Gender Bias in Computer Courses in Australia

Gender Bias in Computer Courses in Australia

Iwona Miliszewska (Victoria University, Australia)
Copyright: © 2006 |Pages: 6
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-815-4.ch078
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Abstract

The participation of women in science and, more recently, in information technology (IT) has engaged researchers for more than 20 years. Despite extensive research and numerous practical interventions designed to address the relative dearth of women in IT, the problem persists. This is an important question since computing and computer competence are critical to ongoing developments of the “information revolution.” Evidence from around the world suggests that despite female predominance in undergraduate enrolments (59% in Australia, 55% in America, and greater than 50% in many European Union countries), women are reluctant to pursue IT study at tertiary level (Rees, 2001). Initial approaches to reverse this trend centered upon notions of equality and affirmative action, since the lack of significant numbers of females in the discipline was seen as inequitable. To alleviate the problem, intervention programs aimed at women have promoted information on technology-related careers, provided experience of computing work, and highlighted female role models. Other initiatives focused on helping women develop skills, attitudes, or background knowledge that women were thought to lack. These affirmative action measures, while commendable in fostering gender equality, were not sufficient in that they often served to reinforce the conceptions of IT as a masculine domain and, consequently, failed to attract women to IT. This suggests a need for an alternative approach—a re-conceptualization of IT into an environment that women would naturally embrace. Such a need, in the area of tertiary computing education, motivated this study. The aim of the study was to investigate, from the students’ perspective, the perceived problems faced by female computing students at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia; the study focused on problems related to the learning environment, particularly on direct and subtle gender-related problems encountered in the classroom, and special needs of female students.

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