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Digital Divas

CHAPTER 8

THE WIDER COMMUNITY

Contributed by Amber McLeod

Overview

Girls’ decisions not to participate in IT have been linked to both societal stereotypes about IT and the influence of parents, teachers, and peers. In this chapter the attitudes of the wider community towards girls and IT are explored and compared with the results of the Digital Divas program in order to investigate possible relationships. In this case it was found that when messages from the community about IT are divided, participants in the program are more likely to change their attitudes. The changes, however, were not always in the direction expected.

Introduction

One of the assumptions of the Digital Divas program was that the wider community (including parents, as well as other teachers and students not participating in the program) would be supportive.

The influence of society on girls’ decisions to participate in IT is significant. While interventions such as the Digital Divas program try to convey the message to girls that it is acceptable and normal for them to have an interest in IT, they do not operate in isolation, and if girls are getting different messages from friends, family and society at large, then the impact of interventions may be less than hoped for. Indeed, in an evaluation of the CC4G intervention, Fuller, Connor, Johnston, and Turbin (2009) asked how strongly interventions could influence attitudinal change when ‘the girls (and boys) in our study were subject to an array of influences – educational, social, financial, emotional and cultural – on their attitudes to and abilities in IT’ (p. viii). This issue helped shape a PhD study on which the current chapter is based. Specifically, the PhD examined the relationship between community attitudes and the outcomes of the Digital Divas program. The primary research question for this study was:

Are the attitudes of the community towards IT important in terms of a successful intervention program?

In order to address this question, the attitudes of the community were gathered, the results from the program at two schools in 2011 were examined, and these findings were compared to explore a possible relationship. In line with the main Digital Divas program research, this study used a mixed-methods approach; both quantitative and qualitative data were gathered.

Three interesting findings became apparent from the PhD study. First, girls’ attitudes were most likely to change when community attitudes about IT were divided. Second, the changes in girls’ attitudes were not always in accordance with the goals of the Digital Divas program, suggesting that influences other than the program were at play. Third, the high standards of delivery presumed by the authors of the intervention were compromised by the practical implementation of the intervention, which may have unintentionally influenced the outcomes of the program.

IT Stereotypes

In some respects the research involved an investigation of the power of stereotypes, especially the way they can hinder achievement of intervention goals. So it was necessary to identify and examine key relevant stereotypes from the literature that include:

IT is a male domain.

IT professionals are geeks.

IT jobs are socially isolating.

IT jobs are bad for your health.

IT jobs are difficult and boring.

IT jobs are not compatible with a normal family life.

IT professionals make a lot of money.

IT is a male domain. Here, two separate preconceptions have been combined: that IT professionals are men, and that men are naturally suited to IT. Currently the IT field in Australia is dominated by males (Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR], 2013) and IT classrooms have been likened to a male locker room (Margolis & Fisher, 2002). When asked to draw IT professionals, male characters are drawn more frequently than females by both male and female students (Mercier, Barron, & O’Conner, 2006). Ideas circulating within the wider society that males have more technically-minded brains than girls, and an innate, obsessive fascination with technology, are seen as advantageous in the pursuit of an IT career (Leder & Forgasz, 2012; von Hellens, Clayton, Beekhuyzen, & Nielsen, 2009). In addition, males themselves believe they are naturally suited to IT (Zeldin, Britner, & Pajares, 2008).

IT professionals are geeks. The geek or nerd stereotype is widely cited by girls as a reason why they are not interested in joining the IT profession (Anderson, Lankshear, Timms, & Courtney, 2007; Lang, 2003; Margolis & Fisher, 2002). Those working in IT have been described as looking unhealthy – pale and grossly over- or underweight; wearing glasses with unfashionable hairstyles and clothing; exhibiting antisocial behaviour and having a strong interest in science fiction (Cheryan, Plaut, Steele, & Davies, 2009; Mercier, Barron, & O’Conner, 2006; Sheehan, 2003; Steele, 2010).

IT jobs are socially isolating. A stereotype of an IT job is that it involves working in isolation rather than being part of a team (Lang, 2003, Lang, 2007, Multimedia Victoria [MMV], 2001). Margolis and Fisher (2002) suggested that females are particularly sensitive to this stereotype. Female university students, in one study, reported the lack of friendships in an overwhelmingly male environment as a major reason for their withdrawal (Miliszewska, Barker, Henderson, & Sztendur, 2006).

IT jobs are bad for your health. It has been reported that students imagine that IT professionals work indoors in dark offices, often surrounded by junk food and science fiction paraphernalia (Cheryan et al., 2009; Steele, 2010; von Hellens, Clayton, Beekhuyzen, & Nielsen, 2009).

IT jobs are difficult and boring. Findings have suggested that IT work is thought to be technical, difficult, boring and repetitive, involving long hours and late nights (Fisher, Lang, Craig, Forgasz, & Lazarenko, 2009; Johnson & Miller, 2002; MMV, 2001; Miliszewska, Barker, Henderson, & Sztendur, 2006; van Oost, 2000; von Hellens, Clayton, Beekhuyzen, & Nielsen, 2009).

IT jobs are not compatible with a normal family life. Concerns about family have been reported as reasons for leaving IT university courses (Miliszewska, Barker, Henderson, & Sztendur, 2006), and women working in IT have reported their concerns about needing to place work ahead of family commitments in order to succeed in their jobs (von Hellens & Nielsen, 2001). More recently, criticism of the way the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, chose to balance motherhood with her job reinforced the stereotype that IT is not a suitable job for women who have or want families (Miller, 2012).

IT professionals make a lot of money. It is widely recognized that IT professionals can earn a great deal (von Hellens, Clayton, Beekhuyzen, & Nielsen, 2009) although, unexpectedly, this has not always been seen as a positive, with some students describing those in the profession as ‘moneygrubbing’ (Jewel & Maltby, 2001). Students reported that although they were aware of how well-paid IT jobs were, and the opportunities available, they were more interested in pursuing careers that related to their personal interests (MMV, 2001).

In summary, it appears that the prevalent stereotype is that IT is a male domain dominated by unhealthy, socially isolated geeks who spend all day inside doing difficult, boring jobs; this stereotype helps socialise girls to believe they are less suited to IT than boys.

Transmitting IT Stereotypes through Socialisation

Socialisers play a role in transmitting stereotypes and thereby influencing girls’ academic and career choices. Socialisers can be parents, teachers and peers.

Parents

Parents play a significant role in influencing children’s expectations and assumptions about interests and career pathways (Bovee Voogt, & Meelissen, 2007; Clayton & Beekhuyzen, 2004; Gal-Ezer Shahak, & Zur, 2009; Lang, 2007; Margolis & Fisher, 2002). Indeed, secondary school students have reported that their decisions about career choice are strongly influenced by parents (Clayton & Beekhuyzen, 2004; Rogers & Duffield, 2000; von Hellens, Clayton, Beekhuyzen, & Nielsen, 2009). It has been claimed that messages from parents about where a child fits in society are more powerful in terms of decisions, achievement and motivation than demographic characteristics, positive computer experiences, or actual ability (Eccles, 2006, Vekiri & Chronaki, 2008).

Parental belief in the stereotype that IT is a male domain has been found to have been picked up by children and possibly contributed to higher self-efficacy and more positive beliefs about the value of computers among boys than among girls (Vekiri & Chronaki, 2008; Gal-Ezer et al., 2009; Miliszewska, Barker, Henderson, & Sztendur, 2006). IT can be modelled as unsuitable for females through a mother’s fear of, or lack of interest in, computing (Gürer & Camp, 2002).

Teachers

Teachers, Margolis and Fisher (2002) claimed, affect the way students see themselves. Researchers claim that females, in particular, have been found to develop self-efficacy through vicarious modelling in their relationships with teachers (Zeldin, Britner, & Pajares, 2008). Encouraging, passionate teachers, and good student-teacher relationships have been reported to make students’ sense of belonging to an IT environment stronger (Furrer & Skinner, 2003, Zeldin & Pajares, 2000).

Similarly, it has been suggested that student performance can be predicted by examining teachers’ expectations and beliefs about student ability (Eccles, 2006; Jussim, Eccles, & Madon, 1996; Lee & Smith, 2001). Teachers’ stereotypical beliefs and attitudes about appropriate behaviour and roles for boys and girls, and technology, have been found to distort their perception of actual student abilities (Eccles, 1994) and subtly steer girls away from IT (Barker & Aspray, 2006). Butler (2000) argued that teachers can give messages to girls, sometimes unconsciously, that they do not need to participate in computer technology; while male IT professionals have reported witnessing teachers actively discouraging women from studying mathematics and science (Zeldin & Pajares, 2000).

Female university students studying IT have reported that assumptions about the level of experience and knowledge of IT prior to joining the class, aggressive or patronizing lecture styles, unwanted positive discrimination, and stereotypical attitudes held by fellow students created negative classroom experiences which put females off IT (Crump, 2001; Nielsen, von Hellens, & Wong, 2001).

Peers

There is mixed evidence that peers influence females in their decisions regarding interest in computers and IT careers. When asked, secondary school students have sometimes suggested that their decisions about career choice or involvement in IT were strongly influenced by peers (Clayton & Beekhuyzen, 2004; Roger & Duffield, 2000; Thomas & Allen, 2006). At other times they have reported that they were not influenced by their friends’ opinions (Adya & Kaiser, 2005; Gal-Ezer et al., 2009). In Australia, it has also been reported that friends discouraged students from involvement with computing (Clayton & Beekhuyzen, 2004; von Hellens, Clayton, Beekhuyzen, & Nielsen, 2009).

In short, through socialisation, parents, teachers, and peers appear to have a significant influence on students’ decisions about study and career pathways.

The Wider Community Study

Only two of the schools, Goldstine SC and Bartik SC, were chosen for detailed investigation in 2011; however, they were representative of the higher and lower echelons of socio-educational advantage in Melbourne. Goldstine SC had an Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) score of 969, below the average of 1000, indicating it had students from lower socio-educational advantage than Bartik SC, which had an ICSEA score of 1074, indicating that their students were from higher socioeducationally advantaged backgrounds (see Table 4.1 in Chapter 4).

The Community

The term ‘community’ used in this research referred to four groups:

1. The Digital Divas teachers: These were ‘Jay’ at Goldstine SC, and ‘Alice’ at Bartik SC.

2. The Goldstine community (recruited through the school):

Goldstine parents of Year 9 students.

Goldstine teachers at the school (excluding the Digital Divas teacher).

Goldstine peers – Year 9 students not participating in the program.

3. The Bartik community (recruited through the school):

Bartik parents of Year 8 students.

Bartik teachers at the school (excluding the Digital Divas teacher).

Bartik peers – Year 8 students not participating in the program.

4. The wider Victorian community: Parents of students in Years 8 and 9 at Victorian schools, recruited through the social networking website Facebook.

Data Sources

Data from the main Digital Divas study

Digital Divas teacher data were gathered during the main study as described in Chapter 3. Data from 2010 and 2011 pre- and post-program teacher surveys and interviews, as well as classroom observations, were consulted.

Digital Divas student data from 2011 pre- and post-surveys from Goldstine SC and Bartik SC were also accessed from the main study. Thirteen students from Goldstine SC and 22 students from Bartik SC completed both the pre-and post-program surveys in 2011.

Data from the PhD study

In addition, data from the Goldstine, Bartik, and wider Victorian communities were collected specifically for the PhD study, drawn from separate surveys for parents, teachers, and peers. Participants were also invited to a group or email interview. The data-collection instruments are now described in more detail and copies of the instruments can be found in Appendix E.

The Instruments

The Goldstine, Bartik, and wider Victorian communities’ surveys

Three community surveys, for parents, teachers (other than Digital Divas teachers) and peers, were developed to broadly identify the attitudes towards IT held in the community. Adaptations of the existing Digital Divas pre-program student and teacher instruments (described in Chapter 3) were used so that comparisons between community data collected in this study and data collected in the main program could be made.

Like the Digital Divas program instruments, the community surveys included:

Multiple-choice answers (e.g., Boys/Girls/No difference).

Items with five-point Likert-type response formats (1 = Strongly Disagree, 2 = Disagree, 3 = Not Sure, 4 = Agree, 5 = Strongly Agree).

Open-ended questions (e.g., What do you think you would like about a job in computing?), including one question requiring students to produce a drawing.

In addition to demographic questions specific to each community group (parents, teachers, and peers), each community survey included items about:

IT and gender (e.g., Boys are better than girls at fixing a computer);

IT people and jobs (e.g., People who work in computing work alone);

Future participation in IT (e.g., I would like my daughter to have a job in the computing industry);

Enjoyment of computing (e.g., I think computing is very interesting); and

Support for student computer use (e.g., My school is enthusiastic about students using computers).

Through the schools, all teachers at the school (excluding the Digital Divas teacher), and all parents and peers in the appropriate year level were sent explanatory statements, consent forms and surveys.

An online version of the parent survey, targeted at parents in Victoria, Australia, who had a child attending Years 8 or 9, was advertised on the social media network Facebook. These parents were not directly associated with the Digital Divas program. As these recruits lived in Victoria, however, and had children in the same year levels as those in which the program was run, Years 8 and 9, they were considered to be part of the wider community.

Surveys were filled out by 14 parents, 17 teachers and 14 peers from the Goldstine community; 31 parents, 15 teachers and 27 peers from the Bartik community; and 119 parents from the wider Victorian community.

The Goldstine, Bartik, and Wider Victorian Communities’ Group and Email Interviews

The purpose of the interviews was to gain a greater depth of understanding of the attitudes identified through the surveys. It was anticipated that first-hand opinions and clarification and exploration of the responses collected from the surveys would assist in answering the research question.

At the end of the survey participants were invited to take part in group interviews. Five parents from the wider Victorian community agreed to participate in group interviews.

The group interviews were semi-structured to allow free-flowing discussion but were based around the following areas (A copy of the group interview questions is found in Appendix E):

Perceptions of an IT professional (e.g., the appearance and character of IT professionals);

Perceptions of an IT job (e.g., knowledge of the type of IT jobs available); and

Socialisation (e.g., parental support for student computer use).

In addition, nine email interviews were conducted along similar lines with parents and peers from the Goldstine, Bartik and wider Victorian communities.

Community Groups Data Analyses

As with data from the main study (described in Chapter 3), quantifiable data from the community surveys were analysed using SPSS. One sample t-tests were used to indicate whether mean scores were significantly different from 3, the middle value in the score range of relevant items, indicating ‘not sure’. In order to determine whether there were any differences in attitude among the community groups, interval data were analysed using independent groups t-tests and ANOVAs. Chi-squared tests were used when data were categorical. The level of statistical significance was set at p<.05. Statistical comparisons were made between:

The wider Victorian community, the Goldstine community, and the Bartik community.

Goldstine community sub-groups (parents, teachers, and peers; and male peers and female peers).

Bartik community sub-groups (parents, teachers, and peers; and male peers and female peers).

Paired t-tests were used to compare the mean scores on identical items on the pre- and post- surveys to determine if there had been a change in students’ measured response to these items (e.g., attitudes or beliefs) as a consequence of the Digital Divas intervention. It should be noted that paired t-tests can only be conducted on the responses of those participants who complete both the pre- and the post- surveys. Thus the number of responses analysed using paired t-tests was less than the number of participants completing the pre-survey, and also less than the number completing the post-surveys as some students completing one or other of the surveys did not complete the other.

Qualitative data were examined and organized into categories based on the literature. Qualitative analyses were used to compare:

The Digital Divas teacher data.

The group and email interview data.

Open-ended questions in the community surveys.

Findings

Attitudes toward IT Identified from the Community

Digital Divas teacher attitudes

As there was only one Digital Divas teacher at each school, their attitudes will be discussed individually.

As stated in Chapter 2, to implement a successful program, one of the five key inputs required was a committed, creative, passionate teacher skilled in IT.

At Goldstine SC, Jay was enthusiastic about the program and believed it was on target to encourage girls’ involvement and interest in IT. She envisaged girls being enthusiastic in the classroom and choosing IT in the future as a result of a successful program. Jay, who had ten years of experience as a teacher including four as an IT teacher, had studied an IT degree and had worked in the IT industry as an analyst programmer for six years before becoming a teacher. She was concerned that her IT knowledge level was only just above that of the students. She thought that the range of skills required for the program was unrealistic ‘for any ordinary IT teacher to have’ and that she would have liked training or step-by-step instructions for the program ‘which would save me having to fossick around and try and figure it out myself.’ In 2010, Jay commented that she had ‘expected that the [Expert] Diva would know how to use all the modules and know exactly what to do and would do all that’. This indicated that she thought she could take a passive role in the classroom, evidence of her incorrect interpretation of program expectations of the teacher and the Expert Diva. In 2011, however, Jay believed her IT skills had improved and, although still concerned about her level of knowledge, she was ‘much more confident’.

Classroom observations of Jay by the Digital Divas research team led to impressions that she was time-poor. She seemed disorganised, there appeared to be a lack of preparation of the materials that the program provided to teachers, and she had class-control issues, with students watching movies and writing blogs during class time.

At Bartik SC, Alice, who was involved with the Digital Divas pilot program, was pleased and excited to continue her involvement with the program. She saw a successful program as one that would result in more girls taking IT units at VCE level. Alice was a curriculum coordinator and IT teacher at the school who had taught IT for eight years. She had studied IT at tertiary level, undertaken professional development in IT and IT education since becoming a teacher, and was interested in doing more. Alice was employed by the Digital Divas research team to write the modules for the program and was enthusiastic, with ideas for expansion of the program including involving other classes and arranging excursions to IT companies. In the interviews Alice said she enjoyed the flexibility of the curriculum, experimenting with ideas and finding out what worked with her students. She rated her computer skills as high and her enjoyment of teaching IT as high. Classroom observations by the Digital Divas research team in 2010 revealed Alice’s enthusiasm, confidence and ability to run the class.

Alice was, however, on maternity leave a few weeks before the end of the 2010 class and for the first term of the 2011 class. While no data were gathered from the replacement teachers, student comments in the 2011 post-program interview indicated very different teaching styles. Students explained that while Alice ‘gives us more time if we don’t get something done or she’s very flexible’, one replacement teacher (a male) was described as rigid, demanding, and strict.

In addition to finding teachers who were experienced, confident, and enjoyed teaching IT, a goal of the program was to increase girls’ confidence in, and attitudes towards, IT and anticipated results were that girls might consider studying IT and envisage themselves in IT careers. It was hoped that the Digital Divas program teachers’ beliefs about gender differences with regard to IT would align with the aims of the program. On the pre-and post-intervention survey surveys, teachers were asked several questions related to this issue.

Jay, the Goldstine Digital Divas program teacher, indicated that she believed boys were more confident, competent, and interested or enthusiastic about IT than girls. She thought that this was because boys were more proficient with IT, more likely to use computers at home, and because boys picked IT subjects and girls did not. She noted that girls were more passive with IT; they followed instructions and asked for help, whereas boys had a go, took risks and ‘fiddled’, which made them more suited to IT.

Comments by Jay in the pre-and post-intervention interviews appeared to indicate that she was not, perhaps, the role model the program had envisaged, as she seemed to have some stereotypically ‘nerdy’ qualities; for example, she used her personal IT experience selling concrete pipes to inspire the students. She was also surprised that the students were so engaged in manipulating pictures and discussing models in the ‘Fab & Famous’ module. Her surprise provided further evidence that Jay may have been out of touch with what the students found interesting. Jay assumed that the students would find programming boring and stated that IT is a ‘nerd class’. In addition, her personal beliefs about gender and IT were not a good fit for the goals of the program and she did not seem to embody the motivated, creative, skilled IT teacher assumed as a prerequisite for the program to be successful.

Alice, the Bartik Digital Divas program teacher, was enthusiastic, confident and well versed in the requirements of the program, not least because she wrote the teaching modules. While she believed boys were more enthusiastic than girls about computers, she thought that confidence and competence and the appeal of IT tasks depended upon individual circumstances rather than the gender of a student. Alice was much closer to the teacher envisaged for the program.

School Community Attitudes about IT

The attitudes of the Goldstine, Bartik and wider Victorian communities were compared and statistically significant differences in mean scores were found for only one item: ‘People have to be very hard-working if they want to work in the computer industry’. Post-hoc comparisons indicated that the mean score for the wider Victorian community (mean = 2.91) was significantly different from the mean scores for the Goldstine community (3.53), and the Bartik community (3.26), indicating that while the members of the Goldstine and Bartik communities agreed that people have to be very hard working if they want to work in the computer industry, members of the wider Victorian community were unsure.

As only one statistically significant difference was found between the three community groups, the results are discussed together as one ‘combined’ community, with any differences within individual communities highlighted.

The majority of the combined community believed there was no gender difference with regard to IT. When community members did perceive a gender difference, however, it was strongly in favour of boys. The combined community recognised that IT jobs were enjoyable, although difficult, paid well, and required team work – all positive views about IT jobs. They also believed, however, that long hours at a computer were involved, which may lead to health problems. They imagined IT people to be unpopular males with few interests outside computing.

Within the Bartik community, however, not all sub-groups (parents, teachers, and peers – male and female) were in agreement, with the following statistically significantly differences in mean scores:

Bartik male peers (mean = 3.36) agreed but Bartik female peers disagreed (2.44) that boys are better than girls at working with computers, and, although not statistically significantly different, Bartik male peers (3.18) agreed that boys are more suited than girls to work in the computer industry, while Bartik female peers (2.63) disagreed. The data suggest that Bartik male peers were more stereotyped in their attitudes toward IT than the female peers.

Bartik teachers (3.57) and peers (3.58) agreed that computing professionals have a lot of outside interests while Bartik parents (2.87) disagreed.

Bartik teachers (3.47) and peers (3.67) agreed that people have to be very hard-working if they want to work in the computer industry while Bartik parents (2.81) disagreed.

Bartik peers (3.52) agreed that a person who works in computing makes a lot of money while Bartik parents (2.84) and teachers (2.93) disagreed slightly.

These results indicate quite different ideas about IT people and careers within the Bartik community.

Employment in the computer industry was a contentious issue across the community. The Goldstine and Bartik parents were all unsure whether they would like their sons or daughters to have jobs in the computer industry. Parents from the wider Victorian community, however, were statistically significantly more likely to agree that they would like their sons to have jobs in the computer industry than their daughters.

Among the peers, Goldstine community male and female peers, and Bartik male peers, were unsure whether they would like to have a job in the computer industry. Bartik female peers, however, disagreed that they would like a computer job. These attitudes present in the community were not supportive of one of the main goals of the program: to encourage future involvement in IT among the participants.

From the community surveys and interviews, positive attitudes about the importance of computing at school were found across all the community groups. All groups and sub-groups in the combined community believed that computers make learning more enjoyable. All communities also agreed that computing is interesting. There was also positive recognition that parents and teachers were supportive of student computer use. In particular, the communities agreed that schools were enthusiastic about students using computers. These attitudes were pleasing to see and consistent with the program goals.

Within the Goldstine community, parents (4.07) and teachers (4.11) agreed statistically significantly more strongly than peers (3.50) that the school is enthusiastic about students using computers. A possible explanation could be that because the computer activities the peers would like to engage in at school are not the same as those that the schools or their parents would like or expect them to be engaged in. In addition, although not statistically significant, Goldstine male peers (4.13) agreed much more strongly than female peers (3.33) that computing is very interesting, revealing attitudes in accordance with the stereotype that IT is a male domain.

Among the Bartik community sub-groups, teachers (4.40) agreed significantly more strongly that the school was enthusiastic about students using computers than were parents (3.65) or peers (3.52); and peers (3.96) indicated statistically significantly stronger agreement than Bartik teachers (3.20) that computing was interesting.

On the whole, community attitudes toward IT were fairly positive and there was shown to be strong support for student computer use, these views were consistent with program goals. However, beliefs in negative IT stereotypes were held by some members of the community, particularly with regard to the gender, isolation, unpopularity, and health of IT people, as well as the long hours involved in a difficult career. This perhaps provides a reason for the uncertainty about future student involvement in IT careers found across the community groups. The Goldstine community showed the most consistent views across sub-groups, while in the Bartik community there were quite varied attitudes across the sub-groups.

Digital Divas Student Data Analyses

Paired t-tests were used to compare the pre- and post-intervention survey surveys for 13 Goldstine and 22 Bartik Digital Divas students in 2011 to determine whether any changes in attitude, either a statistically significant change (p<.05) or a trend (.1>p>.05), occurred.

Changes in participant attitudes occurred at both Goldstine SC and Bartik SC. Among Goldstine Digital Divas students, four changes in attitude were found; all were opposite to the program goals. The changes in attitude were that after participation in the program, students agreed less strongly that computing was interesting, and were no longer considering a job in computing after school or when they finished studying (two statements) or including IT as a VCE subject.

Among Bartik Digital Divas students there were seven changes in attitude. Of these, four were consistent with the relevant program goals. These four changes were that after participation in the program, Bartik Digital Divas students disagreed more strongly that boys were more suited to, or better at, various aspects of computing than girls (two statements), had a greater understanding that those working in IT can make a lot of money, and that IT professionals do not work alone. The remaining three changes in attitude, divergent from the relevant program goals, were that students no longer considered including IT as a VCE subject, were no longer sure whether computing was interesting, and disagreed more strongly that they would like to be thought of as geeks.

It is noteworthy that both Goldstine and Bartik Digital Divas students changed their attitudes (in a negative direction) about future participation in IT and how interesting computing is. In light of the mixed community attitudes toward future participation in IT, this suggests that perhaps community attitudes had an influence on the outcomes of the program.

Comparisons between Digital Divas Students’ Views and Community Views

A pattern emerged from the data indicating that changes in attitude among the program participants were related to a diversity of attitudes across community sub-groups (parents, teachers, and peers). When community sub-group attitudes were uniform, changes in attitude among program participants were less evident.

In the Goldstine community, sub-group attitudes about gender and IT, and IT people and jobs, showed uniformity with no statistically different mean scores. Correspondingly, Goldstine Digital Divas student attitudes about gender and IT, and IT people and jobs, did not change after participation in the program.

While there were no statistically significantly differences between the Goldstine community sub-groups’ attitudes about IT people and jobs with respect to future participation in IT, there was a large difference between Goldstine parents’ views about their daughters and Goldstine peers’ views. For example, parents were more enthusiastic about their daughters working in IT jobs than the female peers themselves. After participating in the program, there were three changes in Goldstine Digital Divas students’ attitudes about future participation in IT: students no longer considered including IT as a VCE subject or a job in computing when they leave school or finish studying. This was not in line with the program goals.

The Goldstine community’s perceptions of computing were uniform across sub-groups for all but two items: that the school was enthusiastic about students using computers; and that computing was very interesting. There was one change in Goldstine Digital Divas students’ perceptions of computing: after participating in the program, Goldstine Digital Divas students were unsure whether computing was very interesting, after initially agreeing that it was. This was not in line with the program goals.

There appeared to be a pattern apparent in the results. Changes in Digital Divas student attitudes occurred when Goldstine community sub-group attitudes were varied. When Goldstine community sub-group attitudes were uniform, there was no change in Digital Divas student attitudes. This suggests that community attitudes towards IT were important to the outcomes of the program.

Bartik community sub-group attitudes about gender and IT were diverse for two statements: that boys are more suited than girls to work in the computer industry and are better than girls at working with computers. There was a change in Bartik Digital Divas students’ attitudes, consistent with program goals, for these two statements. The Bartik community sub-group attitudes were diverse on three items related to IT people and jobs: that people who work in computing work alone; that a person who works in computing often makes a lot of money; and that they would like a job in IT. All changes in attitude among Bartik Digital Divas students (both those consistent with and those opposite to the program goals) were found for these three items. Among the Bartik community sub-groups, attitudes about whether computing is interesting were diverse. After participation in the program, there was a change in attitude among Bartik Digital Divas students that was, however, opposite to the program goals. Once more, these results appear to suggest a pattern. When Bartik community sub-group attitudes were uniform, there was no change in Digital Divas student attitudes; when Bartik community sub-group attitudes were varied, Digital Divas student attitudes did change.

In the Bartik community and among Bartik Digital Divas students, there were three instances for which this pattern was not followed. There were two statements for which community sub-group attitudes were diverse (that people need to be hard-working to work in the computer industry, and that the school was enthusiastic about students using computers) and there was no change in attitude among Bartik Digital Divas students. There was one statement for which Bartik community attitudes were uniform (they would not like to be thought of as a geek), but a change in attitude occurred among Bartik Digital Divas students.

The results from Bartik SC also support the pattern described above, with changes in attitude among Digital Divas students occurring mainly when community sub-group attitudes were diverse.

The Direction of Change

While there is some indication that Digital Divas student attitudes were more likely to change when community attitudes were divided over a particular item, the direction of change found among the Goldstine and Bartik Digital Divas student attitudes has not been accounted for. All changes in attitude among Goldstine Digital Divas students were inconsistent with the Digital Divas program goals. Of the seven changes in attitude among Bartik Digital Divas students, only four were consistent with program goals. It should be noted that the directions of some changes were not only inconsistent with program goals, but also with attitudes identified from the Goldstine, Bartik, and wider Victorian communities.

At both schools, attitude changes about whether computing is very interesting were away from both program goals and community attitudes. In addition, at Bartik SC, Digital Divas students agreed less strongly that they would like to be known as computer geeks which was not only inconsistent with program goals (that being a geek was positive), but also community attitudes. This raises the question: what else influenced the students? The available data do not allow any definitive conclusions here; however, it may be speculated that perhaps the modules that were designed to excite the girls were not as engaging as presumed. Possibly, the Digital Divas students simply lacked the maturity to appreciate the messages of the program. Perhaps jobs and career decisions did not seem relevant to them. It is also possible that the role models presented in the form of the guest speakers from industry, Expert Divas, or the Digital Divas teachers themselves did not present the positive female ICT models envisaged.

This last issue appears to reinforces a point raised by Weisgram and Bigler (2007), who suggested that a decrease in egalitarian views among a group of STEM intervention program participants may have been due to ‘the physical appearance or mannerism of the female presenters [which] led some girls to endorse gender stereotypes about women in science’ (p. 267). It was possible that some of the role models may have unconsciously reinforced stereotypes about ‘nerdy’ IT people.

Conclusion

As sign-posted in the introduction to this chapter, there were three key findings from this research. First, it appears that the attitudes of the community towards ICT were important to the outcomes of the Digital Divas intervention program at these two schools. Changes in attitude among the Digital Divas students, after participation in the program, generally occurred when there was a diversity of attitudes across community sub-groups; however, when community sub-group attitudes were uniform such changes generally did not occur.

The second key finding was that when changes in attitude did occur they were not all in accordance with the program goals, suggesting there were other unanticipated influences on the Digital Divas students.

This leads to the third key finding, which was that the implementation of the program in these two schools in 2011 did not meet the assumptions and high standards expected for the program to succeed; for example, with respect to the recruitment of motivated, creative, passionate teachers skilled in IT. Although a diversity of attitudes among community sub-groups appeared to be consistent with, and arguably contributed to, positive changes in attitude among program participants, other factors such as the role models (Expert Divas or speakers), the modules selected and taught in these schools, or the age level of the Digital Divas students, may have had other, unanticipated, effects on the success of the program.

Digital Divas

   by Julie Fisher, Catherine Lang, Annemieke Craig, Helen