Why Girls Are Less Interested In Computer Science: Classrooms Are Too ‘Geeky’

Despite billions of dollars in outreach programs designed to lure women into computer programming, and companies mandating that more women be hired, most females would rather go into something involving people. Yet a new survey of 270 high school students concludes that three times as many girls would interested in enrolling in a computer science class if the classroom was redesigned to be less “geeky” and more inviting. So we can knock Barbie dolls and pink clothes, but they are appealing to the market that is rather than the market some academics would like it to be. The notion that women and men are the same has become passe. “Our findings show that classroom design matters — it can transmit stereotypes to high school students about who belongs and who doesn’t in computer science,” said lead author Allison Master, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning&Brain Sciences (I-LABS). “This is the earliest age we’ve looked at to study stereotypes about computer science. It’s a key age group for recruitment into this field, because girls in their later adolescence are starting to focus on their career options and aspirations.” In the study, high school boys and girls (aged 14 to 18 years) completed questions about:

  • Their interest in enrolling in a computer science class
  • Their sense of belonging in a computer science class
  • How much they thought they personally “fit” the computer science stereotype

Then, the UW team showed the students photos of two different computer science classrooms decorated with objects that represented either the “geeky” computer science stereotype, including computer parts and “Star Trek” posters, or a non-stereotypical classroom containing items such as art and nature pictures. Students had to say which classroom they preferred, and then answered questions about their interest in enrolling in a computer science course and their thoughts and feelings about computer science and stereotypes. Girls (68 percent) were more likely than boys (48 percent) to prefer the non-stereotypical classroom. And girls were almost three times more likely to say they would be interested in enrolling in a computer science course if the classroom looked like the non-stereotypical one. Boys didn’t prefer one classroom’s physical environment over the other, and how the classroom looked didn’t change boys’ level of interest in computer science. “Stereotypes make girls feel like they don’t fit with computer science,” Master said. “That’s a barrier that isn’t there for boys. Girls have to worry about an extra level of belonging that boys don’t have to grapple with.” Previously they reported that inaccurate negative cultural stereotypes about computer science deterred college-age women from the field and that altering stereotypes can increase girls’ interest. The researchers say that changing computer science stereotypes to make more students feel welcome in high school classrooms would help recruit more girls to the field, which has one of the lowest percentages of women among STEM fields. “Our new study suggests that if schools and teachers feel they can’t recruit girls into their computer science classes,” Master said, “they should make sure that the classrooms avoid stereotypes and communicate to students that everyone is welcome and belongs.” Read the entire article here

Melinda Gates is doubling down on women in tech

 

Melinda Gates wants to put her muscle behind getting more women in tech.

Gates has focused much of her work on the well-being of women and girls around the globe — but this issue hits particularly close to home. Gates, a computer science graduate, joined Microsoft in 1987. She eventually married its founder Bill Gates, and the two launched the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000. Gates is now creating a “personal office” devoted to bringing more women into tech, according to an interview with Jessi Hempel at BackChannel. It’s early in the process, and Gates is still figuring out the best way to get involved. She said she’s currently in “learning mode,” and looking at everything from education to venture capital funding for women. One thing is evident: Gates said data will play a big role in approaching the issue. Gates cited the fact that just 18% of women are earning computer science undergrad degrees in the U.S. That has fallen significantly from the 1980s, when women received 38% of the degrees. “Every company needs technology, and yet we’re graduating fewer women technologists. That is not good for society. We have to change it,” she said.

Related: Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science nears gender parity 

She added that her office looked into the number of patents received by female inventors. “Four decades ago, 3% of all patents listed at least one woman inventor. As of 2010, nearly 19% of patents did,” she said. While that shows a clear improvement, she said her team’s projections didn’t see parity until 2092. In recent years, companies like Google (GOOG), Facebook (FB, Tech30), Apple (AAPL, Tech30),Microsoft (MSFT, Tech30) have released annual reports on workforce diversity in a bid to be more transparent. But there’s been very little progress. Microsoft’s 2015 report showed that its percentage of female employees actually declined from 29% to 26.8%. It cited massive layoffs as the reason. The transparency is, however, a start. And Gates notes that there hasn’t been a lot of research or money devoted to the issue previously. “In the tech space, men don’t really see a problem and a lot of the money is held by men,” she said.

Related: Melinda Gates: ‘Poverty is sexist’

It’s not difficult to understand why tech products and services would benefit from a more inclusive workforce. In an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow last week, Gates also stressed the importance of diversity. “We know that more diverse teams put out a better product,” she said. This goes for people of color as well, which Gates also noted in her interview with Hempel. Gates cited Apple’s health app as an example of a product that has a “blatant error.” It didn’t include period tracking. Gates stressed that she was “not picking on Apple at all,” but “it’s just an example of all the things we can leave out for women.” Read the original article here

‘Geek gene’ denied: If you find computer science hard, it’s your fault (or your teacher’s)

Assume for the sake of argument that computer science grades are bimodal: there’s a distinct group of students who excel at the subject, and then there’s everyone else in another group. Computer science researchers at the University of Toronto – namely, Elizabeth Patitsas, Jesse Berlin, Michelle Craig, and Steve Easterbrook – argue that while people commonly believe there are two such groups – the naturally gifted and the non-gifted – those people are just plain wrong. In a freshly published paper [PDF], the researchers describe how they analyzed the distribution of 778 sets of final CS course grades at a large research university, and found only 5.8 per cent of the distribution curves were distinct enough to qualify as bimodal or multimodal. In other words, there’s no separation in terms of grade data between those who can and those who cannot. In most cases, graphs of student grades fit a normal statistical pattern. “…Bimodal grades are instructional folklore in CS, caused by confirmation bias and instructor beliefs about their students,” the researchers conclude, a finding that supports a similar hypothesis put forth by Raymond Lister, a software professor at the University of Technology, Sydney. In light of this assertion, lack of diversity in technology recruitment becomes more difficult to excuse as a consequence of natural ability. Yet belief persists that some people have the “geek gene” and some don’t. In 2007, 77 per cent of computer science teachers surveyed by Clayton Lewis, University of Colorado at Boulder computer science professor, disagreed with the statement, “nearly everyone is capable of succeeding in the computer science curriculum if they work at it.” Patitsas, Berlin, Craig, and Easterbrook assert that computer scientists, ostensibly a group with some reverence for data, cling to the “geek gene” theory because it’s a form of social defense. It’s more comfortable to imagine such a thing than to consider the alternatives – inability to teach some people, sexism, favoritism, or some other character flaw. “It is easier for the CS education community to believe that some students ‘have it’ and others do not than it is for the community to come to terms with the shortfalls of our pedagogical approaches and assessment tools,” the paper explains. Read the original article here