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Leah Buechleys thesis defense began with the question "What is Computer Science" which is always a good start to get me interested. She started by showing photos of things provocatively stereotypical for the common picture of CS: nerds, dark rooms, logic boards.

What a contrast to her own work. Leah created "wearable computer devices" that could be used by children to create (and program) their own digital clothes. While the title seems to hint towards the hardware side of this (wearable, textile), the talk was indeed focussing on usage, usability, and possibilities that seemed to be influenced more by the software side of her work.

One success story that her developments wrote were the interest for CS that these "devices" rose in girls. Usually, projects surrounding computers are almost exclusively taken by boys. Against this trend, her projects had a strong bias towards female students. However, only few of the participating girls showed interest in learning more about programming and CS afterwards.

As much as I like Leah's work and also her defense, I could not other than wonder on how important or "right" her apparent goal to get girls interested in CS is. Obviously, there a common gender preferences for several areas. For example, the reason why her projects where so popular with girls seemed to mostly stem from the fact, that fashion is almost exclusively a female topic. I came to wonder how much fields like this, topics with a strong bias towards female students, do to get males interested in the fields. And as much as I can see how diversity can be good for CS (as for every other area), I wonder if it isn't more important to get students that are honestly and deeply interested in an area as opposed to students that study something b/c they think that it "also has different sides", promises good job perspectives, or is governmentally supported (e.g. by fellowships and programs especially for female students).

Last modified 10 December 2007 at 9:31 pm by hodie