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Article Critique #2 Critique of Middle School Students Technology Practices and Preferences: Re-examining Gender Differences

Heather MacLellan

University of British Columbia ETEC 500 July 4, 2010

Word Count: 750

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Miller, Schweingruber, & Brandenburg (2001) have written a paper examining how gender affects technology practices and preferences. Specifically, they study gender differences in computer access, use and perceived expertise. The research hypothesis is that the gender gap perceived in society is narrowing as computer access increases. The literature review points out past studies that have found differences in the way the genders perceive and use computers and looks at whether these differences are still prevalent in 1998 and 1999. The methodology used for this research is a cross-sectional sample survey that was administered to 568 middle school students. Of these surveys, 512 were considered viable and used in the examination of the data. Surveys were collected from 8 different schools representing a diverse group of students. Differences included public/private system; school districts; urban/suburban; and socioeconomic status. The survey included closed and open ended questions created with feedback from middle school student focus groups. Miller, Schweingruber, & Brandenburg (2001) find that the technology gender gap is narrowing. Their conclusions suggest that the proliferation of computers is minimizing the once clear gender bias. The perception that males dominate in computer use and expertise is diminishing as more equal access to computers allows girls to become more familiar with them. I believe deeper examination within this study is necessary. This research looks at the attitudes of adolescents but there is no examination of whether the attitudes reflect a real or just a perceived change. A survey is an appropriate method to ask about attitudes and perceptions but an individuals perceptions dont always equate to true, deep knowledge. Having children say

they are expert users is quite different from having children show their expertise. Including an ethnographic component where students actual computer knowledge is observed would solidify

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that their perceptions matched their actual knowledge and would add more credibility to the study. An area within the study itself that I have concerns with is the validity of the sampling. The survey had an adequate sample size and a clear intent to differentiate between populations to create a diverse sample group, but I question using the free/reduced lunch program as a measure of socio-economic status. There wasnt adequate information provided to show that its use was a viable way of separating groups. It is unclear if the program is open to everyone or if it is restricted to needy children. Because the authors dont clearly state the criteria for joining the lunch program, we dont have sufficient information to evaluate whether this is a good separation strategy. Furthermore, I see that there are a different percentage of respondents from each school. Table 1 (p.128) shows that campus # 4 had a survey size of 6.6 percent while campus #2 had a survey size of 65.5%. Since each school represents a different demographic, the schools with the highest percent of respondents would have more input and would skew the survey results. In addition, the design and procedure section mentions that the survey was given during a science or computer technology class period. It neglects to indicate if these are mandatory or elective courses. If the course is an elective, particularly in the computer technology class, the data would be skewed toward students who enjoy computers. Another questionable aspect of the study involves the use of the cross sectional survey method, which shows only one moment in time. A large part of the paper was devoted to using older studies to look for changing attitudes. A more effective way to compare changes through time would have been to use a longitudinal survey where participants would respond to several questionnaires stretched over a longer period.

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I deem that including the questionnaire with the survey would give a clearer insight into the efficiency of the questions. Since it is not included, the reader must judge effectiveness by the few questions discussed in the paper. The question worded know how to use a computer (Miller, Schweingruber, & Brandenburg, 2001, p.129) is vague. The researchers state that they didnt define the word use. Defining the word would allow for a more specific question and give a more definitive result. Breaking the question down into different computer activities is another way to clarify the question. Even with shortcomings in sample selection and questioning style, I think that this study would be a good starting point for writing a research review because the questions raised here are pertinent. I would, however, look for other more recent studies to corroborate the results found here.

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References Miller, L. M., Schweingruber, H., & Bradenburg, C.L. (2001). Middle school students technology practices and preferences: Re-examining gender differences. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 10(2), 125-140. [pdf]. Retrieved June 21, 2010