Bridging the Opportunity Divide

Can Girls Dance Their Way Toward Computer Programming Careers?

November 7, 2014
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Can Girls Dance Their Way Toward Computer Programming Careers?
Clemson researchers find that blending movement and computer programming supports girls in building computational thinking skills. Andrew Burton/Getty Images
The authors of a new study think so.

Lately, educators have stressed the importance of attracting more girls to STEM areas of study (science, technology, engineering and math) — especially computer programming, since men outnumber women 7 to 3 in tech industry careers. But now, a group of researchers at South Carolina’s Clemson University have hit upon a unique way to spark girls’ interest in software engineering: through dance.

Dr. Shaundra Daily, an assistant professor of computing at Clemson who was the lead author in a study published in Technology, Knowledge and Learning, found that the computational skills of fifth and sixth grade girls improved after they interacted with dance choreography software. Daily hit upon this idea because she was a competitive dancer who now leads her own computer lab at Clemson.

Through the Virtual Environment Interactions (VEnvl) software, the girls were able to program three-dimensional characters to perform dance moves just by moving their own bodies. The girls learned to develop new computing strategies to improve their choreography.

Dr. Alison Leonard, an assistant professor of education at Clemson who co-authored the study, says in a press release that dance and software engineering have more in common than you might think: “Executing one bit of code or movement one after the other exists in both programming and choreography. Likewise, loops or repeating a set of steps, also occur in both contexts.”

One of the goals of Daily’s research is to determine how to encourage more girls to become involved with computing. “We want more diverse faces around the table, helping to come up with technological solutions to societal issues,” she says. “So we’re working with girls to create more pathways to support their participation.”

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