An all girls team in a CS course?

I teach a course with 76 students and 7 of them are female students. My course is flipped: during class time groups of students are working on various activities, using lightweight teams for practicing the concepts in the lecture on some days and project based teams for applying the concepts to project assignments on other days. I suggested an all girls project team to each of the female students via individual email messages, and each of them said no! One of the female students wanted to know why I would even suggest this.

Why did I ask them such a question? Well, I use reflection questions to provide the students an opportunity to think about themselves as part of a team. In a response from a female student, she said she doesn’t talk much in the team meetings, probably because she is the only female on the team. So, I thought I could make sure there is more than 1 female student on any team that has female students, or, I could suggest an all girls team.

Why an all girls team? The project teams are designing the user experience for an app that would engage people to make Charlotte a better city – sponsored by the City of Charlotte. This app will be implemented if the City sponsors like it. Our course is an HCI course and we are to design the user experience, not to build the app. I thought that an all girls team would come up with a user experience that would be different to an all boys team.

Why did every single female student say no to the idea of an all girls team? Some said that they had already started in a team with male students and they thought their team was doing well. Some said that didn’t think it reflected what they would experience in their career and preferred to learn how to be in a team where they are the minority.

Needless to say, I didn’t create an all girls team in this course. Maybe next year I can start that way, but I am not sure if it will have the effect I am looking for.

I had a similar situation with advising: a Professor that is an advisor for over 100 students, has received awards for their excellent advising, and is a person of color, suggested that our students of color should be assigned to their list of advisees. I liked this idea, but when I asked other faculty, they emphatically said “no!” Why would we single them out? Should we give the white male students white male advisors? Should we give the Asian students Asian advisors? I want to repeat that this suggestion came from a person of color, and that the faculty saying “no!” are not people of color. There are no other advisors that are persons of color.

Should we create all girls teams for design courses? Should we assign students of color to advisors that are people of color?

 

About Mary Lou Maher

I am Professor and Chair of Software and Information Systems at UNC Charlotte. I work with an amazing group of faculty that care about teaching.

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