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We used to worry a lot about technology-challenged women. Researchers noted that little girls were driven away from the computers in their schools by more aggressive little boys. When girls became adolescents they lost interest in computer-based education. Girls tended to play fewer games on computers, and game-producing companies didn't design games for girls. When the Internet was developed, girls were not very visible. We worried that they would never go online. And when we looked at the rate of entry to computer and technology-based fields, we noted that the number of men in these programs far outweighed the number of women.
These days we have worried a lot less about women. Jupiter Media Metrix reported that the numbers of women online surpassed those of men in 2000. Depending on the statistics on which you rely, women make up 51% to 52% of the total online population in the United States.1 More games now target girls than ever before. And research by the AAUW Educational Foundation finds that girls are not as interested in careers in computer science because they find it boring.2
But girls' socialization to the computer could have effects that persist into adulthood. Though women may well be more proficient in their use of the computer, they may not have recovered from the influences that affected their attitudes toward technology. This study examines the gender differences that manifest themselves when journalism educators use computers and computer-based technologies in their teaching and research.
Background on Women, Technology, and Education
There may be good reason to still be concerned about women when it comes to issues surrounding technology despite women's increased visibility on the web. According to U.S. Census data for 1997, cited by the Commission for the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering and Technology Development, 67.9% of all workers in those fields are white males (compared to their 41.7% representation in the total population that year). The report of the Commission called for an increase in women, minorities and people with disabilities to be recruited and trained in greater numbers for these fields. In 1995, the U.S. Department of Education reported that women earned from 9% to 28% of all the degrees in computer, information science and engineering degrees.
Though not generally thought of as a technology profession, journalism and mass communication education can require considerable expertise in computer-based technologies. In journalism and mass communication, women have come to dominate the undergraduate and graduate degree programs across the country. When graduates of Ph.D. programs in these fields move into faculty positions at U.S. colleges and universities, many of them are called on to teach technology-based courses on web design, graphic communications, photojournalism and broadcast journalism and communication. Though women make up only 35.5% of the full-time permanent faculty in colleges and universities in these fields, they are slightly increasing in numbers.3
Both men and women may have been hesitant to enter careers in the teaching of technology-based courses, like those in journalism and mass communications, because of the additional stress the technology brings with it. In the 1998-99 national survey of university faculty conducted annually by the University of California at Los Angeles' Higher Education Research Institute, researchers found that two-thirds of U.S. faculty claimed that "keeping up with information technology" was a source of stress.4 The stress reported from the using technology in their jobs ranked fourth among all the stress producers for women and fifth for men. Linda Sax, director of the research, said she felt that technology-based stress ranked high on the faculty list of stresses because the "vast majority of faculty regularly use the computer for correspondence, and more than half use computers on a regular basis for their scholarly writing and to work from home. …