does IT share CS mythology?

In the fourth chapter of Unlocking the Clubhouse, Margolis and Fisher spend a good bit of time describing the CMU environment, and discussing the mythology surrounding the computer geek persona. They discuss popular culture portrayals of technogeeks, as well as internal institutional imagery.

One of the reasons Tona and I felt it made sense to do our study is that at RIT, the distinction between IT and CS (as well as SE) creates a different type of environment. At least from the faculty point of view, IT and its students vary significantly from the standard geek persona. The "persistent image of the the computer science student" that the book describes is something that IT has tried to distance itself from.

Our biggest question, really, is whether IT has done that successfully. Do the students perceive IT as qualitatively different from CS? Or do the same images persist in their understanding of the field? This is important. At CMU, they found that:

while the stereotype of the computer science student as someone who is myopically focused on computing is rejected by many male and female students, women report more distress and are more affected by the perceived diference between themselves and their peers. [...]
The rub for women in computer science is that the dominant computer science culture does not venerate balance or multiple interests. Instead, the singular and obsessive interest in computing that is common among men is assumed to be the road to success in computing. This model shapes the assumptions of who will succeed and who "belongs" in the discipline.

It's also worth thinking about this from the end of the chapter:

It is important to note that it is not only women who resist a myopic focus on computers. Some men resist a narrow orientation but do not question their ability to become computer scientists because their gender has not rendered them suspect. The social history and culture of computing, based on the activities and culture of boys and men who have made computing the central focus of their lives, contribute to boys' sense of belonging and girls' sense of "outsidership" in computer science. The model of a successful computer science student is viewed through a male prism. This perspective bolsters men's confidence and sense of belonging. The same culture expects little success from women. Women's interest in and attachment to computing are considered outside the norm, and their abilities are never taken for granted. This places women students, especially those who resist becoming myopically focused, at high risk in the discipline.

Given all this, and the fact that there are very few women in our entering class, I'm thinking about expanding the first year of the study to include the handful of women entering CS at RIT this year. It would be interesting to see how much the "geek mythology" perceptions differ (if at all) between students in the two disciplines, and how they perceive each other.

(This is one in a series of entries from <a href="<$MTBlogURL$>">mamamusings related to the book Unlocking the Clubhouse, by Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher. For the whole series, go to the "unlocking the clubhouse" category page.)

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This page contains a single entry published on August 1, 2003 2:42 PM.

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