Dominant or Different? Gender Issues in Computer Supported Learning

Cathy Gunn, Mae McSporran, Hamish Macleod, Sheila French

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

A significant increase in the use of computer supported learning (CSL) within schools and universities across the world gives rise to concern about gender-related differences in performance and interaction style in these environments. Research has shown that initial perceptions of CSL environments as democratic and offering equal opportunities to all students were flawed because interactions that take place through electronic channels lose none of the socio-cultural complexity or gender imbalance that exists within society. Much of the recent literature states that women are disadvantaged because of inferior levels of access and technology literacy and dominant male behavior. However, the assumption that difference implies disadvantage is challenged by evidence that variable factors such as professed confidence and apparently dominant interaction styles do not necessarily lead to better educational opportunity and performance. This paper contains a summary of gender-related issues identified by international research and academic practice together with supportive case study examples. The conclusion is that women often perform better than men despite the observable differences in interaction style. The issues addressed are:
If inequality of access and technology literacy are assumed to be diminishing problems as recent studies suggest, what can CSL designers and teachers do ensure that interactions and activities offer equal opportunities to all student groups?
Does the gender imbalance that research identifies in access to, behavior and performance in CMC and CSL environments mean women are disadvantaged or simply that their use patterns and interaction styles are different?
If research has identified gender typical orientations in learner performance online, is there any impact on perceived identity and behavior where the visual cues inherent in face to face interactions are missing and other signals form the basis of impressions and opinions?
How far do gender imbalances in CSL reflect the values and norms of the culture they exist within and how far do they generalize across national and social boundaries?
The paper concludes with questions for further research and suggestions about how instructional designers might increase the flexibility of courses to offer more equal opportunities to all students.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Asynchronous Learning Networks
Volume7
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2003

Keywords

  • student satisfaction
  • learning effectiveness
  • gender

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