Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mini-Course: 2009 Post Mortem

Last week, I was so busy with my mini-course 'Computer Science and Games: Just For Girls!' that I only had time to post this year's notes. But I do have a lot of interesting observations about this year's edition, so I'd like to take some time now to capture it all here.

Class Size

The first difference from last year was the class size. The girls-only registration requirement was actually followed this time around, so I ended up with a class of 17 grade eight girls, rather than the 10 girls in both grade eight and nine that I had last year. This was incredibly exciting to me - the more girls that get a taste of computer science, the better. Of course not all of them will continue on to take computer classes later in life, but even the impression that working with computers is actually cool will spread. The downside with the larger class was that the dynamic was completely different, and I'm not sure how well I adapted to that. Since I will likely have a similar number next year, I will need to work on that, relying less on class discussion and having more group work and hands on activities.

Pre-Course Survey

The first thing I did on Monday morning was pass around a simple survey to the girls. The idea was that I could determine their ideas and attitudes about computer science before and after the course. The survey was a series of statements with five levels of agreement, from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Here are some of the results:

"I am confident that I understand what the field of computer science is."
  • One strongly agreed
  • Two agreed
  • Twelve were neutral or didn't know
  • Two disagreed
"I would consider computer science as a good career for women in general."
  • Four strongly agreed
  • Eleven agreed
  • Two were neutral or didn't know
"I would consider computer science as a good career for me."
  • Four agreed
  • Nine were neutral or didn't know
  • Four disagreed
Isn't it interesting that computer science is seen as a good career, but generally more so for other women?

The remaining questions addressed reasons for taking the course. Many students expressed their interest in video games, but some ranked learning about computer science topics higher!

Lab Time

I chose a lab this year that I wouldn't have to share. This gave me more flexibility in choosing lab times, so I just chose the afternoon every day, plus the morning on Friday. Some of my lessons were done last year in the afternoon, which is an hour shorter, and when I tried to do them this year, I finished early - even with a bit of new material. It might be a good idea to either switch back to having some labs in the morning, or just having some lab-oriented activities to finish up mornings that are short. When my graphics lecture ended early, I gave the girls a chance to play with Alice for a while.

Another change was inviting others to help out during lab time. I barely got through it on my own last year, and there's no way I could have done it this year without my awesome volunteers. I recruited via the CU-WISE mailing list and asked the volunteers to play around with Game Maker - the software students used to create their games - before the assigned lab days. These women were all real computer scientists and engineers, and were great role models to the students.

Pathmakers Tour and Lunch

We're lucky enough to have Rosalyn, the head of the Pathmakers program, as a CU-WISE Officer as well. She not only spent some time with us in the lab, but also organized a Pathmakers tour and lunch for my students and around 80 additional girls taking other mini-courses. We got to see four mini-talks from female engineers, and then gathered in a large lecture room for free pizza and a presentation from a panel of computer science and engineering students. I received very positive feedback about this event, and hope it can happen again next year!

Post-Course Survey

Here are some results from the survey I gave on the last day, as the girls were finishing up their video games. Note that not everybody was present to fill in the survey, and several surveys were incomplete (mostly because the girls were too distracted by their games).

"What made you decide to take this course?" [selected responses shown]
  • "I wanted to learn more about computers. The game MAKING aspect sounded really interesting."
  • "I liked working with computers and using Photoshop and things like that. Also I wanted to learn what comp. science is."
  • "I thought it would be cool to make a computer game and I wanted to meet other people who are interested in computer science."
  • "I really wanted to learn about computer science."
"Would you have signed up for this course if it wasn't just for girls?"
  • Six said yes
  • Five said no
  • One said maybe (which was not originally an option)
"Are you glad it was just for girls?"
  • Of the six that said they would have signed up even if it wasn't just for girls, three said they were glad it was just for girls, and three said they were happy as long as they knew they weren't the only girl (none answered they weren't glad)
  • All five that said they wouldn't have signed up said yes, they were glad it was just for girls
  • The one student who said maybe commented that "it doesn't really matter but still good with more girls"
The following were some of the agree/disagree statements from this survey:

"I enjoyed learning what computer science was really all about."
  • Seven strongly agreed
  • Six agreed
  • One was neutral or didn't know
"My opinion of computer science as a good career for me and/or other women has increased."
  • Two strongly agreed
  • Eight agreed
  • Four were neutral or didn't know
"I am more likely to try computer science in high school after taking this course."
  • Five strongly agreed
  • Two agreed
  • Four were neutral or didn't know
"I liked having a variety of real female computer scientists and engineers help out in the lab."
  • Six strongly agreed
  • Four agreed
  • One was neutral or didn't know
The last two questions asked for one positive and one negative thing about the course, and the only thing that came through for improvement was to add in a little more in terms of hands on, and have a little less lecture. As I mentioned under 'class size', discussion was more difficult this time around, so I will definitely need to address this. I think there are many opportunities to add a few small activities in, and maybe even some larger ones (like more CS Unplugged). Since the notes are already made, I should have time to prepare for this before next year's course.


Overall, I am very happy with the course this year. The students were all very bright and enthusiastic. I was so thrilled to see a much more positive attitude about computers and computer science than I expected. Now that they've seen so many others who are also into computers, I hope some of them will become computer scientists (or engineers) in the future. After all, this is the whole point - if even one of them starts a CS degree in five years, I will have done my job.


Tim said...

I wish someone would have gone this far out of their way to introduce computer science to me when I was younger!

It took far more independent investigation and thought to figure out that this was the field I wanted to join.

In the end, I basically got lucky in stumbling into an online degree program with American Sentinel (http://www.americansentinel.edu/online-degree/bachelor-degree-online/bachelor-computer-science.php).

Keep up the good work Gail and spread the good news. Computer Science is not just lucrative, it's incredibly interesting and it can be very, very fun too!

PS: Great story and pictures from the "Let's Talk Chemistry!" post!!

Gail Carmichael said...

Actually, Tim, me too! I didn't even know the difference between CS and software engineering before starting my degree, and took a chance with CS since it had more flexibility with electives. I hope these initiatives eventually make some kind of impact...

Kiara said...

You are so nice to reach and inform others about Computer Science. Well, since more and more people are into Download Games/Video Games, I hope they'll find the course interesting as games. Great job!

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