The Girls' Computing Club: Making Positive Changes in Gender Inequity in Computer Science with an Informal, Female Learning Community

The Girls' Computing Club: Making Positive Changes in Gender Inequity in Computer Science with an Informal, Female Learning Community

Misook Heo (Duquesne University, USA) and L. Monique Myrick (Florida State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/jicte.2009041005

Abstract

This research was designed to increase the awareness of female students with regard to Computer Science (CS) as both a major and a career field. Five female students from a high school in a northeastern state were voluntarily recruited for a weekly, after-school computing club curriculum for one academic year. Over the project period, participants ventured through tasks relating to various technologies, thereby increasing their computer confidence. Collaboration preferences increased only when faced with both technical and content knowledge. Participants’ understanding of CS changed from abstract and superficial to more concrete, but disinterest in the major persisted. Finally, while the participants’ perceptions of gender differences changed, some of the self-reflections did not match their responses to structured questions. While the project impacted only a small sample, increased knowledge of the field of CS prevailed. If females are educated earlier, this may cause a noticeable shift in gender inequity amongst CS majors.
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Literature Review

The United States Labor Department has projected that graduates of computing related majors will have strong job prospects (Vesgo, 2006). Unfortunately, the Information Technology (IT) workforce has been in shortage of qualified personnel, and the diminishing workforce problem is expected to be even more serious in the coming decade (Kamal, 2005; Peckham et al., 2007). Researchers have remarked that if we attract more female students to computing disciplines and sustain their interests in the IT industry, the problem of the IT workforce shortage could be resolved to a certain degree (Katz, Allbritton, Aronis, Wilson, & Soffa, 2006) since females represent over 50% of the higher education student population (Peckham et al., 2007).

There have been, thus, numerous research efforts to identify causes of the low female presence in CS as well as related solutions. Among the identified factors, lack of computer experience (Varma, 2002), negative perceptions of CS (Forte & Gudial, 2005), male dominant CS culture (Margolis & Fisher, 2002), lack of female mentors and role models (Byrne & Lyons, 2001), and lack of knowledge and understanding of CS (Jepson & Perk, 2002) are often referenced by researchers.

Lack of Computer Experience

While some researchers argue that prior computing experience has no relationship to success in CS (Cohoon, McGrath, & Aspray, 2006), there has been a great deal of documented evidence of female students’ lack of computer experience compared to male students when entering college (Teague, 2000). With comparably less female oriented software and games, females gain less experience with computers in their early years, and it is believed to prevent females from choosing CS majors (Tsagala & Kordaki, 2007). Providing computer experiences with weekly activities as well as personal and group work could change the female students’ computer use, especially in the quality of computer use, and this could alter their perceptions of the computer (Countryman, Feldman, Kekelis, & Spertus, 2002).

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