Institute for Personal Robots in Education Blog

The Subtlety of Gender Bias: robots, classrooms, and Top Chef

Here at the IPRE, we are working on developing hardware, software, and course materials based on robots for use in teaching introductory computing courses.

One aspect of the project that we are very conscious of is how the students might perceive robots in the classroom. One of our goals is to develop materials that will attract students into computing. If we use a device that some students find alienating, then we will, of course, have failed. So, we are sensitive to such perceptions, specifically those that have gender correlations.

How can one develop materials that are sensitive to gender biases? The same way that you write good software: you need to test. Feedback is the only way that you can know for certain, and then you revise and test again. We all have biases and, even when we are aware of that fact, these biases can still pop-up and have adverse affects.

Take, for instance, one of the latest installments of "Top Chef", a TV show on Bravo that is a type of Survivor, but you have to cook well to stay on the island. Well, there isn't an island. But people do get voted off by expert chefs. Recently, the show's producers told the competing chefs that they were going out dancing. However, when the contestants got to the club, they instead had to cook! No one was really happy about that, but the two female contestants were really not happy. You see, the women were dressed quite inappropriately for cooking. This is certainly a gender bias that the show's producers and creators (some of which are women) did not consider. One of the women chefs, Sara, never really recovered from the shock, and was voted off that night.

One of the judges (Ted, from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy fame) has been blogging. See his posts Is Cheffing a Man's Job?, and Common Scents. You'll see that there are gender issues and also why most top chefs are men. And it is not because the men are better chefs. We can do better both in computing and in restaurants.

Perhaps blind taste tests

Thu, 2007-10-18 21:36
Ben (not verified)

Perhaps blind taste tests must be done. (And something similar for computer science). I know the judges think that when they taste food, they use only their superior pallet and do not take into account the gender of the chef. This is also what conductors thought when auditioning musicians for their orchestras, until they installed screens so the conductor could not see the musician. They soon found out that their gender bias was affecting the ears. The number of women in orchestras rose from a small percentage to nearly 50%.

Eliminating bias can be obvious like above, or less so, like not asking students to list their race and gender on standardized tests. I recently read the book "Blink" and it was very enlightening.

I agree

Mon, 2008-03-31 22:26
LEGO Mindstorm Robot (not verified)

I agree. Almost all robots that have been developed have been "male"-looking. This seems very biased towards men. Perhaps we need to specifically create female-looking robots.

If we use a device that some

Sat, 2009-03-14 04:50
Anonymous

If we use a device that some students find alienating, then we will, of course, have failed. So, we are sensitive to such perceptions, specifically those that have gender correlations. custom assignment | coursework writing

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