Many of us in certain fields of science teach Science courses in which male students outnumber female students. When we teach large introductory courses for non-majors, however, we see a gender ratio that is more typical of universities today; i.e., in these classes, female students outnumber male students.
I am not the first to mention that in these settings, female students ask the most questions, have the best attendance, send the most e-mail to faculty, and attend office hours more often than their male classmates. I am not qualified to comment on the consequences of this disparate behavior for the academic success of female students vs. male students, but I am wondering what the effects of this are for the classroom environment.
Maybe there isn't any effect, but a colleague recently wondered whether asking questions in class has become a 'female' thing to do, inhibiting the inclination of male students to ask questions. This is most certainly not the case in science major classes, but in the large classes for non-majors, women rule.
A male colleague of mine who is teaching a giga-class recently commented to me about the number of female students who ask questions. I had the same experience last spring, so it clearly does not relate to the gender of the professor.
I am pleased that these (mostly) young women are being assertive and involved in their courses, even large lecture courses that can be quite impersonal, but of course I don't want to teach a class with interactive female students and alienated male students.
The challenge is (always) to help as many students as possible to become engaged in a class, however large. I like to think that projecting a combination of Awesome Scientific Knowledge and Approachability will help all students be interested and involved in a course. This is my goal -- not yet attained -- but other ideas and hypotheses are welcome for different approaches.
My other goal -- also not yet attained -- is that the large numbers of female students who take intro science classes to fill a graduate requirement will find that they actually love science and want to take more science classes.. and then even more.. etc.
10 months ago