Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Progress on Background Research

Since our first research team meeting, last Thursday, I have been constructing a reading list and reading / taking notes on some papers for background research. I will post some thoughts on my readings in this blog, but maintain more detailed notes on copies of the papers. Here are some of my thoughts on some of the papers I have read over the past week.

I read "An Expanding Pipeline: Gender in Mauritius" by Adams, Bauer, and Baichoo in which the authors examine the trend of increasing percentages of women in CS at the University of Mauritius and hypothesize about cultural differences between Mauritius and other countries like the U.S. which have a trend of decreasing percentages of women in CS. I thought that one of the most interesting quotes from the paper was the following: "The growing percentage of female CSE students plus the low and declining percentage of female CSE instructors contradicts the hypothesis that women require female academic role models to be attracted to computer science." At our last meeting, we discussed the possible influence of role models in attracting students to computer science. The paper only discuss professors at the University of Mauritius as potential role models and not any women or men in industry who may be role models to pre-college students which may influence students' decisions to study CS. I would be interested to learn if there were any cultural role models in the field of CS in Mauritius.

Another paper that I read was "Gender Gap in Computer Science Does Not Exist in One Former Soviet Union Republic: Results of a Study" by Gharibyan and Gunsaulus which examined women's involvement in CS in Armenia. I did not find this paper as informative as other papers, but this may be due to the fact that this paper was based on only one part of a study with several parts left to be conducted.

The paper seemed very informal and not terribly scientific when analyzing cultural influences. For example, one sentence from the paper reads, "Armenians are very realistic and reasonable in almost all aspects of their lives, including the planning of their future." Besides quotations like that, there were interesting conclusions drawn from the research done by Gharibyan and Gunsaulus which support some of our hypotheses such as "CS is viewed as more closely related to Math than Engineering in countries where women's representation is higher in the field." Other interesting observations the authors had were that women and men had similar motivations and influences when choosing a major and absence of role models and male dominated fields are not intimidating to women.

One thing that I found very interesting was the fact that for all of the 1980's and 1990's the percentage of women in Computer Science never fell below 75% at Yerevan State University in Armenia. However, it has fallen to 44% in recent years. The authors attribute this to growing popularity with men and not falling interest with women. But my question is, why isn't Computer Science growing in popularity with women as well?

I have been reading various papers in Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, Volume 26, Number 1, 2006. It is a special issue on gender, race, and information technology. I have started reading "Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing" by Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher on Google books, but there is only a limited preview, so I am waiting for my copy to come in from Amazon to finish it! I have also been constructing a reading list (of more papers / books that I need to read), which I hope to put up here in my next post.

In addition to reading papers, I have been thinking a lot about the questions that we will want to put on our survey. We don't want the survey to be too long because it might discourage participation, but we also want it long enough that we can gain useful information.

At our meeting last week, we also discussed having a separate survey for freshmen. At this point in the school year, freshmen have only 2 weeks of experience to answer questions like, "Do you feel that you fit in at CMU, specifically within the CS department?" While they have limited experience with living / fitting in at college, freshmen can answer certain questions that will benefit our study. For example, in studying cultural attitudes towards computer science, a natural question to ask people in computer science is, "Why did you decide to major in Computer Science?" A freshman may provide a more unbiased answer to this question than a senior - while the senior may know why he or she has remained in the field, he or she may not remember as clearly as the freshman, exactly why he or she had initially decided to study computer science.

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