The Issue of Gender Equity in Computer Science - What Students Say

Iwona Miliszewska, Gayle Barker, Fiona Henderson, Ewa Sztendur
InSITE 2006  •  Volume 6  •  2006
The under-representation and poor retention of women in computing courses at Victoria University is a concern that has continued to defy all attempts to resolve it. Despite a range of initiatives created to encourage participation and improve retention of females in the courses, the percentage of female enrolments has declined significantly in recent years, from 32% in 1994 to 18% in 2004, while attrition rates soared to 40% in 2003. A recent research study investigated these negative trends with respect to gender equity in computing courses: of interest was the possibility of gender bias in the learning environment and its impact on female attrition rates. Focus groups and surveys involving computing students of both genders were used as data collection tools in the study. The overall findings from the focus groups were rather surprising, as they yielded no strong indication of gender bias in the learning environment of the computing course; this applied to the logistical arrangements, academic staff, pedagogical methods, and course content. The thesis that the existence of gender bias in the learning environment contributes to high attrition rates of females in computing courses was not sufficiently supported. While the fact that students, both male and female, found their learning environment gender neutral was comforting, the realization that reasons other than gender bias drove females away from the computing course was not. High attrition rate of females remains the reality. Possible explanations of this phenomenon were suggested by the focus groups, and the search for confirmation of these indications and discovery of other contributing factors continued.
gender bias, computing education, female participation, female under-representation, learning environment, retention
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