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Researcher to present ‘girls better at programming’ findings at major IT conference

Flip uses a visual editor and plain English translation to help pupils program their computer games

Dr Judith Good

A researcher who received worldwide media coverage for a study into the computer programming skills of girls is to present her findings at a major conference about women in IT in Holland next week.

Dr Judith Good, Reader in Informatics, found that girls create more interesting and complex computer games than boys in an evaluation of Flip – a new computer coding language that shows schoolchildren the code they have written in plain English.

The University’s press office worked in November 2014 with Dr Judith Good, Reader in Informatics, on a press release about the research, which was carried out with colleague Dr Kate Howland.

Around 40 news stories were written about the research after the press release was sent out, including in Mail Online, the Telegraph, the Globe and Mail, NDTV India, Times of India, MSN and Slashdot. It was also tweeted about more than 500 times and generated hundreds of comments beneath news articles.

A policy advisor from VHTO – Holland’s national expert organisation on girls and women in science and technology - spotted the story on the main Dutch TV news channel and invited Dr Good to present her findings at the conference in Amsterdam on Friday 6 March.

Her talk will focus on learning to communicate computationally and the impact of gender.

For the study, Dr Good and Dr Howland asked pupils at a secondary school to design and program their own computer game. They found that the girls in the class wrote more complex programs in their games than the boys and also learnt more about coding compared to the boys.

There are persistent concerns about the under-representation of women in computing - only 17% of the UK’s computer science graduates in 2012 were female, despite a promising reduction of the gender gap in maths-related subjects at school level.

Some believe that girls are put off in their teenage years by the common portrayal of the ‘nerdy boy’ in TV and film.

Their study suggests that girls can be motivated to explore programming and create rich gameplay experiences by building on their skills in literacy and storytelling.

Dr Good says: “Given that girls’ attainment in literacy is higher than boys across all stages of the primary and secondary school curriculum, it may be that explicitly tying programming to an activity that they tend to do well in leads to a commensurate gain in their programming skills.

“In other words, if girls’ stories are typically more complex and well developed, then when creating stories in games, their stories will also require more sophisticated programs in order for their games to work.”

Dr Good encourages others to consider talking to the media about their research findings. She says: “The University’s press release generated a lot of interest in the research that Kate and I carried out on young people learning to program. The paper is one of the top three most viewed and shared articles in the journal Computers in Education.

“And there have been a number of additional positive follow-ups, including invitations to contribute to online discussions around the role of women in IT, and requests from other academics to collaborate on future research proposals and/or spend time at Sussex conducting research with us.”

 

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Posted on behalf of: Informatics
Last updated: Friday, 27 February 2015

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