ITiCSE 2005 Working Group:

Building a Sense of History: Narratives and Pathways of Successful Computing Educators

Working Group Leaders:

Barbara Boucher Owens
Southwestern University
Department of Math & CS
Georgetown, TX 78626 USA
+1 (512) 863-1513
Vicki L. Almstrum
The University of Texas at Austin
1 University Station (C0500)
Austin, TX 78712
+1 (512) 459-8678
Lecia Barker
University of Colorado
Stadium 262E; 320 UCB
Boulder, Colorado 80309-0320
+1 (303) 735-5578

Working group resources


The primary purpose of this working group is to set the stage for building a collection of narratives about the career pathways computer science educators have successfully followed. This working group will develop a set of interview questions, identify candidate interviewees for near and long-term work, and articulate the methodological and analytic processes to be followed in capturing career path stories. The overall goal of the work is to identify the factors that led interviewees into computer science education and/or research and kept them in the field. The working group's deliverables will be the interview questions, the analysis procedure description, an initial analysis based on interviews with a pilot group of interviewees, and initial suggestions for how to interest and support future computer scientists in general, but women and other represented groups in particular, throughout their computer science careers as scholars and educators.

Background and Issues Under Discussion or Investigation

The computing field is sorely lacking in female and minority representation. Two researchers at Carnegie Mellon, a sociologist and a computer scientist, studied the retention of women undergraduates in computer science; this work resulted in the publication of the acclaimed book, Unlocking the Clubhouse [1]. The authors presented their work at 2003 SIGCSE Technical Symposium in Reno, Nevada. At that same conference, Eric Robert's keynote talk focused on the need for increased opportunity in the field [2]. In June 2002, a special issue of SIGCSE Bulletin inroads was devoted to Women and Computing [3]. This special issue presented a comprehensive overview of many the challenges, barriers, and success stories experienced by women in computing. Additional special issues on issues of women in computing are soon to be released (e.g., an upcoming JERIC issue; an edited volume; The Encyclopedia of Gender and IT)

At the 2003 SIGCSE Technical Symposium in Reno, Nevada, inspired by the events related to issues of women in computer science, many attendees expressed an interest in capturing the stories of computing educators, particularly women who are approaching retirement age. There was a common belief that the stories lived by female computing educators are very different from those experienced by men, and that the stories of the early pioneers in academic environments must be recorded before these individuals retire or pass away. The focus of this project will be to capture the unique histories of academic women in computer science and to analyze the stories in a meaningful way. We believe that this project will make an important contribution to the body of CS history and particularly to our understanding of gender issues in the field. As a source of role models and a demonstration of the benefits of academic career paths in computing, the results of this project might help in efforts to attract more females and other underrepresented minorities to the field (although we acknowledge the differences between the experiences and challenges facing minorities and those facing women).

The long-term goal behind this proposal is to continue the work begun by the working group, using the model developed as part of an ongoing history project that complements similar efforts in computing and related fields. We propose to focus on women's stories for this working group because it provides us with a means of exploring these issues with one of the earliest groups of women who participate in the academic world of computing. Many of these women have either retired or are approaching retirement, so beginning now provides a unique opportunity for reaching this particular group. In the future both male and female histories will become part of the study, again with a particular emphasis on how these stories can inform ways we provide support to underrepresented populations in the field.

Working Group Goals, Methodology, and Activities

The main goal of this working group is to begin the systematic collection of the histories described above. During the time before the working group convenes, participants will generate a set of questions that will facilitate capture of narratives about the career pathways these women have followed, create a list of candidate interviewees, and conduct pilot interviews.

During the time the group meets in Lisbon, the main objectives will be to evaluate the process up to that point, expand the list of potential interviewees, conduct initial analysis of pilot interview data, and identify emergent themes. This process will enable to the participants to make any necessary alterations to the initial process. The working group will also develop a strategy for continued work in this area, including the creation of proposals to fund the ongoing efforts.

This work will consider other projects with related goals, for example the IEEE Virtual Museum project on women in IT [5], historian Janet Abbate's work on six decades of women in computing [6, 7], the American Society of Mechanical Engineers project to celebrate Women in Engineering [8], and the Extraordinary Women in Engineering Project (EWEP), an ambitious educational initiative to inspire more young women to choose and remain in engineering [9]. We will study the work done by other groups both to inform our project and to help define the unique contributions this project will make to the body of developing information


[1] Fisher, A. and Margolis, J. Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing, MIT Press, 2002.

[2] Roberts, E. Expanding the audience for computer science. PowerPoint version of keynote talk presented at 2003 SIGCSE Technical Symposium, Reno, Nevada. online: http://www-cs-faculty.Stanford.EDU/~eroberts//sigcse/

[3] Camp, T. (Ed.) Women and Computing. Special issue. SIGCSE Bulletin inroads. 34(2) (June 2002).

[4] Butler University, Panel on Women in IT: Changing the Future of Technology, October 22, 2002, online:

[5] IEEE Virtual Museum, Nurturing the Network: Women and the Communications Industry, online:

[6] Abbate, J., Finding our Place in History: Six Decades of Women in Computing, Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. October 6-9, 2004. Chicago, IL.

[7] Abbate, J., History of Computing and the Internet (future work). online:

[8] American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Celebration of Women in Engineering Poster Series, online:

[9] Extraordinary Women in Engineering Project (EWEP), online: