Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Annedroids: A STEM Show with a Positive Impact on Girls

Some time ago, I shared info about a STEM show that premiered on TVO back in 2014: Annedroids. Recently, the show's PR specialist followed up with me to share some really interesting research about the positive impact the show has had, which I'd like to share here.

A recent study led by the International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television (IZI), involving 301 girl and boy participants from the United States of America and Canada, revealed the following: TVO’s and Amazon Prime’s show Annedroids helps increase self-esteem, foster interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in girls, and reduce gender stereotypes in girls and boys.

The need for positive role models for girls in STEM areas

There is still a considerable degree of catching up to do in regards to fostering interest in STEM subjects, especially among girls. As scholars have noted, the reasons why girls don’t get interested in STEM issues and don’t choose their professions from among STEM areas to the same extent as boys are complex. The stereotypical assumption that STEM is – by gender – a strength of boys, still prevails and there is a need for positive role models to demonstrate that girls can be competent in science and technology fields. The media, especially children’s leading medium, television, can play a key role in this respect, but so far it is still an exception that girl and woman characters apply technology at all. Unfortunately, children’s TV overall misses its gender equality mission especially in what concerns STEM. One of the few exceptions: Annedroids, a series showcasing 12-year-old Anne who builds and operates androids and robots. Together with her lively and slightly overweight friend Shania and her Afro-Canadian friend Nick, she experiences various adventures with the technical companions. In every episode, the humorous and child-appropriate plots pick up a STEM-relevant topic.

A study in the U.S. and Canada

In a recent study led by the International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television, research was conducted with 301 6-to-12-year-olds (U.S. N=203, Canada N=98). The children watched two episodes of the Annedroids series. Before and after watching these episodes, they filled out questionnaires assessing their attitudes toward STEM and girls, positioning in regards to gender stereotypes, specific scientific knowledge, and interest in having various jobs in the future. With open questions and drawings, children gave feedback on the show and its characters.

The results of the study give clear indication that the program Annedroids helps increase children’s interest for STEM issues, with girls in particular benefitting in the process. This is because children have an opportunity to see in this TV series girl characters who are interested in STEM, are skilled in operating new technologies, and are good at problem-solving, and because these characters can serve as role models for girls. Thus, the program makes STEM issues accessible to children by providing access to knowledge that is more restricted for girls than it is for boys due to their gender-specific socialization. The study further suggests that regular viewing of the programs can help reduce gender stereotypes by promoting gender fairness and equality in regards to STEM education and professions – for a small (yet statistically significant) number of children this was the case after watching just two episodes.

Dr. Sorin Nastasia, a contributor to the research and a professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, states: “The Annedroids series is successful by featuring fictional characters who show that it is possible to be enthusiastic about and competent in science and technology regardless of gender, colour of the skin, or other social factors.” The lead researcher in the study and director of IZI, Dr. Maya Götz, concludes: “The show offers girls the inspiration that they can be what they want to be and can use technology to make this world a better place.

Episodes of Annedroids are available on and on air on TVOKids Wednesdays at 6:30 pm (episodes repeat on Saturdays at 11:00 am and Sundays at 12:30 pm).

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

My Nonlinear Career Path

I've had a really nonlinear career path. One step forward, two step sideways, new goal, start it all again...

My interest in computers started at a young age. I was lucky that my dad, a government worker, was able to bring home the computers his office was done with. As a result, I have had access to computers, and even had a computer in my own room, from a young age.

I've always loved to create with computers. From writing stories to designing newsletters for my Guiding troupe, I was always making things. Even today, I make digital scrapbook pages!

In high school, I started becoming more and more curious about how things work "behind the screen," so to speak. How do you write code to make a word processor? What's the math behind vector graphics? How does computer hardware, at the lowest level, add two numbers?

I decided I wanted to take computer science in university so I could learn all this and more. I didn't learn how to program in high school; instead, I took drama and music while I still could. But I was pretty sure I'd love the world of code whenever I eventually entered it.

Turns out I was right. I also loved working in the industry during my co-op terms. One of my jobs was at Ross Video, working on software for a video production switcher. The other was at Corel, where I worked on the text engine for Corel DRAW, software I had used for many years in my personal projects.

Nearing the end of my undergrad, the most difficult decision I faced was which of these two companies I would try to work at full-time. I never thought I'd do anything other than go to industry.

I was going to be a software developer.

Until, that is, a professor approached me and convinced me to consider graduate school. The catch? The application for the big scholarship was due in a week. Well then.

Image adapted from Ivory Tower by OfTheDunes

I applied, and I got the scholarship. So I went to grad school for my Masters. I had a great time, and even got my start in outreach, but learned something very important: I didn't care for the low-level, experimental nature of my thesis topic, and wished I did something more applied.

I decided to continue on to my PhD, choosing storytelling in videogames as my thesis topic. I engaged in educational games and computer science education research on the side. I also took the opportunity to gain more teaching experience. I eventually realized that education was my passion and I wanted to teach.

I was going to be a university instructor.

After some contract work, I got a two-year term position as a full time faculty instructor. I made an impact with some innovative course designs and a lot of hard work in outreach and diversity. But when I tried to get a permanent instructor job, I missed it by a hair. Although I was not yet finished my PhD, I didn't really fancy going back to being a full-time student. Instead, I figured: why not go back to industry and be a software developer again?

So off to Shopify I went. I joined the Home team, working on the first page merchants on the Shopify platform see when they log into their admin. I learned both Ruby and Rails, and finally had a chance to try real-world web development.

I quite enjoyed working as a developer, but it was a step sideways from my goal of teaching. However, in the fall, an opportunity arose.

I was going to jump back into education once again!

Starting this past January, I became Manager of External Education Programs. I'm working on some really exciting education projects, including a sponsorship of the Ottawa Network for Education's AppJam. I get to create curriculum, teach, and even create a team of similarly passionate folks here at Shopify.

So while I have taken some steps back in my career, and some other steps sideways, I find myself feeling very fortunate to end up where I am now. So if you ever find yourself on a really windy career path, don't fret: go with the flow, and see where it takes you. You might find yourself ahead of where you expect, even if it you hit your goal at a bit of a strange angle.