Young Women Learning Computer Science

The question about how to attract women and minorities to computer science has been floating around for a while now. Two summers ago, I had the opportunity to attend an Exploring Computer Science professional development week-long summer Institute in Santa Clara where I learned  about the wealth of resources available to teachers who want to provide students of all backgrounds equal access to computer science learning opportunities. The mission of this curriculum —  designed by a team including Gail Chapman and Joanna Goode — is to attract women and minorities to the field of computer science. I appreciate the research and work that went into designing the ECS curriculum and I think that it accomplishes something very important in that it is what CAST defines as a Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

Computer Science is a growing field in primary and secondary education. As we design curriculum for our students, we need to consider principles like those of Universal Design for Learning designed by CAST. With a focus on designing curriculum that is universal, we will be able to attract not just young women, but all types of learners to our subject area.

In addition to using the UDL framework for curriculum design, some of the considerations that I make when designing computer science curriculum are:

  • making language accessible – it is so easy not to notice that we are using computer science jargon and I think that this is one of the top barriers for many students (I don’t have any proof for this but hope to follow up on this topic).
  • emphasizing collaboration
  • identifying a wide range of problems to solve
  • open conversations about the right balance between a healthy amount of self-doubt and a healthy amount of self-confidence
  • providing mentorship opportunities
  • metacognitive awareness – so that students can learn to be persistent in their approach to learning

We all have a role to play in making computer science more accessible to everyone. I recently spoke with Elliott Hauser, CEO of trinket.io, and learned that he understands that his role — as a white male computer scientist — in recruiting females and minorities to the field needs to be one of support. He talked about the work that organizations like Girl Develop It , Black Girls Code, National Center for Women & Information Technology, EngineerGirl, and others are doing to recruit women and he recognized that it might be more beneficial for women to hear about and learn about computer science from other women than from people like him. Additionally, Hauser talked about the importance of newcomers in the field of computer science as reflected in new changing programming languages. Just like spoken languages, programming language should evolve to be whatever is most useful to their users.

I realize that these are my own — incomplete — experiences as a computer science educator; I have a lot to learn. Having said that, I hope that they spark more thinking and conversations around the topic of Universal Design for Learning Computer Science and making the field more accessible to newcomers.

References

Burgstahler, S. (2011). Universal design: Implications for computing education. Trans. Comput. Educ., 11(3), 19:1-19:17. doi:10.1145/2037276.203728

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