At the start of this project, women occupied less than 20% of places in the ICT courses offered by higher education institutions in Victoria. As of 2011, women held only 18% of ICT jobs in the state (Multimedia Victoria, 2011 p9). At the secondary school level there has been a marked downturn in girls' interest in Information Technology courses, reflecting a more general decline in female participation in ICT courses and careers. The importance of a diverse workforce is essential to the health of our discipline, making a strong case to develop programs aimed to convince female students that an ICT career or course is an attractive option for their future. The Digital Divas program is one such course.
Participating Schools in Research Collection- (aliases)
Bartik Secondary College 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012
Clarke Girls Secondary College 2010
Goldstine Secondary College 2010, 2011
Holberton Senior Secondary College 2010, 2011
Mayer College 2011
McAllister Girls High 2010, 2011, 2012
Forsythe Girls' Secondary College 2011
Spertus College 2012
Each of these aliases protects the identity of the school and students in research publications. The names were sourced from pioneering women in computing.
Digital Divas is a single-sex elective offered to female Year 8, 9, 10 and 11 students. It started at Bartik Secondary School in Melbourne's eastern suburbs in 2008. The program has continued each year and expanded to at least ten other schools. The program involves up to four teaching periods each week over one semester.
The decision to offer a single-sex elective was based on international research that documented the value of a single-sex environment for ensuring that girls have full access to facilities, and for encouraging girls to explore and discover together rather than remain passive onlookers (Margolis and Fisher 2002). Many of the schools in the program also offer mixed-sex ICT classes. There are three aspects to the Digital Divas program.
The curriculum for the program was devised in consultation with educational specialists, with the aims of capturing the interest of girls aged 13 to 16 (school years 8, 9 and 10). The curriculum focused on building computing self-efficacy while ensuring the activities were as collaborative as possible, to create a club-type atmosphere in the classroom. The first and most important aspect is an engaging curriculum that is also aligned to VELS. At no time is a computing application taught in isolation. Prior research showed that students report computing classes of being boring. With this in mind, all of the eight module’s activities were designed around a product or output, rather than teaching any computer application in isolation.
- Role modelling and informal mentoring
A lack of visible and appropriate female role models in IT has been recognised as contributing to the gender imbalance of the profession. Additionally a lack of mentoring can inhibit the progression of females along the pipeline to a successful IT career. The literature shows strong support for the strategies of providing appropriate role models (Ahuja 2002; Ashcraft et al. 2012; Barker and Aspray 2006; Clayton et al. 2012; Cozza 2011; Gras-Velazquez et al. 2009; Miliszewska and Moore 2011) and incorporating mentoring (Craig 1998, Trauth et al 2009; Klawe, Whitney and Simard 2009; NCWIT 2010). Consequently the second layer of influence was to encourage informal mentoring by engaging female university students studying IT (aka Expert Divas) as classroom assistants and more targeted role modelling opportunities by bringing professional IT women into the classroom as guest speakers. This second influence which was woven into the Digital Divas program was one of ‘closing the loop’ between doing things on the computer and what an actual computing career might entail. It focused on dispelling the stereotypes of IT being a boring ‘geeky’ career and into something that could be of interest to girls and normal for them to consider.
During the three years of conducting the program the third sphere of ‘influence’ underwent a number of name changes. Initially it was called ‘showcase/celebration’ (Lang et al 2010) but has morphed in to ‘Normalising/Ownership’ as we recognize exactly what we set out to do with the ‘celebrations’ and ‘bling’ - normalising the concept of girls in computing and allowing the girls to claim ownership of the space.
Our purpose was to enable students to own the Digital Divas program within their school setting. The girls were able to make the decisions about aspects of the program such as the ‘bling’ (key-rings, lanyards, t-shirts, posters featuring their logo design) as visible outcomes of the program. They created, printed and displayed colourful posters to identify Digital Divas in the computer classroom, a space normally not decorated with these types of images.
Margolis, J. and A. Fisher (2002), Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing. Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, The MIT Press
Multimedia Victoria (2008), 2008 ICT Skills Snapshot: The State of ICT Skills in Victoria. Melbourne, State Government of Victoria