Applicability Highlighting/alx

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Applicability Highlighting
Contributors Christian Köppe, Anne Bartilla
Last modification May 17, 2017
Source Köppe & Bartilla (2014)[1]; Bartilla & Köppe (2016)[2]
Pattern formats OPR Alexandrian
Learning domain

Your institution is preparing advertising material for your computer science programs. This includes flyers, presentations and other kinds of material.


Mainly focusing on the technical and functional aspects of computer science when communicating about it reproduces its masculine image and is likely to not attract many female students.

Computer science comprises much more than technique, but people often become aware of these aspects when studying CS and not before. Because CS is often presented as being highly technical, it is often perceived as being masculine, as in most cultures technique as such is mainly masculine gendered.

Values that are of influence on the young women's choices are creativity, service, autonomy, and entrepreneurship. Interviews with (Dutch) female CS students also indicate that especially the possibility to express their creativity attracted them, even though this was not explicitly addressed in the institutions’ advertising activities[3].

The typical language used when representing CS often uses metaphors which originate in—and therefore are associated with—the building industry, like “building a program" or “the architecture of a system". The usage of such metaphors often connotes a male image of the discipline.


Therefore: Develop and utilize a language for communicating about CS that includes and highlights the possible applications of CS. Beside the technical aspects emphasize also values as creativity and entrepreneurship and show how CS relates to the application and use of technology in the world, hereby providing a more realistic picture of the discipline.

Such a language socializes, creates reality, sends signals and has an exemplary function. It removes a part of the dual view of CS being connoted as mainly male or female, and is therefore more gender inclusive. However, one should seek ways to validate both masculine and (so-called) feminine views of technology and not be trying to reinforce existing gender stereotypes or to look for a solution that is gender-neutral[4].

For example represent technology not only for its own sake but in relation to its use. This comes closer to how female students see the discipline themselves without removing the (important) technical aspects. Female CS students stated in interviews that they like CS because they learn "new languages there" and that they can “express their creativity by e.g. solving security problems related to cybercrime"[3].

Illustrate the connection of men/women and technology, technology as a solution for social problems, or technology and team work. If women and men are meant and should be addressed, women and men must be named explicitly.

The solution does not suggest to replace the old descriptions in the advertising material, but to enhance them. Add for example showcases of real-life applications and how they fit into societal environments. Explain how creativity forms an essential part of computer science (innovative student projects can be used for this) and how good software can make a change. Present both aspects of computer science—techniques and applicability—as equally important.

One implementation related to this pattern, although not directly, is an activity at the Harvey Mudd College. They take young women who are about to choose their major to a Gracehopper Convention, which exposes the female students to a variety of non-technical aspects (beside meeting female role models too). The effect on the girls’ choices was measurable and is, partly, also changed by the way computer science is presented as whole at these conventions through the use of a more inclusive language.


  1. Pattern published in Köppe, C., & Bartilla, A. (2014). Towards a pattern approach for improving enrollment and retention of female students in computer science education. In Proceedings of the 19th European Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs (EuroPLoP 2014) (p. 18). New York:ACM.
  2. Patlet mentioned in Bartilla, A., & Köppe, C. (2016). Organizational Patterns for Increasing Gender Diversity in Computer Science Education. In Proceedings of the 10th Travelling Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs (VikingPLoP 2016). New York:ACM.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Bartilla, A. (2014). 'Je mannetje staan': Kwalitatief onderzoek naar vrouwelijke informatica studenten in het hoger beroepsonderwijs. Universiteit van Amsterdam. Faculteit der Maatschappij-en Gedragswetenschappen.
  4. Bennett, D., Brunner, C., & Honey, M. (1999). Gender and Technology: Designing for Diversity. Education Development Center, New York.