Superbots Industry Immersion Day
A groundbreaking, co-designed and co-delivered Industry Immersion for girls to design and visualise a voicebot that is relevant and meaningful for Gen Z users.
Despite decades of initiatives, and concerted efforts from educators and industry, girls remain persistently under-represented in technology related disciplines and careers. Research confirms that girls typically decide whether or not to pursue IT and computer science in their early high school years, as a result of negative exposure to stereotypes, peer pressure, parental and teacher influences and other cultural and societal factors. This persistent challenge brought together partners Monash Tech School, Monash University’s Faculty of IT, and the Women in Voice ANZ Chapter to codesign an Industry Immersion program that invites girls to design, build and visualise their own interactive voicebot. Originally designed as a one day program, the partnership recognised that adding a second day could enable the girls to visualise their voicebot - therefore strengthening the connection between AI, social sciences, supporting technologies and creative arts.
The Superbots program was first conceived from a series of informal zoom discussions between MTS and Faculty of IT Professor Yolande Strengers, during the winter lockdown of 2021. It was inherently understood that any IT focused program needed to be: i) meaningful, ii) personal and engaging, and iii) girls needed access to female role models.
The program aims to capture the hearts and minds of girls before they have made important subject selections for Year 10 and beyond – importantly, it encourages them to keep their options open to new and evolving study and career opportunities.
The activities introduce students to the world of voicebot technology, where they learn about the history, ethics, and societal influences of voice assistant software development. Using Fabella software, students developed technical and human skills to design an interactive voicebot.
Day 1 content focused on Yolande’s research on the gendered design and implications of voice activated AI, including digital voice assistants. Yolande (and her research collaborator Dr Jenny Kennedy from RMIT) identified that gendered stereotypes embedded into the personalities of emerging AI continue to perpetuate outdated stereotypes about women. One of the recommendations from their research was to bring the social sciences and advanced technology disciplines closer together to ensure deeper understanding of the societal consequences of AI are embedded in the design process.
Throughout the day, students ideated, prototyped, tested and refined their voicebot, including using a Wizard of Oz testing system with their peers. A range of communication platforms ensured the girls had access to mentoring, support and championing of industry leaders from the Women in Voice ANZ chapter and PhD candidates from Yolande’s department. These tasks supported both technical and human skills development.
Day 2 of Superbots supported the girls to begin their journey into the creative process of visualising their voicebot. To add to the challenge students developed coding skills using the P5JS web application, creating unique colour palettes and shapes that represent different emotions.
This day is underpinned by a bespoke web-based platform which has been designed, tested and supported by Monash Tech School's young tech team. The team invested countless hours researching, building, testing and refining the platform, which was critical to the students being able to visualise their prototype. In a fitting synergy, the tech team who led the design project were formerly part of Monash University's Faculty of IT's Industry-Based Learning program.
Throughout the program, students had the opportunity to work with industry experts, from the Women in Voice Australia & New Zealand Chapter and Monash University Faculty of IT Academics and PhD Candidates. These mentors supported students to pitch, refine and improve their prototypes. The opportunity to present their projects using Wizard of Oz, online mentor sessions and showcasing their prototypes in a marketplace forum, allowed the girls to build multiple skills and produce an artefact which they could demo to friends and family.
At the end of this intensive two-day program, the students had created voicebots that could engage in meaningful conversations. Students earned a digital badge that is co-branded by MTS, Monash University Faculty of IT and Women in Voice ANZ chapter. It reflects their experiences, skills and achievements and can be used on a resume and social media platforms including LinkedIn.
Conversational design and voicetech industry is one of the fastest growing career paths in IT and is a field which is uniquely suited to candidates with a combination of technical and humanist skills. Additionally, Bachelor Double Degree programs, such as Monash University’s double degree option in IT and Arts, are increasingly desired by employers as industry best-practice, and typically have a higher representation of women than IT only degrees. The partnership demonstrates that early intervention with girls, in a supportive, meaningful and aspirational environment will inspire earlier career discussions, and generate social awareness about stereotypes in AI and how they can influence societal attitudes.