Not all Arduino uses are created equal: Context and gender

October 31, 2011 at 8:22 am 6 comments

The below article ran in the IEEE Spectrum Tech-Alert under the awful title, “With the Arduino, Now Even Your Mom Can Program.”  The IEEE Spectrum editor immediately sent out an email retraction of the title as being offensive.

But even with the retraction, I don’t think that the piece adequately explores how different the populations are of Arduino users.  The below picture is from Leah Buchele at this last May’s NCWIT Summit in NYC.

The graph on the left describes the gender makeup of the Arduino-using community.  The graph on the right describes the gender makeup of the LilyPad-using community. The IEEE article simply describes the LilyPad as “waterproof.”  Huh?  Don’t they know about e-textiles?  The red in the graphs are male, and the aqua are female.  In statistics, this is called “inter-occular occlusion” — you don’t need a t-test, this just hits you between the eyes.  Women like the LilyPad. The Arduino community has almost no women in it.  The context matters.

If you’re going to make some crack about mothers programming, then you’d better speak to the significant gender issues. And if you’re going to write about Arduino, you should really know about the different communities.  Arduino matters for women, because it led to LilyPad.  Arduino itself plays no role in being a technology environment for mothers or just about any women at all.  They’d better figure that out before they further explore “integrating it more deeply into the education system.”

To fuel greater adoption of Arduino, the team is exploring how to integrate it more deeply into the education system, from grade schools to colleges. Several universities, including Carnegie Mellon and Stanford, already use Arduino. Mellis has been studying how students and laypeople take to electronics in a series of workshops at the MIT Media Lab. Mellis invites 8 to 10 people to the lab, where they’re given a task to complete over the course of a day. The projects have included building iPod speakers, FM radios, and a computer mouse using some of the same components that Arduino uses.

But spreading the Arduino gospel is only part of the challenge. The team must also keep up with demand for the boards. In fact, the Arduino platform doesn’t consist of one type of board anymore—there’s now an entire family of boards. In addition to the original design, called the Arduino Uno, the new models include a more powerful board called the Arduino Mega, a compact board called the Arduino Nano, a waterproof board called the LilyPad Arduino, and a recently released, Net-enabled board called the Arduino Ethernet.

via The Making of Arduino – IEEE Spectrum.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. thinkingwiththings  |  October 31, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Thanks, Mark, for calling them out on this. I don’t know the age of the author of the piece, but since I am 20 years older than the median age in the US, I can reasonably say “I’m a mom and I was programming before you were born!” These stereotypes die hard and they really hurt the cause.

    Reply
  • 2. Ben Chun  |  November 1, 2011 at 2:07 am

    In case anyone was under the impression that IEEE Spectrum under Susan Hassler was doing anything that should pass as journalism, or under the impression that David Kushner will be bothered to learn about the fields he covers, this should disabuse us all of that delusion. What a sad situation.

    Reply
  • 3. Evan Raskob  |  November 21, 2011 at 8:02 am

    I have been teaching Arduino for the last few years and this is completely against my experience. There is NO way those facts are accurate! I want to see the sources – that graph is meaningless colors without sources to back it up.

    Reply
    • 4. Evan Raskob  |  November 21, 2011 at 8:08 am

      I found the data: http://www.scribd.com/doc/39733911/Buechley-DIS-10-Lilypad-Arduino-Gender

      But there are numerous questions with its accuracy. For example, we give workshops and buy multiple Arduinos and then rent or sell them to participants at cost (50% of whom are female, generally)

      I’d also question using 2007 as a start date, as Arduino wasn’t fully documented and not nearly as mature until recently in terms of community and hardware.

      There are some conclusions to be drawn from this, but ANY graph that claims that there are NO recognizable women working or documenting Aruduino MUST be questioned

      Reply
  • […] Not all Arduino uses are created equal: Context and gender […]

    Reply
  • 6. Top 10 Ed-Tech Startups of 2011 | Hack Education  |  December 18, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    […] While I love the way in which the Maker Movement has blossomed this year, I sometimes worry that interest in science, engineering and tech will continue to leave girls out of the loop, particularly when it does to hardware tinkering. It doesn’t help when organizations say things like “Arduino: so easy your mom could do it.” […]

    Reply

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