Computer Science has an Image Problem

Computer science has a fundamental image problem. Shuchi Grover writes about solutions to correct these perceptions.

Imagine being a kid and believing that jobs in a certain career mostly involved studying and/or repairing a complex machine. Would the average girl, or even boy for that matter, with such beliefs (or with no notions whatsoever about what being in that field really means) wish to pursue such a career?

Here’s news for all: Even today, most children between the ages of 11 and 18 either have no idea about Computer Science or overwhelmingly associate a computer scientist with “building,” “fixing,” “improving” or “studying” computers. While some add ‘programming’ to this list, most don’t see even that within the ambit of computer science.

Research also reports that students finishing high school have a difficult time seeing themselves as computer scientists since they do not have a clear understanding of what computer science is and what a computer scientist does. This is rather unfortunate in light of Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius’ powerful study on the idea of “possible selves,” the type of self-knowledge that pertains to how individuals think about their potential and their future.

It’s plausible that students harboring ignorance, or worse, misconceptions of a field are likely to make poor educational choices and career decisions; and that the lack of interest and negative attitudes towards COMPUTER SCIENCE, especially among girls, is attributable to an inaccurate view of what one does with computer science. These popular beliefs likely impact girls’ choices more than boys’ as they preclude a view of COMPUTER SCIENCE as an engaging discipline with uses in social and creative domains.

Children must be cognizant of the broad applicability of computer science in many diverse fields of human endeavor, including creative fields and altruistic careers that often appeal to females. This need has been stressed in research on the “technological imaginations” of girls and boys, and more recently in Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher’s Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing. The importance of attending to this aspect of K-12 COMPUTER SCIENCE education simply cannot be emphasized enough.

More on this in the next post.

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Posted in STEM Careers, Women in Science

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