Want to Create a More Inclusive CS Classroom? Start with a Welcoming Environment

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Want to Create a More Inclusive CS Classroom? Start with a Welcoming Environment

This post comes from Pat Phillips, a NICERC Subject Matter Expert


It’s a wonderful CSEd Week! There is so much to celebrate – increasing numbers of students in computer science (CS) at all levels, lots of new curriculum choices and tools, and a realization (finally) that CS and technology hold promises of wonderfully creative careers for prepared young people.

While the numbers are looking better, there is still one number that lags; the number of women and girls in CS classes or entering CS careers is not where we need it to be if we want U.S. tech industries to be world-competitive.

The good news is that we have lots of opportunities (and resources) to encourage girls and women by breaking down stereotypes and creating welcoming environments. In a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Maria Klawe, computer scientist and president of Harvey Mudd College, shares three key practices that colleges can use to support and prepare women to pursue tech careers. See “3 Ways to Get More Women Into Tech,” Nov. 5, 2017.

Not so surprisingly, Klawe’s ideas for encouraging women in CS at the college level can be easily transferred to encouraging girls (and all students) K–12.

  1. Make courses more engaging.
    Teach courses in a way that makes the subject matter interesting and accessible to everyone. Pair theory with real-world applications and emphasize how students can use CS to benefit society. Provide project choices that make a difference to students and others.
  2. Build confidence and community.
    Hands-on learning builds confidence. Studies have shown that students who participate in research in a field are more likely to continue in that field. What research and hands-on CS applications could your students design?
    A successful department or classroom culture that fosters inclusion and opportunities for developing relationships with other students and faculty is welcoming for ALL students. Collaborative projects, team competitions, mentors, and clubs certainly fit the bill.
  3. Demystify success.
    At the college level, this takes the form of affinity groups such as chapters of professional organizations. I think at precollegiate levels this means replacing the “only geeks can do this” attitude to one of “there aren’t any secrets – let me show you how.” Make the classroom a unified learning environment in which no one succeeds unless everyone succeeds. This calls for collaborative learning, adult and student mentors, and an atmosphere in which everyone’s skills and knowledge are recognized and celebrated.

Congratulations to Maria Klawe and Harvey Mudd College for nearing gender parity in CS and engineering courses by using these strategies and thank you, Maria, for sharing your ideas with us all.

NICERC’s curricula is currently implemented in all 50 states and builds K-12 aptitude in STEM, computer science, and cyber curricula. For more information, visit www.nicerc.org.