Project Q+:
An action-oriented program for recruiting and retaining first year female students in Computer Science

Christina Björkman
Department of Computer Systems, Uppsala University
P.O. Box 325
S-751 05 Uppsala

Research topic

My main interest is in the area of gender issues within Computer Science Education. This includes for example learning styles, gender conscious teaching, definition of subject area, teaching methods, cultural issues, supporting female students/faculty, importance of role models etc. I am not a doctoral student within the area described above (though a doctoral student in Computer Science, my subject has been Neural Networks), but I hope to establish contacts to be able to swich area in the near future, hopefully in connection with a new Research Center for IT and Gender.

Since I do not yet do any research within the area, I will instead describe the project I currently work with, although it is not a research project. I do hope, however, to be able to use some of the ideas from this projects in my future research.

Project Q+

During the academic year 1998/99, I work parttime at the Development and Evaluation Unit at Uppsala university, with a gender project in the area of Computer Science.

In this project, I concentrate on the first year female students at the Computer Science Program in Uppsala. The project aims at looking at factors for recrution and retention of female students in Computer Science.

In the spring semester 1998, I made an experiment with gender segregated groups in a class in Computer Architecture, in order to study potential differences between the groups in the classroom. The main experience from this project was that the female students are very negative to what they feel is "special treatment" and all kinds of affirmative actions. However, both my own experience as teacher and student counselor at the program, and experiences from many other universities, show that the females can have a harder situation because of their being a very small minority. Based on the experiences mentioned above, we decided to be more action oriented in this project, in that we try to find out what (if anything) the first year female students themselves feel that they want and need, and try to adapt actions taken to their ideas. It is the all important issue here to find out more about the female students we have at the program and give them the kind of support (if any) they want. Also, what they want and need might very well change during the course of their studies.

The project started with a questionnaire to all the first year students one of the first days of the semester. In this questionnaire we asked about motives for choosing to study Computer Science, previous experience of computers and programming, and their expectations about their studies. Results from this questionnaire show that there is a very high difference in previous experience of computers and programming between the male and the female students, with the men having considerably more experience. Also, there showed to be differences between motives for choosing Computer Science, and their expectations about their studies, between men and women. The implications of these findings was discussed with the female students at a dinner.

In the beginning of the fall semester, I also interviewed the female students, and discussed what kind of activities they were interested in.

During the course of the project, I organize different activites, and continously evaluate these. From different activites, and continous communication with the students, we make interesting observations.

Towards the end of the semester, we will do a new questionnaire, concerning for example how much time they spend on the studies in different areas, and also we will also do new interviews with the female students, and some of the male students as well.

The result of the project will be documented along with recommendations to the Faculty of possible changes to the program and/or permanent activities to support female students.