Want More Women in Tech? Tell them what it is. Give them the choice.

January 27, 2014 at 1:08 am 3 comments

Shuchi Grover nails the problem in her EdSurge article linked below.  If you read the Slashdot responses to Barbara Ericson’s AP CS statistics (not on a full stomach, of course), you will see a lot of comments along the lines of “The PC BS has to stop at some point. There are some professions and things that men prefer more than women and others that women prefer more than men.”  But all the evidence that we have suggests that there is a false hidden assumption in that statement: most students (male and female) don’t pick computer science simply because they have no idea what it is.  If students never have access to computer science, never see computer science, never see programming or a programmer or any code, then it’s not a choice.

Here’s news for all: Even today, most children between the ages of 11 and 18 either have no idea about CS or overwhelmingly associate a computer scientist with “building,” “fixing,” “improving” or “studying” computers. While some add ‘programming’ to this list, most don’t see even that within the ambit of computer science.

Research also reports that students finishing high school have a difficult time seeing themselves as computer scientists since they do not have a clear understanding of what computer science is and what a computer scientist does. This is rather unfortunate in light Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius’ powerful study on the idea of “possible selves,” the type of self-knowledge that pertains to how individuals think about their potential and their future.

via Want More Women in Tech? Fix Misperceptions of Computer Science | EdSurge News.

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Why aren’t more girls interested in CS? Barbara on HLNtv.com Participation in AP CS in high school is a matter of individual, exceptional teachers

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Chris D.  |  January 27, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    Honestly, a bigger problem than publicity is the misogynist hostility in computer science education that seems to be universal to women’s CS experience. And it’s nothing subtle, it’s heavy retrograde nonsense like “Women can’t code as well as men” and worse.

    It’s a little hard to keep a clear conscience and still encourage girls and women to walk into that buzzsaw of harassment (which, if they persist, will last for the duration of their involvement in computing).

    Providing education and role models is relatively easy. Let’s start focusing on what happens after that.

    Reply
    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  January 27, 2014 at 7:33 pm

      I guess it depends on what problem are you trying to solve, Chris? Absolutely, a hostile environment in CS is a problem. But in general, there’s not a lot of flow of information from colleges and workplaces back into high school and middle school. For the most part, girls in high school and middle school get no first-hand or observational data about CS. It’s hard to believe that it could be a major factor influencing their decision not to pursue computing. Absolutely, it’s an issue of retention. As many schools have observed, even if they accepted every woman who applied, they couldn’t reach parity in their CS undergrad programs. More women flowing into the field could influence the culture — it’s certainly happened in other fields.

      Providing education isn’t easy. Not when there are only 2000 AP CS teachers for 30K US high schools.

      Reply
  • 3. rjesup  |  January 30, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    A small part of the problem is that “Computer Science” != programming in reality, not just perception. For those looking for job-enabling abilities (as opposed to “theoretical” CS), a variant of Software Engineering (including programming) is more useful. I’m not sure of the current layout, but Software Engineering wasn’t taught to undergrads generally – it was an MS-level thing when I was in school.

    There certainly is plenty of overlap, especially in the first year or two. But Software Engineering would teach a lot more concepts that would enable graduates to do well in the workplace compared to traditional CS. (Again, my info is old, and perhaps mildly outdated.)

    I will note that if you expose kids to programming (early) and teach it, some of them will get interested and find out what majors that maps to. But without exposure, it’s self-directed and societal pressures loom larger. Like expecting someone to major in English if they didn’t take English in High School…. Note that “Math” != Computer Science (and definitely != programming). Expecting pure Math to be a lead in is flawed if that’s how it’s still done.

    Reply

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