Number of women in computer science fields shrinking, can epistemic games help solve the problem?

Although computer science is one of the world’s fastest growing industries, the lack of women entering the field is declining according to a recent Chicago Tribune report, a problem that the use of epistemic games may be able to help.

Only 13 percent of computer science graduates are women, a number that has steadily declined since 1984. According to Gloria Townsend, a computer science professor at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., it’s one of the most promising fields for female students to study, so why then aren’t women pursuing computer science degrees?

The big picture, according to Townsend, is that the pipeline from elementary school to a computing career shrinks with each level of higher education. She says that early intervention is key to reversing the decline in the number of women in technology careers. Townsend says that a lack of K-12 computing courses and dull computing courses at the middle school level plays a large role in the recent steady decline.

Computing classes are dull because they teach and repeat the basics of necessary skills to students rather than engaging them and putting those skills into real world practice.

By engaging students with professional practice simulations, such as the ones developed by the Epistemic Games Group, educators can stimulate and hold students’ interest, rather than have it fade out as they work their way up through higher levels of education.

For example, rather than sitting through a lecture on engineering concepts, students can put learned skills to use while playing the epistemic game Nephrotex. The professional practice offered through Nephrotex allows students to hone skills that will make them successful once they enter the real world and engages them in a way that traditional ways of teaching engineering cannot.

Photo courtesy of Suzanne Kreiter of the Boston Globe Staff

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This work was funded in part by the National Science Foundation (DRL-0918409, DRL-0946372, DRL-1247262, DRL-1418288, DRL-1661036, DRL-1713110, DUE-0919347, DUE-1225885, EEC-1232656, EEC-1340402, REC-0347000), the MacArthur Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The opinions, findings, and conclusions do not reflect the views of the funding agencies, cooperating institutions, or other individuals.