Episode: The Way Colleges Teach Computer Science Hurts Women

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The Way Colleges Teach Computer Science Hurts Women

Only 12 percent of computer science majors are women. That's appalling. It's a shame, a waste and many other nasty words. But it is not hopeless. 

Harvey Mudd College turned around its computer science gender problem with a concerted effort to quash what they call "the macho effect." A few vocal students who learned programming in high school can dominate and derail a class for everyone else. Those students tend to be male. 

But as the college found out, it is not a zero sum game to serve those coding naturals and also lure in newbies, who tend to be female as often as male. There's more to it, of course, and it's a nuanced game to cut down on the macho without cutting out the well-meaning enthusiasm that causes it.

This episode is about how they did it, and what it teaches us about gender and learning. One sample lesson: when computational thinking is framed broadly, about solving problems, about helping society, then just as many women enroll as men. 

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