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A SERIES OF RESEARCH AND INFORMATIONAL PUBLICATIONS BY CRG CRG | PUTTING THE WORLDâ€™S BEST RESEARCH TO WORK FOR GIRLS
by Lisa Damour, Ph.D.
ENGAGING GIRLS IN STEM: COLLABORATION
The research literature on engaging girls in STEM fields shows that girls prefer STEM work when they are able to work in collaboration with each other.1 Female students report having a better experience when working with other students and are more likely to finish an assignment as well as persist in a STEM course when working collaboratively.2 College-age female students are more likely to complete a computer-related course and major when working in pairs than when working alone or with a male student.3 A study of women intending to major in computer science found that 59.5% of the women who worked in pairs for programming assignments ultimately declared a computer science major while only 22.2% of the women who worked alone did the same.4 Both male and female students who worked in pairs were more confident in their solutions to course work; the confidence boost from working in pairs was greater for women than men.5 Of particular importance, the same researchers found that working in pairs effectively combats the negative stereotype that technical work is solitary and competitive. Studies have identified several additional benefits of collaboration for women in STEM fields: higher quality work6 produced in less time than working alone,7 improved understanding of course material,8 improved course completion rates and performance on exams,9 and increased enjoyment of activities such as computer programming.10
[ ENGAGING GIRLS IN STEM: COLLABORATION ] PROMOTING COLLABORATION While collaboration sounds like a good idea, teachers know that getting girls to work effectively in pairs or groups is not always easy to do. When arranging pairs or groups, teachers should consider these common-sense guidelines for each of the following variables: OBJECTIVE AND TIME-FRAME: the nature * ofASSIGNMENT the assignment and the time-frame for its completion may dictate whether (and how) students should be grouped; depending on these variables, teachers m may have students choose their own partners/groups, m carefully assign partners/groups, or m enforce randomness by having students number off to form pairs/groups SKILL SETS: academically demanding tasks may be best * suited to pairs or groups of girls with
varied academic abilities (some strong, some weak) or complementary skill sets
* PERSONALITY: a pair or group of dominant or strong-willed students m
may helpfully challenge each other’s thinking m a pair or group of soft-spoken students might give each girl a chance to make her voice heard DYNAMICS: * CLASS while still getting to know a class of girls, teachers may m
group girls randomly to get a sense of the group’s dynamics girls may benefit from being in “comfortable” groups or pairs for tasks that involve a lot of risk-taking
Teachers should feel free to be flexible about their own plans to pair or group girls; instructors are often surprised by who works well together and who doesn’t. Further, teachers should treat the ability to work in pairs or groups as its own
ASSESSING COLLABORATIVE WORK First, instructors should consider whether it is necessary to assess pair or group work at all. If instructors accept that collaboration (like tinkering) has inherent educational merit, they may find great value in having students work collaboratively, even if doing so yields no readily measureable outcome. In situations where pair or group work can and should be assessed, assessments can take a variety of forms. There are two general philosophies about grading group work: one grade for the entire group or different grades for each group member based on contribution. 11 These two approaches can also be combined to give students individual and group grades for group assignments.
skill set. By mixing up pairs and groups often, girls can develop their ability to work effectively with a lot of different personalities.
FOSTERING SUCCESSFUL COLLABORATION There are several things that teachers can to do help pairs and groups work together successfully:
• talk with students about what it means to work in pairs or groups • fully articulate the nature and goals of the assignment • make sure that students understand the desired result of the assignment • have assignment outcomes that can be clearly measured • give students clear information about how they will be graded • consider weighing collaboration as a significant part of the grade • keep groups small; groups larger than three or four students are likely to leave someone out • observe the pairs and groups as they work and offer support or intervention when necessary • have students define clear roles within the group (e.g., reporter, data collector, designer, operator; visionary, pragmatist, etc.); consider having students rotate the roles within the group • create a checklist of what needs to be accomplished, have the students split the responsibilities, but have the pair or group present a final product together A natural converse to the advice above — and a sure way to have pairs and groups struggle — is to ask students to work collaboratively without clear goals and guidelines, accountability for individual group members, or adult supervision and support.
PROVIDING A SINGLE GRADE FOR THE WHOLE GROUP
• Giving each student in the group the same grade has the following benefits: m It is the easiest way to assign grades for group work. m It can encourage students to make the most of working as a group. m A combined grade reflects the “real world” consequences of a group effort: it is the final product, not the contributions of each group member, that counts.
• Giving each student in the group the same grade also has the significant drawback that some students will put in more work than others but they all will receive the same grade, which can lead — not surprisingly — to upset feelings and damaged morale.
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ASSESSING COLLABORATIVE WORK (continued)
PROVIDING INDIVIDUAL GRADES FOR STUDENTS WORKING IN GROUPS
• Giving students grades based on their individual contribution to the group project has the following benefits: m Some students will put in more work than others, and their grades will be higher. m It can encourage students to work equally hard.
• And the following drawbacks: m Doing so can foster tension between group members because they are asked to judge each other’s work. m It is a more time-consuming way to assign grades.
• Individual grades for group work can be based on m teacher observations of the group process m narrative student feedback about the contributions of each group member
m m m
narrative self-assessments of the student’s participation in and contribution to the group process student-generated time-sheets that track work investment having each student label her contribution to the final product
• When an objective system is needed for assigning individual grades to a group project, instructors can consider using the following approach: m Determine an overall grade for the project. m Ask each student to turn in a list of the group members and their perception of the percentage of effort put into the project by each member. Remind students that the percentages should add up to 100%. m Average the percentages for each student. m Adjust each student’s grade according to the percentage they contributed to the project.
ENGAGING GIRLS IN STEM: COLLABORATION [ ENDNOTES ] 1
Ching, C.C., Kafait, Y.B., & Marshall, S.K. (2002). I always get stuck wth the books: Creating space for girls to access technology in a software design project. In N. Yelland & A. Rubin (Eds.), Ghost in the Machine: Women’s voices in research and technology (pp. 167-189). New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
Cohoon, J. M. (2008). Just get over it or just get on with it: Retaining women in undergraduate computing. In J. M. Cohoon, & W. Aspray (Eds.), Women and Information Technology (pp. 205-238). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Werner, L., Hanks, B., & McDowell, C. (2004). Pair-Programming helps female computer science students. ACM Journal of Educational Resources, 4(1), 1-9.
McDowell, C., Werner, L., Bullock, H., & Fernald, J. (2003). The impact of pair programming on student performance, perception, and persistence. Proceedings of the 25th International Conference on Software Engineering, 602-607. 5
DeClue, T. (2003). Pair programming and pair trading: Effects on learning and motivation in a CS2 course. The Journal of Computing in Small Colleges, 18(5), 49-56.
Williams, L., & Ipchurch, R. (2001). In support of student pair programming. Proceedings of the 32nd SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, 33(1), 327-331.
Nagappan, N., Williams, L., Ferzli, M., & Al, E. (2003). Improving the CS1 experience with pair programming. Proceedings of the 34th SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, 35(1), 359-362.
Curzan, A., & Damour, L. (2011). First Day to Final Grade: A graduate student’s guide to teaching. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press/ESL. 3rd Ed.
Fisher, A., & Margolis, J. (2011, July, 10). Women in computer sciences: Closing the gender gap in higher education. Carnegie Mellon Project on Gender and Computer Science. Retrieved from cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs/project/gendergap/www/index.html.
Frey, N., Fisher, D., & Erlove, S. (2009). Productive Group Work: How to engage students, build teamwork, and promote understanding. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
Wolfe, J. (2010). Team Writing: A guide to working in groups. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS
ONLINE RESOURCES TECH-SAVVY: EDUCATING GIRLS IN THE NEW COMPUTER AGE This downloadable report from the American Association of University Women describes the current barriers to girls’ participation in “computer culture” and details several research-based recommendations for engaging girls in computing. This report includes a section on the factors that promote and hinder girls’ success when working on group computer projects. www.aauw.org/learn/research/upload/TechSavvy.pdf NEW FORMULAS FOR AMERICA’S WORKFORCE 2: GIRLS IN SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING This 2006 publication from the National Science Foundation details the projects that have been funded by the NSF to promote gender equity in STEM fields over a period of ten years. This report features a variety of inspiring projects in which girls collaborated while engaging in STEM fields. www.nsf.gov/pubs/2006/nsf0660/nsf0660.pdf CARNEGIE MELLON PROJECT ON GENDER AND COMPUTER SCIENCE This website includes a variety of publications and working papers based on Carnegie Mellon’s efforts to recruit and keep women in its computer science
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program. Carnegie Mellon has enjoyed unusual success in this area, with their female undergraduate enrollment rising from 8% in 1995 to 42% in 2000.12 Several of the publications featured on this website address the role of collaboration in helping women to succeed in computer science. www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs/project/gendergap/www/ index.html
BOOKS PRODUCTIVE GROUP WORK: HOW TO ENGAGE STUDENTS, BUILD TEAMWORK AND PROMOTE UNDERSTANDING Teachers can use this book to promote collaborative work among students while trouble-shooting the various problems that arise when students are asked to work in groups.13 TEAM WRITING: A GUIDE TO WORKING IN GROUPS Based on research about the problems that arise in most group work projects, this book provides a variety of strategies for helping students engage in successful collaborations with their peers. The research for this book was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation aimed at promoting gender equity in STEM fields.14
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