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Exploring gender imbalance in Computer Science: female school students' perceptions of access and engagement in Computing

Dimitriadi, Y., Marshman, P. and Dorling, M. (2015) Exploring gender imbalance in Computer Science: female school students' perceptions of access and engagement in Computing. In: ECER 2015, Education and Transition, 7-11 September 2015, Budapest, Hungary.

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In spite of research and focused activities women continue to be underrepresented in Computer Science pathways in Western countries. Even though CS is one of the most modern of the Science subjects, essential to the digital infrastructure upon which society now depends (Hall, 2013), in the UK, in particular, only 6.5% of the A Level students who took up Computing in 2013 were female (Arnett, 2014); unfortunately, this is not a country-specific issue only and the literature reports a leaky pipeline and documents concerns about recuritment and retention of women in STEM (Science Engineering Technology and Mathematics) subjects across the Western world (Metcalf, 2010; Yansen and Zukerfield, 2014). Peer influences, gender schemata, cultural assumptions and stereotypes are key factors impacting women’s entry into and retention in the sciences in general (Merrick, 2012) indicating the need for improved role models and focused campaigns (Plane, 2009), to attract female students to Computer Science education in particular. This empirical study aims to explore perceptions and experiences of secondary-aged (11-16 years) female students who are studying Computing or have taken Computing as an exam option. The data is based on a case study from a Secondary school in the UK which has challenged the national trend of male dominant classes and enjoys a high ratio of girls in their Computing classes. More specifically the study explores the participating female students’ experiences and views of Computing as a curriculum subject as well as possible influences that impacted these students’ choice to undertake Computing as an exam option. We feel that the study can contribute to the discusions around effects practice and association have on women in STEM disciplines around Europe and make tentative suggestions for strategies to reconsider binaries in female representations and participation in Computing. The interpretive framework of Actor Network Theory (ANT) (Bijker, 1999; Law and Hassard, 1999) informs the study and provides the platform to explore the interactions and association among technologies, human participants and their related activities. In ANT, engagement in the social processes of a community, such as the school that the female students and their teachers co-inhabit, as well as the subject of Computing and the artefacts used to develop understanding of this curricular area, shape both the participants as well as the objects themselves. In that context, as Lagesen (2012: 444) points out, gender becomes a process, rather than a pre-given category, as new objects are introduced into women’s lives and new relationships formed.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Institute of Education > Improving Equity and Inclusion through Education
ID Code:74832

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