2006 Teaching and Learning Symposium

3:00-4:30 p.m., April 25, 2006
Mary Gates Commons


Session Description

The Computer Science Gender Gap: Students at the Threshold

Ken Yasuhara, Computer Science and Engineering

We will presents results from a descriptive study of introductory computer science students' perceptions of computer science (CS). This study informs the design of an alternative or supplemental approach to teaching introductory CS, where the main goal will be to increase the participation of women in CS and computing-related fields.

The main research questions are (1) What are introductory CS students' perceptions of CS as a discipline and as a career area? and (2) What aspects of the CS major do they find attractive and unattractive? Our analysis focuses on ways in which women's and men's perceptions and interests are similar and different. The studied population is students in CSE 142, the first introductory CS course, which is required of all engineering students, as well as prospective majors in CS, Informatics, and related programs.

In an attempt to capture students initial perceptions, CSE 142 enrollees were asked to complete a survey during the first week of class in spring quarter of 2004. We present analyses based on the 205 participants who were first- or second-year students (and hence less likely to be committed to a major). We will also present preliminary findings from a set of semi-structured, individual interviews conducted at the start of winter quarter 2006. Our findings highlight the dominant role that programming plays in students' perceptions of CS, regardless of gender. Given women have less experience with programming, we suggest that these perceptions have differential impact on self-confidence and decisions to major in CS. We also found that women cited creativity and math/logic as attractive aspects of CS more than men. We discuss implications on introductory CS curriculum and pedagogy. This study is supported in large part through the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education's Institute for Scholarship on Engineering Education.