When did ‘geek’ become fashionable?


First Posted: 9/30/2014

On the CBS television sitcom, “The Big Bang Theory,” Leonard and Sheldon portray brilliant computer-obsessed physicists who are geniuses in the laboratory, but socially challenged.

Is it possible the show’s nerds might be changing people’s views of technology and students’ perceptions of careers in information technology?

Dr. Stephen Cheskiewicz, a Dallas resident and assistant professor of Information Technology at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, NY, believes it’s plausible the show has really broken “the stereotype of stuffy, anti-social, white shirt and tie, pocket protector wearing individuals to show a fun, laid back side of the profession.”

“Sheldon is the ringleader of his bunch of geek/nerd friends on the show, and it (2007) is about the time that geek began becoming sheek (chic),” noted Cheskiewicz via email. He and Wilkes University professor, Dana Burnside, are co-authors of “Megabit Learning in a Gigabit World: Student Perceptions of Technology Education Programs.”

At the heart of the study, Cheskiewicz said, “Is a holistic examination of student perceptions of CS (computer science) and ICT (Information and Communication Technology) program quality, the profession and the ways in which they (students) best gain knowledge in their courses. Their research also studies how these factors affect perceptions on persistence in the programs, according to Cheskiewicz.

The study, which will be published in the 2015 peer-reviewed International Journal of Technologies, addresses perceptions about academic programs, learning styles, the information technology profession, college program quality and the ways in which students best gain knowledge in their courses. Cheskiewicz presented the study’s findings at the International Conference on Technology, Knowledge and Society in Madrid, Spain in March, and will present his updated findings at the Eleventh International Conference on Technology, Knowledge and Society in Berkley, CA.

“It (the study) also is helping in understanding how to best get students interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs, and keep them in these programs that now offer some of the best job prospects available to college/university graduates,” said Cheskiewicz.

Dallas resident Colleen Duffy, 42, is currently enrolled in the Wilkes Ed.D program, pursuing her doctorate in Educational Technology Leadership. Her husband, Dr. Tom Duffy, 38, graduated from the program and focused on the kindergarten through 12th grade administration track, rather than educational technology. Dr. Duffy is a principal in the Dallas School District.

Does Colleen Duffy see herself as a geek?

“I wish….,” Duffy said. “Compared to my peers, I think I am ahead of the curve, but compared to the younger generations (digital natives, or millennials), I pale in comparison.”

She believes the term “geek” has evolved to mean someone who is fluent in and fanatical about technology.

“It used to mean someone who was obsessed with knowledge and learning, and conjured pictures of thick glasses and pocket protectors. Today it is synonymous with ‘techie’ and one is more likely to visualize someone surrounded with technology and gadgets, always ‘plugged in,” said Duffy. “I also believe that the thirst for knowledge that was associated with being a “geek” has also evolved into a quest for creativity and collaboration, as well as knowledge acquisition.”

She is currently an adjunct instructor at Misericordia and Wilkes Universities, teaching various education technology courses. In her role as an educator, Duffy said she is able to model a 21st century teaching and learning experience and help her students develop the technical skills they need to effectively integrate technology into their practice.

Duffy said computer science used to be a field limited primarily to programming and product creation. However, she added, “Now, computer science is a very broad field stretching from networking security to software engineering to video gaming and beyond. It has become integrated into every aspect of our lives and has impacted every aspect of our economy. Students pursuing a computer science degree have many specialties to choose from, each of which can lead to a number of well paying, secure employment opportunities. It is a great field for anyone to pursue, but particularly women and minorities who are currently underrepresented in the field.”

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