Running Head: Women & Girls & Computers
Women & Girls & Computers: a historical context
Joelyn K. Foy
Kansas State University
May 6, 2009
Women & Girls & Computers 2
Since the 1950’s there have been significant advances in educational technology. Along
with advances in technology there have been major social and cultural upheavals. This paper
will investigate the connections between women and girls and computers from a historical and
educational context. Starting with a brief history of educational technology in general, especially
the use of computers in schools, we will hear from women who were born around 1950. Their
experiences with some of the first computers provide a starting point for understanding how far
we’ve come. From women who were born later and who currently have school-aged children,
we will hear about some of the more recent advances in educational technology, including the
use of the Internet. Since technology grows so fast, we will assume that our definition of
“history” for this paper is defined by a timeline that reaches all the way into the 1990s.
However, the girls interviewed for this project provide motivation for hypothesizing where
educational technology might take us in the future.
The broad research question introduced in this paper is: How does computer use and
enrollment in computer-related courses vary by gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic class?
Because this is a very large question, the data (interviews with primary sources) and research
(secondary sources) presented will only point at some trends. For instance, the research
surveyed indicates that although more African American families have computers and Internet
access at home, the use of computers in the classroom for African American children is not
necessarily effective towards their learning. African American college students are not as
prepared technologically as Caucasian American students. In general, girls are less likely to
enroll in computer programming or engineering preparation courses in high school. However,
the research also shows that socio-economic class is a major determiner of computer use,
Women & Girls & Computers 3
Internet access, and enrollment characteristics. My primary sources lend credence to the
influence that socio-economic class has on computer use and enrollment because they
demonstrate that middle class women (for the most part) and daughters of middle-class parents
have more choices and access to computer resources.
In other sciences the way research develops is by someone noticing a trend. That trend
becomes visible over a period of time, and the researcher begins to develop a hypothesis. Those
beginning observations and early hypotheses form the basis for a pilot study. If the pilot study is
revealing, a larger study may be funded for a longer period of time. This paper will delineate
some observations that form the basis of an early hypothesis. Although there is evidence of a
greater degree of gender equity in computer use and enrollment in computer-related courses,
socio-economic class may be the most defining characteristic for the inclusion of women and
girls in computer-related careers. In addition, although there may be specific females who are
attracted towards a high level of computer literacy, the disciplines related to computer science
are still male-dominated.
The reason these questions and interviewees are so interesting and applicable to the
hypotheses presented is that there is a gap between the effective use of technology in the
secondary classroom and the level of computer literacy of students. In other words, there is a
wide range of technology available for use in secondary classrooms, but not all classrooms have
the same technology available to them. Likewise, there is a broad range of computer skills
among students which may affect their success in college courses. Henderson and Stewart
(2007) found evidence that college students’ attitudes towards electronic learning (e-learning)
tools like WebCT and Blackboard were influenced by access to computers and the Internet.
They did not distinguish whether a student had limited access to computers at home or whether
Women & Girls & Computers 4
computers were not available in the college environment. In addition, Henderson and Stewart’s
results suggest strongly that “socio-economic status and race significantly impacted students’
perceptions of the usefulness of these tools” (2007, p. 13). What a student experiences in high
school may follow them to college and beyond. The trends mentioned in this paper through the
voices of both mature women and school-aged girls may point toward some solutions or
suggestions for correcting these disparities in the American educational system.
Meet the Women, Mothers and Girls
It should be noted up front that this group of interviewees is a “special” population in that
(1) the older women were particularly attracted toward computers (and other technology) at a
time when that attraction might have been considered unusual for females; (2) the mothers
interviewed are all educated and currently middle class; and (3) the girls interviewed are children
of educated, middle class parents. I took care, however, to include Caucasian, African, African-
American and Hispanic sources. Again, this group is diverse within an educated, middle class
milieu. In fact, these sources serve as a motivating factor for further research into the interaction
between educational technology, race/ethnicity, and socio-economic class in the United States.
Three women were interviewed who were born around 1950. I was born in Houston, TX
in the early 50’s just in time for Sputnik to affect my public school education. I was fortunate in
being very good in science and fairly proficient in math. I was college bound, so tracking in my
high school worked in my favor. Although I did not get to learn computer programming until I
was an undergraduate at Texas A&M University, I have continued to learn programming
languages throughout my adult life. I learned FORTRAN the first time in 1971, updated my
Women & Girls & Computers 5
FORTRAN skills in the 1980’s, and continued to write FORTRAN code from the early 1990’s
until 2002. I learned and used BASIC in the early 1980’s for my masters program in agricultural
education at Texas A&M. During the 1990’s I mastered SAS programming, which is very much
like C. In 2007 I was finally able to take a C programming course, and now I write in that
language. When the Internet became popular, I taught myself HTML and created many
websites; some of them still exist. My latest interest is social networking for education, along
with learning how to shoot and edit digital videos. I still use one of the earliest digital cameras
(the Sony Mavica MF-7) which uses the 3½” floppy disks.
Judith Lynch was born in a small town in Kansas. Her family had no electricity, no
running water, and she attended a one-room schoolhouse. Judith attended a small private Kansas
college where she had her first experience with a mainframe computer on a field trip with the
Math Club. She completed her masters in math education at Kansas State University, taught for
several years at Manhattan High School, and completed her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology
with an emphasis in Measurement. Judith was involved in the early days of the Math Review
course that I teach for her in the fall. The course initially utilized computer software to assist
entering freshmen in reviewing math concepts for College Algebra. Judith’s career at K-State
has gone through several changes of title, but she still enjoys working with at-risk students and
using the flowcharting skills she learned from FORTRAN programming.
Joyce Mary Ray was born in a small suburb of Flint, Michigan. Her parents were poor
working class folks. She had two male siblings, each younger than her. Mary was a good
student, but her parents did not believe in girls going to college. Mary spent most of her married
life in Chanute, KS raising two children. While working full-time, it took Mary 10 years to
complete her Associates Degree at Neosho County Community College. Part of the reason she
Women & Girls & Computers 6
started community college was because she had worked herself into a position of authority and
responsibility at PC Boards, the company that utilized punch tape for manufacturing circuit
boards for electronics. She started her college career studying Statistical Process Control. When
the job with PC Boards ended, she worked for over 10 years for the University of Kansas’ Area
Health Education Center, housed at Pittsburg State University. Mary completed her Bachelor of
Science in Psychology at Kansas State University in May 2007. Mary will graduate in May
2009 with her Masters in Clinical Social Work from Washburn University.
The Mothers and Daughters
Pat and Sterling Hudgins came to Manhattan to start a church. Pat was raised in
Cleveland, OH. Pat has raised her daughter, Sharnae, and two sons here in Manhattan. I have
taken one graduate course with Pat. Mary met Sharnae during the 2006-2007 school year when
Mary was the volunteer mentor for the Junior Panel of GROW (Girls Researching Our World).
The mentor position was Mary’s practicum for her minor in Leadership Studies. I met Sharnae
the first time in her geometry classroom while observing a secondary math student teacher at
Manhattan High School west campus. Sharnae has earned several academic awards. She scored
in the top 4 percent of more than 150,000 Black Americans who requested consideration in the
2009 National Achievement Program when they took the 2007 Preliminary SAT/National Merit
Scholarship Qualifying Test. We regularly see Sharnae at Seth Child Theater where she runs the
digital projectors as part-time employment.
Christine and Joe Reyes and Cecilia Hernandez (Christine’s sister) are a family unit who
serve as caregivers for Juliana and her brother, JJ. Cecilia and Christine moved to Kansas State
University after being offered graduate school opportunities. Cecilia is a Gates Millennium
Scholar, which means that both her masters and Ph.D. were paid fully by the Bill & Melinda
Women & Girls & Computers 7
Gates Foundation. Joe, in his 40’s now and “out of the oil fields” (C. Reyes, personal
communication, April 4, 2009), is an undergraduate. JJ is in middle school at Eisenhower, while
Juliana is in the 4th grade at Lee Elementary. Being fellow Texans, I am familiar with Levelland
and the Lubbock area where Texas Tech University is located. Cecilia was one of the first
people I met from K-State, and she impressed me favorably towards considering attending K-
State rather than continuing at KU. Christine has helped me tremendously with my video
projects this semester.
Grizelda Bazier MacDonald attended First Congregational UCC for the first time on the
morning I was giving my second in a series of sermons on Archbishop Desmond Tutu. 1st
Congo is not a diverse church racially, so having Grizelda in the audience was a pleasant
surprise. Meeting her and discovering that she was a native South African was fantastic!
Apparently, my sermon spoke strongly to her, and she returned. Her husband, Mac, and she
joined the church within several months. When Mary resigned as the Director of Christian
Education, we felt that Grizelda had the skills to be Mary’s replacement. Grizelda is amazing
with children. We recommended her to the pastor, and she has been in that position for a year.
Although Ian (Taylor’s little brother) was an infant, I found Taylor to be one of the most
engaging (at the time) four-year-olds I had ever come across. Mac is gone almost all of the time
(he is a communications expert with a company that consults with the U.S. Army), so Grizelda
asked my advice about graduate studies at K-State. I encouraged her to apply. We have taken
one class together. Grizelda and Mac met while she was teaching English as a Second Language
in Taiwan for six years. She grew up in apartheid South Africa. Her family is Coloured, and
they live in the outskirts of Cape Town. Nelson Mandela was elected the first democratically
Women & Girls & Computers 8
elected president of South Africa one year before Grizelda started university. Grizelda is the
most globally aware and internationally traveled of my primary sources.
It should be noted that in this paper the terms “technology” and “educational technology”
may be used interchangeably. As we see business and education merging, technology serves an
educational function more frequently perhaps than in the past. In some ways all technology is
educational; and much of education today is driven by technology. For instance, the state
assessments mandated by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) could not be administered effectively
without computers. In addition, the admissions testing (SAT, ACT, GRE) for college and
graduate school entrance could not be managed without computers. Finally, the competency
testing (MSW or actuarial board certification, Praxis series) required to receive licensure in
professions could not be administered without computers.
Early History of Educational Technology in the United States
Before Sputnik (1890-1957)
We can go all the way back to the 1890 census to identify some of the earliest technology
for number crunching. The 1890 census was processed in three years using punched cards on a
machine manufactured by a new company – International Business Machines (IBM). By hand,
the census was taking seven years to manually tabulate and summarize (Forcier & Descy, 2002).
The next great advance in technology was prompted by the publication of B. F. Skinner’s “The
Science of Learning and Teaching” in 1954. The design and promotion of “teaching machines”
– early efforts at personalized computer-aided instruction (CAI) – were motivated by Skinner’s
Women & Girls & Computers 9
ideas (Price, 1991). From Skinner’s theories came “programmed instruction” that was
individualized, self-paced and assured student mastery of the content.
World War II generated interest in building machines that could solve large numbers of
numerical computations. In 1945 the first “general purpose electronic digital computer” was
introduced -- ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator) (Forcier & Descy, 2002).
This computer “occupied 3,000 cubic feet of space, weighed 30 tons, contained more than
18,000 vacuum tubes, and drew 140,000 watts of power when it was running” (Forcier & Descy,
2002, p. 11). Provenzo (1999) adds that the ENIAC contained “70,000 resistors, 10,000
capacitors, and 6,000 switches.” It was the size of a double garage (p. 28).
ENIAC and UNIVAC were early mainframe computers that took up entire rooms. Mary
Ray and her classmates in high school computer classes had access to a room-sized IBM
computer that used punch cards. “They had cardboard stock with different places punched in
them which would give you the one (1) or the zero (0) which the computer would then read. Just
a simple calculation could take a couple of hours” (J. M. Ray, personal communication, February
28, 2009). Judith Lynch recalls a trip taken as a college senior with math department coeds to a
central college that owned the one computer that was used by a consortium of colleges in
This was probably my first encounter with computers other than seeing UNIVAC on
‘Queen for a Day’ ... I was a member of the Math Club and one field trip we took was …
I believe it was to Hillsboro, Kansas, where Tabor College is … We drove to see THE
computer that managed all of the computer administrative issues for that league of
colleges. There were seven or eight small private colleges who went together to buy this
computer and to use it. It took up an entire huge room in a big building. Even our math
Women & Girls & Computers 10
advisor was amazed at the technology that was happening right there in front of us. That
was my first introduction up close and personal to computers. (J. Lynch, personal
communication, March 6, 2009)
Two advances in technology in the early 1950’s affected educational technology for
many years. When transistors replaced the vacuum tube, computer programs were able to be
stored as bits of information in binary code (Forcier & Descy, 2002). Therefore, the first
computer programming language, FORTRAN, was introduced in 1956 (Provenzo, 1999).
The Sputnik Era (1957-1976)
The successful launch and return of the Sputnik satellite in 1957 was a watershed event in
Western 20th century history. For the United States it meant that the Russians had beat us.
Although the U.S. had been able to liberate and patriate some of the German rocket scientists
during World War II, the Soviet Union had, through the successful Sputnik mission, put the U.S.
“behind” in the space race. This event influenced education dramatically during my youth.
Although computer science did not emerge as a discipline until 1960 (Price, 1991), in
1959 the IBM 650 was first used with school children in New York City to teach binary
arithmetic. The IBM 650 project was the first use of mainframe-based computer systems in
schools, colleges, and universities (Roblyer et. al., 1997). Venezky & Osin (1991) explain that
the IBM 650 was used to simulate a teaching machine; using a single typewriter entry station.
Also during the 1960’s the University of Illinois set out to design both hardware and software for
delivering instruction. The PLATO project (1965-1980) eventually became a trademark of the
Control Data Corporation (Price, 1991). PLATO III (Programmed Logic for Automatic
Teaching Operations) “was a true multi-user system that utilized an extended version of
FORTRAN as an authoring language for instructional programs” (Venezky & Osin, 1991, p. 35).
Women & Girls & Computers 11
SOCRATES (System for Organizing content to Review and Teach Educational Subjects) was a
second project initiated during this time. By 1966 the IBM 1500 was in place, a dedicated
mainframe instructional computing system. The Computer Curriculum Corporation (CCC) had
been involved in the development of the IBM 1500 mainframe system, but in 1967 CCC offered
a minicomputer-based instructional system (DEC PDP/1) (Roblyer et. al., 1997). The
minicomputer was smaller than a mainframe, but larger than the microcomputers to come.
Another change that occurred during this time was that the computer hardware companies
(IBM, CDC, and others) were also writing software. Prior to the advent of microcomputers and
during the Microcomputer Era, software creating and publishing moved away from the hardware
manufacturers and into the hands of companies like MECC (Minnesota Educational Computing
Corporation). MECC received its original funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF)
for developing software on mainframes; with the advent of microcomputers, however, they
transferred their programs to the Apple (Roblyer et. al., 1997).
The Beginning of the Internet. ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet, was the result of
many years of development by the U.S. Department of Defense (Forcier & Descy, 2002).
Starting in 1945 a military-university partnership led to initial funding of the Internet by the
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) (Thorsen, 2006). DARPANET became
ARPANET and the Internet was born. Scientists from the U.S. and the Soviet Union were able
to communicate through this network even during the Cold War years; collaboration on
ecological research transcended political animosity. Strong bonds were formed at a distance
during those years. When Gorbachev came into power, Russian scientists were able to travel to
the West and spend extended time in the U.S. for the first time. I was able in the early 1990’s to
meet and learn from some of these Russian ecologists as a graduate student at Colorado State
Women & Girls & Computers 12
University. Without ARPANET, peaceful collaboration on mutually beneficial ecological
projects would not have been possible.
The Microcomputer Ushers in a New Era
When I was eight years old, I purchased an abacus in the French Quarter in New Orleans.
In my high school and undergraduate courses I used a slide rule. At the same time, however,
many boys were at the end of the hallway in my high school learning about the “new” punch
card machines. I was able to finally take FORTRAN for the first time with punch cards in 1971
as an undergraduate student. Judith Lynch (personal communication, March 6, 2009) was able
to take her high school FORTRAN and COBOL students to Manhattan Area Technical College
to run their programs once a week on the punch card machine. Mary Ray (personal
communication, February 28, 2009) used punch tape to program machinery in manufacturing
electronic circuit boards in Chanute, Kansas in the late 1970’s. She taught herself BASIC and
then programmed the punch tape to drill and move and cut the circuit boards with less waste and
greater efficiency. Slide rules got the United States to the moon, but access to computer
technology in education was limited until the microcomputer came along.
The Microcomputer Era (1976-1992)
Price (1991) claims that there were three events that define the computer revolution in
educational technology: (1) the development and marketing of the minicomputer; (2) the
invention of the small, inexpensive, and relatively powerful microcomputer; and (3) the increase
in the amount and variety of educational software. These changes started during the Sputnik Era
but extended into the Microcomputer Era.
Women & Girls & Computers 13
The integrated circuit or chip revolutionized the way that computers could store
information and paved the way for decreasing the size of the motherboard (Forcier & Descy,
2002). The early “hobby kits” such as the Commodore Pet and Radio Shack’s Model I (Price,
1991) gave way to the Apple II, “the first personal practical computer”, in 1977 (Provenzo, 1999,
p. 259). In 1981 IBM introduced the PC (personal computer) (Price, 1991) based upon the
Microsoft operating system MS-DOS, which became an industry standard (Provenzo, 1999).
TIME magazine declared 1982 the “Year of the Computer” and Apple Computer introduced the
Macintosh in 1984. The revolutionary feature of the Mac was the graphical user interface (GUI)
that made using a Mac so much easier than using a text-based interface. The World Wide Web
(WWW) made its first appearance in the mid-1980’s (Forcier & Descy, 2002), and the first
Internet search and navigation tools were released in 1991 (Provenzo, 1999).
When I was a graduate student at Texas A&M in 1982, I heard a rumor that there was an
IBM AT in a room in the basement of the Agricultural Economics building. Although I was
taking BASIC programming and using TI-60s for spreadsheets, this computer was locked in a
room where only specific instructors or graduate students could access it. That is how special it
Judith Lynch recalls becoming aware of microcomputers around 1980. She wanted to
start a Microcomputer Club at (what was then) the junior high school in Manhattan.
I approached the principal who approached the superintendent. We came to find out that
there was a TRS80 in the superintendent’s closet because nobody knew what to do with
it. Nobody had ever turned it on. I got permission to take that TRS80 home. I had never
learned BASIC before, but it was enough like FORTRAN … I took it home for the
weekend. … I was so fascinated by what you could do with this computer. Based upon
Women & Girls & Computers 14
that one computer we started a computer club where students could come in and learn
various things on it. (J. Lynch, personal communication, March 6, 2009)
That one computer led to the purchase of Commodore 64’s.
We purchased 8 to 10 Commodore 64’s. … We also started a computer lab and each
math class would rotate into the lab a certain number of periods each semester and the
students would get to learn some BASIC programs and see the applications … what you
could use the microcomputers for … get familiar with this fascinating new tool … This
would have been in the early 80’s. (J. Lynch, personal communication, March 6, 2009)
In addition to starting the Microcomputer Club at the junior high school, Judith was asked to
teach several workshops in the early 1980’s to teachers in Manhattan and Junction City.
There was just a lot of fear of the unknown among the teachers … Not a lot of comfort
with computers … how are we ever going to use these because they are so difficult. My
technique was to show them how fun they were … get them hooked on how fun they
were and then show them how easy and logical it was to use them. (J. Lynch, personal
communication, March 6, 2009)
Fear of technology, especially the use of microcomputers in the classroom, arose among teachers
in the early 1980’s.
In addition to fear of technology there were other barriers in the 1980’s to the adoption
and maintenance of educational technology in school settings. Two of the challenges Greene
(1984) identified in maintaining educational technology programs were the attitudes of directors
and administrators of such programs and managing the necessary equipment. Greene suggests
that the director of an educational technology program should be the most prepared person on the
staff; therefore, they should be someone who is contributing the most. In addition, the director
Women & Girls & Computers 15
must be wise regarding the use of resources; that is, not acquiring equipment that will not serve a
specific purpose and making sure that equipment is repaired and maintained adequately (Green,
1984). These challenges persist in educational technology programs in the 21st century.
During the early years of microcomputer use in educational technology, teachers were
not always prepared adequately in the use of computers in the classroom. In addition, classroom
teachers were not necessarily aware of the nuances of teaching with computers versus teaching in
the traditional style of the pen-and-pencil. The teacher’s teaching style did not necessarily match
the students’ learning style. This is no less true in the 21st century. Lee (1986) points out that
Fulfillment of this aim is sometimes not realized for children from white middle-class
families, but is often not accomplished for children who are black, regardless of family
socioeconomic level. . . . Likewise, our schools reward the predominant learning style of
white children and fail to recognize the predominant learning style of Black children. (p.
While microcomputer software was being used to tutor children in skills and concepts, or to drill
them on content, Lee suggested that
Teaching Black children to program computers at an early age will provide them with
opportunities for analytical thinking at the same time that their environment is teaching
them to function with relational thinking skills. (p. 83)
Not only did Lee recommend the use of computers for “active learning” of content for students
within the classroom, but she urges parents and teachers to become computer literate in order to
teach and parent effectively. Prospective teachers and teacher education programs were advised
to include computers in their practicum rooms and in teacher education curricula to more
adequately prepare new classroom teachers for the Microcomputer Era (1986). These
Women & Girls & Computers 16
recommendations sound eerily similar to the qualifications for licensure today but which are
resisted or ignored by many of today’s college faculty.
The Completion of the Internet (1992 to the present)
By the year 2000 computing power was doubling every 18 months (Forcier & Descy,
2002). Some of the coincidental advances include the release of WWW technology in 1992 to
provide visual and graphic interface technology for the Internet (Provenzo, 1999), the release of
a web browser (Mosaic) in 1993 and the development of a supercomputer by the Intel
Corporation in 1997 that performed 1.06 trillion operations a second (Forcier & Descy, 2002).
Although the microcomputer revolutionized the computer industry, it took awhile for
microcomputers to become commonplace in schools and classrooms. In fact, even today in the
school where I taught during the school year 2004-2005, my biology students had to go to the
library to use the computer. I had no computers in my classroom for my students; my classroom
computer was running Windows 95 and the Internet connection failed regularly. I had to
schedule the library computers weeks ahead of time to get my students access. In the spring
semester during state assessments, the library was closed to science teachers for weeks at a time
because history and English teachers were given priority for writing and research projects. Since
that school year, all high school students in the Kansas City Kansas Public Schools receive a
laptop for their use during their high school career. Whether the wireless servers can handle the
increased Internet traffic is another issue altogether.
Microcomputer use was sometimes seen as a panacea for the failures of urban public
education. A study of desegregation reform movements was conducted by Stringfield (1997) in
relation to the ongoing Liddell case in St. Louis, Missouri. In a survey of elementary schools
with mostly at-risk students that were improving academically there were some carefully chosen
Women & Girls & Computers 17
and effective innovations. Computer laboratories and computer-assisted instruction offered
students a chance to master basic skills such as writing, programming and keyboarding. One
disadvantage of the way these computer labs were implemented was in the overuse of drill-and-
practice software. Suggestions were made for moving to computer-aided-instruction that
focused more on developing critical thinking (Stringfield, 1997).
What happens in high school may follow a student into college. During the 1994-1995
academic year Hawkins and Paris (1997) surveyed entering freshmen from a large northeastern
private university. Although Hawkins and Paris found that African American and Hispanic
students “come to the university with a significantly thinner computer skill set” (p. 156), the
most significant finding was that “approximately one-half of the European American students
were multiplatform users, but only about one in every four African American students had
worked on more than one computer platform” (p. 155). The implications were threefold: (1)
students of color fell behind even more from freshmen to senior year; (2) students of color were
not prepared for the corporate culture of that time (that is, at that time Microsoft and Windows-
based software was “winning”, while Mac was losing); and (3) the highly disproportionate use of
the Mac meant that students of color were
less likely to be enrolled in academic programs in which use of and proficiency in such
advanced areas of computing as geographical information systems (GIS), computer-
generated imaging (CGI), computer-assisted design/computer-assisted manufacturing
(CAD/CAM), network programming, and client-server development – fields for which
Unix and PC-based Windows operating systems are the prevailing environments. (p. 156)
Hawkins and Paris commented that the lack of African American and Hispanic students
representation in advanced areas of computing would “shape the course of computer technology
Women & Girls & Computers 18
development into the 21st century” (Hawkins & Paris, 1997, p. 156). The truth of this comment
is evident today in the lower enrollment of students of color in computer science, computer
engineering, and computer information systems.
Although microcomputers became commonplace in school libraries and public libraries
because corporations like IBM, Dell, Gateway, and Apple found educational use a rich source of
both goodwill and advertising. However, issues of access continue to plague under-resourced
schools with higher than average levels of students receiving free or reduced lunch. Inner-city
schools typically have less educational technology in general than suburban schools. Rural
schools fall in the middle somewhere, although rural communities typically have slower Internet
connections because of the lack of broadband connectivity.
The Digital Divide
There are numerous studies detailing the lack of educational technology for urban
schools, for children from poor families and children from families where the parents are less
educated. This translates into a difference in access based upon race/ethnicity and socio-
economic class. Since more poor people and people of color live in urban areas and send their
children to urban high schools, for instance, both geography and socio-economic class play a role
in access to technology. In addition, since many rural communities, although less diverse
racially and ethnically, are poorer than suburban communities, both white children and children
of color are denied access to educational technology. Both of these situations contribute to what
is known as “the digital divide”. It means that some people have it and some people don’t.
“It” may mean broadband connectivity or “it” may mean computers in the classrooms.
“It” may also mean that educated, middle class members of a rural or urban community will have
Women & Girls & Computers 19
computers at home, while poorer, less educated members of the community will not. There are
indications that if parents have a computer at home, the student is more likely to learn how to use
Grizelda Bazier MacDonald (personal communication, March 18, 2009), a native of
South Africa, had access to her parents’ computer during high school; when she went to college
at the University of Cape Town she was able to take a computer with her. Even though the
libraries and computer labs in her university were full of students trying to get their work done
on university computers, she was able to use her own computer on her own time. As an ESL
instructor for 6 years in Taiwan, Grizelda taught computer classes to three-, four-, and five-year-
old children. Most of these children were computer literate by age five. This was partially due
to the use of computers by their parents; the children pick up computer skills much more easily
at school when their parents had computers at home (G. B. MacDonald, personal communication
March 18, 2009).
Juliana Reyes (personal communication, April 4, 2009) tells the story of learning to use
the printer by herself when she was three years old. Her mother was cooking dinner, and Juliana
figured out how to print a picture by following the numbers and colors on the Crayola CD. She
explained that she had been watching her aunt Cecilia and her mother Christine; “I have a very
good memory” (J. Reyes, personal communication, April 4, 2009). Because Juliana is so
computer literate, her Lee Elementary fourth grade classmates ask her “all the time” to help them
(J. Reyes, personal communication, April 4, 2009) when they get stuck.
There is some research evidence that the earlier a child becomes computer literate the
better. Calvert et. al. (2005) analyzed data from a national survey for trends in early computer
use among very young children, aged six months to six years. Of close to one thousand parents
Women & Girls & Computers 20
interviewed in 2003 75% reported having a computer and 88% had Internet access; the majority
being families with higher incomes, more education, and two parents. African American and
Latino families were less likely to have Internet access, and Latino families were least likely to
have a computer at home. Interestingly, African American children were more likely than
Caucasian children to be actually using the computer on the day of the interview. Both boys and
girls tended to begin using the computer autonomously at age three, and both boys and girls were
equally likely to play educational games. The early skills developed may have an influence on
how quickly young children learn to read (Calvert et. al., 2005). This is an area for further
Likewise, what happens when the child enters school can affect their academic
achievement as early as 1st grade. From a sample of 1,601 kindergartners and 1st graders from
the 1998-1999 Early Childhood Longitudinal Study it was found that academic achievement was
positively correlated with computer access and use in schools and at home (Judge, 2005). In
addition, “frequent use of software for literacy, math, and games in kindergarten was positively
correlated with academic achievement” (p. 95). High-achieving African American students used
computer software more frequently than low-achieving students; computer use was found to be a
“reward” for good behavior, rather than part of the regular curriculum. Judge concludes that
Thoughtful educators agree that computer access and literacy have become vital and
necessary for every student to excel, both in school and in life. If we assume that
academic achievement is facilitated by access to computers both at home and at school,
the gap in access to computer technology is cause for concern. All children deserve the
opportunity to have access to technological resources that can supplement their learning
Women & Girls & Computers 21
experiences as well as build the competency with technology they will need for full
participation in society. (Judge, 2005, p. 100)
If computer use is correlated with academic achievement as Judge concludes, then schools are
obligated to bridge the gap through appropriate curriculum and required resources.
Thorsen (2006) explains that “the digital divide is a popular term for the cultural barrier
that faces people who do not have access to technology and the Internet—or the ability to use
them effectively if they are available” (p. 11). Thorsen adds that computer literacy can be
viewed similarly to reading—“other learning is based upon it” (p. 12). For instance,
In order for students to learn history, mathematics, science, or language arts, they need to
be able to read. In order for students to use the cognitive tools that computers provide to
facilitate learning in history, mathematics, science, or language arts, they must have some
rudimentary computer skills. Alert and skillful teachers will discover which students are
not computer literate and will assist them in learning the necessary skills to use the tool.
As early as the mid-1980’s there were indications that all students might not have access
to the same quality or quantity of technology in American classrooms. Roblyer et. al. (1997)
report that demographic studies “confirmed the predictable correlation between school districts’
socioeconomic level and their levels of microcomputer resources” (p. 43). Roblyer et. al.
Use of technology tools may also logically correlate to students’ ability to enter
mathematics, science and technical areas such as engineering. Despite the lack of
concrete evidence of an economic impact, the possibility seems very real that poorer
Women & Girls & Computers 22
students could be hampered in their learning (and, therefore, earning) potential by their
unequal access to technology tools. (Roblyer et. al., 1997, p. 43)
In addition, Roblyer et. al. (1997) report that less access to technology in K-12 schools for
minority students and increased prerequisites for enrollment in computer science classes may be
related to the underrepresentation of minorities in mathematics, science, and engineering.
A Commerce Department report in 1999 reported that “among American families earning
between $15,000 and $35,000 per year, 33% of whites owned computers while only 19% of
African Americans did”. In 2000 a Pew Charitable Trust study found that although 45% of
whites were online compared to 35% of African Americans, the percentage of African
Americans online had “increased almost 50% from the prior year” (Forcier & Descy, 2002, p.
23). In 2003 Fairlie (2007) analyzed a survey from the Computer and Internet Use Supplement
to the Current Population Survey (CPS) which includes data from approximately 50,000
households and 130,000 individuals. Improving access to technology at home “appears to be the
most critical aspect of the digital divide” (p. 268). Blacks (49.6%) and Latinos (46.7%) were
found to be substantially less likely to have access to a computer at home than are white, non-
Latinos (71.5%). Asians (76.5%) had the highest, and First Americans (50.1%) the lowest, rate
of home computer access. Within the Latino/Hispanic heterogeneity Mexican-Americans
appeared to be at the greatest disadvantage; only 40% of Mexican-Americans were found to have
access to a home computer while less than a third were found to have Internet access at home.
Among children whites have an even greater advantage: 80% of white children compared to
42.3% and 42.5% of black and Latino children, respectively, were found to have Internet access
at home. While low income levels explained most of the racial differences in home computer
ownership, both lower education levels and lower income levels explained most of the racial
Women & Girls & Computers 23
differences in home Internet access (Fairlie, 2007). The digital divide is a real phenomenon that
has several facets to it.
One of the primary reasons parents purchase a computer is for the education of their
children. In addition starting in 1992 (the year of the completion of the Internet) research
appeared which indicated that student achievement might be linked to computer access at home
(Forcier & Descy, 2002). Although Taylor MacDonald reported that she did not use the
computer at home (T. MacDonald, personal communication, March 18, 2009), Grizelda provides
her daughter with a laptop dedicated solely to Blues Clues and Hooked on Phonics. However,
there will be no WII or PlayStation in the MacDonald household; “we don’t want a couch
potato”. “WII and PlayStation are not educationally oriented” (G. B. MacDonald, personal
communication, March 18, 2009).
Just as Grizelda wants to influence the kinds of computer software to which Taylor is
exposed during her kindergarten year, Clayborne and Seefeldt (1991) found that predominantly
Black mothers of students from a large urban school system in the eastern United States had
well-defined attitudes towards computers and their influence on their children. The mothers in
this survey viewed the computer as important for academic achievement and for future
employability of both boys and girls. Where differences arose were among the boys’ attitudes;
boys perceived computers to be more important for their future employability than did girls.
This discrepancy between the mothers and their children may be important for teachers and
Urban educators may need to re-examine if boys and girls are being treated differentially
in computer education programs and whether both boys and girls have equal access to
computers. Programs that encourage both boys and girls to gain familiarity with
Women & Girls & Computers 24
successful women in computer careers may be of value. (Clayborne & Seefeldt, 1991, p.
Parents must be considered to be a part of the learning system if educational technology is to be
effective within classrooms.
In the 21st century the nature of the digital divide may be shifting. Jackson et. al. (2008)
propose that the digital divide today refers more appropriately to “the gap in the intensity and
nature of information technology (IT) use rather than to the gap in access to it” (p. 437). As part
of the Children and Technology Project data were collected in 2005 and 2006 to investigate race
and gender differences in the intensity and nature of IT use. From 172 African American
children and 343 Caucasian American children of average age 12.18 years, several interesting
conclusions were drawn. “African American females used the Internet more intensely and in
more diverse ways than any other group” (p. 441). Consistent with previous studies, boys were
the most intense videogame players. IT use predicted academic performance in this study.
“Children who played videogames more often had lower grades in school than those who spent
less time playing videogames” (p. 441). “Children who had been using IT longer had higher
grades in school and higher GPAs than did children whose IT use was more recent” (p. 440).
Another aspect of this sample was that “children whose parents were married and living together
spent less time playing videogames than did children whose parents were some other marital
status (e.g., single)” (p. 440). Jackson et. al. suggest educational interventions to encourage
appropriate use of IT and mitigate the negative effects of videogaming (2008). This leads us into
the discussion of gender equity within educational technology.
Women & Girls & Computers 25
The Gender Gap in Educational Technology
Although all of my sources are female, and each of them is privileged in a certain way to
(1) have the attraction towards computers, (2) have access to computers at home, and (3) have
the natural aptitude towards learning computer technology on their own, traditionally, the field of
computer technology has been male-dominated. In schools, however, since teaching is
dominated by white, middle class females, I suspect that the traditional male domination has
been mitigated to some extent. Let’s go back to the example of Judith Lynch. A TRS80 was
found in the closet of her superintendent’s office. She took it home, figured out how to use it
and taught both students and other teachers. One highly motivated female teacher in the early
80’s literally changed the climate of educational technology at Manhattan High School.
Contrary to that, however, is that in Judith’s programming course, approximately one-
fifth of her students were girls. In the Microcomputer Club that she started with Commodore
64’s approximately one-fourth to one-third of the members were girls. I mentioned that in high
school I was not encouraged to “play” with the computer in the hallway, while the boys were
gathered around the thing any moment they were free. Within 20 years and since that time,
therefore, the gender gap has been shifting.
In the mid-1990’s research appeared indicating that girls tended to use computers less
frequently than boys and that this unequal computer use extended into mathematics, science,
computer science and engineering (Roblyer et. al., 1997). In other words, girls were not
preparing themselves for the technology needs of the traditionally male-dominated career paths.
Forcier & Descy (2002) suggest that
Women & Girls & Computers 26
gender equity should be a continuing cause of concern to educators. Computer use
suffers from an inherited gender bias that holds that math and science are not ‘feminine
things.’ Although there are efforts to remedy this bias, it is difficult to overcome the
fallacy that women cannot excel in math and science. The bias has its roots in the
seventeenth century, when inventions in science and technology were made not by
aristocrats but in the monastic environment of the universities, which were under the
control of the male-dominated political and religious forces of the time. (Forcier &
Descy, 2002, p. 24)
From elementary and middle school research we find that boys and girls participate equally in
computer classes. Gender differences tend to show up in high school (Forcier & Descy, 2002).
These differences may be the result of parental influence (encouraging boys toward scientific
and technical careers) or student interest (girls learning clerical skills while boys play
videogames). A final source of gender bias is in the software itself; many software publishers
are biased towards the loud, flashy, violent and competitive aspects of videogames. Girls may be
turned off by the male-dominated nature of recreational software (Forcier & Descy, 2002;
Roblyer et. al., 1997).
Since the mid-1990’s there has been active research on Internet use by boys and girls.
Jackson et. al. (2005) found gender differences in Internet use at home within a sample of 140
children with average age 13.8 years. The data Jackson analyzed comes from automatically
recorded Internet use in 1995-1996. HomeNetToo was a longitudinal field study designed to
study home Internet use in low-income families. Jackson and her colleagues confirmed that boys
were more than twice as likely as girls to play videogames as their primary computer activity.
Boys were also more likely to report that science was their favorite subject in school, while girls
Women & Girls & Computers 27
reported literature as their favorite subject. Boys were more likely to be attracted towards
careers in sports and computing, while girls were more likely to aspire to careers in
entertainment. In this study main computer activity and Internet use were unrelated to academic
performance. However, career aspirations were related to Internet use. The “children who
aspired to careers in the professions (e.g., doctor) or computing used the Internet more than did
children who aspired to careers in other fields (i.e., sports, entertainment or human services)” (p.
268). One conclusion was that children’s attitudes or beliefs about the relevance of technology
may have driven their motivation to learn about and use computer-based technology. Therefore,
since the girls in this study were less likely to aspire to professions or computing, they were less
likely to be as computer literate or Internet-savvy as the boys in this study. Jackson et. al. (2005)
coined the term, “digital use divide” to describe the situation where given access to the Internet,
children may not see Internet use as relevant to their lives (p. 269).
Will We Meet the Challenge?
Having discovered and interviewed women and girls who are highly computer literate is
a positive sign for what is to come. The fact that computer science and educational technology
continue to be male-dominated (P. Hudgins, personal communication, March 19, 2009), yet
these women and girls are holding their own, gives me great hope. There are several lessons to
be learned from this preliminary investigation into the history of women and girls and
First, classroom teachers are obliged by the nature of the global marketplace to make sure
that their students are prepared to be global citizens. One of the qualities of a global citizen will
be Internet proficiency. Teachers must advocate with their schools for improved Internet access,
Women & Girls & Computers 28
stable broadband connections, and reliable e-mail management systems. Sharnae Hudgins
(personal communication, March 19, 2009) reports that her drama teacher at Manhattan High
School expects students to search the Internet for plays that have not been widely published. In
addition, Judith Lynch reports that her daughter who is developmentally challenged uses the
Internet extensively; “she can find anything she wants” (J. Lynch, personal communication,
March 6, 2009).
Secondly, classroom teachers must continue to learn and use the many online approaches
to delivering instruction. Teachers must model the most innovative methods for their students.
Some early efforts at utilizing the Internet for student learning are described by Duran (1998). In
Goleta, CA two elementary schools were part of a teacher learning community sponsored by
CRESPAR (the Center for the Education of Students Placed At Risk), a research centered based
at Johns Hopkins University and Howard University. At one elementary school described by
Duran over 700 children spoke more than 15 languages. Students volunteered to become “Web
Workers”, who developed personal webpages and worked on the school’s website. These
volunteers also help other students create their own webpages. Students were encouraged to post
summaries of what they were learning in all content areas. In addition, students were asked to
reflect on why their learning was important and to describe clearly how did what they were
learning reflected or influenced their personal values. At a different elementary school in the
same town the “Silver Screen” curriculum integrated video recording and broadcast technology
with the more traditional history and social science standards. Not only did the webpages and
videos serve as learning products, but they facilitated collaborative learning. The teachers in this
learning community utilized authentic, performance-based assessments to give students a rich
classroom experience through the use of technology.
Women & Girls & Computers 29
In her automotive technology courses at Manhattan High School Sharnae Hudgins
(personal communication, March 19, 2009) is learning how to use the scan tool for diagnosis
when the “check engine” light comes on. This tool is connected electronically to the database of
automotive parts for all cars made in the United States since 1935 and for many makes of
vehicles internationally. This database not only diagnoses the problem but tells the automotive
technician each step in the repair process. Sharnae is learning the most contemporary and
relevant methods of diagnosing automotive problems and their repair as preparation for entering
mechanical engineering as a freshman at Kansas State University.
Thirdly, classroom teachers must include alternative assessments in their instructional
plans so that students are practicing the use of the Internet and the World Wide Web. This may
mean that classroom teachers have to push their administrators to make sure that students have
computer and Internet access during the day whether or not they have it at home at night!
Sharnae Hudgins shares that her English teacher at Manhattan High School gives students
several choices for writing papers: they may write them in class by hand (and type them later),
get a pass to the library in order to write on a computer, or write them on a home computer (S.
Hudgins, March 19, 2009). As classroom teachers advocate and use the available educational
technology, students will learn and appreciate what the future holds.
Women & Girls & Computers 30
Calvert, S. L., Rideout, V. J., Woolard,, J. L., Barr, R. F., & Strouse, G. A. (2005). Age,
ethnicity, and socioeconomic patterns in early computer use: a national survey. The
American Behavioral Scientist, 48, 590-608. Retrieved January 21, 2009, from the
Clayborne, M. B., & Seefeldt, C. (1991). The relationship between the attitudes of urban
students and mothers toward computers. The Journal of Negro Education, 60, 78-84.
Retrieved March 4, 2009, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2295534.
Duran, R. P. (1998). Learning and technology: implications for culturally responsive
instructional activity and models of achievement. The Journal of Negro Education, 67,
220-227. Retrieved March 4, 2009, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2668191.
Fairlie, R. W. (2007). Explaining differences in access to home computers and the Internet: a
comparison of Latino groups to other ethnic and racial groups. Electronic Commerce
Research, 7, 265-291. Retrieved January 27, 2009, from the EBSCOhost database.
Forcier, R. C. & Descy, D. E. (2002). The computer as an educational tool: productivity and
problem-solving. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Hawkins, R., & Paris, A. E. (1997). Computer literacy and computer use among college
students: differences in Black and White. The Journal of Negro Education, 66, 147-158.
Retrieved March 4, 2009, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2967224.
Henderson, R. G. & Stewart, D. L. (2007). The influence of computer and Internet access on e-
learning technology acceptance. Business Education Digest, 16, 3-16. Retrieved
December 15, 2007, from the EBSCOhost database.
Women & Girls & Computers 31
Greene, J. W. (1984). Suggestions for maintaining educational technology programs in hard-
pressed areas. The Journal of Negro Education, 53, 173-181. Retrieved March 2, 2009,
Jackson, L. A., Von Eye, A., Biocca, F., Barbatsis, G., Zhao, Y. & Fitzgerald, H. E. (2005).
How low-income children use the Internet at home. Journal of Interactive Learning
Research, 16, 259-272. Retrieved January 21, 2009, from the ProQuest database.
Jackson, L. A., Zhao, Y., Kolenic, A., Fitzgerald, H. E., Harold, R., & Von Eye, A. (2008).
Race, gender, and information technology use: the new digital divide. CyberPsychology
& Behavior, 11, 437-442. Retrieved January 27, 2009, from the EBSCOhost database.
Judge, S. (2005). The impact of computer technology on academic achievement of young
African-American children. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 20, 91-101.
Retrieved January 21, 2009, from the ProQuest database.
Lee, M. W. (1986). The Match: learning styles of Black children and microcomputer
programming. The Journal of Negro Education, 55, 78-90. Retrieved March 2, 2009
Price, R. V. (1991). Computer-aided instruction: a guide for authors. Pacific Grove, CA:
Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.
Provenzo, E. F., Brett, A., & McCloskey, G. N. (1999). Computers, curriculum, and cultural
change. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Roblyer, M. D., Edwards, J., & Havriluk, M. A. (1997). Integrating educational technology into
teaching. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill, an imprint of Prentice Hall.
Women & Girls & Computers 32
Stringfield, S. (1997). Research on effective instruction for at-risk students: implications for the
St. Louis Public Schools. The Journal of Negro Education, 66, 258-288. Retrieved
March 4, 2009, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2967165.
Thorsen, C. (2006). TechTactics: technology for teachers. Boston, MA: Pearson Education,
Venezky, R. & Osin, L. (1991). The intelligent design of computer-assisted instruction. New
York, NY: Longman Publishing Group.
Women & Girls & Computers 33
Foy, J. K. (Producer). (2009). Women & girls & computers 1 [video]. United States: Kansas
State University, Manhattan, KS. Available from YouTube, LLC website,
Foy, J. K. (Producer). (2009. Women & girls & computers 2 [video]. United States: Kansas
State University, Manhattan, KS. Available from YouTube, LLC website,
This citation format is a combination of p. 266, “65. Motion picture” and p. 281, “95. Data file, available from
NTIS Web site” in the APA Publication Manual, 5th edition.