Last week, The Educator reported on a ground-breaking new program – Digital Divas – which is helping to ensure that in the rush to prepare students for the jobs of the future, girls aren’t left behind.
Adjunct Professor, Julie Fisher, from Monash University, developed the program along with four other researchers from her own faculty, as well as from Swinburne and Deakin universities.
Fisher’s new book – titled Digital Divas: putting the wow into computing for girls – recently won The Leonie Warne Prize for an Outstanding Publication in the Area of Women and ICT (Information and Communications Technology).
The book gives an overview of the Digital Divas project, which Fisher hopes will be used as a “template for future interventions” to encourage more women and girls to get into technology.
“Over some years we have researched the broader topic of gender and ICT given the low number of women studying ICT at university. As a result of this, we have noticed that the number of women working in ICT has not improved over the last few decades,” Fisher told The Educator.
“A key issue is the image girls have of computing and IT as a profession, that it is for example ‘geeky’, not creative, just about programming.”
She added that previous research has highlighted that the barriers to girls contemplating ICT careers are established by lower secondary school, and how IT subjects are taught has a major impact on girls’ attitudes towards the discipline.
“Research also tells us that an intervention program such as Digital Divas needs to run over several weeks and be taken seriously, such as being part of the curriculum. Schools are the ideal place,” she said.
‘A real problem’
In 2015, the Australian Computer Society (ACS) reported that just 28% of the ICT profession were women – a statistic that Fisher called “a real problem”.
“When so much of our lives today are based on technology, women should be playing an equal part in its development,” she said, adding that the number of girls studying IT at Year 12 continues to fall.
“Unless girls study IT at school and then continue to study IT, we will not see an increase in women in the profession.”
According to Fisher, Victoria is one state lagging behind in this area.
In 2015, less than 400 girls studied VCE Unit 4 (IT). To change girls’ perceptions of why a career in IT is for them, Fisher believes that the way girls are taught IT needs to change.
“For the Digital Divas program we developed specific curriculum materials designed to stimulate middle school (Years 8 and 9) girls’ interest in IT and curiosity about IT career paths,” she said.
“The modules that we developed tapped into the interests of girls, including using their creativity, and allowed girls to work collaboratively.”
‘Principals play a pivotal role’
For the schools that are yet to jump on board Digital Divas, Fisher shared some ways in which principals and other school leaders can drive greater female engagement in ICT.
“The attitude to technology within a school can influence the extent to which students, male or female, will elect to study ICT,” Fisher said.
“We found that that our classroom modules, which encouraged group work and creativity, and focussed on developing a product or output rather than on a computer program in isolation, were particularly engaging for the girls involved.”
Fisher added that she and her team also brought in guest speakers – professional women with careers in ICT – who helped girls make the connection between what they had been enjoying during their classes and thinking of ICT as a career option.
“The modules that we developed are still freely available online at our website, and I’d encourage ICT teachers to consider adopting some of our lesson plans,” she said.
“School principals play a pivotal role in promoting technology use in schools, and I would encourage them to look at technology training for their staff.”
Fisher said it is “critical” to ensure that classroom teachers have the necessary technology skills and experience to be effective, that they have experience and are confident with technology in the classroom.
“Additionally, they must also ensure that teachers have the necessary technology skills and experience to be effective, “she said.
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