Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Women and Computer Science – Is It The Environment?

The Internet was a buzz last week with reports of a study done on the effects of environment on women’s interest in computer science. (Links to articles below) While we’ve been talking about how the atmosphere in a computer lab or a computer class may be a turn off for women now there is a study that confirms this. Apparently not all women are into Star Wars, Star Trek or even science fiction in general. Shock! OK it’s not a surprise. In fact a lot of men are not interested either. So when these people run into a room decorated in Star Trek with people sitting around playing “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock” they decide “maybe this environment is not for me.”

So what do we do about it? Can we ban decorations? Seems harsh. But at least we can do some thinking about what decorations are put up. We can make the environment look less excusive at least? I think one thing we need to is make sure that there is diversity in the room. It may start with diversity of decorations but we need to make sure we encourage diversity in the people who inhabit the labs.

When I was teaching high school our computer labs were a hub of activity after school. Most of the people in the lab were not doing school work but killing time while they waited for rides home or sports practices to start. So there were boys and girls of all types and we let them have some freedom as to what they did. If nothing else it made it clear that computer labs were not geek only environments. I like to think this was/is helpful. There were also a lot of kids doing school work using both applications and computer science projects. There was a lot of peer tutoring going on as well. That environment, I believe, encouraged students to share both their knowledge and their interest in computers with others.

I’m sure there are a lot of other and perhaps better ways we can make our computer labs and computer science areas more diverse, more open, more inviting and less intimidating and exclusive looking. have you got some to share? I know lots of us could benifit from a sharing of ideas.

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