Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Stereotype Threat

I'm on day 3 of the three day workshop on how to recruit and keep more women and underrepresented students into computer science classes. And yet again I learned some cool/useful things. Now you may be thinking, "I don't teach CS, I teach math, not that interested". Well, it could be that you would be an advocate for students to actually try CS. It's not just for people you stereotypically think may be interested. You solve interesting problems and interact with interesting people.

One point is that studies show that by about 2020, roughly 30% of jobs will involve fluency with computer science. This doesn't mean that people will just need to know how to use technology, but to understand it in order to do their job. This may be programming or altering programs or algorithmic thinking, etc. The trouble is, currently, only about 5% of freshmen are saying that they will major in CS.

You may be like me and think, okay, what could, say, Journalism have to do with CS. Don't they just type in their stories and send it through? What could be farther from CS? An example one of the professors gave us was a particular journalist that wrote code to automatically search various types of news stories from particular types of places (either countries or companies or governments) about particular topics. Then overnight (say) the program would gather all these sources, and in the morning, the journalist had all his facts and data available to him to write his story. He saved countless hours of researching and surfing the web and potentially missing a source. I thought that was enlightening.

Anyway, this post is about "stereotype threat" which I'd never heard of before. The professor discussed stereotypes and the good and bad of them.

GOOD: people need a way to categorize the world so that every new input into their brains is not NEW and unrelated to other things they know. It allows for shortcuts to process information.

BAD: because maybe one person makes a mistake, some people could stereotype a whole segment of the population as "bad" .... girls suck at math .... purple people are lazy .... citizens of green country are evil ....

Stereotype Threat is a person's fear of confirming a negative belief about that person's group. Say a common stereotype is that girls don't do computer science. Then if a girl actually wants to do CS, and if stereotype threat is in her mind (even though she may not call it that), then she hinders herself and her brain power by worrying that she won't "be good", she'll "validate others' opinion of girls in CS". She'll have harsher personal standards for herself and her performance will be diminished because she's spending so much brain power on worrying.

Apparently, this is a hot research topic currently. Okay, off to the last few sessions.

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