The present and the future are inevitably becoming rapidly technological. The possibilities are quite literally endless, with autonomous cars, clean meats and virtual reality technologies becoming more and more of a reality than ever before. As a result of this, the workforce has changed dramatically since the early 1900s, — manual labour is becoming less of a job requirement compared to learning software developments, and the workforce will continue to change in the near future. “Already three quarters of the fastest growing occupations require STEM capabilities and the need for STEM-qualified workers is only expected to increase in the future” (Chapman & Vivian, 2017, p.5). So what does that mean for our society? And more particularly, how does this future, one where technology is inextricably bound to daily life, envision a picture of equality for women who are already underrepresented in STEM as a whole?
As I mentioned in my last blog post, throughout my primary and secondary schooling, STEM subjects — being science, technology, engineering and mathematics, were very rarely put forward to me as feasible or attainable career options. I’m not going to lie here, I didn’t even know what STEM was until I was sat in one of my lectures earlier this semester. Despite this, and my obvious lack of knowledge thus far, it is STEM learning that is shaping the future, not just in Australia, but globally. This industry is responsible for a lot of Australia’s economic success and is helping to build a more sustainable future. Irrespective of this, it is important to note that “Australian high school students are falling behind their global peers in their engagement with the STEM subjects, and the participation of girls in the STEM subjects is of particular concern” (Chapman & Vivian, 2017, p.3). So how do we get girls more involved?
Sarah Chapman and Rebecca Vivian researched how to best engage young women and girls with the growing industry behind STEM learning. In their research report ‘Engaging the Future of STEM’, Chapman and Vivian acknowledged the underrepresentation of women in STEM opportunities — whether they be as educators, entrepreneurs or graduating students — and provided four key suggestions on how to best address this gender disparity. These included:
- Being more effective in communicating STEM as an option to women,
- Creating exclusive girls-only experiences and study environments which have the capability to empower,
- Involving families and engaging the support system that girls have at home with STEM learning to encourage them to be immersed in the world of STEM, &
- By creating authentic relationships with STEM to create a sustained and lasting engagement with the industry as a whole.
Chapman and Vivian note that these suggestions need backing from various stakeholders, and identify the Australian government, educators and the STEM industry as key to creating a more empowering potential for women in the field. They also provide several case studies that show just how incredible STEM learning can be and how it can be best implemented in Australia based on its success in countries like the US, with Obama’s ‘CS for ALL’ consortium that provides students from K-12 with sustained computer science learning; the UK, their WISE Campaign places focus on the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ for women towards STEM careers and learning; and Finland, where 13 LUMA Centres first founded at the University of Helsinki bring together STEM education to students from ages 3-19 that span across Finland.
But where does Arduino fit in? As an open-source platform which allows literally anyone to tinker with technology in a unique and totally undefined way, Arduino is bridging the gap and providing girls with the tools they need to play a larger role in the STEM industry.
As we are now aware, gender makeup in the STEM world is very skewed towards one side. This disparity in gender deepens when you look more closely at the engineering field, and in 2009, only 18% of these graduates in the US were women (Peppler, 2013). Arduino is being utilised as a technology that can empower women into learning the specific skills required to build something incredible, especially in the textiles trade. How does one combine technology and textiles you ask? E-textiles.
Kylie Peppler explores the growing involvement of women in the e-textiles field and how e-textiles have evolved. She identifies these products as “textile garments infused with electronics to produce unique aesthetic effects” (Peppler, 2013, p.39). Many of these garments are created and coded using LilyPad Arduino technology, in which the open source nature of Arduino is utilised in conjunction with sewable electronic parts. These combination of these products and skill sets “are not only effective for broadening participation in computing but might also offer greater transparency into STEM disciplinary content” (Peppler, 2013, p.40). By combining the two components of textiles and electronics, society is slowly able to bridge the notable gap identified between the arts and STEM.
Then there is me. A fourth year, nearly graduated Bachelor of Media and Communications / Arts student slowly but steadily delving into the STEM world with the help of the Arduino Starter Kit. While I still haven’t actually put together my first project from the starter kit, I have been studying the projects book and have learnt quite a bit. Since my first unboxing video, I have been able to identify the purpose of an Arduino Uno —it’s a microcontroller that will be the heart of the projects I am preparing to build; what a Liquid Crystal Display is — it’s quite common around the home and is abbreviated to ‘LCD’ for short; and I even know the purpose of a Piezo — it’s an electrical component that detects vibrations and makes noises. I’ve also been drawing schematic symbols in preparation for my projects — I haven’t quite mastered them though.
The future for women in STEM is promising, and with so many new opportunities arising across the globe, it has the potential to be an empowering experience for so many individuals. My own experience thus far is a testament to that, and as my digital artefact evolves with my learning on the many functions of Arduino, so too will my interest in the field of STEM.
Chapman, S., & Vivian, R., 2017, ‘Engaging the Future of STEM’, Chief Executive Women, Research Report, accessed 30 March 2017, <https://cew.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Engaging-the-future-of-STEM.pdf>
Peppler, K., 2013, ‘STEAM Powered Computing Education: Using E-Textiles to Integrate the Arts and STEM’, IEEE Computer Society, Volume 46, Issue 9, September 2013, accessed 30 March 2017.