Did You Know?

Do you read the Gotham Gal blog? Its author Joanne Wilson is an alumna of the Silicon Valley tech world, has worked in publishing, and is married to venture capitalist Fred Wilson. Last Monday she announced that she would be blogging about women every Monday, and in her post she discusses some of the gender differences she’s seen among women and men in the start-up community.  As a supporter of women and an investor in start-ups, her take on the topic is particularly interesting; it also comes on the heels of her being selected as one of “Six of NYC’s Most Interesting Women in Tech” by the New York Observer.

We talk about how to get more kids interested in technology, and how to make technology education more accessible to more of them.  But here’s a novel idea we’d never seen before: take advantage of kids who ride the schoolbus as a captive audience for technology programming, delivered via ceiling-mounted screens and headsets on the bus! The idea seems like a terrific solution for one rural school district in Arkansas, in which 60 percent of the 600 students live on National Forest land and 75 percent of them qualify for free or reduced lunch. The specially outfitted bus serves as a mobile classroom of sorts, and the STEM-related programming rotates daily  with programs from PBS, NASA, the Discovery Channel, and the Smithsonian Institution. Officials estimate that showing educational programs during bus commutes will provide 10 extra hours of learning each week—the equivalent of 12 class periods weekly. What do you think?

We want to congratulate UMass Amherst and NCWIT Academic Alliance representative Rick Adrion, for receiving the UMass President’s Award for Public Service, in recognition of “his leadership in developing, broadening, expanding and improving computing and information technology activities for students in grades K-12 and at colleges and universities across the Commonwealth.” Rick leads the Commonwealth Alliance for Information Technology Education (CAITE), a National Science Foundation-sponsored project that focuses on bringing more women and minorities into IT and computing. Since it began in 2007, CAITE has involved approximately 15,000 Massachusetts students and educators. Thanks so much for all your excellent work to support women and other underrepresented groups in computing, Rick!

Here at CU Boulder, a recent study has shown that a brief writing exercise can help women in college physics classes improve their academic performance and reduce the effects of stereotype threat. The study, which appears in the 26 November issue of the journal Science, shows that women who were asked during the first semester of their introductory physics class to write about personally important values for 15 minutes got better grades than those who did not participate in the writing project, or those who were asked to write about values that were not important to them. The improvement in performance was most pronounced among those women who had previously expressed a belief in gender stereotypes about women’s performance in physics compared to men’s. “Imagine getting a B in that class as opposed to a C,” the study’s author said. “That difference is big psychologically for women who are considering further education in science—even a career in science. It gives you a huge boost in confidence and it might motivate you to take more science courses.”

Will eliminating the digital divide — by giving more kids access to computers at home — help eliminate the achievement gap at school? Not according to a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (released in June 2010 but recently on our radar.) The study found “modest but significant” negative effects on reading and math scores among children in grades 5-8, after a computer arrived in their home; these effects were particularly pronounced for children from disadvantaged families. It turns out that kids in the middle grades are mostly using computers to socialize and play games, rather than for schoolwork. Study results also identified a gender discrepancy, with girls more likely than boys to use a home computer for completing homework rather than for playing games.
The study, “Scaling the Digital Divide: Home Computer Technology and Student Achievement,” analyzed responses to computer-use questions included on North Carolina’s mandated End-of-Grade tests (EOGs) in which students reported how frequently they use a home computer for schoolwork, watch TV or read for pleasure during the years 2000 to 2005. The study had several advantages over previous research that suggested similar results, including a large sample size (more than 150,000 students) and data that allowed researchers to compare the same children’s reading and math scores before and after they acquired a home computer. The study’s authors concluded that home computers are put to more productive use in households where parental monitoring is more effective, and that in disadvantaged households, parents are less likely to monitor children’s computer use and guide children in using computers for educational purposes.

NBC Universal recently released a new brand power index reflecting the most popular brands in the minds of women consumers, and many of the brands do not fit the traditional gender marketing stereotypes. During the month of October, the biggest consumer brands for women were Walmart, Target, Verizon, eBay, Coca-Cola, Ford Motor, AT&T, iPhone, Pepsi, iPod, McDonald’s, Honda, Bank of America, Toyota, Comcast, Sprint, Netflix, Sears, Microsoft, Tylenol, Samsung, Amazon, Dodge, Kohl’s, and Droid. (The index looks at 500 brands, analyzing online search data from Google, Yahoo! and others, which are then compiled by online researcher Compete. It also includes social media buzz data from New Media Strategies, as well person-to-person conversations tracked by Keller Fay Group.)
We’ve mentioned before that women are said to be responsible for at least 85% of all consumer purchases, including 75% of all electronics gear, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. Often women are either overlooked or are the target of niche marketing campaigns for products like cell phones and trucks, because they’re perceived as the minority consumers of these products. But increasingly it’s clearly not about the marketing, it’s about the products themselves: it just makes good business sense that you’d want women on the other side of the consumer equation, helping to design the very products for which they’re the majority consumers.

Computer Science Education Week – CSEdWeek — is next week, December 5-11! Find out more and pledge your support at http://www.csedweek.org.
Did You Know? is a brief round-up of news, events, resources, and other factoids that crossed our radar this week and we think are worth sharing. Got an interesting conversation-starter to share? Let us know.

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