Mark Gritter (markgritter) wrote,
Mark Gritter

ACM/WGBH study on teenage interest in Computer Science

The Association for Computing Machinerry and the WGBH Educational Foundation are working on "a project to improve the image of computer science among high school students." The released some preliminary results about high-school student attitudes to computer science. Full report (PDF).

Interesting tidbits:

Computer science is a very popular field for high schoolers over all, ranking as a "very good" or "good" choice for a college major for 52%, more than anything except "Business/Management/Marketing" and "Art/Music/Design". Next on the list is Psychology, with 46%. (I mean, I know there were lots of Psych majors at Gustavus who were there more or less by default, to the eternal frustration of rmnilsson. So it shouldn't be too surprising to see that show up earlier. It's not what I would have expected, though.) But, the male/female gap is immense. Boys: 45% very good, 29% good. Girls: 10% very good, 22% good.

One of the encouraging results is that they went in expecting a "racial and/or ethnic" difference but found that there was little difference between African-American, Hispanic, or "White" males. So the second part of their study will try to look more at why that interest isn't translating to enrollment in CS.

The breakdown by career choice (instead of by major) amuses me. "Doctor" and "Artist/Musician/Designer" score the highest on "would be a good choice for a career." at 27% "very good" each. (CS at 23%, Entrepreneur/SB owner at 20%, Laywer at 19%.) And yet it's fairly obvious that students end up making other decisions. Is this: ignorance of what the job is actually like? Overestimating their own capabilities? Aiming at a career they would like but failing? Or not trying at all at the careers they think they would most like? The answers seem very self-deceptive at some level: more "oh, yeah, it would be good to be a doctor" rather than "being a doctor would be a good choice for me."

This answer also had an enormous gender divide. 47% of African-American boys and 49% of Hispanic boys gave a "very good" rating to a career in computer science, more than the 35% of white boys who did. But only 9% of girls gave the same answer--- and again proportionally fewer white girls that non-white. Girls associate computing with "boring", "hard", and "nerd" while boys' word-associations included "design", "games", and "video".

(Asians == "white" as usual I guess. Admittedly the study was looking at underrepresented groups but I wonder about Asian vs. non-Asian attitudes.)

The message about CS that the study reported most appealing for girls was:

Computing empowers you to do good. With computing, you will be able to connect technology to your community and make a worlds of difference--- reducing energy consumption, improving health care, enhancing security, reducing pollution, and advancing learning and education."

Unfortunately, it is rather bland and not very CS-specific. It is only a couple points better for girls than their top-ranked message which appealed much better overall:

Computing puts you in the driver's seat. Why merely create a MySpace page when you can create the next MySpace? Computing gives you the power to imagine new languages, new worlds, and new ways of improving our lives by putting better ideas into actual practice in our communities.
Tags: academics, computers, gender
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