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Educating Girls in the Tech Age: A Report on Equity

Why are girls so poorly represented in advanced technology classes? Why do so few women opt for careers in technology? A recent report answers those questions and more. What can you do to help the girls in your classrooms become tech-savvy women?

According to Sharon Schuster, past president of the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, there is "clear evidence that girls and women lag in interest and participation" in the use of technology. Concerns about that lag led to the formation, in 1998, of the AAUW Educational Foundation's Commission on Technology, Gender, and Teacher Education. The commission's charge was to answer the question, "How do we educate girls to become tech-savvy women?"

Following a year-long collaborative study, the commission released a report, Tech Savvy: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age, detailing its findings and suggesting ways to create gender equity in computer education. The conclusions reached by the committee included that

A Former Teacher (and Female Programmer) Speaks Out!

Sulan Dun, a former high school teacher who now works as a programmer and Web design engineer at a well-known software development company, told Education World that she was "turned off" by the traditional programming courses in high school. "I became interested," Dun said, "only after graduating from college. I liked to build things, and programming was a skill I could use to achieve goals -- such as creating shareware programs to teach my students to balance equations.

"I think the reason that there aren't more women in my profession," Dun added, "is that most males become interested in computers as a cool kind of toy to master, whereas most women need to be able to see [a computer] as a useful tool."

Dun offers these steps for teaching technology in a way that will appeal to girls and boys:

* Ask students to build something real -- a Web site or home page, for example.

* Quickly introduce the basic technology needed, such as HTML.

* Allow them to experiment -- without pressure or fear of failure.

* Introduce a few more-advanced technologies, such as basic JavaScript, rollovers, and so on.

* Allow them to continue to experiment.

* Continue as above.

  • Girls find programming classes tedious, computer games redundant and violent, and computer careers uninspiring.
  • Gender equity means using technology proactively, interpreting the information that technology makes available, understanding design concepts, and being a lifelong learner of technology.
  • Teacher training focuses on the technical properties of hardware rather than on educational applications or innovative uses of computing for each subject area.
  • Technology must be relevant for nontraditional users and learners.

The report offers a number of recommendations to help teachers spark girls' interest in technology, create social equity, and improve technology integration for all students:

  • Infuse technology across disciplines and subject areas.
  • Choose engaging and relevant topics and activities.
  • Develop content applications that use technology for teaching specific subjects.
  • Select multilevel software (with both male and female characters) that requires creative problem solving
  • Incorporate technology-learning centers into the classroom.
  • Encourage multiple approaches to learning.
  • Include gender as a factor to consider when grouping students for technology-related activities.
  • Teach "tinkering" activities that let learners experiment rather than meet specific goals.
  • Encourage girls to think of themselves as designers, rather than merely users, of software and games.
  • Redefine computer literacy to include skills in literacy, numeracy, cognitive science, problem solving, analysis, and logic in addition to skills with hardware and software.
  • Develop assessment tools that evaluate a student's ability to use technology for learning, critical thinking, and problem solving rather than only the student's ability to use the technology.
According to commission members, following these recommendations "would not only broaden girls encounters with technology but also stimulate a more inclusive computer culture for all students."

"Girls experiences with computers in education," according to the report, "speak to problems faced by a wider range of learners -- girls and boys, men and women -- as they encounter information technology."

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Article by Linda Starr
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Links updated 03/10/2004