Emphasising the beauty and joy of computing for girls
The way computer study is presented can draw more female interest
Many studies show that girls are turned off by associations between computer science and the accoutrements of geekiness
Does a subject have to be “girly” to attract girls?
It certainly would appear that rethinking the way an area of study is presented, and making some changes in emphasis, can indeed draw more female interest.
This week, the San Francisco Chronicle highlighted how both Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley have increased female enrolment in computer science, doubling numbers in under a decade – in part by reconsidering the way the subject is taught.
The number of female students (106) is now greater than male (104) this term in a Berkeley computing course designed for “non major” students, those who are not specifically studying computer science.
‘Turns women off’
The class, entitled The Beauty and Joy of Computing
, was formerly known as the distinctly more mundane Introduction to Symbolic Programming.
Prof Dan Garcia, who teaches it, notes that “everything that turns women off, we reversed it”. More context was put in, to highlight the relevance of various aspects of computing. Each class begins with a discussion on a news article focused on a tech topic.
Some women who have taken the class have switched to a computing major.
If the title seems slightly cringe-making, it is actually a phrase from venerable male IBM computer researcher Grady Booch. (I’ve interviewed him before – he’s an interesting iconoclast, and exactly the person to identify both the beauty and the joy in computing.)
The topic of feminising Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects may be even more wince-inducing.
But then, that’s depending on how you define “feminising”.
The truth is that the subjects need to be rethought for both men and women. Male enrolments in computer science are also down significantly, and they are unlikely to recover any time soon to address the skills gap – the need for Stem graduates – all over the world.
In the US, about 45,000 men graduated in computer science in 2004. The number was 32,801 in 2010 – but that’s still slightly ahead of male graduates in the area in 2001, according to statistics compiled by the Chronicle . Women, on the other hand, made up only 7,306 of CS grads in 2010 – down from 12,048 in 2001.
These are major shifts. In 1984, women made up 37.1 per cent of computer science graduates in the US. Now it is less than a quarter.
If the proportion of women was that high back when people weren’t talking about “feminising” such courses at all, maybe something more was going on