarthmore College.

    2. The thing about the culture of boys and girls in the classrooms that leads to deterrence for females to pursue more CS is actually not unique to CS, but is a true gender issue. And it is not men being sexist towards their female classmates either. It is the culture within the male students to show off on each other and to do this in and around others….The “Name that Tune” syndrome applied to programming and computing (and its manifestations). Eventually, our own female students graduate and work in very good positions at large and small companies. But it is the one thing they relate back about the situation in the workplace. They stress that given the level of consciousness there is in the workplace about sexist attitudes etc. It isn’t sexism. It is just that the behavior in interactions with each other among men turns their female colleagues off. If you’d like a daily example of this…just watch ESPN for a few minutes everyday.

    So, the first is something we know we can do something about. The second is a larger societal issue and perhaps that is where single sex women’s colleges play an important role.

    Deepak.

    Reply
  • [...] I blogged on an article by president of Bryn Mawr College, arguing for the value of single-sex college education.  Now, here comes a meta-review published [...]

    Reply

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