Lunch & Learn: Dean Maria Klawe: “The Truth About Females and Computing”

Dr. Maria KlaweIn a special March 1 Lunch ‘n Learn presentation, Dr. Maria Klawe, dean of Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, presented Gender, Lies and Video Games: The Truth about Females and Computing. The event was simulcast via Internet2 to other NJ K-20 institutions including Montclair State University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Passaic Valley High School.
Dr. Klawe’s March 1 talk explored how girls and women differ from boys and men in their uses of and attitudes toward computers and computing. For example, why do fewer young women play computer and video games, take computer science courses, major in computer science, go into computing careers, and end up in senior positions?
Dr. Klawe began by exploring and exploding some of the myths (lies?) about computing. For example, are computers a boy toy? In fact, teenage girls spend more time on the internet than boys. However, many of the myths persist in influencing students, teachers, parents, and the media. And such myths can play a pernicious role in influencing women away from computing professions.


She explored many of the “truths” about women in computing, notably that males taking intro CS courses are more prepared and act more confident. As a result, women are often surprised when they earn top grades.
Dr. Klawe also offered some solutions. Notably, that we need to increase interest in computing (through relevant work experience, providing young students with laptops, and by emphasizing applications), to increase confidence (through role models and mentors, by changing how we teach, and with unfailing encouragement and positive feedback), and to increase the sense of belonging of women in computing (by moving closer towards a critical mass, by creating environments that are supportive of personal lives, by treasuring different experiences, and by suppressing jerky behavior).
Dr. Maria KlaweDr. Klawe concluded by reviewing the impact of Larry Summers, the President of Harvard whose remarks about women in technical professions touched off a firestorm that recently culminated in his resignation. I the end, she concluded, that he had come to understand fully the “truths” about women and computing and that the ensuing debate had in fact been a constructive and useful one.
Dean Klawe’s teaching interests include making mathematics accessible and appealing to all students and the use of technology to enhance learning and motivation. At Princeton, she teaches an experimental section of MAT 104 (second semester calculus) in the fall semester. New methods introduced in her section included active learning approaches, calculus cameos by engineering professors (short presentations illustrating where calculus is used in engineering applications), and teamwork on challenge problems.
Her current research is on the use of technology to improve the quality of life and independence of people with cognitive deficits. Her primary focus is on developing multi-modal applications such as daily planners, medication reminders, and recipe books for people with aphasia, but she is also exploring the use of such applications for the elderly with impaired vision or memory. Aphasia is the loss of language (e.g. ability to read, write, speak or comprehend speech) and commonly occurs as the result of stroke or other brain trauma.
This Internet2 event is the first for Princeton’s Office of Information Technology’s weekly Lunch ‘n Learn series, but is very much a part of the University’s continuing tradition of sharing and collaboration. For example, Princeton’s University Channel now makes videos of academic lectures and events from all over the world available to the public. Academics are now able to air their ideas and present their research in a full-length, uncut format.
Video streams and other links of interest may be found on the Lunch ‘n Learn web site.

One Reply to “Lunch & Learn: Dean Maria Klawe: “The Truth About Females and Computing””

  1. Women *tend* to be more emotionally driven, men *tend* to be more logically driven. Women also tend to be better at multitasking due to more connections between the two hemispheres of the brain therefore better at complex multitasking. Men tend to do better at linear, systematic things like computer science.What are the differences between men and women?

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