An Educator's Guide to Gender Bias Issues

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Introduction:

In 1999 girls were narrowing the gender gap in science and math but not in technology (Eck, et al., 1999). This gap increased as students went along in their schooling and the ratio of girls to boys on computers was 1:4 (Report Card on Gender Equity). There were few female mentors available to girls in technology, and even fewer computer games designed to reach both the male and female markets (Eck et al., 1999). Since that time, further studies have been conducted regarding gender bias in technology, including a recent update to the Report Card on Gender Equity titled: Title IX at 30: Report Card on Gender Equity, A Report of the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education – June 2002. Using this revised study and others, this paper attempts to address changes in gender bias and gender equity issues in technology since the original paper was published in 1999.

Gender Bias vs. Gender Equity:

In the original paper, An Educator's Guide to Gender Bias Issues, the authors define gender bias as, "…Preference for or favoring of one sex over the other in computer use and/or access" (Eck et al., 1999). Gender Equity, according to The American Association of University Women is, "…Using technology proactively, being able to interpret the information that technology makes available, understanding design concepts, and being a lifelong learner of technology. These abilities apply across the whole range of subjects and careers, not just computer science (Tech-Savvy, 2000). Equity implies that students receive the right education that offers equal opportunities for all students (Gender Gaps, 1999). This differs from equality in that in equality education, students receive the exact same education. As all learners, male, female, middle class, poor, affluent, etc. differ in academic and emotional needs, gender equity more appropriately fits the goal that educators strive to reach (Gender Gaps, 1999). While the gender bias definition specifically addresses the gap evident in girls in technological arenas such as computer science courses and IT employees, the gender equity definition serves to reach a broader explanation; differences in girls and boys in technology lie in all careers and in all subject areas. In order to more clearly understand the importance of gender equity in technology, several additional factors need to be examined.

Evidence of the technology gender gap and gender bias:

Gender Bias Evidence in An Educator's Guide to Gender Bias Issues, 1999:

While most of this data remains accurate, new research shows that using these indicators alone do not add up to gender bias (Tech-Savvy, 2000). For example, in looking at internet use by males and females, a recent study revealed that in September 2001 internet use was nearly identical between the 2 groups (A Nation Online, 2002). Clearly this indicates that females are using computers, despite that girls are 5 times less likely to enter a career in technology (Report Card on Gender Equity, 2002). This paper does not dispute the accuracy of the original data, rather it explores how the definition of gender inequity, explanations for inequity in technology, and possible solutions for these differences have evolved.

The updated Report Card on Gender Equity indicates that the workplace requires a "new" kind of computer literacy; not simply understanding email and basic software functions, but rather using abstract reasoning to apply information technology to solve problems (Report Card on Gender Equity, 2002). This explanation of computer fluency is similar to the definition of gender equity in that the focus is comprehension and application of technological tasks rather than rote tasks. This is important to note when examining the data regarding girls in technology. For example, research shows that beyond word processing and data entry training in technology, females at the secondary and post-secondary levels were likely to receive no computer training (Report Card on Gender Equity, 2002). The National Research Council report defines 3 levels of knowledge necessary for technological fluency: skills, concepts, and capabilities. Computer skills are necessary in preparing for job opportunities but in and among themselves are not enough to ensure a well-paying job. Concepts explain how and why technology works. Capabilities include problem solving, analyzing, and testing solutions (Tech-Savvy 2000). The long term effects of skills only training are that they offer no higher-paying employment opportunities (Report Card on Gender Equity, 2002). Using a statistic on the number of girls in computer science courses as a benchmark is no longer appropriate for determining gender inequity (Tech-Savvy, 2000). This is because it is impossible to determine that the boys in the courses are receiving the highest quality (problem solving and analyzing) technological training available as is the new computer fluency definition.

Where should this integration of all 3 types of technology fluency come from?

Some researchers believe schools bear the initial responsibility. One study determined that factors for technology use by girls were in place by eighth grade (Mayfield, 2001). Further impairing girls use of technology is the drop in girls self esteem in adolescence. Schools are arenas that teach, tolerate, and reinforce gender inequity (Kimmel, 2000). While many of the studies sited here were focused on girls in technology, researchers believe that if utilized, they will improve the computer culture for all students (Tech-Savvy, 2000). Teachers need to be very in tune with what's happening in their classrooms, including stereotypes that have inadvertently come into play (Bolt, 2000). A phenomenon known as "losing their voices" is present among girls in classrooms as they age. This means that girls tend to speak up less and less, particularly about traditionally masculine topics: math, science, and technology (Kimmel, 2000).

Reasons adolescent girls lose interest in computers:

In the original document, An Educator's Guide to Gender Bias Issues, 1999, the authors explain several factors in girls disinterest in technology. Among these were: girls approach technology differently, lack of role models, games are geared toward male interests, gender bias in classroom settings, and parental influences (Eck et al., 1999). While gender bias continues to be in issue in today's classrooms, new research suggests that several additional factors have significant influence over girls' interest in technology including: teacher preparation and classroom use, unequal treatment by computer instructors, "computer phobic" labels.

Gender bias is still prevalent in today's classrooms

The authors of An Educator's Guide to Gender Bias Issues, 1999 hit the nail on the head regarding classroom gender bias. In the past 3 years, little has changed. Girls and boys are still not having the same experiences in classrooms (Kimmel, 2000). Male students tend to be more vocal in class, and thus receive more attention, praise and validation from their teachers (Bolt, 2000). This is evident in observing the "calling out" that is common among male students. When teachers respond positively to this type of behavior, boys get the message that their natural position is one of superiority (Bolt, 2000). Research shows that girls who formerly had an interest in computers lose it during adolescence. This is partly due to a plummet in girls' self esteem during teenage years, which results in a drop of up to 13 IQ points (Kimmel, 2000). Boys esteem drops somewhat, but not nearly as much as their female counterparts, resulting in a drop of a mere 3 IQ points.

Teacher preparation and classroom computer use

Only 11% of current teachers reported having any training in how to incorporate technology into their lesson plans (Report Card on Gender Equity, 2002). In fact, 93% of teachers cited independent learning as the most frequent means with which they learned how to use technology in the classroom, (A Report on Teacher's Use of Technology, 2000). Also, rather than blaming teachers for their inadequacies in technology integration, teachers need opportunities and instruction in designing plans that incorporate technology into all subject areas (Tech-savvy, 2000). 82% of teachers reported that a lack of release time was a key barrier in using technology with students (A Report of Teacher's Use of Technology, 2000). Teachers need time to practice and plan ways to use the computer with their students. Also the professional development that is offered is "too little, too basic, and too generic" (The Power of the Internet for Learning, 2000). 90% of computer training offered in corporate settings takes place during paid work time while in the educational setting only 39% of computer training takes place during regularly paid time (The Power of the Internet for Learning, 2000). Professional development for teachers need not focus on understanding hardware, but rather on designing classroom materials and curriculum that "complement computer technology (Tech-savvy, 2000). One key recommendation by the study conducted by the American Association of University Women explains that integrating technology across subject areas will increase usage by all students because it invites use in subject areas that already interest students (Tech-savvy, 2000). In a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics on Teachers use of Technology, researchers found that of the public schools that had computers available for public instruction, only 50% of those used it for problem solving and analysis-type activities, (A Report on Teacher's Use of Technology, 2000). It appears, then, that for teachers to instill the computer background necessary to help all students succeed in the workplace, that they need more training in their pre-services courses, more opportunities once they are hired to explore ways to incorporate technology into the classroom, and a focus on higher-level technological skills such as problem solving and analyzing information rather than rote skills such as checking email and typing programs.

Unequal treatment by computer instructors

Recent studies show that 71% of male teachers believed that boys' success in technology was due to talent and girls success was more attributed to luck or diligence (Report Card on Gender Equity, 2002). Studies also showed that in working on technology projects in groups, boys were more likely to take over the more challenging tasks, which limited girls opportunities to access these type of tasks. Female students typically received less attention, praise, and criticism from teachers than male students. Despite progressive movements on women in education, sexual harassment is still common in public schools. 81% of students reported have experienced it in school at some time (Report Card on Gender Equity, 2002).

Girls can, but don't want to

Researchers used to attribute the differences in girls and boys in technology to girls lagging behind their male counterparts in technology. Recent research shows, that what is typically dismissed as anxiety or incompetence in girls is actually girls rejecting many features of the computer culture (Tech-savvy 2000). For example, girls generally dislike being a passive user on the computer. Instead, more opportunities need to be available for interacting with and designing computer games. Research shows girls are more interested in "high-skill, not high-kill" types of games. Also, many girls find programming classes dull and technology jobs "uninspiring" (Tech-savvy, 2000). This, say researchers, is not a problem with girls' abilities, but rather that computing courses and games need to be more engaging for boys and girls (Mayfield, 2001). One point that has remained the same, say researchers, is differences in how males and females view computers. Girls see the computer as a tool for reaching a goal while boys see it as recreational and thus are more willing to "poke around" to learn how to use it. This viewpoint makes it more difficult for girls because not only does it require knowledge of how to use the computer specifically for their purpose, but they are also not as likely to explore and figure out features on their own (Bolt, 2000). Also, girls tend to ask for assistance more quickly while boys tend to figure things out on their own (Lanius, 2001). Similarly, girls who do participate in computer clubs reach a level of frustration as boys were likely to "jump up and fix everything," (Dean, 2002).

Ways parents, educators, and manufacturers can encourage technology use among females:

In An Educator's Guide to Gender Bias Issues, 1999 multiple suggestions were made regarding ideas for encouraging girls in technology including: parent involvement, fair treatment by educational institutions, reviewing technology software, websites, and curriculum for gender bias, and manufacturing more "girl-friendly" types of programs (Eck, et al., 1999). Recent research points to several other factors key in improving technology for all students, not just girls. Among these, rather than simply blaming teachers, schools of education need to prepare teachers not only in basic technology tools, but in how to integrate them into the classroom (Report Card on Gender Equity, 2002). Offering release time and a higher quality of professional development in technology for teachers is one necessary factor in increasing gender equity in schools (The Power of the Internet for Learning, 2000). Integrating technology into all subject areas will also invite more students into technology. Recognizing the change in the definition of computer literacy from a tally of the number of users to solving real-life problems is also a step towards a more gender-equitable technological system (Tech-Savvy, 2000). This includes conveying the connection between technology and all jobs, not just computer science jobs, as the future workplace will require more technological knowledge (Report Card on Gender Equity, 2002). Finally, several programs have been recognized as exemplary gender equity programs in technology. Among these, the Lilith Computer Group, a girls technology club, allows girls to find their voices once more instead of dealing with the frustration of having the computers "taken over" but more assertive boys (Dean, 2002). Similarly, ASPIRE, a 1-2 week professional development program for middle school and high school teachers, offers learning about project-based learning resulting in gender equity as an "outcome, rather than as a purpose of the project" (Exemplary and Promising Gender Equity Programs, 2000). TechGrrlz is a computer club for girls which allows them to meet with other girls who are interested in technology and learn more about how to use it in all their courses (Bolt, 2000). SmartGrrls, an educational website for girls, arose out of the computer club. Also, ChickClick and Girl Tech are 2 websites that allow girls to explore technology in a "non-threatening environment" (Bolt, 2000).

In addition to these programs, encouraging girls to take part in technology courses and classes helps empower them (Lanius, 2001). In particular, putting girls in positions of power within the lab, such as lab assistants helps them gain confidence. Finally, "when they ask, don't tell" (Lanius, 2001). Giving girls time to figure things out allows them to take risks and succeed without depending on the instructor or other classmates.

Conclusion:

What was once thought of as gender bias has moved into an updated term, gender inequity. In striving for gender equity, the focus is on higher-level thinking skills and application of those skills for all students. Also, the long term-effects of continued gender inequities in classrooms are that girls are not receiving the training necessary to ensure well-paying jobs. The role of technology has changed in the past few years. While computers, the internet, and other technological arenas remain tools users utilize, the new version of technology fluency has become a new way of thinking about technology in education: as a means to help students reason and solve complex problems. In this way, changes in education's efforts in technology need to be focused on teacher-education programs, release time for training during the paid work day, better and more professional development, and a focus on higher-level thinking skills in using computers. These changes, over time, will impact all students positively, not just girls.

 

Back to An Educator's Guide To Access Issues

 

Bibliography:

A Nation Online: How Americans are expanding their use of the Internet. February, 2002. Downloaded from: http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/cln/anationonline2.pdf on July 20, 2002.

Bolt, David and Ray Crawford. Digital Divide. TV Books LLC, New York: 2000.

Dean, Katie. Lilith:Geek Music to Girls' Ears. Wired News, March 23, 2002. Downloaded from: http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,51249,00.html on July 18, 2002.

Eck, Julie, Mark Hale, Sue Ruff, Michelle Tjelmeland. An Educator's Guide to Access Issues, Spring 1999. http://lrs.ed.uiuc.edu/wp/access/index.html

 

Exemplary and Promising Gender Equity Programs: Gender Equity in Mathematics, Science, and Technology. 2000. Downloaded from: http://www.ed.gov/pubs/genderequity July 18,2002.

Gender Gaps. American Association of University Women. Marlowe & Company, New York: 1999.

Kimmel, Michael S. The Gendered Society. Oxford University Press, New York: 2000.

Lanius, Cynthia. GirlTECH: Getting Girls Interested in Computers. 2001. Downloaded from: http://math.rice.edu/~lanius/club/girls.html on July 18, 2002.

Mayfield, Kendra. Girls into Science, not Computers. Wired News, March 9, 2001. Downloaded from: http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,42210,00.html on July 18, 2002.

Teacher's Tools for the 21st Century: A Report on Teachers Use of Technology by the National Center for Education Statistics, September 2000. Downloaded from: http://www.ed.gov/Technology/reports.html on July 18, 2002.

Tech-Savvy: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age. American Association of University Women, 2000. Downloaded Executive Summary from: http://www.aauw.org/2000/techsexecsum.html on July 18, 2002.

The Power of the Internet for Learning: Moving from Promise to Practice. December 19, 2000. Downloaded from: http://ed.gov.offices/AC/WBEC/FinalReport/WBECReport.pdf on July 20, 2002.

Title IX at 30: Report Card on Gender Equity: A Report of the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education. June, 2002. Downloaded from: www.ncwge.org on July 18, 2002.

 

Helpful Websites:

ASPIRE website http://aspire.cs.uah.edu

GirlTECH website http://www.crpc.rice.edu/CRPC/Women/GirlTECH/

Lilith Computer Group website http://www.madison.k12.wi.us/lilithclub/lilith.html

Center for Women and Technology http://www.umbc.edu/cwit/

American Association of University Women http://www.aauw.org/home.html

Women in Technology International http://www.witi.com/


This page was completed as a course project for:


EPS 304
CTER Online
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign


Last updated:  08/05/02