Tech-Savvy Gender Gaps and Social Computing

My friend, Reuven, with whom I am collaborating in an online collaborative literature project, passed along this report on the gender gap in computers, Tech-Savvy, which was published in 2000. Interestingly, while the authors touched briefly on the role of collaborative and project-based learning in order to bridge the gap between the genders, the aspect of social computing, so prevalent today in 2005, was seemingly unanticipated. However, the authors did briefly explore one group of female students’ interaction in a MOO (Multi-player, object-oriented environment). This was definitely a precursor to the social computing applications of today.

Just half a decade later, it is good to see that things are changing with regards to gender inequities in computer studies.

I believe it is the phenomenon of social computing that has changed the gender gap which has been so prevalent in the area of computers in education.

Yes, in the past I have watched the relative reticence of girls using computers compared to boys in the computer/technology classroom.

Social computing, which permits collaboration through relationship-building, has changed this dynamic. Has this been the link that has been missing in computer applications?

It has been quite refreshing to see the young women in my classes who have even stated out loud, “computers hate me!” discover the social computing tools of blogging and online forums. These social software tools have galvanized them, I believe, because of the potential for an authentic audience and engaging interaction.

While the study may now seem dated, it was encouraging for me to read the suggestions from so many teachers (over 900 interviewed through surveys) and how far we have indeed come in just 5 short years.

0 thoughts on “Tech-Savvy Gender Gaps and Social Computing

  1. Hi Sharon,
    A quick stab at your interesting commentary before I get back to the 2 papers I have to produce tonight!!! Don’t I love the drama 😉

    You said:

    Social computing, which permits collaboration through relationship-building, has changed this dynamic. Has this been the link that has been missing in computer applications?

    I argue again that the social relating that is implied in relationship building online (offline also) has to do with interest centered relating (Karen Knorr Cetina’s object centered sociality.

    These online ‘socializing’ environments invite interests related sharing, where the gendered interests of females can find their match supported by a community of others with the same interests.

    When web communities began they were populated by developers (mostly male probably) and the subject was tech and code and scripts and the like. When blogs started out, the conversation was about blogs and blogging and more inter-blogging phenomenon.

    Both have evolved to represent a wide variety of interests. And very important in the equation, is the WYSIWYG environments, making the learning of the tool close to painless. Perhaps these two contextual developments explain the increase of females in the interest centered ‘social’ environments.

    This may seem like a trivial distinction but it is not because socializing implies a human to human bond. In this case the bond is interest to interest primarily and human to human (behind the interest) secondarily. The organizing link is the interest; the bond follows the interest. Take away the interest and many time you lose the bond that kept the relationship alive. This is not just a web phenomena though.

    Got to go. 8)

  2. reuw says:

    Hi Sharon,
    Over the years of teaching at Neveh Channah Girls High School in the Etzion Bloc, Israel, I have tried to bring the students to learn how to use technology and information skills to further their interests and meet their needs in the Information Age.

    Being involved in international collaborative learning projects, communicating with students abroad – learning about other’s ways of life and describing their own, has really motivated our students to master these skills.

    The social aspects of such projects apparently are felt by them to be meaningful and worh the effort to master the tech and info skills to help them to partake in them meaningfully!

    Maybe, I will have more to say about this after studying our students perceptions of our info-lit, info-tech program later on this year!

    Reuven

  3. Francine, you bring up an important point about shared interest-relating. I think this is especially true in the mainstream Internet culture where like-minded people are looking for each other in various online forum areas, or using other social software.

    However, I wonder if it holds entirely true in educational contexts such as K-12 education where the teacher, in a sense, forces students to relate together on projects and assignments. Those may not be shared interests (apart from the intrinsic desire to perform well) but students have little control over the situation. It is in those situations that I have seen young women, in particular, balk at having to use the computer to do even the simplest tasks.

    What I have noticed, as Reuven has, is that when authentic learning experiences are provided through developing relationships in which a computer is the communication tool, even those young women overcome their reticence about the computer. In those situations, in order to establish a relationship, the computer must be used as the conduit.

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