Professor hopes to find teaching methods to retain women in technology-based fields

Alexandra Feuerman

Although computer and information technology careers have not always been considered popular for women, School of Information associate professor Lecia Barker is working to change that preconception.

Barker received a $442,000 grant in order to identify new teaching methods for recruiting and retaining women in technological fields.

To discover new methods, she plans to interview computer and technology related faculty and then create a large, national survey to find better ways to recruit and retain female students in these fields. She will also observe teaching methods currently being used in classes.

Barker plans to visit 30 departments around the country at many different types of public and private colleges and universities, including research schools such as UT, minority-serving institutions and women-only colleges.

“The most important outcome would be to find out how to make it more likely that college professors can teach in ways that keep students, especially women students, in computing majors like computer science, computer engineering and information technology,” Barker said.

Barker said encouraging women to pursue careers in technology is becoming increasingly difficult in America.

“Women are much less likely to pursue careers in technology than men. This has serious negative effects not just for women but also for our nation’s ability to compete globally in a world increasingly dependent on technology,” Barker said.

America’s current economic standing may be a good motivator for female students to consider working in a technology field, Barker said.

"Although we are constantly hearing that there are not enough jobs, there are plenty of jobs in technology,” Barker said. “The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of professional computing and information sciences jobs will grow faster than all other engineering, life sciences, natural sciences and physical sciences jobs combined through 2018.”

Barker also serves as a senior research scientist for the National Center for Women and Information Technology, a nonprofit organization that values the importance of encouraging women to pursue careers in technological fields.

“One of the things she’s studying is why certain techniques work and why people adopt them,” said center spokeswoman Jenny Slade. “Hopefully, her findings will better produce resources to influence young women.”

Barker’s study will also focus on the effectiveness of some major technological companies’ programs.

“Not all companies evaluate whether their workshops and outreach programs are working. Barker will be studying the impact and gaining the ability to identify what works,” Slade said.

School of Information Dean Andrew Dillon said Barker’s work is especially important in today’s society.

“Information permeates all of our lives, both personal and professional, yet the tools we create tend to be designed by and often for a very narrow view of the human user, one which embodies stereotypical views of operation and application,” Dillon said. “The best counterbalance to this would be greater participation of women in the design and application of such technology.”

Printed on September 22, 2011 as: Professor studies women in technology