Posts tagged ‘women in computing’
One of my favorite papers is the analysis of Stayers vs Leavers in undergraduate CS by Maureen Biggers and colleagues. This new research published by the CRA explores similar issues.
We also looked at words associated (correlated) with these two sets of words to give us context for frequently cited words. When talking about thoughts about leaving, students were particularly likely to associate “weed-out” with “classes”. They were also likely to use words such as “pretty” and “extremely” alongside “hard” and “difficult”, which sheds light on computing students’ experiences in the major. When talking about staying in their major, students cited words such as “prospect”, “security”, “stable”, and “necessary” along with the top two most commonly used words: “job” and “degree”. For instance, one student said: “[I thought about changing to a non-computing major because of] the difficulty of computing. [But I stayed for] the security of the job market.” Yet another student noted: “The competitive culture [in my computing major] is overwhelming. [But] the salary [that] hopefully awaits me [helped me stay].” Furthermore, students used the words “friends”, “family”, and “support” in association with each other, suggesting that friends and family support played a role in students’ decision/ability to stay in their computing major. As a case in point, one student noted: “The material is hard to learn! I had to drop one of my core classes and must take it again. But with some support from friends, academic advisors, more interesting classes, and a more focused field in the major I have decided to continue.”
Thanks to Greg Wilson for sending this to me. It takes a while to get to the point about computing education, but it’s worthwhile. The notion is related to my post earlier in the month about engagement and motivation.
I’d been socialised out of using computers at high school, because there weren’t any girls in the computer classes, and it wasn’t cool, and I just wanted to fit in. I wound up becoming a lawyer, and spending the better part of twenty years masquerading as someone who wasn’t part of the “tech” industry, even though basically all of my time was spent online.
And I can’t begin to tell you how common it is. So what if your first experience of “code” is cutting and pasting something to bring back replies because Tumblr took them away and broke your experience of the site.
Is that any more or less valid than any dev cutting and pasting from Stack Exchange all day long?What if your first online experiences were places like Myspace and Geocities. Or if you started working with WordPress and then eventually moved into more complex themes and then eventually into plugin development? Is that more or less valid than the standard “hacker archetype”? Aurynn gave a great talk recently about the language we use to describe roles in tech. How “wizards” became “rockstars” and “ninjas”. But also, and crucially, how we make people who haven’t followed a traditional path feel excluded. Because they haven’t learnt the “right” programming language, or they haven’t been programming since they were four, or because, god forbid, they use the wrong text editor.
Steps Teachers Can Take to Keep Girls and Minorities in Computer Science Education | Cynthia Lee in KQED News
So glad to see Cynthia Lee’s list (described in this blog post) get wider coverage.
Last summer, Cynthia Lee, a lecturer in the computer science department at Stanford University, created a widely-circulated document called, “What can I do today to create a more inclusive community in CS?” The list was developed during a summer workshop funded by the National Science Foundation for newly hired computer science faculty and was designed for busy educators. “I know the research behind these best practices,” said Lee, “but my passion comes from what I’ve experienced in tech spaces, and what students have told me about their experiences in computer science classrooms.”
Too often students from diverse backgrounds “feel that they simply aren’t wanted,” said Lee. “What I hear from students is that when they are working on their assignments, they love [computer science]. But when they look up and look around the classroom, they see that ‘there aren’t many people like me here.’ If anything is said or done to accentuate that, it can raise these doubts in their mind that cause them to questions their positive feelings about the subject matter.”
Yep. Though I’ve seen a lot of in-classroom culture that drives out women, the bigger driver is that computing culture drives out many people, like the Stack Overflow results recently mentioned here.
Engineering classes and assignments do not “weed out” women; indeed, data show that women students do as well or better than male students in their course work. Instead, women students often point to the culture of engineering itself as a reason for leaving engineering.
This starts with activities that are designed to show novices how the profession actually does its work, how to interact with clients and other professionals, and how to exercise discretionary judgment in situations of uncertainty. Many discover that the engineering profession is not as open to being socially responsible as they hoped.
And, during the more informal, out-of-classroom training and socialization, women experience conventional gender discrimination that leaves them marginalized. These factors appear to be the main reasons these accomplished women leave their chosen profession.
I’m a fan of these first person female perspectives on what it was like to be a CS student. (Recall the Stanford one I posted recently.) I met Satoe at Snowbird last month.
When I approach female friends with the question “Why don’t you try computer science or computer engineering?” I often hear responses such as “I’m not good at math,” or “Do I look like a gamer boy to you?” The low participation of women in technical fields like computing can be seen as a vicious cycle: women feel as though they do not “belong” in technical fields to the degree that men do, leading women to avoid or shy away from those fields (Cheryan et al., 2009; Good et al., 2012; Lewis et al., 2016), potentially perpetuating women’s underrepresentation in technical fields. According to a report by Jane Stout, director of CRA’s Center for Evaluating the Research Pipeline and Tracy Camp, a CRA-W board member, “at all levels of the academic computing pipeline, men outnumber women by at least 3:1,” (Stout & Camp, 2014) indicating issues with mentorship and role models. In order to better examine this issue, I categorize the issue into two parts: barriers put up by the women themselves and external pressures. External pressures explain the male oriented culture and stereotyping. Women are disadvantaged by gender biases in the workplace as seen through the application process and promotion consideration. They also feel like they don’t belong in a world of ‘gamer nerds.’
Casey Fiesler and Miranda Parker did a wonderful remix of the original computer engineer Barbie (see Guardian article about that). Great to see that Mattel did a better job the next time around, and Casey loves it. I love the point she makes below, which echoes a concern I’ve voiced about open source software.
This is particularly important is because as much as we don’t want to suggest that girls can’t code, we also don’t want to suggest that coding is the only path to working with computers or games. Sometimes other parts of computing—like design or human-computer interaction—are delegitimized, considered less rigorous or less important. Or maybe they’re delegitimized in part because they happen to be the parts of computing where there are more women present (in other words, more inclusive), which is even worse.
“I had so many advantages, and I barely made it”: Stanford alumna and Pinterest engineer on Silicon Valley sexism
I’m a believer in empirical evidence, and I worry about getting a representative sample. Sometimes, the right size sample for the question is one. CS is now the biggest major among women at Stanford (see article here). Do the issues that Jane Margolis and Alan Fisher described in Unlocking the Clubhouse still exist there?
As the article linked below describes, women don’t always feel welcome in CS at Stanford. It’s hard to address the issues of classroom culture described. Having separate classes for different groups of students with different backgrounds/interests (as at Harvey Mudd does) might help.
I know of even worse experiences at other CS departments. The Stanford CS teachers actively encourage women. There are still CS teachers who discourage women in their classes. It’s hard to get administrators to focus on broadening participation in computing in the face of overwhelming enrollment. It’s even harder to push better teaching from the top down. “Teachers have academic freedom,” is a common response to requests to change teaching (see my efforts to incentivize active learning) — we allow teachers teach anyway they want. It isn’t clear that still makes sense when there are empirically better and worse ways to teach. That’s like letting modern doctors use bloodletting or not wash their hands (see NPR piece making that argument).
At Stanford, I took two introductory computer science classes. I soon became convinced that I was much too behind my male classmates to ever catch up. I was surrounded by men who’d breezily skipped prerequisite courses. As freshmen, they’d signed up for classes that I was intimidated to take even as a sophomore. They casually mentioned software engineering internships they had completed back in high school, and declared they were unfazed by any of the challenges professors might throw our way. My classmates bragged about finishing assignments in three hours. I told myself that they were quantifiably five times better me. I remember the first “weeder” computer science course I took–meant to discourage the unworthy from pursuing the major. My classmates bragged about finishing assignments in three hours. Listening to them chat, I felt mortified: the same work had taken me 15 hours of anguish at the keyboard to complete. They are quantifiably five times better than I am, I told myself.