Top 10 Ways You Can Retain Students in Computing
- Consider student interests when planning assignments
- Emphasize that intellectual capacity — like a muscle — increases with effort
- Provide early and consistent feedback on assignments
- Praise and encourage your students
- Connect students to faculty
- Build collaboration into your classroom and curriculum
- Routinely discuss the options, advantages, and rewards of computing careers
- Steer clear of stereotypes embedded in assignments and examples used in lecture
- Treat all students as individuals, not as representatives of a group
- Track student recruitment and retention
Students learn more when what they are learning is relevant to their life experiences or personal or professional goals. Use a short survey on the first day of class to have students rate their interest in current topics (instant messaging, iphone apps, robotics, etc.); then use the results to connect assignments and examples to topics of most interest to students.
Many students think that intelligence is fixed — "you either have it or you don't." This view can limit achievement when assignments are tough and when negative stereotypes exist about the ability of "people like me" to succeed in computing. Regularly reinforce the idea that computing knowledge and skills are proficiencies that can be acquired with practice and study.
When returning assignments, be sure to report the mean, the standard deviation, and the grade expected of someone who is doing well in the class. With this information, students can make reasonable judgments about their progress and whether to stay in or leave the major. Without this feedback, women might underestimate their own performance.
Many women view professors' lack of encouragement as discouragement. Positive feedback can go a long way in maintaining confidence and helping a student to stay on track. Encouragement can be as simple as saying, "You did well on this assignment. Keep up the good work."
Both student-student and student-faculty interaction lead to student retention. But not all students will readily approach faculty. Remember to invite women students to events and activities rather than just those students who gravitate to you.
When students work together, they find out what their classmates know, develop relationships naturally, and build a sense of belonging to the group. Examples of collaborative learning opportunities include peer-led team learning, small-group student discussion or ungraded problem solving, and pair programming.
A boost in motivation never hurts! Slip in relevant anecdotes or facts about why a career in computing is worth working towards. Tell students about your own career path and experiences, including any difficulties you may have overcome.
Stereotypical associations (e.g., men like violent games, women like to communicate) can harm student performance and motivation by reducing feelings of competence, belonging, and trust in others. Stereotype threat, an awareness of others' low expectations for "people like me," can prompt students to set harsher standards for their work and to opt out if they can't live up to them.
Avoid calling attention to students on the basis of their gender, race/ethnicity, or disabilities. Even well-intentioned comments can backfire if they raise awareness of stereotypes or treat students as "token representatives" who can speak for an entire identity group.
This information will help your department determine whether its practices are working and how to tweak those practices to improve progress towards goals. The NCWIT Extension Services Tracking Tool is free and available for tracking which students apply, are admitted, accept, actually enroll, and persist in your major.
Resources You Can Use
- See Key Practices for Retaining Undergraduates in Computing for more information on these "Top Ten Ways."
- See NCWIT Promising Practices and Programs-in-a-Box for ideas on pedagogy, curricular reform, student-student and student-faculty interaction, avoiding stereotype threats, and evaluation (www.ncwit.org/resources).
- See Strategic Planning for Retaining Women in Undergraduate Computing to guide your retention efforts.