Archive for September 24, 2018

The Backstory on Barbie the Robotics Engineer: What might that change?

Professor Casey Fiesler has a deep relationship with Barbie, that started with a feminist remix of a book.  I blogged about the remix and Casey’s comments on Barbie the Game Designer in this post. Now, Casey has helped develop a new book “Code Camp with Barbie and Friends” and she wrote the introduction. She tells the backstory in this Medium blog post.

In her essay, Casey considers her relationship with Barbie growing up:

I’ve also thought a lot about my own journey through computing, and how I might have been influenced by greater representation of women in tech. I had a lot of Barbies when I was a kid. For me, dolls were a storytelling vehicle, and I constructed elaborate soap operas in which their roles changed constantly. Most of my Barbies dated MC Hammer because my best friend was a boy who wasn’t allowed to have “girl” dolls, and MC was way more interesting than Ken. I also wasn’t too concerned about what the box told me a Barbie was supposed to be; otherwise I’d have had to create stories about models and ballerinas and the occasional zookeeper or nurse. My creativity was never particularly constrained, but I can’t help but think that even just a nudge — a reminder that Barbie could be a computer programmer instead of a ballerina — would have influenced my own storytelling.

I’ve been thinking about how Barbie coding might influence girls’ future interest in Tech careers.  I doubt that Barbie is a “role model” for many girls. Probably few girls want to grow up to be “like Barbie.” What a coding Barbie might do is to change the notion of “what’s acceptable” for girls.

In models of how students make choices in academia (e.g., Eccles’ expectancy-value theory) and how students get started in a field (e.g., Alexander’s Model of Domain Learning), the social context of the decision matters a lot. Students ask themselves “Do I want to do this activity and why?” and use social pressure and acceptance to decide what’s an appropriate class to take.  If there are no visible girls coding, then there is no social pressure. There are no messages that programming is an acceptable behavior.  A coding Barbie starts to change the answer to the question, “Can someone like me do this?”

September 24, 2018 at 7:00 am 2 comments


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