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Digital Divas

CHAPTER 7

THE RIPPLE EFFECT

Overview

This chapter explores the wider impact of the Digital Divas program. Although, as with most intervention programs, our focus was on the girls, we found that our program had an impact beyond that of the girls it was designed to influence. There was an impact on the schools, the teachers, the curriculum, our school role models and our Expert Divas. The chapter draws on both the qualitative and quantitative data as well as our observations.

Background

Intervention programs are primarily aimed at changing a given situation (usually social), with outcomes designed to have an impact on or improve the situation of a specific group of people (Mastropieri et al., 2009). Rarely do intervention programs consider or aim to improve the condition of others outside the target group. It is, however, very likely that in the case of most interventions there is a ripple effect. That is, others connected to the target group in some way are influenced or changed as a result of a social change or intervention. Much of the research on IT intervention programs has only described the impact of the intervention on the target group; seldom do we see documented the impact on others who might be connected to the program. There are a few examples we have been able to identify.

Clayton, von Hellens, and Nielsen (2009) noted from their research into one intervention program that parents recognised, after the program, that they needed more information about IT careers – presumably so they could discuss this further with their daughters. Another group of researchers, reflecting on the outcomes of an IT camp to promote IT careers to girls, recognised the value of a community partnership for delivering a successful program and the role of schools (Choudhury, Lopes, & Arthur, 2010). An intervention designed by Nelson and her team (Nelson, Quinn, Marrington, & Clarke, 2012) identified first-year university students who were likely to fail and provided support to these students. Although not the target of the intervention, Nelson et al. (2012) reported very briefly on the impact on other stakeholders such as the academic and professional staff at the university. The impact reported was primarily focused on the value the other stakeholders saw in the program. Each of these examples highlights that intervention programs can, and often do, have a ripple effect.

In the case of our program, the intervention was intended to change girls’ awareness of IT to improve their career options by opening up the possibility of a career in IT. As discussed in Chapter 6, the impact of our intervention on the secondary school girls who participated was evident. However, at the conclusion of the program it became clear that the Digital Divas program had had an impact beyond that of changing girls’ attitudes to IT.

Before starting the Digital Divas program we extensively reviewed the literature reporting on intervention programs conducted in Australia and elsewhere. We found only one long-term program (that is a program which ran for more than a few days or over a couple of weeks) involving a significant number of girls, ‘Computing Club for Girls’ (CC4G) (Fuller, Connor, Johnston, & Turbin, 2009) in the UK. Girls participated in an out-of-class computer club on a weekly basis. Initially the program was restricted just to girls; however, later boys were included. Unfortunately there have been few papers published on this program. The final report (Fuller et al., 2009) includes details of the research conducted on the program, which consisted of interviews with the participants but no-one else. There are no details as to the impact the program might have had more widely.

Evaluations of intervention programs, as we have described in Chapter 2, have also typically focused only on the girls themselves and have not reported on any wider impacts, which is not surprising given girls are the target (see for example Watt (1988), Doerschuk, Liu, & Mann (2007), Paolo, Sivilotti, & Demirbas (2003), and Heo & Myrick (2009)). This is consistent with our own research of Australian intervention programs (Craig, Dawson, & Fisher, 2009), from which we established that the majority of programs aimed at girls were evaluated through surveys of the girls after the event but did not include others. Given that almost all intervention programs run for a very short period of time, it is not surprising that there is little reported on the impact of such programs beyond their target audience – the girls.

Impact of the Digital Divas Program

The girls participating in the Digital Divas program were involved for a significantly longer period of time than other similar interventions. Also, because we were able to collect data over several years, we have been able to explore the wider impact of our program and/or influence the program has had on others. We collected data from teachers through interviews, surveys and meetings; interviews and weekly reflections from our Expert Divas; and our own observations on our visits to each school. We next discuss each of the groups on whom the program had an impact.

Teachers

It is not surprising that research has established the importance of the teacher on learning outcomes in all areas as well as in the context of IT use (Cox & Marshall, 2007; Geer & Sweeney, 2012; Levin & Wadmany, 2008). Research by Levin and Wadmany (2008) highlighted the importance of the teacher’s experience with technology in the classroom and the need to ensure teachers have the necessary technology skills and experience to be effective. Miranda and Russell, (2011) found that in the classroom ‘... the strongest predictor of reported teacher-directed student use might be teachers’ belief about the instructional benefits of technology’ (p. 317). Further, they found that teachers who had experience with technology and saw the benefit of technology in their classrooms were more likely to encourage their students to use technology (Miranda & Russell, 2011). A UK report examining teachers and successful use of IT in the classroom found that ‘The extent to which individual teachers are committed to integrating IT, and how this commitment relates to that of the school as a whole, can have a significant impact on the degree to which IT can be integrated by those teachers’ (Scrimshaw, 2004, p. 6).

What is important therefore from our perspective is that even if the teachers who participated in our program were not experienced in IT, their enthusiasm and use of the technology was likely to have an impact on the extent to which the girls engaged with technology.

As discussed above, the background, quality and attitude a teacher brings to a classroom is likely to have an impact on the learning outcomes. If a teacher is enjoying what they are teaching it is more likely that the class will enjoy the experience. It is therefore of value to explore the extent to which teachers were able to influence both the program and how it was delivered. All of the teachers said they enjoyed teaching the program and would like to teach Digital Divas again. There were many positive comments relating to their experience. Many of the teachers mentioned that they thought there was more they could do in the class, that they felt they needed to learn more and some indicated that they wanted more time for the class than they were allocated by the school.

School Teacher characteristics
Bartik Secondary College Alice had a strong IT background; she had taught IT for eight years and enjoyed it. She contributed significantly to the modules. She taught Digital Divas to four different classes over a period of three years.
John taught Digital Divas for one term as a relief teacher. He has an IT background. He taught only a limited part of the curriculum.
Clarke Secondary College Jane had not studied IT and was a science teacher; she had, however, taught IT for three years. She was enthusiastic to take the class but there was limited school support. Jane struggled with teaching the modules; however, the class managed to complete three.
Forsythe Secondary College Stephen was an art teacher and not an experienced IT teacher; Digital Divas was his first IT teaching experience. He did not use all the modules and in some cases taught his own material. Stephen struggled particularly with the programming aspects but was happy with what he did do.
Goldstine Secondary College Jay had a strong IT background and has taught IT for four years; however, her background is as a humanities teacher. Although the school thought students had IT skills she believed the students’ IT skills were weak. Jay enjoyed teaching Digital Divas and the modules. She found it challenging to keep students interested but persisted with the modules.
Holberton Secondary College Both teachers had an IT background and had taught IT for six years. Both also taught art.
Di was the first teacher to teach Digital Divas in 2010 and conversations with her suggested a disturbingly low expectation of the students. She taught at least three of the modules.
Deanne, the second teacher, had a much more positive attitude and rapport with her class. She loved teaching the class and managed to complete most of the modules.
Koss Secondary College Alysa was IT-savvy and enthusiastic and had taught IT for two years. She was enthusiastic about the curriculum; however, given the cohort of students she was only able to work through and teach a couple of modules.
Mayer Secondary College Melanie was enthusiastic about getting girls into IT; she has experience and an IT background although most of her teaching was in the humanities area. She had taught IT for two years. She wanted to get more girls into IT and saw Digital Divas as a way to do that. She taught several modules but modified two of them to less interactive formats.
McAllister Secondary College Both teachers had studied IT but this was their first year teaching IT. Ellie was the IT coordinator who had a mathematics teaching background. Lee, who taught Digital Divas twice, had a background as a language teacher. Both teachers loved teaching the class and were very enthusiastic. Both taught most of the modules in the program.
Moffatt Secondary College Jen did not have an IT background and this was her first year teaching IT. Her background was in outdoor/physical education. She knew the applications she was teaching and was very technology-savvy. She was enthusiastic about teaching the class and covered many of the modules.
Spertus College The teacher had a design and technology background and had taught IT for 12 years. She was enthusiastic about taking the class and the class covered many of the modules.

Table 7.1 Teachers of Digital Divas

In this section we provide an overview of the background and the attitude of the teachers. Table 7.1 summarises the background each of the teachers.7 As is evident, a number of our teachers did not have an IT background. This, however, did not appear to affect the delivery of the program. What was clear from our observations and interviews was the enthusiasm the teachers brought to their classrooms.

Influence of the teachers on the program

Teachers were overwhelmingly engaged with the program and pleased to have been involved. The teachers’ enthusiasm was reflected in how they modified and changed the curriculum. In some cases modules were adapted to suit a particular cohort, in other cases new materials were found to complement the existing resources. This is consistent with the findings of Miranda and Russell (2011), whose research established that innovative teachers are likely to seek out external resources. For Digital Divas the teachers taught with both the materials we provided and new material introduced by them.

I found some really good tutorials on Photoshop and some problems that we found in just setting up their magazine cover and things like that. We found solutions and so I posted those links. (Moffatt).

Another teacher described how she modified and extended one module by having the girls ‘go out and take photographs, and play with their own photographs as well as creating the magazine cover as well. They really enjoyed that aspect of it’. She went on to explain how the modules gave her ideas of what else could be done ‘and then I was able to adapt them a little bit to suit our student’s needs, and likes.’ (Holberton).

To be able to extend and modify the materials was important at some schools, such as the selective-entry all-girls’ school. Many of the teachers used our curriculum but modified it for their students. This was particularly evident when teachers taught Digital Divas for a second time. They appeared to have had more confidence in what they were doing and this was reflected in the changes.

It is not a surprise that dedicated teachers are always looking to improve and it is encouraging that this extended to teaching girls about IT.

I feel there is always more we can do – not always sure how or what. It is something that needs to grow and we need to continually improve and challenge our thinking on how to get the girls motivated and interested in this subject area. (Bartik)

However, it should be noted that in two schools the teacher reverted to their own curriculum. Our observations were that these teachers were not as confident. In one case, however, the teacher’s confidence improved and he did teach more of the modules in the second iteration of Digital Divas in the school.

Overall it is evident that teachers influenced the program through their own adaptation and extensions to the materials we had provided.

Influence of the program on the teacher

Four of our schools were all-girls’ schools, the other six were co-educational. For many of our teachers the experience of teaching an all-girl class was new to them. Overall the teachers found the experience to be very positive and valuable. A number of the teachers reflected on how much better and how much easier it was to teach an all-girl class and how this influenced their teaching style and approach. For example:

The best aspect was being able to teach the girls without having to deal with any classroom management issues i.e. behaviour. You can really focus on extending the girls’ knowledge and skills because you have more time to see the girls individually. (Bartik)

The all-girl environment certainly influenced teachers’ perceptions of the value of all-girl classes. For example:

I still think there’s some other subjects where – not for the whole cohort – but I think there a definitely times where you need to say ‘These girls need to be on their own’, or ‘These boys need to be quarantined, on their own’. (Mayer)

I found that a lot of the girls’ attitudes change mainly because it was a girl-only course. I think that they found that they could try to achieve more things because there wasn’t boys in the room. (Holberton)

It’s a very different environment or feel to the whole class. The girls appreciated that too. They were very productive and they were challenged by some things and yet they were really, they persevered and they really started to hone their skills so that was really good to see. (Moffatt)

Teachers commented that they had more time to spend with the girls because there were no boys in the class, and as a result they were able to do things differently. In some cases they would take more time, be more selective in what they covered and consider more carefully how the curriculum could be delivered.

One of the surprising things for us, as researchers, was the value of the program in terms of teachers and their own learning. In an informal conversation with one of the researchers, one teacher explained how much she appreciated the level of detail in the materials because she was learning about the applications as the class was progressing; our materials were teaching her, in effect. What teachers themselves had learnt through the program was a familiar theme in the post- interviews.

Many of the teachers invested significant time in learning the materials, particularly where the software for teaching the modules was completely new. None of the teachers expressed any concern or frustration with having to do this, suggesting that they were motivated to learn as they went. ‘I found it really interesting just like the girls, so I was learning with the girls as well, so it was quite fun.’ (McAllister).

One teacher who had never used Dreamweaver sought help from the Expert Diva. The teacher explained that the Expert Diva helped her set up her own webpage and also helped teach the girls. Commenting on this the teacher said ‘I actually sat down with the kids in the class and was doing it with her [Expert Diva], and she was explaining it to them, so I was learning it as well.’ (Goldstine)

It also became apparent that the teachers themselves grew in confidence as their proficiency with technology increased as this quote illustrates:

I enjoyed the first four modules and I’m not an IT teacher. I just teach myself and actually I think became pretty good at using those programs in particular. I enjoyed it myself and I learned a lot myself because I had to – because I’m not IT trained. I spent a lot of time on learning the software and all that sort of thing. (Moffatt)

For other teachers the software they were using was something they were already familiar with and the Digital Divas modules provided them with an opportunity to update their knowledge on that particular package. A number of teachers saw this as a positive, as reflected here:

It was good to get back into IT and see what other people are doing in IT and some of the possibilities. It also gave me something to aim for. Like I need to learn something about that. I need to learn some more about the filming part and how to get it onto computers. (Goldstine)

Another teacher explained:

I actually had to go and reteach myself how to use some of the [applications]… like Flash, for example, I haven’t used Flash for years. So I actually found it really good as a refresher for me, to find out what I was doing. And then also, because I learnt it on a PC, and had to reteach myself on the Mac, being able to then teach the girls that with the Mac helped me get into it a lot more than I would have thought I would. (Holberton)

For some teachers, particularly those who were not IT teachers, the module on careers gave them insights into IT careers they were not necessarily familiar with as reflected in this quote:

I’ve had to really work hard at when they [girls] come to me with questions about a particular career, I go ‘Okay, well I’ve got … or I can ask that person’. Oh, Facebook’s been invaluable. ‘Is there anyone doing x, y and z. Reply now’. It’s been great to make connections like that, and for me to be able to say ‘Oh well I spoke to so and so, who happens to be a such and such, and they’ve suggested that we look up this’. So yeah, having to stay abreast of that information has been a bit of a challenge. But I look forward to building on that now that I’ve identified that, to keep that going. (Mayer)

There were other interesting outcomes for teachers. One of our teachers was invited to present at the annual Victorian IT Teachers Association conference with one of the Expert Divas. This was something unexpected for the teacher and from her account a great experience. Another teacher said:

I’ve actually even thought my son’s looking at doing programming for applications on Apple Macs and he and I are going to have a look at how we can get a hold of that and maybe that could be a module one day, which would be good. (Goldstine)

One teacher with a non-IT background found herself teaching an all-boys computing class and decided to modify the modules to suit the boys’ class, which she thought had worked very well.

Expert Divas

Our Expert Divas we saw as role models in the classroom rather than mentors, although there are similarities in the roles. Using university students as classroom facilitators (near-peers) is not uncommon. One US intervention program designed for girls from lower socio-economic backgrounds to improve their skills in maths and science and provide some career awareness included the use of university students as mentors (Brown, 2010). Brown (2010) highlights the impact the program had on the mentors, including developing their confidence and competence as mentors. A paper by Staehr, Martin, and Byrne (2000/2001) described an intervention program designed to support first-year female tertiary computing students and noted strategies designed by more senior women (their mentors) to help the first-year students. The mentors learned about mentoring, although there are limited details on the response of the senior women reported in this paper. The experience of our Expert Divas was quite similar in terms of building confidence and learning how to relate to the girls; however, the impact went beyond this.

Our motivation for providing an Expert Diva in each class was so that they could be an informal role model to the girls; someone who was closer to their age and studying IT at university. The Expert Divas were encouraged to answer questions about studying IT at university, to help dispel the myths surrounding IT and women as well as to provide support to the classroom teacher. The Expert Divas’ engagement with the schools and the students had an impact on them and influenced them in surprising ways. We drew on the Expert Divas’ weekly reflections and post-program interviews to explore this further.

Building confidence and skills

One of the most important effects the program had on our Expert Divas was the level of confidence these young women developed as a result of the experience. In describing what the best part of being an Expert Diva was Eve said ‘building my confidence in talking to a big group of people, that’s what I liked best.’ In another case two Expert Divas worked together and as a result of that, one of the women explained how this had helped build confidence and how much more prepared she felt to take on the role for a second time.

The Expert Divas also learned about how to work in a classroom, for example understanding what was needed to be effective:

It was a challenge to interact with the class as a whole, and it has made me realise that is so easy for quiet, shy students to go unnoticed and fall behind in work in a largely numbered classroom. (Sally)

I think the initial challenge was to communicate in a subtle manner that I am only supposed to support the student in their time of need – thus I am not a teacher as such. (Amiti)

One Expert Diva was confident enough to suggest to the teacher how the program might be improved. She explained how she and the teacher were ‘planning to get the girls to use the message board on the Digital Diva Club site to ask questions or start discussions’.

As our Expert Divas spent more time in the classroom, their skills improved. Skills such as communication and how to enhance the experience of the girls’ developed. Most Expert Divas used their time in the classroom to speak individually to girls about what they were doing and encourage their learning further:

This week some of the students were getting incredibly frustrated with the tools. It helped to have a chat with them about their planned design and then assist them learning how to use the tool. Jumping straight into teaching them how to use the tools generally created more frustration that the student was having trouble. (Delia)

I observed the girls, asked them [guest speakers] questions about how they were ‘programming’ the robot, and what they expect the robot would do if they change this or that set of instructions. I felt I was encouraging them with the work they had done, as well as encouraging the girls to expand their thinking. (Olga)

A number of the Expert Divas described how they interacted with the girls. Sometimes this involved encouraging discussion, asking questions, providing examples and help and generally engaging with what the girls were doing:

I encouraged the girls to be creative but still remember to think about all the ethics and morals in the way the media portrays women at the moment. I told them it is important to remember what we had discussed in the last lesson. (Kirsten)

It was also evident that as time went on the girls became more comfortable with our Expert Divas in the classroom and began to ask them for more help:

A few of the girls were hesitant to ask for help when needed ... But when I approached them and asked them if they had any questions, a lot of them found that there were areas that I was able to help with. (Shanta)

They were quite hesitant to sort of use the online blog, but talking in class they were really quick to reach out to us for help, and really quick to sort of build up a friendly relationship with myself. (Olga)

This comment highlights the impact working closely with the girls had and what the Digital Divas were learning.

However I’m confident and pleased I got to know all the girls on an equal level in the end. In relation to the quiet students, it’s a bit of a challenge to interact with them, think of things to say, etc. They seemed more comfortable asking the teacher for help than myself, which was fine. The more I made general passing comments, asking if they need help or ‘that looks great’, aided in communicating with these types of students. It was all one massive learning experience! (Sally)

As with the teachers, the Expert Divas also learned new IT skills. The teaching of the modules involved a range of software, not all of which the Expert Divas were familiar with. For example the programming language used was Alice, developed specifically at the University of Virginia and Carnegie Mellon for teaching secondary-school students. There were also other programs such as Photoshop and multimedia applications the Expert Divas had to learn and this was of value.

Gaining Further Insights

Many of the Expert Divas have grown up in an environment where it was understood and accepted that women work in IT. It is also likely that they had access to, and knowledge of, technology before they went to university. For many of our Expert Divas, it was a surprise that the girls were unaware of the IT careers available and that women can and do work in IT.

I would be interested to see how engaged they [the girls] could become if they were to speak to someone involved in the fashion industry who also works on ICT. Or even, I would love to give them a whole list of opportunities involved in this sort of area. (Kirsten)

While I knew of the stereotype of a boys’ only club in IT, I have never experienced anyone telling me that women are not meant to study IT before. A few students expressed that it’s not that they don’t want to have IT as a career it is that they have already picked another career path they would enjoy more. (Delia)

For some it was a shock when they discovered some girls did not have computers at home and there was a general lack of IT skills/knowledge among the girls that they were interacting with. They were also surprised that in some cases girls were not able to do activities the Expert Divas thought were straightforward such as transferring images from a mobile phone or a camera.

I think, however, that the girls have not yet realised how the concepts of the module fit into IT – this includes the online research/news, the image editing, the presentation of information, and the communication skills. It’s a shame to know that the greater message has not yet reached them, but I’m sure that in time it will. For now, it seems that the content is building their general confidence. (Olga)

The girls seemed engaging enough when I was talking to them; however, I feel that they showed little interest in ICT in general as they didn’t ask me much questions about my course or what ICT really involves. (Eve)

When I spoke to a lot of them about what they planned to do after school, they were ‘Oh yeah, I’ll just work as the receptionist at mum and dad’s business’. There was no ‘I want to go to university and learn this’. (Delia)

Reflecting on her role, one Expert Diva explained how her perspective had also changed as a result of the program ‘I’m just so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of it again. It’s even changed my own perspective on girls in the IT industry.’ (Sally)

Level of Engagement and Sense of Achievement

All of our Expert Divas loved the experience; they enjoyed being in the classroom and seeing the girls grow in confidence and take on the challenges. They had a sense of achieving something with their work with the girls.

A lot of the students made really good progress on their magazine covers. (Deb)

This class I help the girls finalise their logos, and I just had general interaction with them about how they think the subject is going – I got all positive feedback, which is great! (Kirsten)

One girl, however, was keen on making her own font in Photoshop, and was constantly seeking my help. This was great! She was really using her initiative, her imagination, and a variety of IT tools that were available to her. (Olga)

It was great fun to help engage their brains into thinking in a problem-solving manner. (Sally)

They wanted to know what the future is going to be for them or what changes there are going to be so when they asked me some questions it just makes me feel good. (Natalie)

The modules are really fun to do; it’s not just for little girls. (Eve)

The Expert Divas used their initiative to extend the girls themselves.

One student enjoyed using Photoshop in class so much that she wanted to get it on her home computer, but found it cost too much (so I encouraged her to download a trial version to use for a month for free). (Deb)

I made myself available to the students individually, to help them get their magazine covers from drawing to reality. In the process, I taught them a variety of tools which they can utilise as they continue to develop their covers. (Sabina)

One Expert Diva enjoyed the experience so much she is said she was thinking about becoming a teacher.

Extending Beyond the Role

An example of the impact of the program on our Expert Divas was how they took the initiative and extended their role beyond what we had asked them to do. Although it was not an expectation and we did not encourage our Expert Divas to take on the role of the teacher in the classroom (in fact we counselled against it in cases where we knew it was happening), many found themselves in that position and appear to have been happy to assume that responsibility. These were important experiences for the Expert Divas.

I took this session by myself as Danielle was not there. It seemed like the girls had not progressed from where they were in the last session. So I had the groups make a final decision on what theme there movie was to be, along with an outline of the plot. (Sabina)

The teacher went on long-service leave for a few weeks and so I thought I’d take the initiative to step in and show them, well introduce them to the task and then if I really got stuck, then that would be worst-case scenario and the teacher would come back but it turned out okay. (Kelly)

For Sally, given the confidence she had gained from her previous experience as a Digital Diva, she was able to take over when the teacher in charge of the class went on leave (the school did provide a replacement teacher for the class but they were not familiar with the curriculum). She went on to say that in future she would still feel quite comfortable taking on this role.

My teacher went on leave a few weeks before the end of the semester, leaving me to control the work/classroom as substitute teachers either had no IT knowledge or had other work to do while the students worked. But because of learning from her previously, I was confident and quite happy to take the reins. (Sally)

In other cases, although the Expert Diva was not teaching the class for the whole lesson, it was frequently the case that they would teach the class one aspect of the program. This generally happened because the teacher was not confident with the software or the content and when the Expert Divas became aware of this, they stepped in and helped.

… sometimes you would have five people turn up to a class so you’d have to improvise. So I taught them how to make a website at one point. (Sabina) I gave a presentation for the girls at the start of Photoshop and I think that was really good as well. It sort of got me more involved with them as well and yeah, I think it was really good. (Shanta)

The teacher at one school was very impressed with her Expert Diva, Kati, commenting that she stayed longer than she was paid for.

Schools and Their Curriculum

The attitude to technology within a school can influence the extent to which students, male or female, will elect to study IT. Schools are usually responsible for professional development, including technology training for teachers (Dawson & Rakes, 2003). School principals play a pivotal role in promoting technology use in schools (Anderson & Dexter, 2005; Schiller, 2003; Scrimshaw, 2004). We could not have implemented Digital Divas in any school without the support and encouragement of the principal. Research by Dawson and Rakes, (2003) concluded that the larger the amount of IT training and experience a principal has, particularly focusing on computers and the curriculum, the better IT will be integrated in the school. This is consistent with the findings of a study by Miranda and Russell, (2011), who found that how much a principal used technology influenced teachers’ use and beliefs in the value of IT. Other studies such as that by Lai, Trewern, and Pratt (2002) argue that leadership is important for successful technology integration in schools. The ICT co-ordinator often provides this leadership by contributing to ICT school policy (Lai et al., 2002).

The ratio of computers to students ranged from 1 to 1.2 to 1 to 6. We were only able to obtain data from seven schools regarding the teaching of IT in students’ final year (Year 12). Of the seven schools only four offered a Year 12 IT subject.

Given that some schools are not teaching IT widely, or as a separate subject, it is therefore important to reflect on the response of schools to the Digital Divas program. Four of the schools have now run the program more than once; one school ran the program four times and another three times. At the beginning of 2013 we contacted each of the schools and asked if they were planning to run Digital Divas in the future. Three other schools indicated they will be offering the program as an elective or it will be running as a non-elective subject. Two schools think it is likely to be offered again but decisions had not been made at the time of writing this book. Many of the schools do not provide details of the electives they offer on their websites; however, two schools advertised on their website that they are offering Digital Divas.

The majority of the schools participating in Digital Divas did not have a strong focus on teaching IT, although they did recognise the importance of providing students access to technology. In one of the all-girl schools, because it is a selective-entry school, the girls are very academically driven. It was interesting to reflect on the impact of the program on that particular school. It was clear in our early interactions with the school that most of the girls were looking towards careers in medicine and law, not in technology; hence interest in technology was not strong. Reflecting on the program, the teacher saw its potential for these girls:

I would like to try all modules and to see how the girls take to those modules and what can be done further in those modules but this time, time was not sufficient enough to do a lot, which is just our problem because we discovered Digital Divas a bit too late. I would like to spend a good year on it to really see what I can do for our cohort with regards to Digital Divas. (McAllister)

This school ran the program for three years and for two of those years it was delivered concurrently in Year 9 and Year 10 using different modules.

As researchers, we considered it important that Digital Divas be run as a single-sex class. A number of schools that requested to participate in the program were not included because they could not guarantee the class would be all girls. The participating schools were willing to provide an all-girl environment. Now that the research project is finished, schools that choose to start or continue teaching Digital Divas are able to run the program in any way they like. However, it is encouraging to see that the co-educational schools that are interested in continuing will still offer, or have offered, Digital Divas as single-sex classes. This suggests that one impact on the school is understanding the value of teaching IT to an all-girl class.

There was also a broader impact of the program on other aspects of schools, particularly with respect to the curriculum. As described earlier, teachers adapted the materials we provided for them and also supplemented the materials with the resources they had found themselves. Almost all of the teachers involved in Digital Divas have increased their IT skills and knowledge ultimately to the benefit of the school, particularly as a number of the teachers had very limited IT skills prior to becoming involved.

One teacher developed her own approach to teaching one part of the program. This involved the girls making fairy bread, which they then took outside to eat. As this quote illustrates, the involvement of the Expert Diva encouraged other girls in the school to ask questions about university.

But when we went outside to eat it – you can’t eat fairy bread in this classroom –some of the girls wandered over here to chat to other kids out in the yard, which meant at various times different girls came and just had some one-on-one, or some two-on-one time with Eve [Expert Diva]. I tried not to hover too much, but their conversations were really quite relaxed. Just talking about uni, and her upcoming exams, and how she’d coped with assessments and just things like that. Whether or not that was in an IT direction or just tertiary study in general, I think that was really valuable for them. Otherwise the only tertiaryeducated people they meet are their teachers, and their doctors. I think that could be a bit limiting, especially in [Mayer].

Mayer Secondary College is a disadvantaged school where most of the students are not expected to go on to tertiary studies.

Discussion

Reflecting on the data we had gathered at the end of the Digital Divas project it became obvious that there had been unexpected effects and/or influences on those other than the participating girls themselves; Digital Divas had had a ‘ripple effect’. Figure 7.1 summarises that impact.

Our target audience for the program were secondary school girls; however, as the ripple moved out further there was an impact on others. The next group on whom the Digital Divas program had the greatest impact, we believe, were the teachers. The extent to which the teachers would benefit from teaching Digital Divas was unexpected. Previous research highlights the effect on student learning when an enthusiastic teacher is teaching a class. As we discussed earlier, teachers are also critical to the uptake of technology in the classroom. Interviews with the teachers indicated that all our teachers expressed a high level of enthusiasm for teaching Digital Divas and many teachers taught the program more than once. Almost all the teachers learned new skills. In the case of some teachers the software used was new to them and this required them to become familiar with it; for others the program offered an opportunity to refresh their skills.

Figure 7.1: The ripple effect of the Digital Divas program

Many teachers grew in confidence in terms of their IT skills and teaching IT. For those who had not taught IT previously, they acquired a level of confidence both with the technology and with teaching IT. Along the way the teachers became more aware of a range of other things such as different careers in IT, different approaches to teaching and the value of teaching an all-girl class. There was enthusiasm among the teachers to find new resources to complement the material in the modules and clearly a number of teachers saw value in the fact that they were extending themselves as a result of being involved.

There was also an effect on the Expert Divas involved in the program. They too developed new skills learning software they were not familiar with; they learned how to interact and engage effectively with the girls and the teachers, as well as how to communicate more effectively. They were exposed to some of the issues relating to girls’ knowledge about IT and IT careers which for some was a shock. Our Expert Divas also grew in confidence through the program; a number of them taught parts of the curriculum to the class and were not just involved in helping the girls with their work. One researcher noticed that even back at the university when there were calls for volunteers for school talks, or to host school visits on open days, it was often the Expert Divas who volunteered.

As the use of computer technology in schools becomes all-pervasive, it is critical for the teaching staff to be adequately equipped and confident with the technology. Bauer and Kenton’s (2005) research highlighted the importance of teachers being confident with IT in order to be able to effectively teach IT. Further, they found a direct link between IT skills and confidence. One clear effect on schools was on teacher confidence and equipping teachers who were not technologically savvy with new skills and knowledge, ultimately benefiting schools. The schools were exposed to a new way of teaching IT resulting in changing curriculum. The schools also gained insights into the value of teaching in all-girl classes.

Although the research did not measure the impact on the wider community extensively, chapter eight does provide details of the wider community of two of the schools – the circle represented by a dotted line – however information to the wider community was provided via the schools. The project attracted the attention of the media, with a short report on one ABC program and various items in newspapers both state-based and Australia-wide.

Conclusion

The designers of any intervention program, aiming for social change, generally expect their program to have an impact on an identified group. It is also likely, although rarely reported, that the intervention has had an influence or effect on others. This chapter has therefore provided insights on how an intervention program can and does have an impact on others. We set out with the aim of improving the awareness and skills of girls in computers and technology. We ended up improving the confidence and expertise of both the teachers and the Expert Divas and provided the schools with a different perspective on teaching IT. As researchers these have emerged as outcomes that we did not anticipate or plan, but we welcome the ripple effect. For those designing interventions in the future we would argue that looking at the wider impact of the project has value.

7 Pseudonyms have been used for all schools and the teachers

Digital Divas

   by Julie Fisher, Catherine Lang, Annemieke Craig, Helen