Exploring the gender inequity in tertiary computer science courses: influential factors in females’ choices in Australia and Taiwan

2017-02-28T23:44:23Z (GMT) by Chao, Shu-Hua
This thesis presents an analysis of a range of social, psychological and motivational factors which accounted for the inequitable representation of females in Computer Science (CS) courses in both the Australian (AU) and Taiwanese (TW) educational contexts. It draws on the literature on educational and vocational achievement related choices and decision-making to identify the key factors and how they influence males and females in making educational choices in their respective educational contexts. A mixed methods approach was chosen, using surveys for gathering the general characteristics of the undergraduates studying CS and non Computer Science (NCS) courses by educational context during the first phase (Phase 1), then interviews to examine in more detail the reasons for individuals’ course participation in the second phase (Phase 2). Results of surveys (Phase 1: AU=106, TW=52) and interviews (Phase 2: AU=7, TW=10) were analysed and presented by gender, group membership (CS and NCS) and educational context. This research offers a cross-national insight into the reasons behind females’ participation and non-participation in CS courses in two different educational contexts, which is not captured in the existing literature. The study found that an interest—enjoyment value attached to IT and/or CS encouraged Australian students to pursue CS courses. In contrast, Taiwanese students’ high self-efficacy beliefs in mathematics and programming skills encouraged their choice of CS courses. However, Taiwanese students’ course selection was dependent on the attainment value they attached to attending particular institutions, whether or not in CS. Stereotypical notions about CS related courses and careers were found to have discouraged both Australian and Taiwanese NCS females from enrolling in CS courses. This thesis concludes that although the trend of inequitable female representation in tertiary CS courses exists internationally, including in Australia and Taiwan, the factors accounting for the gender imbalance in CS vary across countries. Therefore, the strategies to address the issue of gender inequity should also reflect these differences across countries. Recommendations for the Australian context call for schools to re-consider the nature of the tasks provided in IT classrooms. As for the Taiwanese context, building female confidence in general IT learning through pre-tertiary and on-going programs, as well as instituting positive discrimination for females in CS course enrolment in Taiwanese universities, may increase the likelihood of Taiwanese females studying CS courses. Females in both contexts should be provided with broader and more accurate information regarding CS courses and careers rather than being left ill-informed with stereotypical perceptions of CS and thus choosing NCS courses. An understanding of the motivational and discouraging factors in females’ participation in CS courses in both the Australian and Taiwanese contexts provides a starting point for tackling the gender imbalance in the CS field in both contexts.