girls and coding

Girls and coding: draw strength from the community focus

Girls and coding, I find it heartening that we are talking about making the connection and that some politicians seem to be listening. Coding is a route to raising young people’s engagement in technology, so we need to make sure girls don’t miss out when it comes to encouraging participation. But learning to code is just one way of getting students involved.

The ‘get the kids coding’ myth

As Bill Shorten said when he launched Labor’s election pledge of $4.5 million to get more girls into coding and the digital universe.

“Computational thinking can take many forms, and how it can engage minds of Australia’s young students. We want to bust the myth that children need to be coding. We want kids to learn to think computationally – and coding is just one tool for that outcome, and it doesn’t have to happen in front of a computer screen.”

I think he was spot on. The current focus on coding is akin to building a sentence structure curriculum rather than a complete English or Language Arts curriculum. Coding is only one entry point into the larger domain of computational thinking.

I spent this week in Portland Oregon as a guest of the Intel Global Engage Community Leaders Summit. As part of their work, educational leaders from about the globe were examining prospective community themes for 2016. The topic of “getting kids coding” came up and overwhelmingly the group agreed that this focus was too narrow, that we need larger computational thinking as the goal.

While “coding” as a symbol might make this type of knowledge seem more tangible and accessible, we should not be frightened by the more unfamiliar, bigger domain of “computational thinking”. We need to keep reminding ourselves that coding is only one part of that domain.

Yes we need more girls involved

No-one would dispute the figures that show females are not adequately represented in STEM careers in Australia. Indeed these ratios appear to be falling. When the Australian STEM Video Game Challenge announced its winners last week it was painfully evident that girls are under represented. Girls were winners in only one of the eight categories, the Female category.

While the Australian Council for Educational Research, which ran the challenge, did a great job having females in technological careers on the judging and discussion panels, the male domination of the awards was very disappointing for 2015. As a side issue, we have to ask ourselves if the creation of such a category (female game designers) means that girls are ruling themselves out of other possibilities by only entering this focus area, competing against each other, and thereby further minimalizing the representation of girls.

Bringing schools and the community together is the way to go

Shorten’s announced program of $4.5 million would see grants of $150,000 go to projects aimed specifically at getting young school-age girls into coding and the digital universe. I think this really is the way to go.

As I sat in on a mentor information session for Code Club recently I realized the community possibilities of Shorten’s promise. In the room were geek mums taking time out of work to be at home with their kids, young programmers looking for an avenue to share their passions and company representatives wanting a local partnership relationship with schools, along side a math teacher looking for a hook to make math more relevant to his students.

Bringing the community into schools in this way not only has the potential to expose girls to current local role models but builds new relationships with some of the organizations students might aspire to work in down the track. Yes the funds could be used to train all teachers to deliver computational thinking but how long would that take?

This is a fast moving field and and we want students to learn more than ABOUT computational thinking. Students need relationships with more than just procedural knowledge, they need to see application of that knowledge, its real world value and taste the possible careers ahead of them.

Funding community and collaborative projects and groups offers an agile approach to building educational capacity. As Shorten said, “A focus of this program will be to ensure stronger partnerships with schools, skilled professionals as mentors, and tech companies who have shown leadership in this area like Telstra, Westpac, Google, Microsoft and Intel.”

We don’t need to wait for an election

We can be working on project ideas right now, we don’t have to wait for an election or the possibility of Shorten coming good on this promise. Find out what potential exists in your school’s local community and start that conversation. And know that you don’t have to invent it all from scratch (in joke there) because there are many organizations and projects already breaking through in this area.

I hope the educational innovators and techno parents who read this blog might instigate local school community partnerships that bring great existing programs such as Code Club Australia, the student run Robogals, the Tech Girls Movement or UTS Collabor8 Project into their schools and through that experience envision their own new and exciting partnerships and projects.

The key here is for the rising tide to raise all boats and have all girls in STEM groups and projects learn from each other. The goal is widespread representation of females in STEM careers in Australia. The outcome would be good for all Australians.


BronHead-e1435230323622 copyDr Bronwyn Stuckey, is a Specialist in Gamification, Community of Practice and Open Badges. She has been engaged in educational community and gameful practices in learning development for the past 15 years. She has worked to explore virtual worlds, games in learning and how we can cultivate identity, agency, citizenship, leadership, and community. Bronwyn earned her PhD in researching the core factors supporting successful online communities of practice. Since leaving lecturing and learning design in the higher education sector (OTEN, UOW, QUT, UWS) her research, consultation and design have been in gamification and game-inspired designs for professional learning and communities of practice.

Bronwyn has consulted in K-12, adult and workplace learning contexts in relation to communities of practice, games based learning and aspects of gamification. She is a co-facilitator of the Open Badges Australia and New Zealand (OBANZ) community and has for the past 2 years researched the efficacy of open badges in re-imagining and re-framing academic learning programs and contexts. She is a postdoctoral research fellow of the Arizona State University Center for Games & Impact and is global leader in the gamification for community and identity cultivation. Bronwyn is also lead member of the Sydney Education Technology Group  working to support edutech startups and to make Sydney the hub of educational entrepreneurship.