Measures to Increase the Percentage of Female Students in Computer Science R.K. Pucher1, G. Holweg2, B. Kainz3 and F. Schmoellebeck4 1
University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien / Department of Computer Science, Vienna, Austria University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien / Department of Information Engineering & Security, Vienna, Austria 3 Hertha Firnberg Schools, Vienna, Austria 4 University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien / Department of Electronic Engineering, Vienna, Austria
Abstract—Computer Science in Austria is dominated by male students. At the University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien, only around 13% of students are females. This low percentage can only be changed by a higher number of female applicants. One way can be a close cooperation between secondary education and tertiary education. The following measures have been chosen: Joint development of a curriculum for secondary education. Joint teaching in critical subjects of Computer Science. Use of laboratories at the Technikum Wien for pupils in secondary education. Index Terms—secondary education, tertiary education, computer Science, cooperation.
I. INTRODUCTION Computer Science, like many other technical subjects experience a relatively low number of applicants. Somewhat surprising is the fact that even fewer females enter the selection process, whereas the number of females in secondary education is more or less equal to the number of males. Table I shows the absolute numbers and the percentages of male and female students who started to study Computer Science at the University of Applied Sciences (UAS) Technikum Wien in the years 2005 to 2010 TABLE I.
NUMBER OF STUDENTS IN COMPUTER SCIENCE, UAS TECHNIKUM WIEN
Number of Students - First Semester Computer Science year
2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
67 67 57 62 62
87% 88% 83% 89% 85%
10 9 12 8 11
13% 12% 17% 11% 15%
77 76 69 70 73
The percentage of female students enrolling into the program of computer science is very constant around low 11% to 17%. Not shown in the table is the second worrying effect, female students tend to drop out twice as frequently as their male colleges. Detailed information on this is published elsewhere .
In the past years, the University of Applied Sciences did much work to enhance the quality of teaching, in general and also especially to meet the needs of female students. This work is described in detail in publications on the GEMIS and QUADRO projects [2, 3]. However it is easy to see, that lowering the dropout rate of female students will not have a huge effect. It is highly desirable to have a low rate of dropouts, but in the case of female students this simply will increase the percentage to the initial rate given in table 1, which still is much lower compared to the 50% of females in the age range of applicants. As a consequence the authors have been seeking alternatives to increase the number of female applicants. Computer Science is a technically oriented course and perceived to be “difficult”. Furthermore many girls tend to assume that “Computer Science is not a suitable subject for girls”. This seems to be the reason why in most institutions for tertiary education in Austria the percentage of female students is low . As a solution the authors focused onto a better cooperation between secondary schools with a high number of female pupils and the University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien. In such cooperation joint teaching where teachers from the university and teachers from the school work together closely proved to be of high value. Also teaching pupils at the UAS Technikum Wien can be a suitable measure to overcome the negative prejudice. II.
COOPEARTION WITH SECONDARY EDUCATION
The University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien is highly interested in giving young people information on possibilities of studies in the field of technology, engineering and natural sciences. This fact corresponds to the shortage of graduates in the field of Engineering. Especially the shortage of female Engineers demands new ways of highschool and college education. The idea of the described project is to provide education in computer science in an environment which is known to be supportive and attractive for female students. These mentioned conditions are met to a high degree by the Hertha Firnberg Schools in Vienna. Goal of the described school-cooperation was to generate a well balanced blend of education in economics, management and computer
science within a gender sensitive environment and the use of gender sensitive didactics. Furthermore students of the Hertha Firnberg Schools should come in contact with the culture and labs of UAS Technikum Wien at early stages of their education. The following pages give an insight into the structure and process of teaching pupils at the UAS Technikum Wien. In addition to technical and pedagogical aspects also social conditions play an important role, as will be described in a brief field report at the end of the paper based on the pupils’ participation in a national computer competition. III.
schedule is tightly connected to the topics taught at the UAS Technikum Wien within semester 1 and 2. So, what are actually the contents of the subjects? In year 1 the amount of eight weekly hours is quite high. Pupils shall slowly be introduced to application-oriented use of computers. Information and Office Management imparts knowledge of word processing, spreadsheets and presentation techniques using software like MS-Word, Excel and PowerPoint. This part is totally being processed by teachers of the Hertha Firnberg Schools. The other two subjects (Applied Computer Science and Media Technology) are held in close cooperation with the UAS Technikum Wien and give a first impression of how to program computers and create web pages.
STRUCTURE OF SCHOOL LESSONS
Computer Science Management (CSM) is a pilot project that has been started in Sept. 2010 at the Hertha Firnberg Schools in cooperation with the UAS Technikum Wien. The curriculum is very heterogeneous and in many aspects a novelty for Austria. Pupils not only have common school subjects, like German (as their native language), history, geography, economics and mathematics, but also subjects specific to management and tourism, as prescribed by the school type. This includes subjects like Russian as a second foreign language beside to English, civic education and gender mainstreaming, catering management and food & beverage. In addition, the subjects have been supplemented by a series of computer science topics. It’s easy to imagine that for computer scientists it is exciting to see what type of pupils are interested in such a combination of school subjects, what they are more interested in (languages, tourism management or computer science) and if there is the potential to bring out some students in computer science. TABLE II. CURRICULUM OF COMPUTER SCIENCE SUBJECTS IN SCHOOL PILOT PROJECT ‘COMPUTER SCIENCE MANAGEMENT’
School Pilot Project ‘Computer Science Management’ Computer Science Subjects weekly hours each year subject I II III IV V Information and Office Management Applied Computer Science Operating Systems and Network Technology Media Technology Technology Laboratory Projects and Project Management Science Laboratory
1 3 0
2 3 0
Computer science is a real focus on education. Table II shows the subjects concerning computer science topics. School education ends after five years with a higher education entrance qualification, which opens the doors to start studying for a university level degree. Within 5 years of school education pupils are qualified for starting their studies in Bachelor Informatics at the UAS TechnikumWien directly with the third semester, because the
using computers, at least when computer usage is reduced to Facebook, Youtube, chatting and hearing music. They are also very good in searching with Google&Co as far as you let them search what they are interested in. On the other hand starting with instructions on low level computer languages or abstract concepts would completely overload them. Even C as computer language was regarded as too complex at the very beginning. It must be clear that pupils of this pilot project do not start the first class as computer experts – quite in contrary, they have diverse interests as stipulated by the curriculum (i.e. languages, tourism, management, …). The challenge of the first year is to rouse the pupils to passion in computer science. If they are not motivated they won’t learn anything. Following up-to-date research from the neurobiology motivation or even enthusiasm decides as an essential factor on good versus bad success in learning . Emotions in general (either good or bad) have a large influence on the learning process. Therefore the first steps in computer science must be easy, funny and motivating for the pupils. To fulfill this approach there are two different concepts: 1) Pupils learn how to program robots: The Lego NXT1 robot system is used for this purpose which is perfectly suited for pupils of this age. This system offers several benefits: The play instinct is awakened. Teamwork is encouraged. First steps are easy, since there is a graphical programming environment called NXT-G where given programming elements are stuck together by drag&drop. Concepts of programming languages like loops and conditions can easily be demonstrated. When there is a loop that is repeated five times for example it is obvious that the robot does the same thing five times (e.g. driving a circle). At any time it is possible to change to more sophisticated programming languages as for example NXC, which is a C like language. Pupils are encouraged in abstract thinking and planning logical sequences and algorithms. 2) Pupils learn how to program web pages: The web is those part of computer science that youths of this age are best familiar with. A lot of benefits arise from this: Pupils are proud of having knowledge about creating web pages – something they daily use in their free time. They immediately can apply what they have learned when creating webpages for themselves, friends, parents, .. With little effort quite attractive results can be achieved. Although HTML and CSS are just markup languages and no programming languages 1
Lego NXT is a robot system that consists of Lego blocks adjustable to one’s own desire and a microprocessor brick with three ports for driving motors and four ports for polling sensors. For more details see: http://mindstorms.lego.com
creating web pages is a good starting point for learning programming languages. Associated technologies in terms of different kinds of electronic media (graphics, video, audio) exert a fascination on most young people. As mentioned already the pedagogical concept extends from the simple, playful way to the complex and comprehensive. At no time there is the approach to impart all-embracing knowledge, in contrary, daring the gap is essential. It is considered much more useful if subjects are repeated again and again, and topics that have not been understood the first time or even have been omitted become clear the next time. HTML-Tags, for example, that have not been imparted the first time get known one year after when the pupils create an accompanying web page for a project they are working on. Thus pupils should also get used to self-responsible learning which might be the crux of the matter when studying at a university. Pupils of the second year, which has already started this September, learn about operating systems, network technology and website programming. Again at this state it is not necessary to funnel all the knowledge into pupils’ head, they should learn how computers work, should know the components of a computer and should be able to build their own home network. Personal experience has shown that pupils at this age for the first time get their professional interests clearly expressed. Hopefully at this stage some pupils start to express their affection for computer science – but this is too early to report about and will be part of a potentially succeeding paper. B. Gender Aspects The CSM pilot project started in Sept. 2010 with 11 girls and 6 boys. This ratio is fairly expected when knowing the school type’s orientation. Traditionally many more girls attend this school type because the Hertha Firnberg Schools are usually associated with typical female occupations. In this case this can be seen as a big advantage. According to a newspaper article  girls don’t want to be alone within a group of boys. In Austria technical oriented schools are usually dominated by boys. With the CSM pilot project girls find an open door to technical oriented topics without leaving their social environment. According to Pohl  the technology shyness of girls seems to have social and cultural origins. Looking at other countries and cultures (e.g. Malysia, arab countries), a much greater interest of women in technical professions can be recognized. In addition, the first school year is accompanied by gender mainstreaming events - for teachers as well as for pupils. This aims in raising the awareness on the topic. C. Courses at the UAS Technikum Wien A novelty in this pilot project is the fact that pupils are instructed directly at the UAS Technikum Wien. Every Thursday from 8am to 12:30 they meet in a lecture hall of the UAS Technikum Wien. A small room directly behind the lecture hall is used to store away all the robot equipment. The two subjects Applied Computer Science and Media Technology are blocked to five hours each
week. Two teachers hold the lessons – one from the Hertha Firnberg Schools and one from the UAS Technikum Wien. This means that the 15 year old pupils are treated like students at university level. The cooperation of a team of lecturers of the UAS Technikum Wien and teachers of the school is unique in Austria and will give pupils not only a first impression of the university environment, but also a good preparation for academic training later on.. This cooperation goes hand in hand with some privileges the pupils have and their colleagues in school miss: It makes the pupils feel like university students and they move between them during break times. They have the same rights as students have o They were handed over key cards that allow them to enter the university building whenever they want. o They have an own computer account allowing them to logon to any computer available to students. o They can use the university facilities like canteen, copy center or library. o They have access to the electronic campus information system that offers access to information that is otherwise charged for, as e.g. ebooks. o Not all of the privileges are actually of interest for young people of age 14 to 15 but it definitely makes them very proud to be handled like students. There is no interval bells ringing every 50 minutes which complies best with project work Due to work with the robots pupils need not sit still all the time but can move around, exchange ideas and work together in teams. Coming to the university is a welcome alternation to daily lessons and the pupils really like it.
IV. EXPERIENCES One year after the pilot project’s start a first report on experiences is appropriate. To start with a very positive statement: pupils have voted the courses at the UAS Technikum Wien to the best hours in school. It’s hard to say what’s the reason for it – maybe the additional privileges and freedom or the extensive teamwork and project work? From the teachers’ point of view there is the desire that the interest in computer science is an essential factor for it. Considering gender aspects it was interesting how group work was organized. Pupils were allowed to build the groups by themselves. Although they almost did not know each other at the very beginning the groups they formed at that time are still alive. Four of the six boys build one group, the other two boys are alone in girl groups. All four boys of the boy group belong to the pupils with the worst school achievements. They are hardly to motivate, interfere with the teaching and find it
hard to follow the presented topics. The teachers were surprised because they had expected the boys to be “the experts” in computer science. In general the girls are much more interested and faster in doing their jobs. From the teachers point of view homework is absolutely essential for gaining progress. Otherwise pupils forget from week to week what they have learned. Seven day intervals in teaching computer science topics are much too long. Exercises on designing web pages as homework is nearly perfect. On the other hand it is difficult to find exercises on programming robots, because two or three pupils must share a robot and it’s an effort to take them along. Doing programming exercises without the robots is not easy to manage, because the robots are necessary for testing. Teamwork and group work are an integral part of school life and prepare students for university life and professional life. Early April all pupils of the class took part at the Austrian Robocup Junior Competition. The winners of the competition got a ticket to the Robocup World Championship which takes place in another country of the world each year. Although the pupils were not among the winners such a competition is an excellent opportunity to encourage pupils’ team spirit and sense of togetherness and promotes fascination with technology and computer science. Many class hours and otherwise free time was used for preparation of the competition. To finalize the paper the following report describes the impact of pupils’ participation on school achievements. A. Preparations for the Robocup Junior Championship When we proposed the idea of participating at the Robocup Junior Austrian Open 2011 early this January, the pupils were immediately hooked on this project. Spending a whole week-end together in the city of Wels (located in Upper Austria) with “cool” robots definitely seemed worth the extra effort the pupils had to put into preparing for this contest: teams were formed, the respective leagues (Dance, Rescue and Soccer)2 were chosen and the programming and construction of the LEGO NXT robots began. From the teacher's point of view, the decision to partake in the Robocup Junior Austrian Opens was based on the assumption that some pupils would develop intrinsic motivation for programming. To enable this, efforts were undertaken to create an open and flexible learning environment for the pupils, where the teachers' role was more that of a coach. The pupils had free choice in choosing their teammates, their league and their programming and construction approach. The teachers' job lay in offering guidance and providing help when it came to solving problems. It was emphasized from the start that it was the pupils' competition, and their success solely depended on their own preparations. This approach turned out to have mixed results: Some pupils resorted to a minimum of work input whereas others spent a lot of free time preparing for the 2
Please refer to http://www.robocup.org/robocup-junior/ for more information on the leagues
event and were even recruiting friends and family as actual co-helpers in constructing and designing. Another goal was to improve the sense of community within the class. B. The Robocup Junior Austrian Open in Wels The actual event took place on Saturday and Sunday and the class arrived on Friday evening with five teams, four partaking in the rescue challenge and one team partaking in the dance challenge. On both days the mornings were reserved for on-site testing and preparing for the competitions, which took place in the afternoon. During the preparation period, the pupils had to work on their own without any help from their teachers. This resulted in a quite interesting learning environment for the pupils themselves: Due to the fact that light-conditions and layout of the rescue arenas differed from the ones we had prepared for in our classroom, the pupils had to adjust not only their programs but also the construction of their robots during a limited time frame. This circumstance put some stress on the pupils who had to cope with this situation without any help from their teachers. While the rescue teams worked more or less on their own, the dance team collaborated with other dance teams that they were actually competing against, which resulted in new ways of solving a problem and also in socializing with pupils from different provinces. Quite a remarkable social situation developed during the competitions. While usually the class consists of small groups with the normal amount of tension between them, they grew together during their respective performance. There was a palpable sense of community present. Differences between pupils were forgotten and they cheered and rejoiced in case of success – everybody was part of the team or, in other words, the whole class became one big team. This impression could be confirmed later on during talks with pupils, as they mentioned those moments as one of the highlights of the whole event. During the evenings on Friday and Saturday, the pupils could use their time as they saw it best fit. Some groups decided on reviewing, discussing and improving their code and construction. This learning environment surely was exceptional: The pupils dedicated themselves solely to the task of improving their program/ construction without any distraction by e.g. television or by the pressure to study for other subjects as is so often the case. They worked closely together, discussed different approaches and explained their solutions to each other. They could discuss their solutions on equal terms with their teacher. They were so into the matter that they eventually had to be ordered to stop and go to sleep - otherwise they would have worked late into the night. This was all the more fascinating as both exceptional and rather low performing pupils, who hadn't shown that
much enthusiasm beforehand, were among those night owls.
Figure 1. Dance Team "Millet". FLTR: Sarah Brugger, Caroline Schuhmann and Dominik Löchler
C. Outcome For some pupils (no distinction between male and female pupils can be drawn in this context) this event was of great benefit for both their IT-Skills – foremost programming skills – as well as their social skills in regard of teamwork. They have improved greatly and showed an increased interest in IT in the following classes. Whereas it would go too far to claim that the whole class has improved their sense of community in the long term, it is safe to say that the pupils have at least shared moments of strong communal spirit. These conclusions are also mostly confirmed by the pupils' feedback
It’s too early to report final results. The first class has started in September 2010 and pupils will have their school leaving examination in summer 2015. Only at that point serious results can be reported giving a detailed number of girls (and boys) starting their studies at the UAS Technikum Wien and thus accomplishing the main goal of the pilot project. This September (2011) one further first class has started which implies a planned duration of at least six years for the pilot project, but first interim results and success suggests that the cooperation between UAS Technikum Wien and Hertha Firnberg schools will be extended for an indefinite period. This is a list of benefits that can be reported one year after the pilot project’s launch: Although intended as an experiment a long-term planning promises sustainable impact for the future
Positive response in the media (newspapers, television, partner institutions) Selective positioning of activities in girldominated school types reduces girls’ awe against traditionally boy-dominated, technically oriented training branches in the secondary education sector in Austria. Becoming early acquainted with education at an Austrian university awakes familiarity with a university institution. Both students and teachers benefit from accompanying measures in gender issues. A gentle and playful introduction to computer science topics, which is important at least during the first school year, promotes interest and pleasure in computer science. These methods are closely accompanied by social group oriented activities, such as the participation of all pupils at the RoboCup Junior competitions. To learn to think for oneself and self-directed learning are important requirements for a later university education.
The low percentage of female students in Computer Science may be caused partially by a prejudice, that “Computer Science is not suitable for girls”. To overcome this prejudice is difficult and takes time. One possibility is a close cooperation between secondary and tertiary education. Already while in secondary education, well in advance of the time when to choose their further way, girls can be brought into contact with Computer Science. This provides many possibilities to prove that “Computer Science” is a suitable subject for girls. However it also requires considerable effort in adapting the curriculum of secondary schools and a close cooperation of teachers in both institutions.
the IEEEAM International Conference on Applied Computer Science (ACS) / September 15.-17.2010 / Malta / S. 563 – 568 / ISBN 978–960–474–225 –7. I. S. Jacobs and C. P. Bean, “Fine particles, thin films and exchange anisotropy,” in Magnetism, vol. III, G. T. Rado and H. Suhl, Eds. New York: Academic, 1963, pp. 271–350. Pucher, Robert ; Tesar, Michael ; Mandl, Thomas ; Holweg, Gerd ; Schmöllebeck, Fritz (2011) Improving Didactics in Computer Science – The Example of the GEMIS and the QUADRO Projects International Journal of Education and Information Techologies, Issue 1, Volume 5, 2011. G. Hüther, “Bedienungsanleitung für ein menschliches Gehirn”, Verlag Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2009, ISBN: 978-3525014646 M. Pohl, M. Lanzenberger: "How to Explain the Underrepresentation of Women in Computer Science Studies"; in:"Current Issues in Computing and Philosophy Volume 175 Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence and Applications", IOS Press, 2008, ISBN: 978-1-58603-876-2, S. 181 - 190. Kurier: Mädchen: Ein anderer Zugang zur Technik; http://kurier.at/karrieren/bildung/2070777.php; February 4th 2011 Computerwelt: http://www.computerwelt.at/detailArticle.asp?a=132660&n=4; February 8th, 2011
AUTHORS R. K. Pucher is head of the department of Computer Science at the University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien, Höchstädtplatz 5, 1200 Wien, Austria (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). G. Holweg is lecturer and coordinator at the department of Information Engineering & Security at the University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien, Höchstädtplatz 5, 1200 Wien, Austria (e-mail: email@example.com). F. Schöllebeck is rector of the University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien, Höchstädtplatz 5, 1200 Wien, Austria (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). B. Kainz is a teacher at the Hertha Firnberg Schools for Business and Tourism, Firnbergplatz 1, A-1220 Wien, Austria (e-mail: email@example.com).
ACKNOWLEDGMENT The authors want to thank all persons involved in the project for their huge effort to overcome all difficulties. REFERENCES 
Tesar, Michael ; Hofmann, Alexander ; Pucher, Robert (2010) Das QUADRO Projekt. Gründe für Dropout-Raten und Möglichkeiten zur Senkung In: Apostolopoulos N., Mußmann U., Rebensburg K., Schwill A., Wulschke F. (Hrsg.); Grundfragen Multimedialen Lehrens und Lernens, E-Kooperationen und E-Praxis; Waxmann Verlag, Münster, 2010. Pucher, Robert ; Tesar, Michael ; Mandl, Thomas ; Holweg, Gerd ; Schmöllebeck, Fritz (2010) GEMIS and QUADRO – Two Projects to Improve Didactics in Computer Science Proceedings of
Index Terms—secondary education, tertiary education, computer Science, cooperation. The percentage of female students enrolling into the pro...