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Challenging Our Views on ICT, Gender and Education



Dr. Art, Senior Researcher at NIFU – Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education, Oslo, Norway

The overall picture of the situation relating to gender and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has so far been that men have been dominating the field and have left the women behind. This has also been the point of departure for policymakers. But, as will be shown in this paper, this male domination of the entire ICT field is not the case anymore. On the contrary, the situation is far more complex. For example, when looking at younger generations, the picture appears to be nuanced; both boys and girls seem to be involved and interested in using different ICT tools, both at school and elsewhere (CERI, 2010). Moreover, along with the new generation, there is the emergence of the new social media, in which girls seem to be highly involved. The present paper explores the ways in which the gender issue appears in youngsters’ use of and attitudes towards ICT and how they perform and interact as producers and consumers of digital content.

Keywords: gender, ICT, education, social media, stereotypes

Introduction

The overall picture of the situation relating to gender and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has so far been that men have been dominant and have left the women behind. This has also been the point of departure for policymakers in their efforts to make plans and activities in the field. But, as will be shown during this paper, this male domination of the entire ICT field is not the case anymore. On the contrary, the situation is far more complex. When looking at younger generations, the picture appears to be more nuanced; both boys and girls seem to be involved and interested in using ICT different tools, both at school and elsewhere (CERI, 2010).

Moreover, along with the new generation, there is the emergence of the new social media, in which girls seem to be highly involved. Based on this, we have to explore the ways in which the gender issue appears in youngsters’ use of and attitudes towards ICT and how they perform and interact as producers and consumers of digital content.

This new insight into a complex picture needs to be taken into consideration by policymakers, schools/educational institutions and in research. The paper will present an overview of the existing evidence relating to gender and ICT, and elaborate and discuss possible new approaches on how to nuance the ICT, gender and education picture.

Material and methods

The paper derives from work performed in the context of the New Millennium Learners project, which was managed by the Centre for Educational Research and Education, CERI, at the OECD in 2007-2010. The methodological approach adopted by the study was mostly based on desk research, as well as expert and country consultation. The main tools of the present study were:

A research review, conducted to summarize the existing evidence regarding the relevance of the gender issue in the area of technology in education. The research field covered several disciplines, spanning from psychology, pedagogies, youth studies, media studies and gender research, and both quantitative and qualitative studies were included. This research review was widely circulated among national experts and was discussed during an expert meeting at the OECD headquarters on the 10th of April 2008.

Two expert meetings, one dedicated to validating the findings of the research review and another one designed to facilitate policy discussions between countries. Insights communicated from the first expert meeting were further elaborated and included in a background paper, which was drafted and sent out to a group of invited experts who came together for an OECD expert meeting during the first two days of June 2008. This expert meeting was dedicated to highlighting and presenting research evidence as well as to elaborating on and presenting existing policy and actions relating to gender ICT and education within the OECD countries. All papers and presentations were published on the OECD / CERI website1.

Main indicators on girls’ and boys’ familiarity with ICT

The production and use of knowledge by using advanced ICT is increasingly important as the basis for what is often coined as “ the new knowledge economy”, which can be framed as a response to increasing global competition between countries and regions drawing on knowledge as the main asset. To ensure that society and individuals are included in this development, the notion of “digital inclusion” has been suggested in order to enhance the social, political and economic inclusion of all social marginalized groups in which gender has been embedded. One possible approach for measuring gender digital inclusion would be to analyze the existing evidence in four broad categories, namely:

  • Access and use of the Internet

  • Skills and attitudes towards ICT

  • Higher education graduates in computing

  • The ICT workforce

The following paragraphs summarize how existing evidence appears in this respect.

Access and use of the Internet

Available statistical information on access and use of the Internet reveals the existence of a digital gender gap, even if there have been positive developments regarding access to the Internet; gender differences are decreasing in most OECD countries (CERI, 2010; OECD & PISA, 2005; European Commission, 2010). However, there are still differences between males and females in respect of the amount of time spent online and on their computer skills and ICT preferences (European Commission, 2010). Notwithstanding, the gender gap appears to be lower when comparing young males and females to older males and females (ibid).

Skills and attitudes towards ICT

There are also differences between males and females concerning how they judge their own computer skills and self–efficacy related to how to perform different ICT-related tasks. Males report being more advanced and more capable of dealing with what are identified as high-level ICT skills (e.g. downloading new software, programming) compared to women (Broos, 2005, CERI, 2010). Furthermore, males are reported to have wider computer experience, report greater interest in and positive attitudes towards computer-related activities, and even appear to be more motivated about learning digital skills (Arnseth, 2007; Broos, 2006; Selwyn, 2007; Smihily, 2007).

However, when there is evidence to suggest a gender specific difference in attitudes towards ICT, in which boys reveal more confidence than girls, we do not know at what age this gender-based difference in attitudes starts; several studies confirm no gender specific differences in younger students. Some of these main findings are:

  • No considerable differences in respect of participation, ICT skills and learning between boys and girls in primary education (Volman, van Eck, Heemskerk, & Kuiper, 2005).

  • No differences concerning student attitudes, cognition or performance between boys and girls of elementary school age (North & Noyes, 2002, Mey, 2007, Kay, 2008).

    ICT experience in an out-of-school context, most likely at home, influences younger children’s attitudes and expectations about ICT. This is echoed in their expectations about ICT for pedagogical purposes at school. In this case, it is suggested that;

    • Computer gaming can generate a self-efficacy with technology, which can increase attainment in other aspects of use (Kennewell & Morgan, 2006).

    • Boys are most likely to be well experienced in the use of video games for entertainment purposes at a very early age (Colley 2003; Kent & Facer, 2004). The use of computer games in schools seems to have a positive impact on engagement, and, in particular, on school drop outs, who very often happen to be boys (Kirriemuir, 2004).

    As for the situation relating to older children, results from various studies confirm gender-based differences related to ICT, even when the evidence is based on various disciplines and methods. What seems to be a turning point is when students reach the age of 11-12, at which stage some gender specific differences appear in their preferences, skills and attitudes towards ICT. There are various ways in which this is revealed. Still, we might interpret these developments as corresponding to the fact that it is normally at this age that boys and girls enter puberty, when gender identity becomes a central aspect. The gender specific differences can be summarized by saying that girls recognize their importance for work, while boys are more concerned with playing games or representing a leisure-oriented approach towards ICT. Moreover, research shows that:

    • Girls report less positive attitudes and self- efficacy towards ICT than boys (Sølvberg, 2003; Volman et al., 2005; Enochsson, 2005; OECD, 2005; Lynch, 2007; Tømte & Hatlevik, 2010).

    • Boys and girls report different preferences towards ICT-related tasks and applications (Sølvberg, 2003; M. Volman et al., 2005; CERI, 2010) For example, girls are most positive towards communicative-oriented tools, like creative writing and teamwork applications, while boys are more explorative in their use of ICT (M. Volman et al., 2005; Volman & van Eck, 2001).

    • ICT represent a kind of “coolness” for many boys, whereas the opposite appears to be the case for many girls (Enochsson, 2005; Anderson, 2007).

    There seems to be a slight tendency towards boys displaying a preference for individual learning with ICT, whereas girls are more likely to prefer collaborative learning. However, the picture is more nuanced. Studies of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) and Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL), report that male dominance and gender differences in communication style continued to play a role even when CMC is characterized by its communicative capacity and therefore might be expected to be found more attractive to female students. Participation was more gender balanced in educational settings with an explicit focus on inclusiveness in collaboration (Prinsen, 2007).

    Higher education graduates in computing

    Moving onto higher education, there is a gender gap in most OECD countries. Despite an impressive increase in female participation in higher education where girls are approaching 60% of the university student population (Hegna, 2005; Nordahl, 2007), gender segregation in regard to choice of education and career is still strong (Støren & Arnesen, 2007; Hill, 2010).Women remain relatively absent from fields like computer science, software development and the design of ICT products in most Western countries. Moreover, male dominance is also observed in the field of ICT education and training, like in science and technology-related degrees and in computer-related fields of education (Hill, 2010; Prpic, 2009; van Welsum, 2007; European Commission, 2010).

    The ICT workforce

    The low proportion of women in ICT-related education carries over into the labor market, and this development is confirmed statistically; in 2004 the category of ICT specialists included 25% females (van Welsum, 2007. There is also empirical evidence to suggest continuing female absence in terms of ICT professionals (Hill, 2010, European Commission, 2010). If we look at the presence of women in occupations that use ICT in its broadest sense2, women would account for between 30% - 50% of employment in most OECD countries. However, this representation of women hides differences in female employment rates at the occupational level. The highest female rates occur in office or clerical types of occupations, which traditionally have not been considered as advanced use of ICT or even what counts as ICT specialists. Following this, the share of female employees, in a more narrow definition of ICT skilled employment, as ICT specialists, appear to be very low and is even declining or has stagnated in some OECD countries (Van Welsum, 2007; European Commission, 2010).

    Boys’ and girls’ ICT profiles

    In most cases, gender has been used and understood as a binary concept referring to supposed differences and inequalities between “men” and “women”, as previously presented. However, this approach has been contested by a number of researchers who claim that such an approach leads to a whole series of stereotypes relating to how and what “women” and “men” are. One consequence would be to approach the issue as if a natural and unchangeable understanding existed in respect of the meaning of masculinity and femininity (Gansmo, 2004a; Wajcman & MacKenzie, 1999). Still, this critique of a binary conception of gender does create a problem about how to provide and to analytically manage an understanding of gender that allows one to see sameness and differences at the same time (Sørensen & Lagesen, 2008). And there are no clear answers about how to approach the issue without using the male–female categories. What seems to be important is to broaden the scope, by admitting that the situation is far more complex than the existence of stereotypes. As shown, gender specific preferences towards ICT emerge mainly as kids grow older. This calls on us to relate the phenomenon/evolvement of stereotypes to explanations connected to socialization-processes relating to gender, and to some extent, also biological explanations (children entering puberty).

    One possible approach is to empirically nuance the stereotypical picture without taking it for granted that only one dichotomy will emerge. For example, using multiple profiles as a more precise way for understanding how people, men and women use ICT. The work carried out in the PISA and ICT 2006 report (CERI, 2010), for instance, provides a set of detailed insights into a set of nine selected profiles. These profiles both confirm the existence of gender stereotypical use of ICT in most OECD countries and also reveal the existence of various groups of students, both males and females, who are identified in the profiles and who fall in-between the polarizations. The set of profiles thus provides evidence showing that multiple sets of preferences towards ICT exist, both between boys and girls, as well as between different groups of girls and different groups of boys.

    Spheres of influence on youngsters’ own perceptions of ICT

    Until now, we have seen some evidence relating to several differences between girls and boys in relation to ICT. This second part provides a theoretical and explanatory framework about how society (or community) generates these differences between boys and girls in relation to ICT.

    Most boys and girls hold onto different ICT tools and applications. They also relate differently to what constitutes technology and they talk about it differently (Carr, 2005; Enochsson, 2005; Heemskerk, Brink, Volman, & ten Dam, 2005; Tønnessen, 2007). This constitutes a gender issue, which is influenced by social norms on what constitutes male and female behavior3. It is equally believed that young people’s gendered identities have an impact on future educational and career patterns, particularly in relation to science and technology; the two most crucial areas for knowledge economies (Margolis, 2003; Vekiri, 2008, Geneve, 2009; Hill, 2010). In other words, youngsters’ ICT preferences and patterns of use are influenced by socialization processes. To illustrate this, the “Sphere of influence” model, here presented in Figure 1, (Geneve, 2009) is useful; it shows how various environmental aspects of a person’s lifecycle affect choices of education and professions;

    The model was developed to provide a framework for exploring the complex socially-situated participation of women in the ICT industry. It suggested that influences are manifested in the environment as 1) cultural phenomena, formed by historical, socio-cultural, economic, legal and political influences. These macro level distal cultural norms are mediated by 2) the media in its various forms such as literature and television and via technologies such as the Internet. Furthermore, proximal influences such as 4) resources including learning resources, or simply access to technology, can be an influence. The social category 3) encompasses socialization agents where mechanisms, such as family, institution, workplace and communities of practice, may influence the individual (Geneve, 2009). The model also visualizes the various levels of influence and how these are interconnected. This way, the model also serves to illustrate how our understanding of gender and in particular how gender relates to ICT, might have affected boys and girls differently, from their childhood to their working lives.

    The present section aims to delve deeper into youngsters’ lives in order to see how various socialization agents may influence aspects of childhood and how this relates to gender. However, this is an immense area of research, which deserves several dedicated reports with a wider perspective than would be possible here. Given that this paper’s main objective is ICT, education and young people, these are the areas which will be taken into account when looking at the processes of gender socialization in this particular section4.

    The community

    How are children exposed to gender issues by the people closest to them? How do parents, peers and schools communicate gender? Do they challenge the stereotypes by suggesting alternative role models, toys or ICT tools? What is the research evidence relating to this? The following section will delve deeper into these issues.

    The community represents children’s and youngsters’ closest contexts; parents and family, peers and the school community are present from the earliest stage and are central in the process of shaping and influencing youngsters’ perceptions of the world in its broadest sense and their surroundings in a narrow sense. Parents, peers and schools might represent various values and perceptions, even when co-located in the same national and cultural area. Socioeconomic differences might also be a critical dimension in this regard. For example, immigrant children might be exposed to cross-cultural sets of values; where those communicated from the family differ from those presented by schools and local municipalities. These aspects are important to bear in mind, when delving into the different segments of the community. However, the extent to which these aspects are taken into account in the studies referred to in the present paper appears to be rather limited. Still, whenever such are considered, this will be recognized.

    Parents’ influence

    Parents have an influence on children’s and young peoples’ attitudes towards and use of ICT, both

    • in terms of encouraging ICT use, for instance for homework,

    • by communicating their own perspectives of gender and ICT, and

    • by behaving as gendered persons themselves.

    One interesting example is the role of parents in relation to risk-related use of ICT. Two aspects derive from this, namely how this appears to be communicated differently to girls and boys by their parents, and also mothers and fathers have different roles and perspectives about what constitutes such a risk.

    The risks related to the use of ICT in relation to chat and Internet messaging constitutes an actual example in this case. To deal with it, parents are likely to impose rules on their children’s usage. And parents’ approaches to their children’s use of ICT are gendered in several ways. Firstly, in the sense that they appear to lean on stereotyped views of boys’ and girls’ use of ICT; for example, by communicating safety and risk-related rules to the girls and rules concerning video games to the boys (Gannon, 2008; Lenhart et al. 2008; Medierådet, 2008). Secondly, views on gender roles held by parents in a family also seem to impact on the parents’ approaches to the issue of risk and rules. This way parents both react as gendered persons and respond to the dominant perceptions relating to gender and ICT.

    The socioeconomic status of parents also influences children's access and use of ICT at home and in their schoolwork (OECD, 2007). For example, children in the UK, who are daily and weekly users, have parents who also use the Internet more often and have more expertise. They tend to be middle-class teenagers with home access to computers. Greater online skills are associated with the take-up of a wide range of online opportunities for children and young people, and a divide is growing, not just in respect of access, but also centered on the quality of use. For some, the Internet is a stimulating resource, for others, a narrow, disengaging medium (Livingstone, 2005). Similar findings are reported in the US; teens and their parents often have similar technological profiles in the gadgets they use and the frequency with which they use them. Teens, however, are notably more likely than their parents to say that the Internet and related technology has made their own lives easier. A study from the US reports that 89% of online teens said that the Internet and other devices, such as cell phones, iPods, and digital cameras, made their lives easier, while 71% of their parents said that these technologies made their lives easier. Furthermore, while a majority of parents with online teens still believe that the Internet is a beneficial factor in their children’s lives, there has been a decrease since 2004 in the number of parents who believe that the Internet is a good thing for their children (Macgill, 2007).

    Another interesting aspect concerns parents’ influence on children’s and youngsters’ self-efficacy in respect of ICT. Parental support and, to some extent, also peer support are the most important variables for both boys’ and girls’ self-efficacy and value beliefs relating to computers (Vekiri, 2008). These findings are related to previous research which indicates that parents hold stereotypical views about the abilities of males and females in male-dominated domains and communicate different abilities and behavior expectations to their sons and daughters (Margolis, 2003). In addition, the expectations that parents communicate to their children can have long-term consequences as they have a strong effect on children’s future self-efficacy beliefs, academic choices and career plans (Vekiri, 2008).

    Peer influence

    Due to the fact that we have recognized many girls’ preferences towards the communication-oriented use of ICT, one could assume that their collaborative skills would be appreciated in peer situations, but there appears to be little research which focuses directly on peer, gender and ICT. Furthermore, as reported in the PISA and ICT 2006 study, the gender-based differences relating to ICT and communications like online chat are diminishing (CERI, 2009). Still, findings from one particular study might be of relevance, showing that boys who participated in LAN-parties5 experienced these as a highly important arena for informal learning based on peer-to-peer learning. (Kaare-Hertzberg, 2008). LAN parties have traditionally been considered as a typical male area. Girls were most likely to be present as girlfriends or sisters. However, there appears to be a recent tendency for girls to participate on their own or in groups (ibid).

    The role of schools and teachers

    We are of course aware of the teachers’ role within education. What we do not know so much about is if their gender has any kind of impact on learners and their approach to ICT. Another central perspective is whether teachers and schools are aware of their own often outdated perspectives on gender and how these might be communicated to the students. The existing ICT curriculum might also function as an effective tool in preventing girls from choosing ICT-related subjects. Nevertheless, there are researchers who relate the gender issue to overall socio-cultural dimensions, and thus also appear to deny the possible influence that teachers and schools might have on the gender issue. These aspects will be discussed at the very end of this section. As for the first assumption, there is empirical evidence to suggest that the teacher’s gender does matter when it comes to their appearance as good role models, for example when including

    • a teacher-centred pedagogical approach and

    • computer experience of female teachers in order to raise their self-efficacy towards ICT (Meelissen, 2008).

    In some cases, both students and teachers appear to reproduce outdated understandings of gender; in schools where teachers and schools had implemented strategies to attract more girls to ICT education, these strategies often reinforced the stereotypical notions of gender (Lynch, 2007). To change, researchers therefore suggest that;

    • Teachers and teacher trainers should pay attention to their students’ awareness of gender differences in computer attitudes and computer use by primary school children (Volman & Van Eck, 2001; Smeets, 2005; Kennewell & Morgan, 2006; Meelissen, 2008).

    • Teachers and teacher trainers should also focus on gender differences in respect of self-confidence in ICT use by future teachers (Volman & Van Eck, 2001; Smeets, 2005; Kennewell & Morgan, 2006; Meelissen, 2008).

    • Teachers and teacher trainers should also recognize that boys and girls often talk about/use the language differently when talking about ICT (Enochsson, 2005).

    • Change the curriculum, which often has been identified as a traditionally male-oriented field of interest (Colley, 2003; Lynch, 2007).

    • Change pedagogical practice relating to ICT to make it more exciting; misconceptions about existing practice have had an impact on youngsters’ expectations of future studies on the subject (Colley, 2003; Lynch, 2007; Anderson, 2007).

    • Younger students would benefit from more support for their lower skill levels since this can help offset any gender differences in the experience brought to the classroom from the home environment.

    • Young students, and particularly boys, are heavily exposed to the excitement of computer games. There is thus a risk that more mundane tasks might appear more boring in comparison (Colley, 2003).

    Another statement about the teacher’s role in relation to the gender issue has been that this is most likely connected to wider contexts, such as socio-cultural environments. For example, recent findings from the SITES 2006 study, which focuses on pedagogy and ICT use in schools around the world in math and science, concludes, that despite more systems having higher percentages of ICT-using male teachers for both teacher populations, the gender imbalance is probably not due to gender specific differences in the pedagogical adoption of ICT. The authors claim that any such difference is more likely to relate to social, historical, cultural and other contextual differences between male and female teachers in the specific education systems (Law, 2008).

    A similar perspective is communicated when claiming that the gender issue affects only the overall attitude towards computer use and self-evaluation of computer skills, but not opinions about specific issues related to the role of multimedia in instruction (Antonetti, 2006). In this respect, it is likely that attitudinal differences between males and females are overwhelmed by common professional interests and competences in the perspective that teachers who work in the same socio-cultural environment are faced, irrespective of their gender, with the same educational problems, are involved in the same practices and are trained according to the same pedagogical principles, etc. And this leads them to develop more or less the same conceptions about the instructional tools that can be employed (Antonetti, 2006). Another important perspective is the misconceptions about how teachers and students perceive their own ICT skills and competences (Arnseth, 2007). These discrepancies and lack of a shared understanding about terminology between teachers and learners might influence the learning situation.

    The ICT sector and how this relates to gender

    The ICT sector is male dominated in general and this is also the case in terms of the design of software, games, diverse tools and gadgets (Geneve, 2009; Hill, 2010; Prpic, 2009). Some researchers have claimed that the maleness of design, not only in respect of the outlook, but also in respect of the kind of objects being developed, might be one possible explanation as to why girls do not feel attracted to this field. However, as a response to such a claim, several attempts to attract girls were conducted at the beginning of this millennium. For example, the development of so-called pink games, which were designed to attract young girls to video games (Gansmo, Nordli, & Sørensen, 2003; Kirriemuir, 2004). However, the attempt failed and one explanation was that girls did not identify themselves as being “pink,” they just wanted other genres of computer games. Since then we have seen that the emergence of so-called social games, like for example Wii Sport and Sing Star, seem to attract many girls, although this has not yet been confirmed by research. We also know that girls do play various types of games, but that they do not necessarily identify themselves as gamers (Carr, 2005)6.

    Young people and social media

    During the last few years there has been an increase in the use of so-called content-creating activities on the Internet. Web resources like YouTube, Flickr, MySpace, Facebook and Wikipedia, as well as weblogs and fan fiction sites, are attractive to young people. These content creating activities have been framed in the concept called Web 2.0 or social media. Moreover, these activities appear to attract boys and girls differently. This might be understood as an example of the complexity of the gender issue and ICT, where both similarities and differences exist in the OECD member countries. These variations somehow indicate to us the complexity of the gender issue, in which there ought to be important variations of practicing gender between the cultures and nations, and which provides us with some indications of the heterogeneity of the NMLs. In this section the objective is to present some of the existing evidence on how boys and girls relate to various types of emerging Web 2.0 activities, namely gaming, blogging and social networking. Most of the activities connected to these resources are being conducted outside a school context; most likely at home.

    Young people consider the Internet to be a highly important arena for socializing (Ito, 2008), but there are distinct gender differences in what boys and girls prefer to do, and these differences also include geographical variations to some extent. In the OECD countries, research confirms that boys are more likely to show their preference for the practice of posting video clips on the web (Lenhart, 2007; Taylor, 2010), and that girls dominate in other multimodal fields, such as weblogs and social networks (Lenhart, 2007; Medierådet, 2008). However, there are overlaps between these activities as well as variations between the countries. For example, in the UK it has been reported that girls are most likely to post video clips on the Internet (Luckin, 2008), whereas the situation was the opposite in the US (Taylor, 2010). Moreover, a Swedish survey showed that girls are more advanced in their use of mobile phones and the Internet than boys (Medierådet, 2008).

    Also the production of web-blogs is dominated by young people, and there are gender differences apparent in the content of such blogs, even if the blogging activity itself appeared to be even between the genders. Males dominate the political commentary blog category whereas women are in the majority in the personal diary category (Lenhart, 2007; Storsul et al., 2008).

    This growing activity and advanced use of digital resources by both boys and girls is most widespread at home. However, there are some attempts to introduce these web resources and adjust them within a pedagogical framework at school. In the Scandinavian countries some attempts have been identified; for instance, social networks, web blogging and Wikis have to some extent been used in upper secondary education in the Nordic countries, but so far little research has been conducted on these initiatives (Lund et al., 2007; Lund, 2006).

    Gaming

    There is evidence that boys dominate and show their preference for gaming activities, both at home and at school (Arnseth, 2007; OECD, 2007; Smihily, 2007; CERI, 2010). This interest in gaming appears to be most apparent in young boys, and there is a shift of interest as the boys grow older; in terms of a stronger focus on the use of ICT for educational purposes (Kent & Facer, 2004).

    What is striking is that young girls also appear to have an interest in gaming, not to the same extent as the boys, but they still play (Smihily, 2007; Aarsand, 2010). When girls do play, they avoid talking about games as “games”. Instead they talk about the games by using game titles, like ‘the Sims’ (Carr, 2005). Both boys and girls consider gaming to be a male activity, with which the girls do not wish to be associated.

    Another important issue involves stressing the stereotypical portrayals of women and minorities in video games and the impact these characterizations might have on youngsters (Brenick, 2007). Research shows us that there is a positive association between violent game play and misogynous attitudes, including support for violence against women (Dill, 2005) and that women are under-represented, stereotyped and objectified in video games (Burgess et al, 2008).

    The use of games in a pedagogical setting improves boys' attitudes and motivation towards education (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2006; Kirriemuir, 2004). On the other hand, the use of games for school-related purposes does not motivate girls with high marks (Kirriemuir, 2004).

    There is still a lack of knowledge about how games influence learning and learning outcomes. Although there have been some attempts to introduce particular games for educational purposes (entitled serious games/epistemic games), we do not yet know the degree to which such will succeed, and more important in this case, we do not know if they will manage to engage the girls or even the boys.

    As for the educational use of gaming, so far no clear effect has been established in academic learning (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2006). Still, there is evidence to suggest that games contribute towards improving general skills, such as collaboration skills, perceptual and motor learning, ICT skills and higher order thinking skills; like problem-solving and strategic thinking (Kirriemuir, 2004).

    As shown, researchers stress the importance of differentiating between video game content related to gender stereotypes and to gender specific motivations and there is a need for more research as well as policymaking on the issue.

    Discussion and concluding remarks

    There is evidence to suggest the existence of gender specific preferences and patterns of use in respect of ICT and that these are emerging as children grow older. These can even be framed as stereotypes of boys’ and girls’ behavior. Still, as shown, even if the existence of stereotypes is confirmed, research also shows us the existence of variations across these stereotypes. The user profiles elaborated from the PISA 2006 data represent one example in this case. Moreover, girls’ interests and activities in social networking indicate a considerable interest in ICT, which might lead to more frequent use of other various ICT tools in the future. However, we do not know if this trend leads to more females becoming ICT specialists or professionals. Nevertheless, one possible approach might be to include both boys’ and girls’ various interests and user patterns in respect of ICT in future perspectives, both in research and in policymaking about what represents ICT. As long as males’ use of ICT still seems to represent the norm (Corneliussen, 2003, Abbiss, 2008), this might indicate a certain challenge.

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    1 See www.oecd.org/edu/nml for additional information.
    2 By using three categories of ICT competencies, 1) ICT-specialists, 2) advanced users and 3) basic users, the authors show that only the first category corresponds to the narrow measure of ICT-skilled employment and the sum of all three cover the broad measure of ICT-skilled employment (van Welsum, 2007).
    3 Moreover, the gendering process of individuals is also related to biological issues. However, this dimension would need a much broader approach than this paper might give, which is why it is set aside.
    4 The reason for this is that the New Millennium Learners project mainly concentrates on young people and education, and only to a limited extent includes higher education and adults. Furthermore, due to the fact that the topic women and men and ICT is rather wide-reaching and an important field in itself, it is suggested that this should be left as a separate research and policy area. However, the two issues are deeply connected, since children’s preferences and patterns of use are influenced by, to some extent, gendered socialization processes as well as practices, which might contribute to future gendered educational and career patterns.
    5 LAN-parties; recognized as social gatherings for youngsters to play computer games, chat and copy files. The notion LAN derives from the fact that these activities depend on a Local Area Network.
    6 Furthermore, we may find traditional perspectives on gender in the toy industry as well as in the clothing industry for kids; i.e. whenever one enters a toy store in a Western country, it is divided into “pink” and “blue”, which serves to signal boys’ and girls’ toy sections.

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