The Gender Confidence Gap in STEM Education
Shawn Wasserman posted on January 09, 2015 |

Gender confidence in STEM education

After crunching data collected from their online STEM Q&A Platform, Piazza determined that a gender confidence gap exists between their users. The study collected data from over 976,000 STEM students in over 1,000 schools. The results show that, on average, STEM female students answer 18% less questions than their male counterparts. This gap appeared to widen to 37% for computer science courses.

In contrast to this large gap, it seems female students are more engaged in another form of learning. The study found that 23% more questions were asked by women in STEM courses, and the number jumps to 26% in computer science.

Unfortunately, women were more likely to ask these questions anonymously. In fact, 52% of the questions asked by women in a computer science class, and 60% in other STEM programs, were anonymous (compared to 41% and 49% for men, respectively).

This pattern of anonymity continues as female computer science students answered questions anonymously 35% of the time, versus 22% by their male classmates. Similarly, in other STEM courses women answered questions anonymously 39% of the time compared to 28% for men.

Just as alarming is the realization that all students, male and female, became less confident in their interactions as they continued into later terms of their education. Though even as the students progressed together, the gender gap remained.

You might think that the prestige of making it into a top school might reduce the gaps. However, the gaps were even worse at schools like Berkley, Stanford, Harvard and MIT.

How Piazza can close the STEM gender confidence gap

Pooja Sankar, CEO of Piazza created the STEM Q&A platform to help shy female students communicate with the class and educators.

Pooja Sankar is the CEO of Piazza. As Sankar explains, she originally started the program to “help shy students be able to communicate and collaborate with classmates, TA’s, and professors in a safe environment. I also wanted to ensure they get help and learn class material better.”

The Piazza platform allows students to interact with each other, professors and teaching assistants in an online environment. If they choose to, a student can remain anonymous to the general class.

Students can pose a question online, submit answers and edit each other’s solutions in a format similar to Wikipedia. Professors and TA’s are able to endorse/lock answers, comment, oversee and correct correspondences as needed. The program is specifically designed for STEM education, allowing for the easy inclusion of diagrams, equations, math and charts. Using these interactions as a foundation, Piazza was able to conduct their unique study.

According to Sankar, “One of the features in Piazza that the shy students, particularly women, really appreciate is the ability to ask and answer anonymously.” The feature has also been key in highlighting the gender conversation gap, offering concrete proof of its true extent and urging people to correct the issue.

This gender gap was something Sankar suspected when she was in school; a suspicion that acted as inspiration for Piazza’s creation. When she went to college, Sankar moved from an all-girls school to a mostly male engineering college. This transition was difficult for her; “I didn’t know how to socialize and as a result ended up doing a lot of my studying and homework by myself.”

Thanks to Sankar’s creation, researchers can identify and study schools with minimal or receding gaps. Schools like Harvey Mudd College that, according to Piazza, have significantly narrowed the gap can act as gold standards for the next iteration of STEM education.

Source: Market Wired.

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