Gender Issues and SoftwareLisa Nguyen

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Definition

Gender: A social, symbolic construction that expresses the meanings a society confers on biological sex. Gender varies across cultures, over time within any given society, and in relation to other genders.

Gender: is a set of characteristics distinguishing between male and female, particularly in the cases of men and women. Depending on the context, the discriminating characteristics vary from sex to social role to gender identity.

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Gender bias defined:When examining gender bias, it is important to define and understand the term. Gender is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as "classification of sex." According to this same source, bias is defined as "preference or inclination that inhibits impartiality; prejudice" (American Heritage Dictionary,1983). Thus gender bias is separation of gender in a way which prefers one sex over the other. Gender bias in technology refers to preference for or favoring of one sex over the other in computer use and/or access, software use and/or manufacturing, and Internet use and content. As can be seen, gender bias in technology is a multifaceted and complex issue (Brown, 2002).

Description, History and Background
Gender refers to the characteristics that society has normed as "boy" characteristics and "girl" characteristics. This report will focus on these "boy" and "girl" characteristics in the context of classroom software design, development and implementation.

Social norms have deemed certain colors as feminine or masculine, along with toys, careers, occupations, personality characteristics, sports and clothes. Although that list can go on and on, these are the things we instill into children early on. At baby showers we buy all things pink for that baby girl, and all things blue for that baby boy. Girls grow up to take ballet classes while boys enter little league. We worry when those paths cross, and we see our boys wear purses while playing dress up; but it does not seem to be as shocking when a girl wants to play soccer. This is due to the norms our society has set on acceptable boy and girl behaviors. These norms follow boys and girls into the classroom, and play a major role in determining how they will learn and what they will be interested in learning. As teachers, we need to take this information into account and make wise decisions on the types of games, instructional materials and classroom software that we choose to implement and use.

Gender issues generally refer to issues dealing with girls. Just like math and science, girls lose interest in computers and technology quicker than boys. Because girls look at it as a tool to be used to accomplish a task or chore (i.e. typing up a research paper or sending an e-mail) it is not as enjoyable to them as it is to boys who view it as a toy or a recreational activity.


Summary of the Literature
Children's play is important in many ways; it teaches children social norms and shapes patterns of communication. The most recent research suggests that sex-segregated groups and forms of play are the pre-dominate type of play in the United States. Children develop a sense of gender constancy (the idea that their gender will not change) and start to show a preference for same sex-playmates at this age. Research also shows that boys and girls tend to play differently, and this is the reason for same-sex preference playtime.

Boys tend to play games that involve fairly large groups, and the games they play are usually competitive, organized and have clear roles and goals. Playing games that have a clear organizational structures and rules to follow allows for them to feel like members in a community, and by performing a role or job well helps them to feel further accepted. For boys, making a place and being accepted in a social setting is important for their development (Wood, 2009).

Girls prefer to play in pairs or in small groups. They like to play house or school, which are two games that require role-play, and do not have clear or set rules to follow. These games require more conversation in order to decide what to do or what should happen next. Young girls spend more time talking during play then doing anything else; this is what helps girls determine where they belong in the social setting (Wood, 2009).

The types of play that boys and girls are interested in set the stage for the types of things they will be interested in as far as learning and education, and goals later in life. There is a pattern of girls losing interested in math and science when they hit the teenage years, and although that gap is starting to close, girls are still losing interest in technology and computers and a rapid rate. In a study by Brown in 1994, students were rated as heavy computer users, and a ratio of one girl to four boys in sixth grade were rated as heavy computer users. This also creates a vicious cycle, because girls are not interested in software or computer use, less software is designed and aimed at girls getting teachers nowhere in helping to resolve this issue.


Design, Development, and Implementation of Classroom Software
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Design
Below, the image to the left is a graphic from World of Warcraft, a game aimed at the male audience. This is clearly designed with the "boys" in mind. It is vicious, graphic and detailed in a way that would entice the male stereotype. To the right is an image from Mall World, a game that teaches young girls how to shop. There is clearly a disconnect in the designing of software for boys and girls.

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Development
Last year, the top five selling games in the nation were games aimed at the male market. These games include names such as Warcraft and final doom. Although these are not examples of educational games per se, they teach more skills and require more logical thinking skills than the software produced for girls last year. These games centered around topics such as shopping, dating and make-up. These games do not encourage girls to think intellectually.

Implementation
Ko's Journey:
Ko's journey is a math simulation software that involves a girl as the main character on a journey to find her past and her family. This is a game that is gender neutral but can more so appeal to girls if it were explained that way. This is a great piece of software to not only encourage girls to be interested in software and technology, but it also promotes math skills. Implementing this software into a classroom would be "killing two birds with one stone" as far as gender issues go.

Watch an introductory to Ko's Journey here:
Ko's Journey
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Conclusion
Designing and devloping classroom software is not an easy task. As we are currently seeing in this class, it takes a lot of forethought and planning in order to create a piece of software that can be successfully implemented into a classroom. Not only does the software need to be educationally relevent, it also needs to appeal to the learner. This can be tricky when it comes to gender issues and software since research clearly shows that boys and girls have very different preferences when it comes to anything including educational software. It comes down to who the main characters in the storyline are and what type of storyline is happening. It even comes down to the simple things such as the background color or font type if there is not storyline or characters involved. Also according to research, it is more important to keep girls interested in software and the use of technology as a learning tool.


It will take parents, teachers, and software manufacturers to address and correct gender bias in technology. All students are different and that does not just refer to the differences between girls and boys.

"To reach girls effectively, educators must look at each child as an individual and tailor their strategies accordingly. Unlike the T-shirt industry, one size doesn't fit all. America can no longer afford to ignore this valuable lesson" (Technology Gender Gap Develops While Gaps in Math and Science Narrow, 1998). Every girl is a unique individual with different needs, interests, aspirations,and goals in life. Parents, educators, and manufacturers of technologies must keep this in mind as they work on the behalf of girls and with girls to eliminate the gender gap in computer and technology use (Brown, 2002).

The quote above refers to the change that is needed to change software and gender issues revolving around girls, but this is true of each and every student in a classroom. As educators, it is important to keep all of our students in mind, and create and implement software that is gender neutral. This creates a equal and fair learning environment where all students will want to participate and all students have the opportunity to be fully engaged in their learning.


Links to Helpful Resources

Gender Inclusivity in Games:
http://zia-ibrahim.webs.com/publications.htm

Gender Issues:
http://ed.uiuc.edu/wp/access/gender.html

Gender Equity in Education:
http://www.cln.org/themes/women.html


References

Alessi, S. M., Trollip, S. R. (2001). Mulitmedia for learning methods of development (3rd. ed) Massachusetts: Apearson Educatin Company

Wood, J. T. (2009). Gendered Lives (8th. ed) Massachussetts: Wadsworth Cengage Learning