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Tech Savvy Gender Equity Research

Among the report's major conclusions: Computer technology's Girls find programming classes tedious and dull, computer games too boring, redundant, and violent, and computer career options uninspiring. They would design: games that feature simulation, strategy, and interaction. These games, in fact, would appeal to a broad range of learners'”boys and girls alike.

Computer fluency: Gender equity cannot be measured by how many girls send e-mail, use the Internet, or make PowerPoint presentations. Rather, gender equity means 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.

Teacher education: The "drive by" approach to teacher training focuses on the technical properties of hardware; it does not emphasize educational applications or innovative uses of computing for each subject area.

The high-tech workplace: When women, who make up half the workforce, account for only 20 percent of those with information technology credentials, it is a clear sign that we have to make computers and technology relevant across the job market to nontraditional users. "Based on our findings," said Patricia Diaz Dennis, a former Federal Communications Commission commissioner and co-chair of the Technology Commission, "girls and women can become computer fluent doing everything from architecture to zoology. Without appropriate teacher education and design opportunities we'll have 19th-century classrooms dressed in 21st-century technology."

To address the problems identified in the report, the commission makes a number of key recommendations for schools and communities. Among them:

Transform pink software: Software does not need to be specifically designated for girls or boys. Software for both classroom and home should focus on the many design elements and themes that engage a broad range of learners, including both boys and girls, and students who don't identify with the "computer nerd" stereotype.

Look to girls and women to fill the IT job shortage: Girls are an untapped source of talent to lead the high-tech economy and culture. Curriculum developers, teachers, technology experts, and schools need to cultivate girls' interest by infusing technology concepts and uses into subject areas ranging from music to history to the sciences in order to interest a broader array of learners.

Prepare tech-savvy teachers: Professional development for teachers needs to emphasize more than the use of the computer as a productivity tool. It must give teachers enough understanding of how computer technology works and its basic concepts so that they are empowered users.

Educate girls to be designers, not just users: Educators and parents should help girls imagine themselves early in life as designers and producers of new technology. Engage girls in "tinkering" activities that can stimulate deeper interest in technology; provide opportunities for girls to express their technological imaginations.

Change the public face of computing: Media, teachers, and other adults need to make the public face of women in computing correspond to the reality rather than the stereotype. Girls tend to imagine that computer professionals or those who work heavily with information technology live in a solitary, antisocial world. This is an alienating—and incorrec'”perception.

Create a family computer: Among other things, place computers in accessible home spaces. Think about shared or family-centered activities on the computer, rather than viewing its use as an individual or isolated activity.

Set a new standard for gender equity: Equity in computer access, knowledge, and use—across all races, sexes, and classes—cannot be measured solely by how many people use e-mail, surf the Net, or perform basic functions on the computer. The new benchmark for gender equity should emphasize computer fluency: girls' mastery of analytical skills, computer concepts, and their ability to imagine innovative uses for technology across a range of problems and subjects. "When it comes to today's computer culture, the bottom line is that while more girls are on the train, they aren't the ones driving," stated Pamela Haag, the Foundation's director of research. "To get girls ‘under the hood' of technology, they need to see that it gets them where they want to go. And for a large part of the population, that process must start in the classroom."

Bonnie Bracey

bbracey@aol.com
230 G Street SW
Washington DC
202-484-0554

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