Building Online Social Networks to Engage Female Students in Information Systems

Building Online Social Networks to Engage Female Students in Information Systems

Jaymeen R. Shah (Department of Computer Information Systems & Quantitative Methods, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX, USA) and Hsun-Ming Lee (Department of Computer Information Systems & Quantitative Methods, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJWLTT.2015100103
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Abstract

During the next decade, enrollment growth in Information Systems (IS) related majors is unlikely to meet the predicted demand for qualified IS graduates. Gender imbalance in the IS related program makes the situation worse as enrollment and retention of women in the IS major has been proportionately low compared to male. In recent years, majority of high school and college students have integrated social networking sites in their daily life and habitually use these sites. Providing female students access to role models via an online social network may enhance their motivation to continue as an IS major and pursue a career in IS field. For this study, the authors follow the action research process – exploration of information systems development. In particular, a Facebook application was developed to build the social network connecting role models and students. Using the application, a basic framework is tested based on the gender of participants. The results suggest that it is necessary to have adequate number of role models accessible to students as female role-models tend to select fewer students to develop relationships with a preference for female students. Female students likely prefer composite role models from a variety of sources. This pilot study yields valuable lessons to provide informal learning fostered by role modeling via online social networks. The Facebook application may be further expanded to enhance female students' interests in IS related careers.
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Background

During the past two years (i.e., 2012 – 2014), there has been an uptick in student enrollment in IS related programs at US universities. This is good news for IS programs and IT recruiters. However, to achieve a significant and sustained increase in student enrollment in IS related degree programs require a concerted effort by the academics and practitioners to promote the positive prospects for IS related majors and shed the negative bias about IS careers. All too often, contemporary media (including TV, News websites and blogs, and Social network sites) tend to create the negative bias towards IS related majors and careers. The same media also has the potential to be used to deflect the negative bias towards IS related majors and to create awareness among high-school and college students regarding the tremendous opportunities in these majors. Providing objective information about IS majors to students benefits them in making informed decision about their college major. This will potentially increase enrollment in IS related majors.

Over the past few decades, the low percentage of women employed in IS have not improved as fewer women choose to major in IS related fields. It was particularly alarming that women earned only about 25 percent of the degrees conferred in computer or information sciences (Turner et al., 2002). In the state of Virginia, enrollment in Computer Information Systems and Computer Science degree programs at four year institutions showed an overall downward trend; moreover, the percentage of female students in these programs fell at a higher rate than their male counterparts (Harris et al., 2009). Table 1 shows the statistics about the number of bachelors’ degrees conferred in the computer and information sciences and the breakdown by gender. From the data, it is evident that between years 2006 and 2011 less than 20% of the bachelor’s degree recipients were females. This is a critical issue for industry leaders because increasing the number of women choosing IS related majors will enable domestic organizations to recruit from a larger and more diverse pool of qualified candidates (Croasdell et al., 2011).

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