– authored by Dr Jenine Beekhuyzen, Founder & CEO Tech girls movement foundation
The signature Search for the Next Tech Girl Superhero (SNTGS) competition and other TGMF initiatives are soundly based on international research into how best to encourage female participation in STEM-related careers and education. The TGMF has administered both pre and post-competition surveys for all participant groups (schoolgirls, mentors and coaches) for the past three years of the competition. The same survey with minor adjustments is administered each year. It consists of open and closed questions, drawn from three sources – an internationally recognised instrument for measuring STEM career interest (Kier et al. 2014), a survey carried out by Technovation, the organisation which provides the curriculum on which the competition is based (Rockman et al Research, Evaluation and Consulting, 2016), and the results of interviews carried out with 8 mentors from the 2015 competition.
In the Australian Search for the Next Tech Girl Superhero (SNTGS) competition, school girls form teams and register on the TGMF website via a coach – a teacher or a parent who becomes the contact point for the team. One coach may have multiple teams. Each team is then matched with a female mentor working in STEM who commits to meeting the team virtually, or if co-located in person, for one hour per week for 12 weeks. Teams then brainstorm problems that bug them in their local community, from personal problems such as anxiety, mental health, wellbeing, healthy eating, to broader school issues such as lost property, or family issues such as “grandad can’t read” or wider issues such as sun safety or global warming.
Teams then research how others have tried to solve the problem around the world, and then they design their own solution to the problem through a business plan and a wireframe. Teams as young as 11 are building 50-page business plans. Once they have a wireframe and business plan they build the working prototype through free online software such as AppInventor. Then they develop a 4-minute pitch video to sell their idea, and a 3-minute demo video to exhibit how their app works.
The post-competition surveys aim to evaluate the impact and success for student participants in the Search for the Next Tech Girl Superhero competition, specifically:
i. The impact of participation in the competition on girls’ self-perception and career perception in relation to STEM, and of their intentions to pursue further studies and careers in STEM-related fields. The evaluation is based on well-established research in this area.
ii. Students’ perceptions of the curriculum areas. The evaluation did not attempt to measure objective improvements in skills because of wide variations in curriculum, facilities and teacher practices.
iii. Issues, benefits and problems of participating in the competition.
In 2018, the demographics of the 191 respondents were very similar to those from 2017. Most of the girls live in Queensland (90) and New South Wales (50). Of the New Zealand schoolgirls represented in the 2018 survey more live on the South Island (10) as compared to 2017 results where more were from the North Island. Most students attend co-education schools (117) and are currently in grade 6 (48).
Several areas that showed improvement in 2018 were students’ time management, support from mentors and coaches, and satisfaction with teamwork.
Students are asked how much knowledge of coding they had before participating in the competition, most reported less than an adequate amount of knowledge of coding (Figure 1).
Figure 1 – 2018 Students’ Previous Coding Knowledge
Although the students’ perceptions of their knowledge of coding in 2018 was reported to be similar to 2017, there was a substantial increase in their perceptions that participation in the competition had improved their knowledge of coding (from 58% to 85%).
Figure 2 – 2018 Students’ Improvements in Coding Knowledge
In relation to the curriculum, the Revenue lesson continues to be the least popular and students wished there had been more focus on coding, even though their perceived competency in coding increased substantially.
The biggest challenge reported was shortage of time.
The program consists of the following 12 lessons. Lesson 8 and 2 are the most popular and lesson 7 the least popular.
1: Introduction to the curriculum and meet your mentor
2: Defining the Issue
3: Brainstorming Solutions
4: User Centred Design
5: Competitive Analysis
6: Branding and Promotion
7: Potential Revenue
8: Pitch Guidelines
9: Demo Guidelines
10: User Feedback
11: Video Editing
Overall the support from schools, coaches and mentors is perceived as good, or satisfactory, and the students thought they worked well in teams. A small percentage reported that team members dropping out caused problems. Responses to the questions regarding attitudes to STEM showed similar improvement after participation to that of the 2017 survey. Some of the questions regarding career interest showed a small improvement over the 2017 results.
Motivation to participate in the competition
In 2017, 12 girls mentioned that their involvement in the competition was due to it being a part of their school curriculum; this was not mentioned in 2018. The most frequent responses in 2018 were; to learn about coding, to work with friends and solve problems, similar results to those of 2017. More students mentioned being encouraged to participate by friends and/or siblings who had previously participated in the competition.
Benefits gained from participation
Students gained a variety of benefits and experiences from their participation in the competition.
“The benefits that I have gained from participating in this competition have definitely been time management and organisation. Also developing new skills that I can apply to many other things such as my vocabulary, speaking on the spot, persuading, my writing skills and other larger topics I had no idea about, such as potential revenues and other elements within the business plan. Other benefits I have also gained from this competition are qualities such as commitment, trust, teamwork, prioritising and thinking about the bigger picture.”
The students’ motivations and expectations focused mostly on their desire to learn more about coding and to work in teams. In 2018 students were encouraged to participate in the competition through friends and/or siblings who had participated in a previous competition or knew someone who had.
While some respondents stated that they had always been interested in technology and their participation in the competition confirmed this interest (25), some now felt they were more likely to consider a science or technology career than before (22). Importantly, 26 responded that their confidence, awareness, knowledge or interest in technology had increased, but not necessarily relating to a direction in study.
“I believe from the competition our interest in technology is enhanced because of the amount of time and effort we put into using technologies. I believe the competition has made us more confident in starting a new business or designing and developing new ideas from technology. The experience was positive and worthwhile”.
“My mind was open to ideas, but the Tech Girls competition has pointed me in the direction of technology.”
“Tech girl superheroes has taught me that I can do whatever I want in the future … this competition has influenced my life greatly and I have become a more confident, better person because of it.”