Engagement, Persistence, and Gender in Computer Science: Results of a Smartphone ESM Study

Frontiers in Psychology 8:251745 (2017)
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Abstract

While the underrepresentation of women in the fast-growing STEM field of computer science (CS) has been much studied, no consensus exists on the key factors influencing this widening gender gap. Possible suspects include gender differences in aptitude, interest, and academic environment. Our study contributes to this literature by applying student engagement research to study the experiences of college students studying CS, to assess the degree to which differences in men and women’s engagement may help account for gender inequity in the field. Specifically, we use the Experience Sampling Method (ESM) to evaluate in real-time the engagement of college students during varied activities and environments. Over the course of a full week in fall semester and a full week in spring semester, 165 students majoring in CS at two Research I universities were “beeped” several times a day via a smartphone app prompting them to fill out a short questionnaire including open-ended and scaled items. These responses were paired with administrative and over two years of transcript data provided by their institutions. We used mean comparisons and logistic regression analysis to compare enrollment and persistence patterns among CS men and women. Results suggest that despite the obstacles associated with women’s underrepresentation in computer science, women are more likely to continue taking computer science courses when they felt challenged and skilled in their initial computer science classes. We discuss implications for further research.

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Kevin Brown
Boston College

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