Gender Digital Divide and Challenges in Undergraduate Computer Science Programs

By Stoilescu, Dorian; McDougall, Douglas | Canadian Journal of Education, July 2011 | Go to article overview

Gender Digital Divide and Challenges in Undergraduate Computer Science Programs


Stoilescu, Dorian, McDougall, Douglas, Canadian Journal of Education


Abstract

Previous research revealed a reduced number of female students registered in computer science studies. In addition, the female students feel isolated, have reduced confidence, and underperform. This article explores differences between female and male students in undergraduate computer science programs in a mid-size university in Ontario. Based on Kelly's (2008) three levels of digital divide (resources, instruction, and culture specific knowledge), we explored gender specific challenges for each level. The research shows that, while the first level of digital divide is difficult to detect and the second layer is easily detectable, the third layer of digital divide is particularly pervasive and has a disconcerting outcome.

Key words: digital divide; computer science education; higher education; gender equity

Resume

Des recherches anterieures ont revele un nombre reduit d'etudiantes inscrites dans les etudes d'informatique. En outre, les eleves restants se sentent isolees, ont reduit la confiance, et sousperformer. Cet article explore les differences entre les etudiants et etudiantes de premier cycle dans les programmes d'informatique dans une universite de moyenne dimension en Ontario. Sur la base de Kelly (2008), trois niveaux de la fracture numerique (ressources, l'enseignement et la culture des connaissances specifiques), nous avons explore les defis specifiques au genre pour chaque niveau. La recherche montre que, tandis que le premier niveau de la fracture numerique est difficile a detecter et la deuxieme couche est facilement detectable, la troisieme touche de la fracture numerique est particulierement repandue et a un denouement deconcertant.

Mots cles: fracture numerique, enseignement de l'informatique, l'enseignement superieur, l'equite entre les sexes

Introduction

The situation of female students registered in undergraduate computer science studies is considered by educational experts to be critical (American Association of University Women (AAUW), 2000; Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), 2007). Research indicates that there is a great gap between male and female students in number and in performance in undergraduate computer science programs. According to many researchers, females feel less confident than males in pursuing computer science courses (Dryburgh, 2000; Hancock, Davies, & McGrenere, 2002; Harrell, 1998; Todman, 2000; Wilson, 2002).

Digital divide is defined as the gap between those with regular and effective access to devices, instruction, and knowledge to computational resources and those who miss them (Swain & Pearson, 2001) and reveals profound differences of the use of technology in society by showing how social inequalities are perpetuated through technology. While the term has a wide broad of significations and aspects, the concept of levels of digital divide was initially introduced by Attewell (2001) and extended by Kelly (2008), and illustrates social inequities in the use of computers in educational settings on three different levels. The first level of digital divide is related to physical access to computer sources. The second level relates to how the computer-based instruction is conducted. This means that the instruction of the existing technology is considered more important than the "official" existence of computer resources. Finally, the third digital divide level considers how culture and students' backgrounds shape their behaviour and perspectives towards the use of computers.

Few studies about gender differences in computer science education have been carried out in Canada. In this study, we use digital divide to study gender differences in computer science programs in a mid-size university in Ontario. The reason for using digital divide is to analyze the potential inequality in core aspects of the design and use of computer technology. It is the place where computer discipline not only reproduces itself, but also has a major role in designing and creating a technological role essential in today's society.

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