COMPUGIRLS: Fostering Innovation and Developing Technosocial Change Agents (Case Study 1)

Engaging A Diverse Range of Girls in Technology through Culturally Responsive Computing

Computing curricula taught in the abstract and without relevance to students’ identities, lives, and communities dampens their engagement and hinders their persistence. Culturally responsive computing (CRC) programs help educators connect computing curriculum to the interests, prior experiences, and needs of students diverse in gender, race, class, ability, and sexual orientation. One such promising program is COMPUGIRLS.

The program consists of 3 courses:

  • Digital Storytelling for Social Justice: Girls create digital movies and podcasts about a social justice topic.

  • Think Like a Programmer, Design Like a Change Agent: Girls program videogames using SCRATCH.

  • Virtual Worlds for Social Change: Girls address social justice topics, programming projects in virtual worlds.

Early in the first course, girls select a social justice issue relevant to their communities; they then conduct research and create technology solutions to address these issues. Girls work collaboratively with one another and with their “mentor-teachers” — educators who serve as coaches learning alongside their students. Courses take on different formats, including after-school, weekend, or summer class sessions, and girls graduate after completing 195 hours in the program.

Key to the program’s success is its focus not only on computing but also on critical conversations around difference in society, social justice, and the process of becoming technosocial change agents. Consider the following representative comments from interviews with girls in a 2-year mixed-method study of the program:

“It helps a lot with confidence when going into a field that you’re not sure about. I know some girls who want to go into technology, but they don’t think they can do it because of their skin color or because they’re girls. And I think that this program was really beneficial.” (High-school participant)

“I got a lot out of it being social justice and not just a free for all kind of thing…I’m learning about stuff that I…was not paying attention to…if I wasn’t in COMPUGIRLS.’” (Middle-school participant)

Continued longitudinal research is underway to understand how girls’ experiences in COMPUGIRLS translate into their future plans to pursue technology education and careers.

 

INITIAL FINDINGS FROM A 2-YEAR MIXED-METHOD STUDY:

  • Girls find the culturally relevant and social justice aspects of the program key to their sustained participation and interest

  • As developing technosocial change agents, girls move through three stages: analyzing media representations; analyzing technical design features; designing technical solutions to community problems

  • “Shifting the spotlight” to focus on multiple intersecting identities (e.g., gender, race sexual orientation) is key to productive discussion about technology and social justice

  • Opportunities for play and exploration are important to balance discouragement that can arise when talking about social inequities


References

  • COMPUGIRLS Website: https://sst.clas.asu.edu/compugirls.
  • Eger, E., Ashcraft, C. & Scott, K. (2014) Challenging Occupational Exclusion and Stereotypes of Computing Education Via Culturally Responsive Computing Curricula. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Philadelphia, PA.
  • Scott, K.A. & White, M. (2013). COMPUGIRLS’ Standpoint: Culturally responsive computing and its effect on girls of color. Urban Education, 48-5, 657 - 681.

View related research:

 

Authors: Catherine Ashcraft and Elizabeth Eger