Tech Girlz

Girl Power

On a cold, snow squalling Saturday morning I had another PLN twitter moment courtesy of Shadi Yazdan on Twitter.  Her link to this New York Times blog has a fantastic video with re-written Beastie Boy lyrics – talk about reclaiming media.  That the author takes a very misogynistic song and uses it to empower girls is ironically compelling.  This spin only amplifies the message in the video:  that girls are groomed to be objects, but they don’t have to listen.

I’ve long agonized at the complete lack of *any* girls in *any* of the senior computer engineering or computer science classes at my high school.  We’re in a small town/rural community so the interest in high-technology is pretty limited anyway.  If we have high-skills specialist majors it’s in heavy industry or arts.  Of course, once they leave our small town high-tech is one of the most in-demand industries to work in, but without the culture to support it I’m finding this a continuing struggle, and one that if I lose does a disservice to our graduates who enter the working world missing imperative digital skills the rest of the world is expecting them to have.

After looking over this article it appears that the number of women in high technology is declining across the sector.  Is this because as consumerism becomes our main form of socialized identity we become stereotypes of our gender, age and income?  Girls become consumerized princesses, boys become consumerized soldiers?  Not so long ago we learned our social roles through complex traditional influences like nationalism and religion.  In our brave new border-less world where money is the main defining feature of our social character we become shadowy stereotypes of the consumer data that pours out of us.

Women in Technology by the numbers.
From 37% to 14% in the past 25 years?

Boys and girls both suffer a limited existence in this environment, though the female stereotype carries with it a submissive objectivity that ensures that girls are mainly valued in terms of their appearance, whereas boys are stereotypically the doers, girls are passive.

Of course, this is ridiculous.  Your ability to think is your magic power in engineering or coding, your gender doesn’t enter into it.  It is only because girls are convinced that boys are ‘tough enough’ to handle the maths or the complexity of engineering and programming that they get shaken out of the field; stereotypes forcing inequality.

It appears my struggle to convince small town/rural high school girls to give computer studies a try goes well beyond the limiting geography and toward a societal trend.  That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop, but it does make me consider this from media influence rather than as a primarily local influence.

Rebranding & Refocusing on Applied Computer Technology

After learning about the messy history of computer studies in Ontario, I’ve been catching up on our school’s history.  The computer studies department was created just prior to the new computer curriculum in order to create a headship for a computer science teacher who has since moved on.  The headship consolidated computer technology, computer science and the school IT support role all in one place.

When computer studies (actually computer science) became its own area of study independent from the rest of computer technology in 2009, our departmental divisions minimized that damage by keeping the now separated computer studies/technology (what’s the difference? It’s hard to tell with the vague titles) together.
Was it a good idea to keep computer studies and computer technology (two apparently completely different courses of study) together?  I’d argue that it’s a pointless distinction based on a prejudice deeply ingrained in Ontario education.  Computer science teachers, like the majority of teachers, come from university/academic backgrounds.  These teachers are catered to in Ontario education with easier access to high pay grades (it’s much easier for an academic teacher to gain level 4/honours specialist).  Many technology teachers who come into teaching through industry experience and apprenticeships (many of which are as long or longer than university programs) never achieve the highest pay grades in teaching.  Teaching in Ontario is inherently geared toward academics.

When computer science was amalgamated into computer technology (as a technology course), many comp-sci teachers thought it a demotion into ‘tech’.  It took them eight years to get their academic subject back.

In a perfect world computer studies would be just that – computer studies, meaning a curriculum that addresses the subject completely from the most academic/theoretical side (computer-science) to the most applied/immediately useful (information technology, computer repair).  As in science (biology, chemistry, etc), we could have teachers with different backgrounds and training teaching complimentary subjects and collaborating within the same department.  It happens throughout the school (arts, science, tech), but apparently it can’t happen in computer studies.  I believe this is because it attempts to straddle that academic/applied divide.

Between the political history of Ontario’s computer studies and my own school’s focus on consolidating heads, it looks like our computer studies headship will go away and computer science and computer technology will fly apart.  Personally, this is a relief.  Trying to give students access to coding through a computer science department that does more photocopying than English and clings to Turing as the be-all and end-all of programming languages has been a continuing frustration.  Being able to refocus around the more open technology curriculum in comp-tech would allow me to develop real world computing skills for students, something that I think ‘computer studies’ has failed to do.

If applied computing is the focus of computer-technology, then I don’t intend to leave coding to computer science.  They can have the theoretical end of it all, and teach to university bound students interested in advanced mathematics, but I’ve long contended that coding is a universal skill that everyone should at least have a passing knowledge of, especially in the 21st Century.  To that end I’ve been remapping our course offerings in Computer Technology (as well as rebranding my subject area, because that is apparently – and sadly – what we have to do in Ontario).

A grade 9-12 curriculum of applied computer technology study using current technologies that would give students
immediately applicable skills. A student who took this path would be literate in information technology, computer
repair, networking and coding, as well as have an understanding of industry practices in all those fields.

Would this dig into computer science’s sections?  Yes, but isn’t it more important to introduce a computer technology curriculum that increases digital fluency school wide?  Computers may have once been a theoretical subject area, but they’ve long since become a daily part of our lives.  Our computer curriculum should be introducing computer fluency to as many students as possible.  Our comp-sci department hasn’t had a single girl in any senior course in the past four years.  That has to change.  Many other students who have an interest in digital technology are chased out of computer science by the photocopies, mistakenly thinking that comp-sci will teach them applicable skills.  That has to change too.

Rebranding computer studies to computer technology, because that matters to people in Ontario Education (though
it causes a lot of confusion for everyone else).  It’d be nice if pedagogy instead of prejudice dictated our computer
studies curriculums.
Here are some other pieces created for the rebranding:

Taken from’s fantastic array of promotional material and ICTC’s Canada specific technology industry research.
And yes, I cut out the word science after computer because that apparently causes confusion in Ontario.  Is this really
how we do computer studies in Ontario?  Yes, yes it is.

Here is the  post on the computer technology graphics.
Here is the post from grade 8 parent’s night, where computer studies was still a subject headship, that’s all gone now.

The computer studies prezi: showing parents a coherent focus on computer studies (comp-sci included)
The computer technology prezi: showing parents a coherent focus on applied computer technology (no comp-sci in sight).

Other Reading:

Straddling The Divide: the end of computer studies at CWDHS.
Do You Teach Computer Studies or Computer Studies?:  where Tim stumbles into the political distinctions in Ontario’s computer curriculum.