Academic journal article Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia

Middle School Students' Technology Practices and Preferences: Re-Examining Gender Differences

Academic journal article Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia

Middle School Students' Technology Practices and Preferences: Re-Examining Gender Differences

Article excerpt

HEIDI SCHWEINGRUBER

CHRISTINE L. BRANDENBURG

Previous research has suggested that a host of factors such as lack of role models, access, learning styles, social expectations, and the absence of gender-sensitive computer games are, in part, responsible for differences in female representation in technology fields. Recently, video game and software creators have turned their attention to the gender preferences that would increase access and spur participation in the technological milieu among girls as well as boys. Additionally, the advent of the World Wide Web (WWW or Web) and its ever increasing presence in homes and schools of differing socio-economic levels has made a variety of functions (e-mail, chat, games, etc.) available to both genders. This article suggests that the gender gaps that once existed with regard to computer access, use, and perceived expertise are narrowing significantly. These findings are based upon survey data from 512 middle school students in three areas: (a) self-perception of computer skills and their acquisition; (b) exposu re to technology at home and at school; and (c) media style and content preferences. The conclusions suggest that the rapidity with which acculturation to the Web is taking place among America's youth may be responsible for less gender-biased technology outcomes in schools and, eventually, in the workforce.

Much has been written about gender differences as they relate to learning styles with computers, computer software use, and entry into the technology fields (American Association of University Women (A.A.U.W.), 1997; Brunner, 1997; Brunner & Bennett, 1997, 1998; Sutton, 1991; Johnson & Swoope, 1987; Sashaani, 1997; Schofield, 1995; Campbell, 1989; Levin & Gordon, 1989; Martinez & Mead, 1988; Ward, 1985). Each of these factors has contributed to male stereotypes characterized as computer savvy, while females are often characterized as more reticent to embrace technology. Research has demonstrated that the lack of gender-sensitive computer games and lack of girls' early exposure to technology have compounded this gender gap. Recently, researchers have explored ways in which technological preferences of females can be incorporated to spur participation in the digital environment by both genders (Brunner, Bennet, Clements, Hawkins, Honey, & Moeller, 1990; Cassell & Jenkins, Eds. 1998; Miller, Chiaka, & Groppe, 1 996).

With the advent of the Internet and its ever-increasing presence in the schools and homes of differing socio-economic groups, the delivery of educational information via the Web has become extremely feasible (CNN, 1999a, 1999b; National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), 1999; Kaiser Family Foundation Report, 1999). By incorporating formats that have appealing game-like features but deliver well-grounded educational content, numerous educational Web sites are attempting to reach adolescents not only in their classrooms, but in their homes and other informal settings as well. New information technology holds the promise of profoundly changing the ways in which schools function and, more importantly, the ways in which adolescents conceptualize their own learning. Perhaps, as enthusiasts claim, computing and telecommunications can facilitate a shift from teaching to learning, thereby better preparing youth for life in the Information Age (Schank & Jona, 1991; Papert, 1993).

As Turkle (1984) has explained, "when different people sit down at computers, even when they sit down at the same computer to do the 'same' job, their styles of interacting with the machine are very different" (p. 15). Nowhere are the style differences more dramatic than between the male and female approaches to use of computer technology and the programming for this computer technology (Kafai, 1993; Huff & Cooper, 1987; Turkle, 1988). Studies throughout the 1990s found relatively similar evidence of differential perceptions of computer use. …

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