Student and Faculty Choices that Widen the Experience Gap

Student and Faculty Choices that Widen the Experience Gap

Lecia J. Barker (University of Colorado, USA) and Elizabeth R. Jessup (University of Colorado, USA)
Copyright: © 2006 |Pages: 6
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-815-4.ch178
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A major teaching challenge for higher education faculty is students’ wide differences with respect to experience or knowledge with the subject matter or skill set of a class. In computing education research, this is often referred to as the “experience gap.” Research shows that the experience gap contributes to the low participation of women in professional information technology (IT) careers. Women are significantly more likely to enter college-level IT courses with little or no computer programming experience than are their male peers (College Board, 2004). Yet, programming experience is positively associated with success, especially in introductory classes (Taylor & Mounfield, 1994; Bunderson & Christensen, 1995; Brown, 1997; Margolis & Fisher, 2002), and low grades are positively associated with attrition from the major (Strenta, Rogers, Russell, Matier, & Scott, 1994). When women receive low grades due to inexperience, they may be more likely than males to lose confidence and leave the major (Cohoon & Aspray, in press). Another type of experience gap becomes evident in cross-disciplinary teams, where students encounter others whose areas of expertise and knowledge are substantially different, often to the point where students have difficulty understanding each other. According to IEEE Computer Society/ACM Computing Curricula Task force, “Computing education is also affected by changes in the cultural and sociological context in which it occurs” (IEEE and ACM Joint Task Force, 2001, p. 10). For this reason, both Computing Curricula 1991 and 2001 strongly recommend the integration of experiences and opportunities for student understanding of real-world applications and the people who need them. Courses that provide opportunities for collaborative and interdisciplinary learning are also often recommended to increase retention of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses in general (Agogino & Linn, 1992; Felder, Felder, Mauney, Hamrin, & Dietz, 1995) and in computing, in particular (McDowell, Werner, Bullock, & Fernald, 2003; Barker, Garvin-Doxas, & Roberts, 2005). Yet, collaborative learning and, in particular, project-based courses, must be carefully planned and managed for students to have similar learning outcomes. In this article, we demonstrate how students’ choices can reinforce and even widen differences in experience and reduce their ability to develop cross-disciplinary understandings.

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