1. Sapna Cheryan
  2. Associate Professor
  4. University of Washington
  1. Allison Master
  2. http://staff.washington.edu/almaster/cv.html
  3. Research Scientist
  5. University of Washington
  1. Terrence Pope
  2. Graduate Student
  4. University of Washington
  1. Kristi Yamamoto
  2. Stereotypes Identity and belonging lab
  4. University of Washington

NSF CAREER: Transforming the image of computing to increase female participat...

NSF Awards: 0845110

2018 (see original presentation & discussion)

Grades 9-12

Current perceptions of computer scientists as “computer nerds” deter many women and girls from considering a future in computer science (Cheryan et al., 2009). However, redesigning computer science classrooms and companies motivates high school girls to express more interest in learning computer science without dissuading boys. Girls who see an introductory computer science classroom with objects stereotypically associated with the field (e.g., Star Trek posters, video games) express less interest in taking the course than girls who see the same classroom with non-stereotypical objects (e.g., art posters, water bottles). Broadening the image of male-dominated fields – for instance, by creating inclusive physical environments – is a promising way to communicate a new image of computer science and increase girls’ interest in pursuing the field.

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Original Discussion from the 2018 STEM for All Video Showcase
  • Icon for: Anushree Bopardikar

    Anushree Bopardikar

    May 14, 2018 | 04:59 p.m.

    Thank you for sharing your work with us. It's fascinating to learn that the design of physical environments may influence female participation in CS! I understand your study used questionnaires to explore female students' interests in taking CS courses. I am interested in your thoughts about other ways in which one might study the impact of physical environments in broadening female participation in CS. 

  • Icon for: Allison Master

    Allison Master

    Research Scientist
    May 15, 2018 | 12:23 p.m.

    Hi Anushree,

    Thanks for your question! This video focuses on a study that used questionnaires, but other studies from our lab have used real physical environments and virtual computer environments. Our lab has also looked at other sources of stereotypes about computer science, such as the media and people in the field.

    There's a summary of our research in this article, in case you're interested: Cultural stereotypes as gatekeepers. Across all of our studies, we consistently find that broadening the stereotypes about who belongs in computer science can increase female students' interest in computer science.


    Discussion is closed. Upvoting is no longer available

    Anushree Bopardikar
  • Icon for: Stephen Uzzo

    Stephen Uzzo

    Chief Scientist
    May 15, 2018 | 08:18 a.m.

    Your project is simple and smart and opens up a host of possibilities for thinking about the learning ecology for all of STEM. As a follow on to Anushree's question: whether you plan to see if the study holds true in a wider variety of settings, urban, versus rural, etc. Also, are there patterns or characteristics in the student's background that might be confounding to results (for instance effect of income, ethnic background, etc.). Would love to hear your thoughts.

  • Icon for: Allison Master

    Allison Master

    Research Scientist
    May 15, 2018 | 01:22 p.m.

    Hi Stephen,

    Great points! This study found similar effects for high school students in both public and private schools, although all schools were urban. We found the same pattern of results for students from all racial/ethnic backgrounds, where girls were more interested in computer science in the non-stereotypical environment than the stereotypical environment (and 62% of students in this study were students of color).

    We didn't measure family income, but we did ask students to report their mother's level of education completed (if they knew it). We didn't have enough responses to test statistically, but it looks like the effect for girls may have been larger for girls from working class backgrounds (whose mothers did not finish college) than girls from middle class backgrounds (whose mothers finished college). It would be very interesting to test this in a follow-up study--perhaps girls from working class backgrounds are even more sensitive to cues about whether they belong in STEM environments. So, providing cues that broaden CS stereotypes and signal that they are welcome may be extremely important for these students.


  • Icon for: Lisa Miller

    Lisa Miller

    May 15, 2018 | 08:56 p.m.

    Thanks for sharing your work!  As a high school computer science teacher, I find your research results very thought provoking.  It seems part of the challenge is getting girls into the computer science classroom and then another part is making the classroom a place the girls feel they belong and want to be.   I noticed in the images of the two classrooms, computers were not prominent in either (I think there may have been a laptop station in the background).  Is there a reason you chose to not have computers a more central part of the classroom images?  Thanks!

  • Icon for: Sapna Cheryan

    Sapna Cheryan

    Lead Presenter
    Associate Professor
    May 15, 2018 | 11:34 p.m.

    Thanks for your question, Lisa! We opted to model the classroom on what the Intro CS classes looked like in the high schools we had visited and at our university, which is more of a lecture course. However, we also wanted students to know that computers were involved, so we the words "laptop storage" on the cabinet to indicate that computers were present. 

  • Icon for: Kristina Yu

    Kristina Yu

    Informal Educator
    May 18, 2018 | 05:21 p.m.

     Hi there - I was wondering what your thoughts are about the role of the instructor and near-peer mentoring in involving and retaining girls in CS.  I have vivid memories of being a middle schooler and going to the high school next door for programming classes.  Not only was the classroom the typical type that you describe, but having to huddle with older boys (who were supposed to be TA's)  around our shared Commodore 64 was incredibly awkward.  I often wonder if I would have chosen a different academic route had that initial experience been more supportive.  Thank you for sharing your video and the link to your paper, really interesting, timely and important work!




  • Icon for: Sapna Cheryan

    Sapna Cheryan

    Lead Presenter
    Associate Professor
    May 19, 2018 | 12:21 a.m.

    Thanks for the question! We have done some work on how the teacher can influence girls in a paper you can find here. We found that women teachers in computer science can help reduce girls' feelings that they will be stereotyped negatively. Other work by Nilanjana Dasgupta has also found that gender of the teacher plays a role in retaining women in STEM. A Google report also found that encouragement from adults was a very important factor in determining which girls went into computer science. 

  • Icon for: Allison Carberry

    Allison Carberry

    Graduate Student
    May 19, 2018 | 05:36 p.m.

    Hi Sapna,

    I teach mathematics at an all-girls private high school and have seen the level of interest grow within our computer science program within the past four years.  I started teaching at my school at the same time as our technology and media arts teacher, who is also a female.  When she started teaching our school only had an introductory graphic design course that was offered to freshmen as an elective course. She currently teaches two levels of graphic design and AP Computer Science Principles and is trying to get AP Computer Science A approved for her students who want to continue taking computer science courses.  I believe that her role as a female technology teacher is increasing our students’ interest in computer science and her classroom environment is similar to the second environment you described in your video.  I also believe that her background in being an art major in college has helped her create a less stereotypical classroom environment.  I hope that our mostly female technology, mathematics, and science faculty encourage more of our students to go into STEM-related field. 


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