Friday, February 29, 2008

Congratulations, Susan Landau!

ACM-W member Susan Landau has been named the Social Impact Award Winner by the Anita Borg Institute. Susan Landau is a Distinguished Engineer at Sun Microsystems. The Women of Vision (WOV) Awards honor women making significant contributions to technology in three categories: Innovation, Leadership, and Social Impact. Nominees are submitted by high-tech companies, universities, private industry, and the public, with one winner selected in each category. Susan Landau will receive her award at a ceremony on May 8, 2008.

Congratulations, Susan!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Grace Hopper 2008: We Build A Better World

Grace Hopper 2008 Poster
Now is the time to prepare your contribution for Grace Hopper 2008. We hope ACM-W will have a strong presence there. The Call for Participation can be found at the Grace Hopper Celebration website. The deadline for program submissions is March 16, 2008, and the conference dates are October 1-4, 2008.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Australian Ambassador's Report
(Ambassador: Catherine Lang)

Many activities and events to promote ICT careers to young women were conducted in Australia in 2007 and more are planned for 2008. I will report on two in which I have an ongoing involvement, Digital Divas; a computer club for girls concept in Australia, and Go Girl Go for IT, a showcase career event.

Digital Divas

Research on the lack of interest by Australian girls in computing shows that they perceive that IT is still ‘geeky’, male dominated, boring and generally does not let to a ‘people-focused’ career. Computer Clubs for Girls (CC4G) is a UK program which has been implemented in over 3200 schools in the UK to tackle similar perceptions and to show that girls can ‘do’ and enjoy ICT equally as well as boys. The Digital Divas project is looking at whether a concept similar to CC4G can be successfully implemented in Australia.

A trial was conducted in a large suburban high-school using the CC4G materials. While it was recognised that the CC4G materials were UK centric and linked to the UK standardised curriculum objectives the materials were used with no modification or editing, at this point. The trial was structured as recommended by CC4G as a weekly lunchtime girl’s club and was facilitated by undergraduate students from Swinburne University of Technology’s Women in ICT group.

The positive impacts of the club were as follows:
  • The girls enjoyed using the technology in this non-academic club environment.

  • The university students who acted as facilitators had a positive learning experience. They built leadership skills while interacting with the younger students and acting as role models.

  • School staff acknowledged a need and value for this girls only IT experience.
The less than positive impacts were that:
  • The participation numbers were very low and declined progressively.

  • The concept of a lunch-time computer club can be seen as illogical in that food and drink and computer labs do not go together. Students could rarely get immersed in their activities before the need to log-out and get ready for the afternoon classes.

  • The CC4G site and log-in was temperamental. Some days it was very slow and girls also had difficulties accessing it from home. This somewhat defeated the purpose of easy accessibility and simplifying ICT to girls
The club had minimal impact in this format. Lunchtime clubs are not a part of the culture of government secondary schools in Australia with girls of this age wanting to spend their short lunch break socialising, not playing in the computer room.

The way forward in 2008 is to create Australian centric materials which can be used for a computer club initiative that can be run as an elective unit in the school curriculum.

Go Girl Go for IT
One strategy to address the lack of awareness by girls of the ICT field is to host a day where girls come and interact with technology and listen to talks by women in the profession. A number of these type of days will be conducted around Australia in 2008 and can be conducted for small groups, or as in the case with the Go Girl, Go For IT career showcase, it may be a large two-day event.

In 2006 for example, all Victorian secondary schools were invited to send girls to the event conducted at Deakin University. The purpose of the showcase was to expand the career horizons of female students by showing the range of career opportunities available in IT. The showcase was attended by almost 1900 girls and 180 teachers. Evaluation from the event found that
  • While only 34% of students indicated they had considered IT as a career before the showcase, after the event 63% of the students would consider a career in IT.

  • Amongst other things, the surveys revealed that the girls learnt IT could be a rewarding and fulfilling career, not just for males or for geeks and that it is a very diverse field: That there are many different pathways to a career in IT and many different places it can take you. As one student explained: “I like how you never stop learning and that you learn new skills as technology develops and … IT allows you to use your intelligence to do cool things”.

  • Overall the vast majority of students and teachers were left with a positive impression of the event, with more than half rating it as Excellent or Great. They found the speakers inspiring and loved the entertainment - the fashion parade, band and trade show.
To conduct this event over 150 professional women (and a few men) volunteered their time, energy, passion and expertise. Fifteen corporate sponsors donated $90,000 AUD in cash and more than double that amount of in-kind support. Presenters donated their time and enthusiasm. The event was a year in the planning. With an overwhelming majority (96%) of teachers indicating they would consider bringing students to another Go Girl event we are currently planning the 2008 event.