In Stem Online Courses, A Gender Gap!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education today reports on a study claiming that men and women behave differently in online courses especially in regard to online discussions. As reported:

“Women and men behave differently in online class discussions, at least in science, engineering, and computer-science courses, according to a new study conducted by Piazza Technologies, a company that makes a digital class-participation tool.

The company found that women use its program, called Piazza, to ask more questions than do their male peers, but that they answer fewer questions. When women do answer, they are more likely to answer anonymously.

The findings come in the midst of an online debate about male privilege in the sciences. Part of Piazza’s mission is to level the playing field for men and women in academic environments.

Piazza is an online discussion platform that professors at more than 1,000 colleges use to encourage students to ask questions of and answer questions for their classmates. Participation is usually optional, although some professors track students’ use for grading purposes. According to Jessica Gilmartin, Piazza’s chief business officer, most students enrolled in classes that use the tool do participate. Students can post anonymously to their peers, but professors are able to see all students’ names if they choose. Students know when that setting is selected.

The study tracked 420,389 undergraduates and graduate students enrolled in STEM classes in the United States and Canada during four nonconsecutive semesters from the spring of 2012 to the fall of 2014. (If a student took multiple classes during that period, he or she counted as multiple enrollments.)

The study found that, on average, women in computer-science classes asked 2.20 questions and men asked 1.75. In contrast, women answered 0.70 questions and men answered 1.20 questions. For other STEM classes, a similar pattern emerged: Women asked 1.10 questions and men asked 0.90, whereas women answered 0.49 questions and men answered 0.61.”

These are interesting findings. Similar studies in other disciplines have been counter to the findings here.


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