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University of Nebraska–Lincoln

The Girl Empowerment and Mentoring (GEM) for Computing Project

Inspiring and Motivating Girls Toward Careers in Information Technology

GEM Project Overview

The GEM project is hinged upon peer-based learning, role-model mentoring, and learning from writing.  The first two are aligned to NCWIT AA Best Practices for increasing participation of female students in IT.  Writing well requires organizational and analytical skills.  Writing a tutorial with an insightful real-world example further requires logical and problem solving skills.  Thus, learning from writing facilitates not only learning about the discipline but also training for cognitive skills. 


This project leverages the strengths of four ongoing enterprises within the CSE Department at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln:

  • The Reinventing CS Curriculum Project with rigorous educational research grounding was initiated in 2002 and has re-designed CS0, CS1, and CS2 instruction at UNL.  Specifically, we have developed a placement exam, three sets of closed labs (with 14 or so labs for each set), and several learning objects, and conducted various studies to investigate the impact of the courseware.  We have a strong interdisciplinary team of CS and Education faculty actively participating on this project.  (See
  • The popular CSE Day (for local and regional high schools) at UNL is the premiere outreach activity organized by the CSE Department held each Spring.  Approximately 75-125 high school students participate in programming and design contests annually on CSE Day.  We will hold a GEM session on CSE Day and disseminate the writing artifacts (learning objects) to the coaches and students participating in the contests.  We will also invite CSE Day participants to help judge the learning objects and announce the winners at the end of CSE Day.  See
  • I-MINDS is a Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) system developed at UNL.  Some key features that I-MINDS include (a) collaborative writing where users share, propose, revise, extend, reject, and annotate written texts, (b) question answering where users send questions to the moderator and an impromptu Q&A can be conducted, (c) forum where users initiate new threads of discussions, participate and monitor the progress of each thread, and (d) classroom management.  All communications are recorded and stored for easy retrieval by the moderator offline, and statistics are visually presented to the moderator (an instructor or a big sister) for convenient monitoring and early detection of problems that the users might have.  The I-MINDS project, initiated in 2002, has been deployed at UNL and Bellevue University, producing promising results as an educational.  In GEM, we will use I-MINDS as the enabling technology. (See
  • Learning objects (LOs) are small, stand-alone, mediated, content “chunks” that can be reused in multiple instructional contents, serving as building blocks to develop lessons, modules, or courses. As part of our Reinventing CS Curriculum project and an on-going NSF Advanced Learning Technologies (ALT) project, we have developed SCORM-compliant LOs on CS topics.  We will use the software developed, skills acquired, and lessons learned from these two projects to help guide the writing process, convert all writing outcomes into LOs, and disseminate them online.  In this manner, the girls will be able to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment: seeing their writing effort as tangible, online courseware products to be used by other students for years to come.  (See