Girls and Computers - Yes We Can!: A Case Study on Improving Female Computer Confidence and Decreasing Gender Inequity in Computer Science with an Informal, Female Learning Community

Girls and Computers - Yes We Can!: A Case Study on Improving Female Computer Confidence and Decreasing Gender Inequity in Computer Science with an Informal, Female Learning Community

Misook Heo (Duquesne University, USA) and L. Monique Spradley-Myrick (Florida State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-456-7.ch504
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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 computer 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 Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that from 2008 to 2018, employment of computer software engineers and computer programmers is projected to increase by 21 percent; employment of computer and information systems managers is expected to grow 17 percent; employment of computer systems analysts is expected to improve by 20 percent; and employment of computer scientists is expected to yield a 24 percent increase. All of these indicate a much faster growth rate than the average for all non-computing related occupations (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009). The United States Labor Department has also projected that graduates of computer related majors will have strong job prospects (Vesgo, 2006). Unfortunately, the Information Technology (IT) workforce has had a shortage of qualified personnel, and the diminishing workforce problem is expected to be even more serious in the coming decade (Kamal, 2005; Nagesh, 2009; Opsahl, 2008; Peckham et al., 2007; Teitelbaum, 2006). 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; Panko, 2008) 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 referenced by researchers, lack of computer-related experience (Carter, 2006; Varma, 2002), negative perceptions of CS (Cassel, McGettrick, Guzdial, &Roberts, 2007; Forte & Gudial, 2005), male dominated CS culture (Cheryan, Plaut, Davies, & Steele, 2009; Margolis & Fisher, 2002), lack of female mentors and role models (Byrne & Lyons, 2001; Pollock, McCoy, Carberry, Hundigopal, & You, 2004), and lack of knowledge and understanding of CS (Carter, 2006; Jepson & Perk, 2002) are the leading factors contributing to females’ decreased presence in CS majors and occupations.

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