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Gender and black boxes in the programming curriculum

McKenna, Peter (2004) Gender and black boxes in the programming curriculum. ISSN 1531-4278

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Abstract

This paper summarizes the results of an investigation into whether women and men have different (concrete and abstract) styles of programming, and whether the standard computing curriculum is therefore biased against women. The theory underpinning the hypothesis is critically reviewed in practical programming contexts. A concrete means of testing attitudinal gender differences to black-boxed programming elements is reported and the results described and analyzed. A survey of 50 students, designed to test the hypothesis that women are more likely to reject the techniques and “way of thinking” of abstraction in programming, casts doubt on the idea that there is any significant difference between female and male attitudes to prepackaged routines. This paper distinguishes between programming and ways of learning to program --- between concrete learning strategies and the use of abstraction in programming --- and discusses pedagogical practice as well as curriculum content.

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