[Humanist] 27.672 girls and computing

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Jan 5 10:49:47 CET 2014

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 672.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 5 Jan 2014 15:02:29 +1100
        From: Suzana Sukovic <suzana.sukovic at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re:  27.667 why don't girls compute?
        In-Reply-To: <20140104062951.615E36097 at digitalhumanities.org>

Willard and all,

The question is still pertinent as we all know. Before I say something
about the question and possible answers, I have to say I am not not a
programmer, but I've been involved with IT and teaching for a long time.

Firstly, the question itself. "Compute" means to use computers. Girls do
"compute" nowadays. However, they code and design IT systems less
frequently. In the last 20 years the everyday use has changed, but a major
difference between males and females in their involvement with IT has

It seems there are a few factors at play, roughly around 3 connected areas:
1. Girls' interests
2. Cultural issues around gender and geek cultures
3. The way computers are presented and taught.

I won't dissect them all, but I'd like to mention briefly the issue of
interest in and value of "soft skills". Girls are often more interested in
people than in machines. Social aspects of learning are very important to
teenage girls. Women in computing tend to deal with issues of use and
interaction with computers more frequently than men. However, "soft" skills
and approaches to teaching computers are usually seen as less valuable than
"hard" ones.

Our understanding of computers is, hopefully, reaching a point when we can
start to appreciate complexities of factors underpinning computer use. As
it happens at this time of the year, I have read numerous futuristic
predictions recently. Many of them are about technology in our time. And
most are wrong. In order to make more accurate predictions about IT
(arising from better understanding), we need more humanities and social
sciences - more "soft" skills. It isn't necessarily about women in IT, but
it is about skills women often have. More importantly, it is about a
perception of what matters and what is valued. It is also about recognising
a range of skills as IT-related and fostering them adequately.

On a more practical note, what can be done to enhance girls' engagement
with IT? It has to start early. High school is a good time to engage girls
or make sure their interests aren't lost under peer and other social
pressures. Ongoing discussions about DH education are focused on
universities, but it starts or should start much earlier.

A few suggestions:

   - Avoid a "one size fits all" approach. In my school we run digital
   storytelling workshops, Minecraft club and started a simple game-coding
   workshop. Different students attend all these activities and discover
   different abilities in the process. Most students, male and female, see
   computers as a tool. Show them how they can "compute" to do something they
   want to do.
   - Build interest and confidence - the biggest surprise to girls who made
   a leap of faith when they joined the coding workshop is that they can do
   it. Now we talk about doing more coding. We'll see how it goes, but they
   are excited to give it a go.
   - Change a "cool" factor - nerds, geeks and alike aren't cool among the
   majority of teenage girls I see every day. I believe it can be changed. A
   few schools and clubs aren't enough, but all contributions count to build a

Ideas and suggestions on and off the list are most welcome.

Dr Suzana Sukovic
*Head of Learning Resource Centre*
St Vincent's College|Locked Bag 2700|Potts Point, NSW, 1335
Tel: (02) 9368 1611 ext 215|Fax: (02) 9356 2118
*Research Associate, The University of Sydney*
*Co-Chair, ALIA Research Advisory Committee*
Contact Me [image:
LinkedIn] http://s.wisestamp.com/links?url=http%3A%2F%2Flinkd.in%2Fg2F4gu 
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On Sat, Jan 4, 2014 at 5:29 PM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 667.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>         Date: Fri, 03 Jan 2014 13:51:29 +0000
>         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>         Subject: Why don't girls compute?
> Comments on the following would be welcome. How different is the
> situation now? And how is it different?
> > WHY DON'T GIRLS compute? There still seems to be a popular feeling
> > that computers are terrifically technical and whoever understands
> > them, or even manages to use one at home, must be some kind of weird
> > boffin. Boys' stuff, so the myths tell us. Luckily the myth is in the
> > process of being blown away. More than 20,000 computers are being
> > sold each month in Britain, largely thanks to Clive Sinclair; it
> > would be hard to maintain that we are finding another 20,000 boffms
> > every four weeks. Yet of those 20,000 newcomers to the market each
> > month the vast majority are still boys.
> >
> > It is hard to tell whether parents deliberately buy computers for
> > their sons rather than their daughters, or whether it is the sons who
> > demand of their parents that they have a computer for their
> > birthdays. Whichever it is, the girls are not computing.
> >
> > At the recent ZX Micro Faire in London, the girls were outnumbered by
> > approximately 100 to one. Parents must take a certain amount of the
> > blame for this - perhaps they still feel that it is not quite proper
> > for girls to compute. If that is the case, they are doing the next
> > generation of girls a great disfavour. For the up-and-coming
> > generation a knowledge of how computers work will be of immense value
> > when looking for work in today's bleak job climate. Being able to
> > program a Sinclair ZX machine is obviously no qualification for a job
> > but at least it opens one's eyes to the possibility of learning how
> > to program to a professional standard. Maybe some will even be
> > sufficiently encouraged to try and start their own software
> > companies; there are already many precedents of young entrepreneurs
> > earning more from their hobbies than their parents do in their
> > full-time jobs.
> >
> > The other culprits are the schools. It is often in schools that the
> > segregation between the arts and the sciences, between the girls and
> > the boys, begins in earnes!. The boys are sent to the science
> > laboratories and the girls are left with the so-called soft options.
> > The result is seen at every computer exhibition.
> >
> > It is the teachers, not the girls, who are responsible for advising
> > parents that the best chance of academic success for their daughters
> > lies in languages, biology and domestic science. Part of the problem
> > is that compllting is not yet regarded as a soft option. Learning the
> > l00-odd key words in the vocabulary of Basic is a doddle compared to
> > mastering the intricate irregularities of French, Spanish or German.
> > Let's tell the teachers to think again.
> >
> > Editorial, Your Computer Magazine (November 1981)
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
> Humanities, King's College London, and Research Group in Digital
> Humanities, University of Western Sydney

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