Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Computer Science in your Classroom: The Role of Gender

It’s probably not a surprise to you that females are still underrepresented in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This is true in many of the STEM disciplines, but is particularly shocking in the area of computer science where the percentage of women obtaining degrees and entering the workforce has declined since the 1990’s and is continuing to drop (Landivar, 2013). In 1984, 37% of computer science majors in the U.S. were women and today only 18% are. That gender gap grows at the graduate level and in the workforce where women are dramatically underrepresented in engineering and computing. A recent national survey indicated that only 0.4% of teen girls plan to major in computer science.

This is concerning given that STEM fields are estimated to have grown three times faster than non-STEM occupations in the U.S. economy during the past ten years, it is estimated that by 2018 there will be over 200,000 unfilled advanced degree STEM jobs (Information Technology Industry Council, 2012). STEM fields offer employees a number of benefits including higher wages and lower unemployment.

Why is there a Gap?

Interestingly, research, indicates that there are little differences in the skills of men and women in educational technology, science and online learning between men and women (e.g. Hargittai & Shafer, 2006; National Center for Education Statistics), but they do differ significantly in their self-confidence and use with tools. Women report their skills as lower (even when they are higher than men’s), are less likely to explore technology in an unstructured setting, and are less likely to use available technology for programming or other powerful uses. Girls are also less likely to take the AP Computer Science exam or join optional Computer Science clubs.

You Can Help: Tips for your Classroom
·   Introduce female role models
·   Be a role model - Learn coding yourself! (https://nclab.com)
·   Teach computer programming in the classroom (Have you tried NCLab yet? It’s included for NR21 schools!)
·   Be aware that girls and female teachers might feel less confident in their ability (See this blog for more information: http://bit.ly/2AOXFy9)
·   Avoid making Computer Science optional – if it is, invite girls personally or open a girls only club
·   Pick activities that are hands-on and applied – research shows that girls like to code with a purpose in mind
·   Raise awareness of STEM occupations for girls
·   Check out these 40 Important STEM Resources for Women (http://bit.ly/2qNpEik)
·   Check Out this Video of a Girls’ Coding Club in Nevada - http://bit.ly/2CYneC5

~Heather Crawford-Ferre, Ph.D.

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