Is there a gender divide in the use of new technologies?

Rather than an answer to this question, this is more a series of thoughts that need further investigation as I explore the use of new technologies, including social media, in the classroom.
Every teacher knows we need to analyse results by gender, and ensure both groups make at least expected progress. But this does not mean that boys and girls learn in the same way, or have the same needs.

The post arises out of a lunchtime, a number of months ago, spent in my classroom with a hoard of boys pushing to get a look at my new iPhone 4S, ask Siri questions, and discuss the pros and cons of jailbreaking. There was not a girl in sight.

For me using iPads at school has highlighted how much more productive boys can be with a piece of technology in their hands. The kinesthetic nature of the iPad has proved particulary effective with lower ability boys with (dare I say it) lower than average attention spans. On the other hand they are the gender more likely to ‘waste’ hours playing games, on devices or online. You only have to look at the market to see where the money is to be made. The biggest grossing console games have a predominantly male demographic. The Guardian ran an article on the top grossing games of 2011 and, as would be expected, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 hit the number one spot. A “shoot ’em up” game. They talk about a ‘surprise’ ranking for Zumba for the Wii but in all honesty look at who purchased it – men, for their wives and girlfriends. Google have rebranded the US Android market GooglePlay. This says a lot.

My friends, rather endearingly, call me a ‘geek’. In some ways I stand out, being of the fairer sex and liking technology. This amuses me. This doesn’t mean I can program – I can’t. I am useless at console games, unless they involve singing into a microphone, or dancing. The iPad games I enjoy are the strategy, puzzle type ones (Boxed In and Tiny Bang couldn’t be put down until I had completed them). But I get overly exited about Apple announcements, own more apps than shoes, love Star Wars and Doctor Who, and will take things apart to make them work again – normally my dishwasher. Does this make me unusual? It shouldn’t but there is still a long way to go before men and women are seen as equal in the digital age.

I know that in my house my 7 year old son, unless surgically removed from it, can spend a whole day on the Wii shooting bad guys. My 11 year old daughter is happier in her bedroom and uses her iPod Touch for watching TV, listening to music and messaging people. If she does play games it is something involving harvesting cute little animals. Both my children read voraciously – but guess which one reads about slaying beasts and spends hours designing their own out of Lego?

If you google ‘digital gender divide’ you will find many studies out there. The message we should be taking from them is that there is undoubtedly a divide. It is not a divide created by access though, it is one of usage. As an educator this has indications for my classroom. I need to address this if my female students are to be enticed into the industry. I want girls in my class to be interacting with technology; playing with it; designing rather than consuming content.

I only need to look at my own social circle to see how important this is for future generations. I attend tweet ups – which are male dominated. I have very different conversations on Twitter with male and female tweeters. Without over generalising most of my female friends are avid users of Facebook (I can take it or leave it) and play their lives on there – in rather lengthy posts. My male friends make short statements, often football or alcohol related, or share links. My Foursquare friends list is male dominated, but that may be the competitiveness of it (and I have certainly been accused of being competitive).

There is an interesting article from Mashable, based on an infographic from Online MBA that, if anything, backs up my personal thoughts.

For my learners to be interacting with technology, using it as a learning and productivity tool, I need to ensure they are active rather than inactive users, and certainly show the girls that they can do more at home than update their Facebook status.

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