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Digital Divas

CHAPTER 6

CHANGING GIRLS’ PERCEPTIONS OF IT

Overview

In this chapter we report on the extent to which we have been able to change the perception girls have of IT. Our primary research question was to explore if a program that included specifically designed, educationally based materials could change girls’ attitudes and perceptions towards IT and IT careers in the medium and in the longer term. The chapter includes the results of the analysis of the qualitative and quantitative data. We report our findings against the assumptions we made, which were discussed in detail in Chapter 2. Results from the analysis of both the qualitative and quantitative data are used to argue whether or not each assumption we made was supported by the research. This chapter also reflects on the effectiveness of our framework for evaluating Digital Divas.

Intervention Programs as a Mechanism for Change

Early intervention programs focusing on girls and IT assumed that the reason girls were not interested in IT was because they did not know about IT careers or how exciting a career in IT can be. In previous research that we conducted we found that many of the early intervention programs (and a number of later programs) focused on promoting IT careers (Craig, Lang, & Fisher, 2008). We reported that between 2001 and 2008, for example, there were six large scale ‘Go Girl Go for IT’ days run across Australia, with a specific focus on exposing girls to IT career options. A similar program ‘Technology takes you anywhere’ ran in Queensland four times during this same time period. Interventions focusing on careers are not unique to Australia. Klawe, Whitney and Simard (2009), for example, reported on a range of similar programs run in the USA.

A few reported intervention programs have involved schools. Many of those running these programs, it can be assumed, believed that if girls were given hands-on experience working with IT they would become more interested in further IT study. For example, Doerschuk, Liu, and Mann (2007) reported on how they partnered with local schools to run a computing camp for girls focusing on hands-on IT activities. Paolo, Sivilotti, and Demirbas (2003) ran a workshop for 11- and 12-year-old girls to teach one specific aspect of computing. A program to increase young girls’ confidence in IT was described by Clayton (2006). Their program, which included teachers, ran different activities for girls including putting together a computer.

The only program similar to Digital Divas, also a longer-term program, was CC4G, which we briefly discussed in Chapter 1. This program also aimed to change girls’ perceptions of IT as a career, and it ran in schools with teachers as facilitators (Fuller, Connor, Johnston, & Turbin, 2009). The aims of CC4G assumed that through a school-based program running for an extended period of time, girls’ attitudes to IT would change (Fuller et al., 2009, p. x). In particular, their model (p. x) identified how CC4G could influence this change through the inclusion of activities that were fun, and introduced the girls to new IT programs.

Enablers and Inhibitors of Intervention Program Success

For Digital Divas we also assumed that better career awareness would encourage girls to take up an IT career. But we also assumed that girls’ perceptions were that IT was boring and was for boys, and that the roles the teacher and other role models play were important. In summary, the findings associated with the following assumptions (reported in detail in Chapter 2) of girls’ experiences with Digital Divas that we report on next are:

1. Girls would find our materials exciting, engendering greater self-efficacy

2. Girls would learn new skills and stereotypes would be challenged

3/4/5. There would be a greater awareness of IT careers encouraging girls to take further IT study, teachers and role models would promote IT careers, and would help the girls make the link between the activities and career options

6/8. The enthusiasm for IT would be maintained after the program and the girls will consider further IT study.

Assumption 7 related to the wider community support for the program. Data on this were not formally gathered through the project; however, as is detailed in Chapter 8, a research student did explore this assumption.

As would be expected there were factors outside our control that had an impact on the effectiveness of the program. We understood that we could not control some of these, but there were others that we had not considered. We briefly discuss these factors and issues together with the findings below. More details on each school and school environment are provided in Chapter 4.

Teachers and Schools

The literature highlights the inter-relationship of students, the home, schools, and teachers and the impact this has on learning outcomes – achievement, attitudes, and future study in a subject. As early as 1970, Flanders (1970) claimed that ‘[T]eaching behavior is the most potent, single, controllable factor that can alter learning opportunities in the classroom’ (p. 13). More recently, based on an extensive literature review, Hattie (2003) identified that student characteristics explain 50% of the variability in achievement, the home 5–10%, schools 5–10%, and teachers 30%. Hattie (2003) claimed that ‘[I]t is what teachers know, do, and care about which is very powerful in this learning equation’ (p. 2). The attitudes, beliefs, and expectations of the classroom teacher are also critical. These beliefs, particularly those that relate to pedagogical approaches, do have an impact on classroom teaching (Prestridge, 2010). Seminal research by Rosenthal and Jacobson (1992) highlighted the influence of teacher expectations of students. Known as the ‘Pygmalion effect’, Rheem (1999) encapsulated the findings of Rosenthal and Jacobson as follows: ‘… when teachers expect students to do well and show intellectual growth, they do; when teachers do not have such expectations, performance and growth are not so encouraged and may in fact be discouraged in a variety of ways’ (p. 1).

We assumed that the teachers teaching Digital Divas had computer skills and were confident users of IT, that they had a background in teaching computing or a background in IT, and that they willingly elected to teach the program. This was not always the case. In chapters 4 and 7 we describe the diverse backgrounds of our teachers. In summary, of the 14 teachers who taught Digital Divas, four did not have an IT background and two were new to teaching but had studied IT. One teacher had very low expectations of her Digital Divas class; another was unenthusiastic about taking the class, although this did turn around by the end of the semester; and one teacher did not teach all the modules and modified those that he did teach. Most of the teachers, however, were very enthusiastic at the start of the intervention and our post- interview data show that all enjoyed teaching the program. There is also some evidence in the literature that female IT teachers have a positive effect on girls’ attitudes to IT (Meelissen & Drent, 2008). In our case it was difficult to assess the impact of teacher gender as there were only two male teachers and comparisons could therefore not be made.

The teachers were asked questions about the school they worked in, the ratio of computers to students, the attitude of the school to IT, and the extent to which IT was promoted in the school. We found that four schools strongly supported the use of technology, offering professional development for staff and promoting the use of technology in teaching across the school. In two schools, there was very poor technology infrastructure, and in one of these schools the level of staff IT literacy was, not surprisingly, very low.

Our schools varied significantly in a number of other respects. We had schools with students from a high socio-economic status (SES) and schools whose students were from low-SES households (further details on SES data for schools can be found in Chapter 4). The nature of the schools varied. Some were co-educational; others were girls only. There was one selective-entry school and one private school. In some schools a high value was placed on IT and teaching IT, which was often reflected in the subject offerings in the last two years of secondary schooling; this was not the case in all schools. Further, in all schools the teachers who taught the Digital Divas program were allocated to the classes, that is, they were not volunteers. We found that the teachers’ individual backgrounds and attitudes influenced the outcomes of the program.

Of the 14 teachers who completed the teacher survey, ten considered their computing skills to be ‘moderately high’ or ‘high’, but four indicated that their skills were only ‘moderate’. While 11 teachers said their enjoyment of teaching IT was ‘moderately high’ or ‘high’, three indicated it was only ‘moderate’.

In general, the teachers’ views about gender issues and IT reflected the traditional male stereotype. For two of the three items on the teacher survey about gender issues, a majority of teachers indicated that there was no difference between girls and boys or that it might depend on circumstances. However, while some teachers indicated that compared to girls, boys were more confident with IT (5), boys were more competent with IT (5), and boys were more interested and enthusiastic about IT (7), none said that these characteristics were more likely to be found among girls.

Overall, we found that the teachers’ individual backgrounds and attitudes did have an influence on the outcomes of the program.

Our Results

As detailed in Chapter 3, significant amounts of data were collected consisting of survey data, interviews, focus groups, weekly reflections and observations. Table 6.1 provides a summary of the data collected.

Data type Participants
Girls
Pre- survey 265
Post- survey 199
Pre- focus groups (31 conducted) 134
Post- focus groups (30 conducted) 108
Focus groups one–two years later (12) 33
Teachers
Pre- survey 18
Post- survey 10
Pre- interviews 11
Post- interviews 13
Expert Divas
Weekly reflections 8
Post- interviews 13

Table 6.1. Summary of data collected

Given the lack of homogeneity and the impact this had on the assumptions we made, we considered that combining the data from all the schools was not the only approach to take for drawing robust conclusions. We have, therefore, when relevant, also included discussion of the results for schools that were clearly different from the ‘average’. Two schools were excluded in the reporting of individual school results: Williams because only nine girls participated in the Digital Divas class, and Clarke because no post-survey data were submitted to us.

As detailed in Chapter 3, the quantitative data were analysed using SPSS. Of the students participating in the Digital Divas program in the ten schools, 265 girls completed the pre-survey and 199 completed the post-survey. There was a series of 33 items, which was repeated on the pre- and post-surveys. In all, there were 183 students who completed both the pre- and post- surveys. For these 33 items, students responded to each on five-point responses formats – Strongly Disagree (1) to Strongly Agree (5). Mean (average) scores greater than three therefore indicate agreement with statements (the larger the score, the stronger the agreement); scores less than three indicate disagreement (the lower the score the stronger the disagreement).

The responses of the 183 students were used to gauge overall short-term changes in views following the experience of the Digital Divas program. Clearly there were differences in the outcomes by school. In the discussion of the findings that follow, overall changes are presented and discussed, and schools that varied greatly from the general patterns are also highlighted (except for Williams and Clarke, as discussed earlier).

The results of the qualitative data – focus-group interviews – are also presented with respect to each of the assumptions.

NVivo was used for the analysis of the qualitative data; 134 girls participated in the pre-program focus groups, and 108 in the post-program focus groups. Thirty-three girls participated in the follow-up focus groups, 12–24 months after their participation in the Digital Divas program.

Consistent with the literature on evaluation (detailed in Chapter 2), we designed an evaluation model within which we identified a number of assumptions that were described above. In the next sections we provide the details of our results, which are organised around these assumptions. We draw on both the qualitative and quantitative data.

Assumptions and Findings

Assumption 1. Girls would find our materials exciting, engendering greater self-efficacy

The findings related to the first assumption are presented in two parts. First we consider the impact of the Digital Divas program materials in exciting the girls and further stimulating their interest in IT, followed by findings on the effects of the program on the girls’ confidence and self-efficacy with computers. Quantitative data from the pre- and post-surveys as well as qualitative data from the post-survey’s open-ended items and focus-group interviews are presented.

Digital Divas Materials and Interest in IT – Pre- and post-survey comparisons

Several of the common items on both the pre- and post-surveys were designed to gauge students’ general interest in IT. In Table 6.2, the items and the mean scores on the pre- and post-surveys are shown. Paired t-tests were used to determine if the difference in the pair of mean scores for each item was (statistically) significant; t-values and levels of statistical significance are shown. It should be noted that we used the conventional probability level of <.05 to claim statistical significance. When mean scores were statistically significantly different, the direction of the change in mean scores is also indicated in the table.

Table 6.2 Pre- and post-survey means, and t-test results for items gauging interest in IT. ns = not statistically significant

The data in Table 6.2 reveal that the girls were quite positive about liking and enjoying working with computers, and that their interest did not change after the Digital Divas program. The pre- and post- survey data show that they generally agreed that they enjoyed thinking about new ideas to try out on computers (Item 19), liked playing around with computers (Item 31), and that using computers made learning more enjoyable (Item 33); they disagreed with not understanding how some people can get very involved with computers (Item 18). For all of these items at the individual school level, there were slight variations in views evident by school; however, none of the differences were statistically significant.

There was only one item on which the students’ views changed significantly after the Digital Divas program: they agreed less strongly that computing subjects were interesting (Item 7). For this item, in each school but one (Mayer), the directional change in views on Item 7 was the same; at Mayer there was a very weak trend for an increase in the level of agreement.

In summary, the students viewed computers and their use to be interesting, but after the Digital Divas program, they became slightly less enchanted with computing as a subject to study. Interestingly, there appears to be a disconnect between their enjoyment of the Digital Divas materials highlighted in the next section and the girls not wanting to continue with formal study of computing in future.

Post-survey responses about the Digital Divas program and curriculum

Using a matrix-coding query for the post-focus group interview data, we identified 265 positive comments on the curriculum that students experienced, 38 negative comments, and 14 mixed comments. When asked what they didn’t like about Digital Divas most girls said there was nothing they didn’t like. In the post- survey they were also asked if they enjoyed being in the Digital Divas class overall (yes/no). Of the 198 girls who responded to this question, 172 (87%) said that they had enjoyed it, and 26 (13%) girls said they had not.

The words the girls used to describe the Digital Divas curriculum highlight how the materials excited their interest. A text search on the words ‘fun’ and ‘enjoy’ was conducted on the focus-group data. The text search found that these words were used 190 times.

Many girls said they enjoyed learning new programs and learning more about programs such as Excel and Photoshop. These quotes are representative of what the girls said:

I learnt more ways I can use the computer. Because I already knew how to use some of the programs but I’ve learnt more.

I also enjoyed Digital Divas, it was fun, that’s why I enjoyed it. I liked working with Photoshop especially to edit images and I learnt how to use the presentation tool and I think it would help me in the future as well. So I could use what I’ve learnt here.

A text search of the qualitative responses from the post-survey found the words ‘fun’ or ‘enjoy’ were used 249 times (in a positive way) to describe the program or its content. Examples of the comments are.

Going on Photoshop because it was fun

Playing with computers, it was fun

I enjoyed learning what different tools could do. Photo editing

… it was fun and interesting

How to do a menu because Vlookup was fun

I learnt that it can be fun and involve girls

That IT isn’t just for boys and that it’s fun.

Confidence and Self-efficacy with Computers

Increasing the girls’ confidence and self-efficacy in using IT was an important aspect of what we were trying to achieve with the Digital Divas program.

The pre- and post-surveys included a number of items gauging students’ confidence with computers in general, and their self-efficacy with aspects of working with computers. The results of the t-tests to compare the girls’ views prior to and after experiencing the Digital Divas intervention are shown in Table 6.3.

The data in Table 6.3 reveal that for all but two items confidence and selfefficacy measures were similar before and after the Digital Divas program. The girls strongly agreed that they were confident using computers for communicating with people (Item 4). They agreed that they could master anything on the computer needed for school work (Item 9) and found it easy to teach themselves to use a new computer program (Item 12). They disagreed that they felt nervous learning something new on the computer (Item 16) or that they avoided using the computer if they could (Item 21), and they neither agreed nor disagreed that they had to work hard for long periods of time to complete a task successfully (item 30).

Following the Digital Divas program, we found that the girls agreed less strongly about feeling confident using computers at home (Item 27) – an unexpected finding. It was very encouraging to find that while they initially agreed that they panicked if something went wrong with the computer, after the Digital Divas program they disagreed with this (Item 2).

Table 6.3 Pre- and post-survey means, and t-test results for items gauging confidence and self-efficacy with computers.
ns = not statistically significant

In the post-survey the girls were asked if their confidence in using technology had changed and to explain further if it had. Of the girls who answered the question, 67 (34%) said ‘no’. Of these 67 girls, 17 (26%) wrote they were already confident before they participated in the program, for example, ‘I was already good with computers’ and ‘I was already amazing with computers’. The majority of the girls who answered this question (128: 76%) indicated that their confidence had improved. Many mentioned that they were more confident in a range of the software programs they had learned to use. Others made comments such as:

I’m not afraid to try out new things

I try to do things I haven’t done before

I used to be a bit reluctant exploring other programs because I simply didn’t know how to use it (sic).

I don’t get so frustrated

I’m more confident using the computer now and find it easier to try new programs

I have a better idea on how things work. If not I try my best

At the focus-group interviews held after the Digital Divas program, the girls were also asked if they were more confident with computers after doing the program. The majority said they were. A matrix-coding query found 42 instances where the girls indicated that their confidence had increased as a result of Digital Divas. The girls made comments such as:

I’m more confident doing tasks, like ‘Can you go make me a poster’ or something, I’m more confident doing that because I can do it better now.

… at the start of the year I didn’t know how to do anything on the computer except Word and Paint, but now I know other things. I don’t know how to use them properly, completely, but I have a little bit of an idea of it now. So I could try and do it, where before I couldn’t.

It gives you more of a confidence boost. Every time you’re on a computer then you kind of think I’ve probably used this before. After you’ve used a lot of programmes you get the hang of learning how to learn new things.

Well yeah, a lot more I think, quite a lot but not sort of the things we’ve done, so it’s kind of just like broadened the amount of knowledge I have about computers and stuff. So that’s pretty good.

One girl provided an example of the change in her as her confidence in IT had grown since the program saying, Well, I’m more confident to say to my mum, ‘Yes, I know how to do that’ because usually before I’d just say, ‘Mum knows all. Hail to almighty Mother.’ Yes, I’m confident to say, ‘Yeah, I know how to do that. I can fix this’.

Summary of Findings Related to Assumption 1

There can be little doubt that many of the girls participating in the Digital Divas program gained from the experience. Quantitative measures indicated that confidence with various aspects of computing had increased; on some measures there was no change. For those who participated in the focus groups, there were also very positive reactions to the materials and computing challenges they had encountered during the program.

Assumption 2.

Girls would learn new skills and stereotypes would be challenged.

Assumptions 3, 4 and 5.

There would be a greater awareness of IT careers encouraging girls to take further IT study, teachers and role models would promote IT careers, and would help the girls make the link between the activities and career options

In the focus-group interviews, and in some of the comments on the post-survey, the girls’ responses overlapped on these four assumptions. We are therefore reporting the findings associated with these assumptions together.

Pre- and Post-survey Data: Challenging Stereotypes (Assumption 2)

One of the main aims of the Digital Divas program was to challenge myths and stereotypes, particularly gender stereotypes, associated with using computers and working in the computer industry (Trauth, Quesenberry, & Huang, 2008). The pre- and post-surveys included 11 items to gauge students’ beliefs about these stereotypes. The mean scores and results of the paired t-tests are shown in Table 6.4.

In general, the girls participating in the Digital Divas program rejected the traditional stereotype of male superiority with computers (Items 5, 10, 11, 13, 22, & 23). As can be seen in Table 6.4, before and after the program the girls disagreed that boys were better than girls at working with computers (Item 22), more suited to work in the computer industry (Item 13), or that girls were better than boys at setting up new computers (Item 23). They neither agreed nor disagreed that girls found it easier than boys to work with new computer programs (Item 11).

After completing the Digital Divas program the girls disagreed significantly more strongly than before that boys were better than girls at fixing computers (Item 5). They agreed much less strongly that girls were more likely than boys to ask for help when working on a computer (Item 10). These were positive changes and signal the success of the Digital Divas intervention. The trends were generally similar when the responses were looked at for individual schools; it was only in the extent of the change that differences were noted.

Table 6.4 Pre- and post-survey means, and t-test results for items about stereotypes associated with computers and working in the IT industry.

ns = not statistically significant

Other common items on the pre- and post-surveys were designed to gauge the girls’ views on various myths and stereotypes associated with working in the computer industry, some of which are often thought to dissuade females from the field: that people work alone (Item 3), being considered a ‘geek’ (Item 17) and unpopular (Items 29 and 32), and that the job is financially rewarding (Item 24). For these items, the data in Table 6.4 reveal that before and after the Digital Divas program the girls disagreed strongly with wanting to be considered a ‘geek’ (Item 17) and that those who are good with computers were popular (Item 29); they were neutral whether admiration was associated with kids who are capable with computers (Item 32). The Digital Divas program involved the students often working collaboratively on tasks, and post-survey scores indicated that they disagreed significantly more strongly than before that people who worked with computers worked alone (Item 3). For Item 3, students’ views at each school changed similarly. School by school, trends similar to those of the whole sample were evident for Items 17, 29, and 24. For Item 32, however, the views of girls in some schools changed in different directions. At Goldstine and Perlman, the girls initially agreed that kids who are good with computers are admired; after Digital Divas they disagreed with this statement, a very encouraging and significant change if they initially associated being good at computers as referring to boys. At McAllister, the girls’ initial agreement with the statement was significantly stronger after Digital Divas; this change may be partially attributed to McAllister being a single-sex, selective school in which girls’ achievements are celebrated.

The pattern of student views and changes in views following their experiences in the Digital Divas program that are evident for this set of items are generally positive. They point to the success of the Digital Divas program in meeting its goals.

Pre- and Post-survey Data: Careers and IT (Assumptions 3, 4, and 5)

Assumptions 3, 4 and 5 all relate to the extent to which the girls were more aware of IT careers and options as a result of the Digital Divas program and are therefore being dealt with together.

There were three common items on the pre- and post-surveys exploring the girls’ IT career interests (Items 14, 20, and 28) and only one common item about future studies of computer subjects (Item 6). In Table 6.5, the items and the mean scores on the pre- and post-surveys are shown, together with the results of paired t-tests.

The data in Table 6.5 reveal that the Digital Divas program may not have had the desired impact on girls’ future IT study and career plans. Before and after the program they indicated that they did not want to work with computers (Item 28) or want jobs specifically in the computer industry (Item 20). After the program, they disagreed significantly more strongly than before about wanting jobs working with computers (Item 14) or with wanting to study computing subjects in years 11 and 12 (Item 6).

Table 6.5 Pre- and post-survey means, and t-test results for items about studying computing subjects and working in IT in the future

ns = not statistically significant

The patterns of responses to some of these four items were different in some schools.

Both before and after the Digital Divas program, Spertus students were very positive about wanting to study computing subjects in Years 11 and 12 (Item 6), and wanting a job with computers in future (Item 14). However, the extent of agreement to both items decreased after the program.

Prior to and after the Digital Divas program, Mayer students agreed to wanting jobs with computers in the future (Item 14); there was no change in score from pre- to post- survey. On the pre-survey, they agreed that they wanted to study computing subjects in Years 11 and 12, but after the program they did not want to do so; this change was statistically significant.

Holberton students’ views about wanting to study computing subjects in Years 11 and 12 (Item 6) or wanting jobs with computers in the future (Item 20) were extremely negative to begin with and did not change after the Digital Divas program.

Open-ended Survey Questions and Focus Group Data: Career Trajectories and Stereotypes

While overall the Digital Divas program did not appear to have positively affected students’ interest in studying about or working with computers, some of the individual students participating in focus group interviews had encouraging things to say about the impact of the Digital Divas program on their potential career.

The pre-focus group data indicated that prior to the girls undertaking Digital Divas the majority of girls had a negative attitude towards computers and/or a career in IT. There were 99 negative comments relating to stereotypes and only 15 positive comments. This was also the case with the pre-survey results where the girls were asked what they would like about a job in IT. Of the 247 girls who answered the question, 53 (21%) indicated there was nothing they would like, they wouldn’t like a job in IT, or they did not know or were not sure.

In the pre-survey they were also asked what they would not like about a job in IT. Of the 246 girls who answered this question, most answers could be categorised as follows (number of times mentioned and percentage shown in parentheses):

the job would be boring (sitting around all day): (105, 43%)

physical problems (eyes, no exercise, stressful): (45, 18%)

technical problems: (12, 5%)

Many girls simply said they had no interest in working in IT, five girls mentioned working alone, and two mentioned being seen as a geek. The stereotyped characteristics of IT jobs mentioned above are among those that we hoped would be challenged by participating in Digital Divas.

Following the Digital Divas program, the post-focus group data indicated that the views of 39 girls had changed about stereotyped characteristics of working in the computer industry, and with respect to the myths about IT and women. The responses focused on the opportunities women had in IT, that the job was not just about sitting at a desk programming, that there are many different jobs in IT, and that there was flexibility. The following quotes illustrate the changes in these girls’ thinking and perceptions:

I didn’t really think IT was for girls and then this class has really like changed my thinking completely.

They make a lot of money. And like they work from home, like you can choose to work from home if you want, you can stay home but you get paid heaps. And then you can travel as well. Like you get paid to travel, to go to meetings and stuff and yeah, it was all right.

There’s a lot of women in IT. That’s good, like there’s a lot of jobs for women in IT, that’s good. And you’re going to need IT in most jobs anyway…

We learnt a lot about stuff from different perspectives of people who work in IT, so like the creative people were interesting.

That women can do IT and we can do it well.

And you can design like websites and stuff. You can make them more interesting than normal websites and stuff.

I reckon like if girls actually started knowing what we’ve learned and working with computers in the IT … like with others and stuff, I guess they would actually like it as well.

To me I just think that sometimes the boys think they’re better than the girls on the computer, so sometimes they’re just annoying.

Well last time I thought it was guys and being kind of like geeky types, staring at the computer all day with coffee, and just like hours of coding and not sleeping at all. Now it’s like you can go out, flexibility, talk to people face to face, not through computers, and not coding the whole time.

Seven girls said their views had not changed.

In the post-survey the girls were also asked if their ideas about girls and computers had changed (Yes/No) and, if they had changed, how. Of the 193 girls who answered this question, 98 (51%) girls said ‘yes’, with comments such as:

Doing this subject I’ve learnt there’s a lot of career opportunities in the IT work field.

I now know a lot of jobs involve women and computers.

I never realised computers are so much fun.

Before, I didn’t really see girls with computers going together that much, but now I know IT can be a domain for girls.

This program has shown me that computers are not only for men, but women can enjoy technology as well. I know this because I have enjoyed the program.

However, 93 girls said their ideas had not changed. What was interesting is that of these girls, 37 said they already knew girls were good at IT or that girls were capable of doing whatever they wanted to do.

There were no specific survey questions related to the teachers and the extent to which the girls made the link between the activities in the Digital Divas program – the classroom computer-related tasks, visiting speakers, and presence of the Expert Diva – and IT careers. In the post-survey the girls were asked if they had learnt about jobs/careers in IT (Yes/No). There were 191 girls who answered this question and the data indicated that 138 said they had learned about careers and 53 girls said that they had not.

Comments from the post-survey and the post-focus groups highlight what they learned. Many girls commented on learning that IT was more than sitting in front of a computer; some recalled what those jobs were and others commented on the range of IT opportunities they had learned about. Examples of what was said included:

I learnt about the careers, such as animators and game designers and programmers.

I learnt there are a vast variety of jobs/careers in IT like design and website building. It wasn’t how I imagined it to be.

Doing this subject I’ve learnt there’s a lot of career opportunities in the IT work field

There was this chick that did planetariums and that was pretty cool because it wasn’t just sitting at a computer but her job involved IT and that was all right.

There is more designing as compared to what I initially thought.

IT also has many designing aspects.

I learnt that there are many different aspects of IT that I haven’t considered and that there are many IT jobs that involve art.

There were 21 direct references to the guest speakers and/or the Expert Divas in the girls’ responses to the question about career options in the post-survey. A number of girls also made reference to the careers that the guest speakers, women working in IT, who came to the schools had talked about; one speaker, for example, was involved in the bionic eye project and another two were games designers. The students indicated overwhelmingly that they enjoyed having an Expert Diva in the class to help them with their activities. The inclusion of guest speakers, women working in IT, coming out to the schools also made a significant impression on the girls.

For many girls participating in the Digital Divas program, the experience changed their views about some of the negative stereotyped aspects of working in the IT industry, perceptions of poor working conditions, and the opportunities, flexibility, and range of work options on offer.

Summary of Findings Related to Assumptions 2, 3, 4, and 5

There was strong evidence that new computing skills were developed through participation in Digital Divas, and some of the stereotypes associated with the field were challenged. Even before the program began, the girls’ views did not reflect strong endorsement of the gender stereotype; after the program they were even less convinced of males’ superiority with computers. The experience of working collaboratively throughout the Digital Divas program appeared to reinforce the students’ views that computing professionals do not work in isolation.

It was disappointing that for the cohort as a whole, interest in studying computing subjects in the final years of schooling and IT career aspirations were not as positively affected by the experience of the Digital Divas program as we had hoped. As shown in the focus-group data, for some individuals, however, the program had enthused them to think more about their own future career paths and in particular a career in IT. There were very positive signs of recognition that computing was a field open to women and that there was great variety in the types of jobs available. The participating girls were in the early years of high school; longer-term, the Digital Divas experience may well have an impact on them and shape career aspirations.

Assumptions 6 and 8: The Enthusiasm for IT Would Be Maintained After the Program

In the post survey the girls were asked specifically if they would consider further study in IT. Of the 189 girls who responded, 30 (16%) said that they would. They were also asked what they would not like about a job in IT. Of the 183 girls who responded, most said that they did not want to work in IT, without further explanation. Using the same categories as above, we can see that there were changes in terms of what they thought about an IT career:

the job would be boring (sitting around all day): 55 (30%) down from 43%

physical problems (eyes, no exercise, stressful): 11 (6%) down from 18%

technical problems: 8 (4%) down from 5%

None of the girls mentioned working alone and only one mentioned being seen as a geek.

In the focus groups, the girls were asked if they would choose an IT subject in the following school year; 29 girls said they would, 15 said no they would not, and 14 were not yet sure. Interestingly, eight girls said they had already chosen an IT subject. Digital Divas was mentioned as one factor in their decisions to study more IT, for example:

I wouldn’t have chosen it [IT subject] if I didn’t do the Digital Divas.

We learnt so much about women in IT and what role they play in IT and everything, and it actually made us consider doing IT after university and in the university.

By doing Digital Divas we actually considered doing IT in university because in [school name] everyone says medicine, engineering. That’s their stereotype. By doing Digital Divas we actually had an opportunity to learn about IT and careers in IT and everything. That was just great.

Digital Divas has definitely helped me pick the IT classes.

Follow-up Focus-group Results

In almost all research investigating the effectiveness of intervention programs involving girls and IT, the value of the program was assessed immediately after the running of the program. While this approach can provide a perspective on the extent to which something has changed from the start to the end of an intervention program, it is not useful for determining if the impact is sustained over the longer term.

In order to assess the extent to which the Digital Divas program had effected a more sustained change in girls’ attitudes and motivation for studying IT or pursuing an IT career, focus groups were held with girls in four schools one or two years after they had experienced the program. Data were collected from 11 focus groups involving 33 girls. While we cannot draw any hard conclusions because of the limited number of girls who we were able to contact and invite to participate in the focus groups, they do provide some insights into how sustained the lessons from Digital Divas were.

The girls were asked if they were now considering an IT career. Thirteen girls said they were, 12 said maybe, and five said no. Several girls mentioned that IT was part of most careers they would be doing. Some of the comments the girls made include:

Yeah, well, it is very interesting and usually, before Digital Divas, we would have thought, IT, no. I might go over and do something else. Now, after it, we’ve gone, ‘Hey, that’s actually not a bad idea.’

I realised I really enjoyed doing the Digital Divas tasks and that’s where my interests were.

I thought I did and then I just realised it was definite that I was interested in that because I was just a bit interested before.

I’m considering it but I’m not sure if that’s going to be an actual possibility. I have an interest in IT and learning how to use computers and all that kind of stuff.

I’m not really sure yet. I like IT and stuff but since I was young I’ve wanted to be something, so I’ve still got that idea.

The answers the girls gave indicated that they continue to have a broader idea of what an IT career might be. Several mentioned specific aspects of IT work; four mentioned web design or graphic design, and another mentioned games design.

Maybe I’m thinking of doing digital designing, maybe getting into an advertising industry where I can use creativity to create adverts and stuff like that.

I think as well, potentially, I could … in the sense of incorporating the technology we have and the design element because I’m really interested in using different designs with website designing particularly and advertising and marketing and things like that.

I think Digital Divas opened up the possibilities of what maybe I could do because I wanted to do something with law before and I guess it’s kind of opening up to something maybe to do with IT and law and privacy and everything.

I was thinking about something to do with forensic science, and the IT side of that.

Conclusion

There were a number of assumptions underpinning the design and implementation of the Digital Divas intervention program. The research data does provide evidence that the program was successful in a number of ways. For the entire sample of girls, the quantitative data revealed that the girls found the program materials interesting and their confidence with computers had either been enhanced or not changed (Assumption 1). By engaging with the Digital Divas program materials, they developed new skills, and as a consequence of their experiences some of the stereotypes had been challenged. In particular, their beliefs about girls’ capabilities with computers and place in the world of IT were reinforced (Assumption 2). While there was clear evidence of greater awareness of the range of jobs associated with careers in the IT industry, the Digital Divas experience had not, as hoped, further stimulated interest in future studies of IT subjects or working in the computer world for the entire sample. The focus groups, however, revealed that the opposite was the case at the individual level, with many girls indicating that after the program careers in IT were certainly possibilities for them (Assumptions 3, 4, & 5). The effects of the Digital Divas program in the medium term were explored in the follow-up interviews with participating girls one to two years after being in Digital Divas. These girls were able to reflect positively on their experience and how their views had changed as a result. For many, future study or careers in IT were now a possibility (Assumption 7).

Early in the chapter, research on the pivotal role played by teachers in affecting students’ learning outcomes was presented. As discussed elsewhere in this book, the research team did not have control over which teacher was assigned to take the Digital Divas class in each school. It was assumed that each teacher would have appropriate computing skills, would be excited by the prospect of being involved in the program, and would hold positive views about girls and their capabilities with computers and potential to work in the IT field. These assumptions did not hold up for all teachers. We believe that this might partially explain the findings that were inconsistent with expectation.

Digital Divas

   by Julie Fisher, Catherine Lang, Annemieke Craig, Helen