Stereotypes and Computing

This Summer I attended the #CASinclude’s Diversity & Inclusion in Computing Education Conference 2016 where I spent some time reflecting on Girl’s attitudes towards Computing and ICT and overall stereotyped beliefs surrounding what Computing was. This was further developed by a fabulous talk by
@Girls2Geeks who shared her own thoughts and experiences as the only girl interested in tech in her club.

This got me thinking even more. Frequently I hear children, not just girls, say things like ‘I don’t like Maths’ or ‘Geography is boring’ and it always struck me as strange – how can you hate everything possible related to that subject? Well of course, you can’t. It’s a belief you have from a select number of experiences. With this in mind, I thought about if we have a view of Computing as being ‘for boys’ or ‘for geeks’ or the like, then again this is going to be generalised from a few, select experiences. What if we gave them more experiences? Could we change that belief?

Specifically Computing

Here I focus in on Computing. The subject where there are a lot of negative stereotypes, but also the one that I am most passionate about and can directly influence. Even within the subject of Computing, when pupils talk about a ‘Computer Scientist’ they frequently mean a programmer, so even if those negative stereotypes were correct, they didn’t fit *everyone* who studies Computing. What could I do?

I decided to break Computing down into clear topic areas – related the the National Curriculum – as a clearly visual way of showing the pupils I work with that Computing is made up of different areas. By all means they can say ‘I don’t really like programming’ although I would be forced to see why that is, but as long as they can justify it, this is a much smaller generalisation to make. Now, I set about thinking what areas I would split the curriculum into and how I would show the children this.

Computer Bytes

Around the same time as I was thinking about all of this, I was beginning to arrange a Computing afternoon at my new school as explained here.

At this point, I didn’t have the ‘Computer Bytes’ name and so was pondering what I could call the afternoon I was planning. Stumped for ideas, I took to Twitter and asked for their help! Donna Rawling (@DdR333) and Zoe Bratley (@zoepembers) were amazingly helpful at trying to come up with names, their early suggestions were things like ‘Superhackers, Cool Coders, Net Ninjas’ which I loved, but I felt they would reinforce the idea that Computing was just another name for ‘Programming’ and then I realised I could use them to show the breadth of the subject.

In the end, I ended up with:

  • Code Captain – good at programming, writing code etc. follows algorithms and makes things happen
  • Searching Superstar – can explain how results are selected and ranked as well as choosing key words and being able to judge accuracy when searching
  • Net Ninja – can explain how networks and the Internet work including choosing when using these tools is useful or a hindrance
  • Tech Team – can have a go at fixing computers (hardware and software) and debug to notice why things might not working, they show lots of resilience and perseverance
  • Hardware Hero – can plug in things like mice and keyboards etc. as well as understanding what computer inputs and outputs are and recognising them when they’re out and about
  • Logic Leader – can think carefully about HOW to solve the problem, as well as breaking it down into small manageable chunks that other people can understand

How will this reduce stereotypes?

The idea is that by showing children that the activities we teach in Computing are all related to different subject areas, if there is a part of the subject they do not like. They will dislike that section rather than the whole thing. Alongside this, whilst they may have specific preconceptions about what a programmer is like, they may not have thought about someone who works with Networking and the Internet and therefore we might be able to create a more positive stereotype in this area.

Of course, this is all just in theory and more than anything is should give them children a wider understanding into the subject of Computing and all the opportunities that could arise if they decided to pursue this subject in the future.

As an added bonus I asked a friend of mine if he could make gender-neutral cartoon characters which we could associate with each skill.

Computing Superheroes

Check out his Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/palfdoodles/

1 Comment [Add Yours]

  • Claire

    October 6, 2016 12:55 pm Reply

    Hi Sway, I attend your unplugged session at the diversity conference. You had some great ideas. Did you put the slides from your session anywhere on the web?

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