Program to create digital divas

by The Educator20 Mar 2017
A new program has been designed in an effort to ensure girls aren’t left behind in education for the workforce of tomorrow.

Digital Divas is a single-sex elective offered to female students in Years 8, 9, 10 and 11, aiming to reverse the information and communications technology gender gap and enhance the allure of an ICT career for young women.

Adjunct Professor Julie Fisher from Melbourne’s Monash University developed the program, along with four other members of her own faculty, as well as researchers from Swinburne University and Deakin University. The initiative started at Bartik Secondary School in 2008.

“Over some years, we have researched the broader topic of gender and ICT, given the low number of women studying ICT at university,” Fisher told The Educator.

She said the researchers had observed that the number of women working in ICT had not imcreased over recent decades.

“A key issue is the image girls have of computing and IT as a profession – that it is, for example, ‘geeky’, not creative, just about programming,” she said.

Previous research, according to Fisher, has highlighted that the barriers to young girls contemplating ICT careers are established in lower secondary school, and that how IT subjects are taught has a major impact on girls’ attitudes towards the discipline.

“Research also tells us that an intervention program such as Digital Divas needs to run over several weeks and be taken seriously, such as being part of the curriculum. Schools are the ideal place,” she said.

For the Digital Divas program, specific curriculum materials have been developed that are designed to stimulate Year 8 and 9 girls’ interest in IT and their curiosity as to IT career paths.

“An intervention program such as Digital Divas needs to run over several weeks and be taken seriously”

“The modules that we developed tapped into the interests of girls, including using their creativity, and allowed girls to work collaboratively,” she explained.

Fisher offered some advice as to how principals could drive greater female engagement in ICT.

“The attitude to technology within a school can influence the extent to which students – male or female – will elect to study ICT,” she said.

“We found that our classroom modules, which encouraged group work and creativity and focused on developing a product or output rather than on a computer program in isolation, were particularly engaging for the girls involved.

“School principals play a pivotal role in promoting technology use in schools, and I would encourage them to look at technology training for their staff.”

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