An essay is enough to narrow gender-based achievement gap

November 29, 2010 at 1:49 pm 5 comments

I love the reasoning behind this study.  We know that gender gaps in achievement (and enrollment?) are entirely cultural.  So the solution is cultural, and has nothing to do with the topic.  Here, an essay in Physics class narrowed the gender gap.  Could something like this work in CS, too?  (Thanks to Fred Martin for sending this to me!)

A study in last week’s Science describes a program at the University of Colorado, focused on helping to narrow the achievement gap in an introduction to physics class targeted to science majors. In past years, research had found that a strong background and preparation could account for over half the gender difference in test scores, but that still leaves other, substantial factors to explain the discrepancies.

The authors suspected that stereotypes might account for the remaining differences. “The fear of being devalued based on a group identity, such as becoming aware that one could be seen in light of a negative stereotype about one’s group, has been shown to undermine performance on difficult tests,” they explain. “For example, women’s performance on difficult math and science tests can suffer insofar as they worry that their poor performance could be seen to confirm a negative gender stereotype.”

Since the problem wasn’t physics-based, the solution wasn’t either.

via Self-affirming essay boosts coeds’ physics skills.

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There is no “First” in CS1 is up!

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. David Klappholz  |  November 29, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    Two comments:

    1. At first glance/read it looks like the study is of a very high quality. (We found it last week.)

    2. It addresses the question of retention, but not recruitment; but, since retention is a critical issue in CS as well as in physics, I’m hoping to try it if a deeper reading convinces us that doing so might have a positive effect.

  • 2. Robert Cooper  |  November 29, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    I haven’t clicked through to RTFA yet, but do we really still refer to female students as “coeds?” Are we going to talk about the achievement gap for “coloreds” next?

    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  November 29, 2010 at 9:43 pm

      I had a similar reaction. That’s why my title is different.

  • 4. Michelle  |  November 30, 2010 at 8:16 am

    I haven’t read the article or the study yet either, but at a glance, it reminds me of Beth Simon’s growth mindset study from a couple of years ago. Because I learned about growth mindset at the same time as stereotype threat, it would be extremely interesting to me if they were cognitively similar and/or had a similar treatment.


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