Is this statistically significant?

Is this statistically significant?

I have never felt confident with statistics.  I took a statistics course in college during the same semester that I was somewhat homeless.  My landlord had evicted me with no notice.  I was sleeping in friends’ dorm rooms and on campus bathroom couches.  I was sick a lot and I’d forget to go to class.  I sometimes wonder whether Professor Cresap gave me a D- so he wouldn’t have to deal with me again.

Now I’m forty living in a two-bedroom. I thought I might try out a Coursera Course on statistics.  The particular course is a mix of statistical methods and project-based research. Students get to form and explore a research question of their own choosing. The course requires that students submit their assignments in blog form, so here I am.

The Dataset. Last month, with permission from department chair, my collaborators and I deployed three surveys, one each to the undergraduates, graduates, and faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Computer Science.  At the time of this writing, 170 undergraduates have taken the survey. For the undergraduate students, the survey instrument asks a number of questions about gender identity as well as student feelings of success with respect to collaborating with others in the department

When asked about gender, students are given the following options:

  • Man
  • Woman
  • Gender nonconforming
  • Genderqueer
  • Pangender
  • Transgender
  • Other.  Please explain:

When asked about perceptions of collaboration success, students are asked to rate the following according to a 5-point scale ranging from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree.

  • I am allowed to express my ideas.
  • I am interrupted before I can contribute to discussions.
  • I am given credit for my work.
  • I can work collaboratively with others effectively and successfully.
  • I am treated as an equal among my peers.
  • I am given less valuable aspects of team projects.

The Research Question.  Is gender associated with undergraduate feelings of successful collaboration in the Computer Science Department?  

The Hypothesis. I anticipate that men will strongly agree with the statements of successful collaborations more often that other genders. 

The Literature Review.  Much research explores a student’s sense of success when it comes to gender in Computer Science.  One of the earliest culture studies in an undergraduate department of computer science was published by Margolis and Fisher in 2003.  The book, “Unlocking the Clubhouse” provided a powerful case study showing that young women’s confidence in the topic is diminished by poor teaching and negative experiences with peers.  “You’re only here because you are a girl” is a phrase that many contend with.  When confidence is diminished, young women often leave the field.

Since 2003, other work studying the experiences of undergraduate women in computer science has followed.  Some research has begun digging into students’ collaborative experiences.  For example, in 2013, KS Choi evaluated pair programming teams of students that were male-male, male-female, and female-female.  Female students in male-female pairs “voiced gender-biased concerns about collaborating with male partners.”  

But as society is showing, gender is no longer a binary concept.  Just as it is important to learn about young women’s perceptions of their collaborative experiences, it is also important to learn across the gender spectrum.  Helping to improve successful collaboration is one way to improve confidence and help all kinds of people stay in the field.

Search Terms Used: Collaboration, Pair programming, Computer Science, Gender, Transgender.


Choi KS. (2013) "Evaluating Gender Significance within a Pair Programming Context," 46th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Wailea, HI, USA. pp. 4817-4825.
doi: 10.1109/HICSS.2013.209. URL:

Crenshaw TL, Chambers EW, Metcalf HE, and Thakkar, U. (2008). “A case study of retention practices at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,” in Proceedings of the 39th SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, SIGCSE 2008, March 12-15, 2008 (Portland, OR), 412–416. doi: 10.1145/1352135.1352276

Crenshaw TL, Chambers EW, Heeren C and Metcalf HE (2017) Ten Years toward Equity: Preliminary Results from a Follow-Up Case Study of Academic Computing Culture. Front. Psychol. 8:816. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00816

Margolis, J., and Fisher, A. (2003). Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing. Cambridge, MA; London: MIT Press.

How to be a workplace ally in tech

How to be a workplace ally in tech

Belonging is my act of defiance

Belonging is my act of defiance