can repeat the question, but am I bright enough to ask it?"
Advocate technology as a learning partner across the curriculum. This strategy is important for improving learning, developing computer literacy, and for inviting a variety of users, including girls, into technology.
Gender Gap In The Computer Culture
A recent study of middle school and high school girls, commissioned by the American Association of University Women made it clear that gender inequity in digital culture is increasing. One goal is to get more girls into the "pipeline" to computer-related careers. This could, of course, be an end in itself, but diversity in participation would also mean a richer digital culture. Digital culture (not so far away from a world that asked users if they wanted to "abort, terminate, or fail" processes running on their machines) could be positively transformed through the integration of girls' and women's insights and life experiences. So one of the values in getting more girls and women interested in the computer pipeline is that their greater presence may transform the computer culture overall; by the same token, changes in the e-culture itself—the ways technology is discussed, valued, and applied—would invite more girls and women to participate fully in that culture, to become computer fluent.
This comment on values reflects the fact that today women seem to be disenfranchised in the computer culture for cultural rather than intellectual reasons. When young women are asked about their attitudes towards computing they almost never report overt discrimination, but at the same time, when asked to describe a person who is "really good with computers" they describe a man. And most of them do not predict that they will want to learn more about or become more involved with computers in the future. These girls are not computer phobic, they are "computer reticent." They say that they are not afraid but simply do not want to get involved. They express a "we can, but I don't want to" philosophy. Girls' views of computer careers, and of the computer culture—including software, games, and Internet environments—tend to reproduce stereotypes about a "computer person" as male and antisocial, Women no longer (as they once did) see computing as "too hard" for them. Earlier generations of women said, Women can't be involved in technical professions, "We can't but I want to." Girls and young women today seem to be saying, Women can do computing, "We can, but I don't want to!" This position is usually accompanied by a characterization of the computer as it has been presented to them at school as infused with values that they cannot identify with. Simply put: the computer culture is presented as a world which emphasizes technical capacity, speed, and efficiency. It estranges a broad array of learners, many girls included, who do not identify with the wizardry of computer aficionados and have little interest in the purely technical aspects of the machines. The computer culture has become linked to a characteristically masculine worldview, such that women too often feel they need to choose between the cultural associations of "femininity" and those of "computers," a cliché that has proven resistant to the growing diversity of information technology and its users. Girls discuss information technology-related careers not as too difficult, but as a "waste of intelligence." Insists a young woman from Baltimore, "Guys just like to do that: sit in a cubicle all day." In talking about their lack of desire to continue learning about computers, girls also focus on the violence and cruelty of current video games and see a culture that they do not want to participate in. They are happy to play social simulation games and chat with their friends, but see their identity on the computer as that of "users," not the empowered.
Their teachers have given them little to inspire them. Teacher education has stressed the "technical" side of things: Education schools tend to give instruction in basic technical skills rather than on how to integrate computers into the curriculum. A 1999 national survey found that only 29 percent of teachers had six or more hours of curriculum-integration instruction, whereas 42 percent had that amount of basic-skills training. In the study by the American Association of University Women of 2000, only 30% of teachers ranked as "sophisticated" in their use of computers report that they received any technology training in an undergraduate or master's teacher education program, which probably reflects in part responses from older teachers. Only 11 percent of the total teachers who were polled report that they received training specifically in how to apply or integrate computer technology into their lesson plans. Thus, current teacher-training practices emphasize short technical courses on connectivity and hardware. Preservice teachers make it clear that they start their jobs uninformed about what the technology is supposed to accomplish for their classrooms, either educationally or socially.
Our current approach to teacher training focuses on the technical properties of hardware; it does not emphasize educational applications or innovative uses of computing across the curriculum. Yet what teachers need is sustained and ongoing education about how to integrate technology with curricular materials and information about how to make technology part of a humanistic classroom culture, so essential for bringing girls into the picture. This latter approach would create better informed teachers as well as multiple entry points to computer competence for both students and teachers. The prevailing emphasis on the "mechanics of computer operation" does not respond to this need. As one teacher put it: "Without teacher education, it won't matter if each student has his/her own computer. We teachers hate having thousands of dollars of equipment thrown at us and being told to use it when we have no clue how to go about it"
There are many points of entry to address this problem. All require research and educational imagination in curriculum planning. All would make the computer culture more vibrant and relevant for women as well as men, and ultimately for us all.