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Revamped Computer Science Classes Attracting More Girls

UC Berkeley student Chandler Fitzsimons (center), with classmates Jongseon Park (left) and Darius Kay, attends the Beauty and Joy of Computing class, which enrolled more women than men for the first time.

University efforts to attract more women to their computer science courses appear to be working.

Credit: Leah Millis/San Francisco Chronicle

A growing number of universities are overhauling their computer science courses to attract more women, and the efforts appear to be working.

Last spring, a University of California, Berkeley introductory computer science class enrolled more women than men for the first time. Berkeley professor Dan Garcia says he broadened the class' scope beyond programming to focus on the impact and relevance of computing in the world, and included pair exercises. Although Garcia says the course redesign was not exclusively for the purpose of drawing greater female participation, the changes removed some of the aspects of computer science that tend to repel women.

As universities strive to draw more women into technology fields, they walk a fine line of trying to appeal without diminishing the technical aspects of a subject or making women feel targeted. A 2012 University of Michigan study found that gender-neutral role models were actually more effective than feminine role models in capturing the interest of middle school girls in science and math fields.

Women appear to misperceive computer science, according to a 2008 ACM study, which found college-bound girls associated computing with words such as "typing," "math," and "boredom." However, many women change their notions about computer science after studying the subject, particularly when exposed to its creative aspects and ability to impact the world.

From San Francisco Chronicle
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