How gender-specific listservs contribute to the professional development of faculty women in computer science
Medley, Mary Dee
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The purpose of this study was to understand how women in computer science learn and benefit from using job-related, unmoderated, all-women listservs for professional development. The investigation was guided by two research questions. First, what is the nature of the learning that occurs in all-women listservs for women in computer science? And second, how does participation on listservs foster women's professional learning? The study was a qualitative study that included in person interviews of ten faculty women in Computer Science. The participants in the study are faculty in Computer Science departments at two-year colleges, small four-year institutions, city universities, and large research institutions. Their teaching experience in the field ranges from five to more that twenty years. Three sets of interrelated categories were inductively derived through the constant comparative analysis of the data. The content of learning on the lists includes women's issues, professional opportunities, technical issues and pedagogy. The participants in the study all related instances in which they had learned information that was important to their professional lives. For some of the content areas the listserv was the only place where the information was available. The methods by which learning took place include incidental learning and learning by direct inquiry. The characteristics of the listservs that foster learning include a supportive environment, mentoring, and networking. The listserv provides the kind of supportive environment that women tend to prefer for a connected style of learning. Two of the specific purposes of the listserv are mentoring and networking, and the listserv addresses these needs. Each learning experience reported by the participants fell into one of the content areas and occurred through either incidental or direct means. One or more characteristics of the listserv provided an environment for each learning experience. Three conclusions were reached as a result of the study. First, women-only listservs provide opportunities for continuing professional education for faculty in Computer Science. Second, women-only listservs foster women's professional learning through a supportive environment, mentoring, and networking. Third, the content and methods of learning and the environment of the listservs are interrelated.