We have discussed many problems related to women in the technology field throughout this semester—from education, to retention, to mentorship, to the unwelcoming bro-culture. While all of these problems are important, the area I feel can create the most long-term change is education, specifically among younger age groups. Research has shown that girls entering or already in middle school, specifically those enrolled in advanced math and science courses, show a high level of interest in computer science and other STEM related degrees. However, by the time these same girls get to high school, they show a “general lack of information about computer science, computer scientists, and careers in computer science” (Howe, et. al, 2007). Some researchers point out that girls can be dissuaded from pursing computer science at ages as young as elementary school (Klawe & Leveson, 1995). What adds to this discouragement is a lack of hands-on and engaging computer science education at this age, if a school even offers a class in computer science at all (Goodman, 2013; Raja, 2014).
Adding to this issue is the fact that pre-college experience with computer science significantly affected the success of females in computer science in college (Taylor & Mounfield, 2004). Maria Klawe also suggests that better computer science education at the K-12 level will encourage more girls to stay in tech through college (Klawe, et. al, 2009). It was clear to me, then, that the root of the problem happens in middle school—girls become less interested in computer science at this age which leads to fewer girls taking AP computer science courses in high school and ultimately fewer female computer science majors in college.
My solution—an integrated computer science curriculum—has several main goals. First, by targeting middle-school girls I hope to break down some of the stigmas and stereotypes associated with computer science that prevent many girls from pursing this field further. Showing girls that they fit into the world of computer science will hopefully eliminate the idea that computer science is a “male domain” (Howe, et. al, 2007). Second, by actively engaging middle-school girls with computer science my goal is to encourage them to take advanced courses in computer science in high school. This will hopefully lead to more female computer science majors in college. I will do this by eliminating the difficult and uninviting introductory computer science course that often dissuades girls from enrolling in it. Instead of just writing lines of code behind a computer desk, students will learn how to apply the skills they learn in the introductory course in the real world and may be more open to pursuing tech-related jobs. Finally, my solution will hopefully show that computation thinking is a skill that can be used in any discipline, not just STEM fields.
The most optimistic outcome of my solution is that the bro-culture surrounding the tech industry would be eliminated because boys and girls would be interacting with one another in this environment from a young age. This outcome involves a change in mindset and culture, so it is difficult to judge how successful or easy it will be for my solution to combat this issue. However, the most realistic goal of my solution is that more girls will stay interested in computer science through high school and then go on to become computer science majors in high school.
My solution has three parts: develop a computer science program that focuses on hands-on, project-based learning; making this program a requirement for all students; and then implementing this program through an integrated curriculum as opposed to a rigid computer-science class. “The goal of project-based learning…is to develop viable, creative solutions to real-world problems or authentic challenges” (Levin and Schrum, 2013). A computer science program would work well under this curriculum because students would have the opportunity to apply the skills they learn in the real world. By creating an introductory computer science course that follows this methodology, students would learn that computer science and computational thinking skills are valuable in any situation—not just in writing code. Women tend to be dissuaded from computer science because they are more people-oriented and perceive jobs in computer science as sitting behind a computer screen all day (Hall, 2007; Harris, et. al, 2009; Cheryan, et. al, 2013). This project-based curriculum will highlight the communicative and interpersonal side of computer science and other tech degrees—especially if the projects are presented to the community.
Another reason many students, and girls in particular, don’t pursue computer science courses in high school is because these classes either aren’t offered or don’t count for a math or science credit. “In 36 states, computer science counts only as an elective credit…many students are ‘smart enough’ not to take the classes because they don’t count toward graduation” (Goodman, 2013). With my solution, computer science would become a required credit needed for graduation, which would keep students enrolled in the classes and hopefully encourage them to take advanced courses as they progress through high school. This might also stimulate interest in computer science for students who would not have taken the class were it not required. In this way, my solution would not only keep girls in computer science classes but may help girls realize that they actually like computer science when they thought that they didn’t.
Finally, this required, project-based computer science course would be implemented through an integrated curriculum. Rather than teaching computer science skills for only one class out of the school day, students would be engaging with technology in every course. This would further highlight the fact that computer science knowledge and skills is applicable to any discipline and is not just limited to STEM fields. Some examples of this would be creating video games in math courses to help learn material, building robots or conducting experiments in science courses, create webpages on events, people, places, and works in English and history classes, or creating multimedia projects for art, music or theatre classes. This integrated curriculum computer science course would keep students actively engaging with the material throughout their school day. By the time these students get to high school, they will be accustomed to using the technology and may be less likely to succumb to the imposter syndrome.
By bringing an integrated and interactive computer science curriculum to middle schoolers, we can solve many of the problems associated with women in technology. Girls would not lose interest between their middle and high school years, they would be more likely to take advanced computer science courses in high school, they may not as easily succumb to the imposter syndrome, and may be more willing to be computer science majors in college. It would also help alleviate the bro-culture that surrounds the tech industry because boys and teenagers would be used to having females in their classes. While some of these outcomes will be difficult to measure in the short-run, this solution will have long-term effects that will make the world of technology a more welcoming and interesting environment for women.
Cheryan, S., Plaut, V. C., Handron, C., & Hudson, L. (2013). “The stereotypical Computer Scientist: Gendered Media Representations as a Barrier to Inclusion for Women.” Sex Roles, 69, 58-71.
Goodman, J. (2013/2014, “A Girl Who Codes.” Fast Company, 132-138, 160.
Hall, L. E. (2007). “Nature, Nurture: What’s Behind Scientific Ability?” Who’s Afraid of Marie Curie: The Challenges Facing Women in Science and Technology, 35-55.
Harris, N., Cushman, P., Kruck, S. E., & Anderson, R. D. (2009). “Technology Majors: Why are Women Absent?” Journal of Computer Information Systems, 23-30.
Klawe, M., & Shneiderman, B. (2005). “Crisis and Opportunity in Computer Science.” Communications of the ACM, 48(11), 27-28.
Klawe, M., Whitney, T., & Simard, C. (2009). “Women in Computing—Take 2.” Communications of the ACM, 52(2), 68-76.
Levin, Barbara B., Schrum Lynne (2013). “Technology-Rich Schools Up Close.” Educational Leadership, 70(6), 51-55.
Riegle-Crumb, C., King, B., Grodsky, E., & Muller, C. (December 2012). “The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same? Prior Achievement Fails to Explain Gender Inequality in Entry into STEM College Majors Over Time.” American Educational Research Journal, 49(6), 1048-1073.
Taylor, H. G., & Mounfield, L. C. (1994). “Exploration of the Relationship Between Prior Computing Experience and Gender on Success in College Computer Science.” Journal of Educational Computing Research, Volume 11(Number 4), 291-306.
Tiku, N. (May 31, 2014). How to get girls into coding. Retrieved September 22, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/01/opinion/sunday/how-to-get-girls-into-coding.html?_r=0