When I was an engineering student over ten years ago at the University of Illinois, I was often one of a few girls in classes of 50 to 100 students. I knew every girl in each graduating class of my engineering program. We rallied around each other, aware that the low representation of girls in our engineering classes was possibly, though unintentionally, discouraging young girls from pursuing technical fields of study.
Now that I am working for a company focusing on providing creative, computer-based experiences for kids and teens, I am grateful to see that my experience as an engineering college student is no longer the norm. Increasingly, girls are exploring new areas of interest. Last summer, we had over 300 girls take classes here at the Digital Media Academy, in areas like filmmaking, web design, video game creation, robotics and animation.
The most popular courses taken by girls, both in our Teen program and in our Adventures program, were filmmaking courses. In fact, across all of our locations, Hands-on Filmmaking for Teens averaged 42% girls and 58% boys at both beginning and advanced levels. In some weeks, the number of girls actually exceeded the number of boys! At a younger age, our Adventures in Movie Making and Special Effects course, for kids ages 9-13, averaged 32% girls and 68% boys. The most popular class for girls in our Adventures program was Adventures in Web Design and Flash, which averaged 47% girls and 53% boys.
Taking a closer look at what courses girls are choosing, there are some common themes. Both filmmaking and web design, while deeply technical, are also very relational and creative areas of exploration. Our filmmaking courses are designed to have students work in groups, from creating a storyboard to post-production editing. The experience is very relational, and the end product is a film that communicates and expresses the group’s creativity. Our web design courses also serve a similar purpose. While the work itself is less group based, the end product is an individual web site that distinctively communicates each student’s creative expression to the world.
Perhaps these common themes can help make some of our other classes more popular to girls. Historically in our summer camp program, the ratio of boys to girls in classes like video game creation and robotics is 10 to 1. What can be done to make these classes more attractive to girls?Are the topics, inherently less a vehicle for communication, less attractive to girls by nature? Or, in video game creation, are there different types of games that may be more appealing to girls? Or, like my engineering classes in college, are these classes less attractive simply because of the historically lower representation of girls?
Whatever the answers to these questions, we will continue exploring and will certainly do our best to make all of our DMA experiences meaningful to boys and girls alike!