The issue of girls’ and women’s underrepresentation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields has been a major area of concern to educators and researchers over the past 50 years. According to the National Science Foundation, the fields of computer science and engineering are still predominately male, while women’s participation in engineering and computer science remains below 30%. In the past 10 years, both the number and proportion of computer sciences Bachelor’s degrees earned by women has declined. In the professional world, women make up less than 15% of engineers and only 25% of computer and math scientists.
The DevTech Research Group has been working to address this gender gap by developing robotics and coding tools, curricula, and programs to support girls’ exploration of technology and engineering beginning in early childhood. DevTech’s research on gender and robotics has been featured in WIRED Magazine and in EdWeek. Our work investigates the potential of using robotics to increase girls’ interest and confidence in exploring technology and engineering. Our goal is to ensure that all children, regardless of gender, have equal opportunities to enjoy and pursue technology fields like robotics and coding!
Current Gender Research Projects
VEX Robotics and Gender Research
The DevTech Research Group has partnered with the REC Foundation and VEX Robotics to examine the role of gender in the VEX robotics programs. The VEX robotics program has 18,000 teams across 40 countries with students ranging from elementary through college. The U.S. teams make up about 80% of the program.
Although the VEX program is extensive, there is a noticeable lack of females participating in this program. Our current research is in year 1 of a three-year longitudinal study collecting survey data from VEX mentors and students nationwide. We are exploring the following: gender composition of teams and mentors, gender differences in attitudes, gender differences in engagement, and gender differences in performance. The goal of our research is to develop strategies to engage more girls in VEX programs and to ensure all mentors and students, regardless of gender, have a positive and enriching experience.
KIBO Robotics and Gender Research
While there are many STEM initiatives and tools designed to reach girls in middle and high school, these interventions often happen after girls have already lost interest and confidence in these areas. The DevTech Research Group has examined the positive impact of reaching girls during their foundational early childhood years through KIBO robotics. Our research has shown that positive experiences with KIBO can increase girls’ interest in engineering and reduce gender differences between boys and girls.
To find out more about our research on KIBO and gender, visit our Publication page or read this DevTech dissertation: Breaking the STEM Stereotype: Investigating the Use of Robotics to Change Young Children’s Gender Stereotypes About Technology & Engineering by Amanda Sullivan.
Our research on gender and robotics focuses on curriculum using the KIBO Robotics Kit and the VEX robotics kits and programs. For information on KIBO curriculum please visit the KIBO Curriculum Page. Detailed information about the curriculum specifically used in our KIBO and gender research, is available in this dissertation and through papers on our Publications page.
For more information on VEX curricula, teaching materials, and more, please visit: https://curriculum.vexrobotics.com.
Looking for books, tools, and approaches that educators can begin implementing right away? Check out this EdWeek blog post by DevTech postdoc Amanda Sullivan: Breaking Gender Stereotypes Through Early Exposure to Robotics