I’m a believer in empirical evidence, and I worry about getting a representative sample. Sometimes, the right size sample for the question is one. CS is now the biggest major among women at Stanford (see article here). Do the issues that Jane Margolis and Alan Fisher described in Unlocking the Clubhouse still exist there?
As the article linked below describes, women don’t always feel welcome in CS at Stanford. It’s hard to address the issues of classroom culture described. Having separate classes for different groups of students with different backgrounds/interests (as at Harvey Mudd does) might help.
I know of even worse experiences at other CS departments. The Stanford CS teachers actively encourage women. There are still CS teachers who discourage women in their classes. It’s hard to get administrators to focus on broadening participation in computing in the face of overwhelming enrollment. It’s even harder to push better teaching from the top down. “Teachers have academic freedom,” is a common response to requests to change teaching (see my efforts to incentivize active learning) — we allow teachers teach anyway they want. It isn’t clear that still makes sense when there are empirically better and worse ways to teach. That’s like letting modern doctors use bloodletting or not wash their hands (see NPR piece making that argument).
At Stanford, I took two introductory computer science classes. I soon became convinced that I was much too behind my male classmates to ever catch up. I was surrounded by men who’d breezily skipped prerequisite courses. As freshmen, they’d signed up for classes that I was intimidated to take even as a sophomore. They casually mentioned software engineering internships they had completed back in high school, and declared they were unfazed by any of the challenges professors might throw our way. My classmates bragged about finishing assignments in three hours. I told myself that they were quantifiably five times better me. I remember the first “weeder” computer science course I took–meant to discourage the unworthy from pursuing the major. My classmates bragged about finishing assignments in three hours. Listening to them chat, I felt mortified: the same work had taken me 15 hours of anguish at the keyboard to complete. They are quantifiably five times better than I am, I told myself.
Tagged: BPC, NCWIT, women in computing