Creating new narratives for women in STEM: Heroine’s Learning Journey

Published by Heroic Journeys on

Luis Felipe C. Costa1, Yuri Lima1, Ana Moura Santos2, Beatriz Amparo3, Brendda Verlinger3, Debora Oliveira (Obirin Odara)3, Lidiane de Paula3, Luciana Maria Azevedo Nascimento1, Geraldo Xexéo1,4, Jano Moreira de Souza1

1Systems Engineering and Computer Science Program (PESC/COPPE/UFRJ), Federal University of Rio de Janeiro Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
{luisfcosta, yuriodelima, xexeo, jano}

2MOOC Técnico, IST, University of Lisbon Lisbon, Portugal

3Secretaria Especial de Políticas e Promoção da Mulher, Prefeitura do Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil smprio.{dadosemonitoramento, brenddaverlinger, autonomiaeliderenca, lidiane}

4Departamento de Ciência da Computação IM, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Abstract Despite the importance of STEM for economic development, the area still presents an impressive gender gap, as women account for only 29% of students enrolled in STEM courses in Brazil, with participation rates falling to nearly 10% in Computing and certain Engineering courses [1].

Considering this challenge, we created the Heroine’s Learning Journey (HLJ), an approach that aims to motivate the inclusion and permanence of girls who study STEM, and increase their confidence to study these subjects while encouraging entry into the STEM labor market. HLJ is based on heroic journeys in the male version [2] and in the female version [3], on the theories of self- determination [4], self-regulation of learning [5], and Project- based Learning [6].

In this journey, the female student must face a series of challenges, structured in a narrative form, containing three stages and twelve steps that include models and examples of successful women in STEM. To support the female students’ journeys in a given course, there are videos that introduce each step of the narrative. We also created a website with information about the HLJ and a framework that can be used by anyone interested in creating a course based on our model1.

HLJ can be used in different scenarios, and we would like to present two of these: one in Portugal and the other in Brazil.

In Portugal, HLJ will be applied on the MOOC platform of the Instituto Superior Técnico, in 2021, in a course on Machine Learning, Maths and Ethics: hands-on. The goal is to help young people to acquire the basics of the Machine Learning standard process, while acknowledging the Maths that are embedded in some of the algorithms. Being very practical, and introducing programming in Python, the contents also address relevant ethical issues when preparing and exploring data. It is expected that HLJ running as a motivational tool within the MOOC will support young women to go through the content and feel empowered both in the technical and social aspects of dealing with data, algorithms and Machine Learning processes.

In Brazil, we intend to use the HLJ as a complement of the project Women Programmers (Mulheres Programadoras, in Portuguese). The project, created by the Special Secretariat for Policies and Promotion of Women of the city of Rio de Janeiro, aims to reduce inequalities in the local labor market such as lack of access to technological sectors and wage inequality across different positions and functions. In this case, we will have 30 women who will take the course.

We understand that approaches such as the HLJ can help women to study and work in STEM by presenting a structured learning framework with relevant examples of successful women, appropriate language, and a welcoming environment.

We believe that presenting HLJ as well as these two different use cases will provide valuable insight for those who are also making efforts to promote women’s participation in the STEM education and labor market.


[1] L. Costa, Y. Lima, A. Moura Santos, G. Xexéo, R. Prada, and J. Souza, “Initiatives for gender equality in STEM education: the Brazilian case,” in ICERI2020 Proceedings, Online Conference, Nov. 2020, pp. 1253–1260, doi: 10.21125/iceri.2020.0330.

[2] Campbell, J. (1949). The hero with a thousand faces. New York: Pantheon Books.
[3]Murdock, M. (1990). The Heroine’s Journey. Boston, Mass. : New York, N.Y.: Shambhala.

[4]Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 49(3), 182. (Publisher: Educational Publishing Foundation)

[5]Zimmerman, B. J. (2008, March). Investigating Self-Regulation and Motivation: Historical Background, Methodological Developments, and Future Prospects. American Educational Research Journal, 45(1), 166–183. {Publisher: American Educational Research Association).

[6]Guo, P., Saab, N., Post, L. S., & Admiraal, W. (2020). A review of project- based learning in higher education: Student outcomes and measures. International Journal of Educational Research, ;102, 101586.

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