Final Research Paper

Yes, I'm finally done with this paper! Woohoo! Thanks so much Sheryl for letting me interview you and write about your experiences...Thought I post it for remembrance purposes =)

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Self-Efficacy of High School Females in Computer Science

Abstract

As computer technology advances and develop, there is a growing need for computer professionals. The number of Americans in the informational technology workforce compared to our entire population as a whole is underrepresented. Women take part in the worker shortage of the informational technology field. This research discusses about our current situation with the level of motivation for females in computer science and reviews over strategies to encourage and educate women in the field of computing. It includes literature reviews of past conducted experiments and interviews evaluating the importance and need for a program and curriculum to inspire and improve self-efficacy for high school females in informational technology.

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Computer science is the study of theoretical foundations of information and computation and their implementation and application in computer systems. Within computer science, there are sub-fields to explore, which includes Computer Graphics, Computational Complexity Theory, Programming Language Theory and Human-Computer Interaction. Computer Graphics involves digitally synthesizing and manipulating visual content, encompassing two-dimensional graphic and image processing. Computational Complexity Theory studies the efficiency of algorithms and the analysis of resources necessary to solve computational problems. As for Programming Language Theory, this sub-field evaluates approaches to describing computations and applies specific programming language to find a solution for certain computational difficulties. Human-Computer Interaction concentrates on the challenges in creating computers and computations accessible to all individuals (Department of Computer Science - Worcester Polytechnic Institute, 2007).

The utilization of computers has evolved within the last fifty years. It began as an instrument to decrypt enemy messages and calculating trajectories of ballistic missiles to a medium of technology for everyday use in our society. In the business world, computer technologies assist in achieving organization in the corporate life and can also be found used in grocery stores, fast food restaurants, big businesses and small offices. It enables the processing of data, storing information, solving complex mathematical problems, tracking inventory and controlling temperature and lighting in office buildings. Other features include the accessibility to information via Web and a form of communication through Email.

As computer technology advances and develops for both home and industry, there is a growing need for computer professionals. The economic welfare and security of our nation could be at stake if the number of jobs requiring science and engineering training continues to grow (Washington, 2004). To cope with the rising demand for informational technology workers, we are outsourcing from other countries such as India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. As American firms become dependent on labor in other parts of the world, it could have a profound economic consequence in the United States (Mitchell, 2004).

The number of Americans in the informational technology workforce compared to our entire population as a whole is underrepresented. Women take part in the worker shortage of the informational technology field (Mitchell, 2004). According to the Computing Research Association, 3.3 percent of male undergraduates choose informational technology related types of disciplines, whereas only 1.1 percent of undergraduate women pursue a degree in computer science and computer engineering (The Supply of Information Technology Workers in the United States, 2004). In relation to the percentages, Alan Fisher and Jane Margolis, authors of the book, “Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing,” documents the gender gap in the field of computing and states, “If women got involved in computer science as the same rate as men, there wouldn’t be a shortage in computer professionals” (p. 130). Fisher also notes that change cannot only happen at the university level and by broadening and explaining the implications of technology early on can help stir wider interests and fill the need for technology in the world outside academia (p. 152).

There has been much speculation as to the causes for the decline in women entering into the informational technology field. Some includes not having the available resources and equipments available in high schools, contributing to women not gaining early experience in technology. This goes in hand with the shortage of Kindergarten through 12th grade teachers and guidance counselors, whom are knowledgeable about the wide variety of career paths and opportunities in informational technology. Another factor is the perception of software careers as not being family friendly and associates the field with long hours, not aware of the telecommuting opportunities and other flexible schedules. Furthermore, according to the 2005 National Center for Women and Information Technology, many high school girls deem computer scientists as geeks, pocket protectors, isolated cubicles and staring into the computer writing codes. In addition, there is a lack of women role models (The Supply of Information Technology Workers in the United States, 2004). These aspects can discourage some women to pursue a degree in computer science. Therefore, it is important to enhance their self-efficacy at an early age.

Self-efficacy is our belief in our ability to succeed in any given area. It plays a role in how we approach our goals, tasks and challenges. People acquire their self-efficacy beliefs through past performance, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion and physiological cues. If we can increase the self-efficacy for high school females in computer science, we can possibly see more females entering into the field.

In the journal written by Irene T. Miura, a policy-maker in education at San Jose University, “Sex Roles” describes the relationship of computer self-efficacy expectations to computer interest and course enrollment. There was a study conducted on summer computer camps and they found three times as many boys as girls were enrolled into the computer camps. The predominance of males in these programs increased in relation to grade, cost of program and level of difficulty of the courses (p. 304 - 306).

In the college level, these gender differences affects perceived self-efficacy for technology use, becoming a factor for differential computer interests and course enrollment. In a two-page questionnaire assessing computer self-efficacy, men rated themselves higher than did women for perceived self-efficacy. Men were also more positive on the cognitive outcome measures. But with computer self-efficacy held constant, the magnitude of these differences was decreased, suggesting that perceived self-efficacy may be an important consideration when examining gender differences in computer interest and use (Miura, 1987, p. 308).

In an effort to improve self-efficacy in computer science for women, institutes such as Carnegie Mellon moved emphasis away from programming proficiency. The requirements for admission to the program before required high overall achievement and programming experience. Now, the criterion for the program includes high overall achievement and broad interests, diverse perspectives and whether the applicants seem to have potential to be future leaders. In addition, Dr. Ed Lazowska, a computer scientist at the University of Washington and Dr. Lenore Blum, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University are working together with their colleagues from the University of California, Los Angeles, and Google on providing materials for high school teachers to tell students about the challenges and opportunities of computer science. They are creating it for teachers of Mathematics, Science and English in high school because they would like to prevent young women from opting out of the field before getting into computer science (Cornella, 2007).

According to Huey-Wen, author of “The Effects of Training Method and Individual Differences on Learning Performance and Computer Self-Efficacy in WWW Design Training,” learning performance shows male students benefiting from the instruction-based approach and female students more from the behavior modeling approaches. When concerning computer self-efficacy female students gained more from the instruction and male benefited from behavior modeling approaches (p. 2).

The field experiment conducted test their hypotheses with gender, training method, and computer anxiety treated as independent variables. Three sets of training materials were developed based on a commercialized reference for WWW homepage design. The training course was carried over a span of three weeks and within the experiment, there were several measures employed in the study, which includes learning performance, computer self-efficacy, computer anxiety and past achievement (p. 4).

The first set consisted of primary attributes, documenting background and instruction for HTML, which is a basic programming language heavily used on the Internet. The next set emphasized on paragraph definition and image insertion through the use of HTML. The last set includes hyperlink and webpage layout. In combination, the study of both abstract knowledge and procedural knowledge were both evaluated to ensure the main aspects of computer training were explored. As for the analysis of the experiment, reliability measures were used for computer anxiety, pre-training and post-training computer self-efficacy measures, which resulted with the behavior modeling method as being superior with respect to learning performance and computer self-efficacy (p. 5).

In evaluation of all the studies previously discussed, these experiments have limitation with regards to sample population and would have an affect on the validity of the issue. The scope of the conducted study needs to be replicated amongst high-school females throughout the United States to affirm the types of training methods, computer training contents and cognitive styles that are in place in our current society. However, to reaffirm the current situation of our society in an interview with web developer, Sheryl Tan addressed, “I think a lot of young girls are not encouraged to pursue or excel a career in computer science. My main example would be a comparison between my high school and my brother’s high school experience with regards to being introduced into the field. At the all girls’ high school I attended, their idea of instructing us was to teach us how to type and use Microsoft Suite. Comparing it to my brother’s experience, they were exposed to numerous subjects, which also consisted of computer engineering and computer science. Until now, the differences are still staggering. My school is still teaching basic computer instructions and branching into web-related material. However, it is nowhere close to my brother’s high school, which is predominantly male. In addition, there are very subtle influences for girls to pursue and be interested in computer science in the coed school program as well” (personal communication, November 15, 2007).

Coinciding the articles and interview, it proves to show how some females in high school do not pursue a degree in computer science. It is usually a preconceived notion of what they believe it to be, not a first-hand experience, inhibiting them from all the career possibilities in the field. There are simply not enough resources with regards to teachers, programs and counselors to be able to guide these female students into the various career paths within informational technology.

The research proves stereotypes of computer scientists are one of the main barriers for females to enter into the field, decreasing their self-efficacy and belief if they have the skills and capabilities to succeed in this profession. As organizations within the private and public sector and within education move towards automation, the demand for individuals proficient in computer science will continue to grow. However, in order to fulfill this need, our country is outsourcing to foreign countries due to the lack of domestic talent.

With the recent approval for the increase of H1B visas allowed, the gender gap is intensified since most H1B visa candidates originate from countries where there is a disproportionately high male to female ratio in informational technology (Mervis, 2000). Instead of resorting to the path of least resistance, it is important to focus on the core of the problem than only increasing the number of H1B visas. Resources should be allocated towards the domestic education system and identify strategies to encourage females to choose a profession in computer science.

In an effort to motivate female students, education plays an influential role in this process. We need more teachers, tutors, mentoring programs and counselors, whom are knowledgeable about computer science and understand the importance and significance of it. Once the student is able to realize the magnitude and value of the field, it will help pique their interest and enhance their desire to learn.

While retaining a strong foundation in the fundamentals, computer science education needs to be more exciting and provide more hands-on experience and context to promote interest and motivation. It is important to create a positive classroom learning environment and active learning methods. Science instruction, which lies in fostering the students’ self-motivation and channeling their innate curiosity, is a key factor. Therefore, as an educator, it is crucial to convey to the students the value of computer science to their cultural development, help students develop an ability to evaluate information critically and provide students opportunities to engage in creative, personally meaningful research.

Students whom are intrinsically interested in an activity are more likely than students who are not intrinsically interested to see the value of challenging tasks, exert effort and learn at a conceptual level. Furthermore, classroom practices have an impact on students’ intrinsic interest. To enhance motivation, it is important to support for student autonomy, support for competence, learning goals, and real-world interaction.

Activities and lessons to improve females’ self-efficacy in computer science may consist of webpage design, games, and writing biographies of women role models in computer science and learning about their skills and how it can contribute to the real world. Students can learn how to design their own webpage through in-class lesson as the teacher walks them through the process along with instruction handouts for point of reference. After instructing the students the fundamentals of building a webpage, a possible project can be given to ask the students to create their own personal website and link in their own hobbies, interests and ideas they would like to share about themselves. Another lesson is to create a webpage for their family and ask them to implement an online album to upload photos and post comments. By interlocking their personal life into the project, the students are able to express themselves and share it with their friends and family.

Games can also be incorporated into the curriculum by asking the students to create their own games and this may include their personal interests or favorite subjects, which may consist of Mathematics, History, English or Science. It is another method to help them learn the basis of programming and bring in content and material they have learned from other classes and interests.

Due to the lack of women role models in computer science, it is important for female students to be aware of women of leadership roles within this profession. A lesson should be given to ask the students to write a biography on a leader they would like to discuss and use as an example. In addition, enrich these students about the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference, a leading conference for women in the field of computer science. They provide a place to inspire, educate, encourage and create awareness of opportunities for women in the field of computing and acknowledge the considerable achievement of women in the field. The conference emphasizes the impact of women in the field of computing and technology and celebrates the potential each attendee possesses.

In the beginning of the semester, the educator can have students look up job listings on sites they visit or popular used sites such as Myspace, Neopets, Facebooks and Ebay. The students can pick a job of interest to them in the field of computing and together, they can discuss and evaluate the skills and requirements. After the review, the teacher can implement those skills into the curriculum to help the students acquire the skill set throughout the course. This type of approach will enable these female students to improve their self-efficacy and realize how it applies to the real world.

Computer science is a rapidly growing field in which women are greatly underrepresented. As in the research, females' interest in computer science was largely resistant to change. If we can continue to build their self-efficacy, high school female students will be less reluctant to pursue the computer science profession. Through these effort and strategies, teachers can work with these female students on their beliefs and abilities, creating a classroom environment, which will spark initial curiosity and foster long-term interest and build associated skills. Educators can teach students expandable and improvable academic abilities and provide prescriptive and informational feedback, focusing on positive work ethic, good application of strategies, and problem solving techniques, encouraging better self-efficacy.