SOURCE: Piazza

Piazza

January 06, 2015 09:30 ET

Extensive Study Confirms Confidence Gap Among Female Collegiate STEM Students

Piazza, the Widely Used Online Q&A Platform, Analyzed Online Class Behavior of More Than 1 Million Enrollments to Gain New Insights Into the Gender Gap in STEM Coursework, and in Computer Science Specifically

PALO ALTO, CA--(Marketwired - January 06, 2015) - Piazza, the social learning and recruiting platform for college students, has completed a comprehensive research study involving more than 1 million American and Canadian college and graduate school student enrollments involving courses using Piazza over a nearly two-year timeframe. The study found a measurable gap in confidence between female and male STEM students and an even wider gap between female and male computer science students.

Piazza collected this unprecedented research by analyzing data gleaned from interactions on Piazza's Q&A platform. The Piazza platform enables students to ask and answer questions of each other, teaching assistants, and professors in an online environment. Students can choose to ask and answer questions openly or anonymously. Piazza serves over 700,000 unique students in 1,000 schools per year, and is particularly widely adopted in STEM subjects. Its study is one of the first to analyze behavioral differences among STEM and computer science students on a massive scale.

Computing has become a major growth sector for the US economy; the U.S. Labor Department projects that 1.4 million computing jobs will become available between 2008 and 2018. However, given that only 18 percent of computer science graduates are women, the majority of these jobs will be filled by men. Understanding the reasons behind the gender gap is critical to implementing an effective solution.

Piazza has broken its findings into two parts: 1) students studying computer science, and 2) students studying all remaining STEM subjects excluding computer science (referred to as "STEM" below).

Significant findings:

  • Female students are highly engaged and actually ask more questions on average than their male peers enrolled in both computer science and other STEM coursework. Women ask 26 percent more questions than men in computer science classes and 23 percent more questions in STEM classes. More than half of questions asked by female computer science (52 percent) and STEM (60 percent) students are asked anonymously, versus 41 percent and 49 percent for computer science and STEM, respectively, for males.
  • However, female students answer fewer questions compared to their male peers.
    • Female computer science students answer 37 percent fewer questions on average compared to their male peers.
    • Female STEM students answer 18 percent fewer questions on average than their male peers.
  • Female students are more likely to answer questions anonymously than their male peers.
    • Female computer science students answer questions anonymously 35 percent of the time, whereas their male colleagues answer anonymously 22 percent of the time (a 13 percentage point difference).
    • Female STEM students answer anonymously 39 percent of the time, whereas male STEM students answer anonymously 28 percent of the time (an 11 percentage point difference).
  • As students progress from lower-level to higher-level computer science coursework, both men and women become slightly less confident, and the confidence gap among women persists.
    • From lower-level to upper-level coursework in computer science, men go from answering 22 percent to 24 percent of questions anonymously, while women go from answering 36 percent to 38 percent of questions anonymously.
    • While answers per student decline for both men and women in upper-level computer science classes, women answer 43 percent fewer questions than men in lower-level classes, and 27 percent fewer questions in upper-level classes.
    • The gap increases again in graduate-level classes, where women answer 42 percent fewer questions than men.
    • The confidence gap also holds true in STEM classes, where women answer 14 percent fewer questions in lower-level classes, 25 percent fewer questions in upper-level classes, and 23 percent fewer questions in graduate classes.
  • Harvey Mudd is one of a few schools that has shown significant progress in narrowing the confidence gap. This small private school has made significant efforts to not only increase its percentage of women entering computer science classes, but also to adjust curriculum and address systemic challenges throughout the college experience.
    • There was only a 12 percent differential between answers per female and answers per male (compared to 37 percent average overall).
    • Women answered 13 percent of questions anonymously, as opposed to the average of 35 percent (and men answered 9 percent of questions anonymously, versus average of 22 percent).
    • There was a 4 percent gap between male and female rates of anonymous answers, compared to the average gap of 13 percent.

Next Steps
Due to heightened awareness of the need for more women to pursue STEM careers, a number of worthy organizations have emerged to encourage girls to engage in coding and technical activities during the K-12 years. However, as this research shows, the college years are also critical years for supporting women and helping them persist in computer science and STEM coursework. Harvey Mudd may provide a blueprint for what works. Piazza's research demonstrates not only that the confidence gap among female STEM students is real, but also that concrete efforts to address it can make a substantial and measurable impact in bridging the gender divide, particularly in computer science. 

Methodology
Piazza's primary research focused on 976,000 college and graduate STEM student enrollments at traditional college and graduate programs within the US and Canada (1.126 million total student enrollments, including humanities and social sciences). Research tracked students over nearly four terms: Spring 2012, Fall 2013, Spring 2013, and Fall 2014 through November 10th. Data collected involved more than 2.3 million questions asked and answers given, 2.1 million of which involved STEM and computer science coursework, and which collectively were viewed 220 million times.

About Piazza
Piazza is a collaborative social learning and college recruiting platform empowering students to work together in real-time with classmates and instructors to find the answers they need at the time they need them. More than 700,000 higher education students use Piazza per year with an average engagement of 3 hours per day and nearly 200 post views per student per semester. Students and alumni can also use the Piazza Careers platform to connect with companies, apply for jobs and internships, and find out more about the skills needed to excel in their chosen careers. Piazza is FERPA-compliant and used at more than 1,000 colleges and universities.

For more information, please go to www.piazza.com.

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