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Unsurprisingly, Gender Neutral Textbooks Make for Better Students

Two Swedish researchers found that you are more likely to apply for a course and get good grades if the books you read are less about boring stereotypes and more about situations you can personally identify with.

by Caisa Ederyd
Oct 4 2016, 3:35pm


A software engineer. Photo by Joonspoon

This article originally appeared on VICE Sweden.

Last week, two researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm (KTH) presented a study that suggests gender-neutral course literature helps students perform better. This means you're more likely to apply for a course and get good grades if the books you read are less about boring stereotypes and more about situations you can personally identify with.

The study focused on a programming course, because programming is typically associated with nerdy dudes. "We noticed that more men tended to apply for the course than women," said Maria Svedin, when I called her last Thursday. "We tried to identify the factors that could have led to that, and gender-neutral wording was one of them."

Svedin authored the study, together with Olle Bälter. Both work as researchers in Media Technology and Interaction Design at KTH. "Firstly, we presented programming as a technical and creative craft that also has a social aspect," she explained. Then they changed some of the course material to reflect the above notion. For instance, the textbook featured one problem that focused on a mother, who wanted to program a weather app because she was worried about her son's ability to dress according to the weather. Svedin and Bälter replaced that problem with the story of a person named Kim, who wanted to snooze for as long as possible in the morning with the help of a weather app (Kim didn't have a window in her/his bedroom).

"We also had to make sure that the course literature reflected what programming is today, and make sure to eliminate stereotypes such as that programmers are nerds, have dry humor, or that they are lazy," Bälter added.

The researchers found that this led to more applications, regardless of gender. "For this specific course, we hope that more people—men and women—get access to the correct idea of what programming is and therefore find it more interesting," concluded Svedin.

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