Real and Perceived Differences in Computer Expertise

We know that school-age girls and boys are tracked into different fields: boys into sports; trades such as mechanics and engineering; mathematics; and the sciences, including computer science; girls into "softer" disciplines such as humanities and social services; and feminine trades such as nursing, diatetics, family and consumer resources, etc. Our culture has created a very real difference in computer expertise: more men than woman have extensive knowledge about computers. Because of this, there is a significant chance that male students both have more computer knowledge and are more experienced with computer-mediated communication than are their female teachers, particularly when we consider that most college-level writing instructors have insufficient training, and very few are trained specifically in computer-mediated instruction (See Enos for a discussion of college-level writing instructors) .

This reality creates a perception problem for those women who are computer experts. Students, both men and women, who believe that men are more skilled with computer technology, will have difficulty trusting the expertise of female teachers. This situation can lead to a lack of respect for the knowledge and authority of an instructor, a circumstance that our previous study showed to be significantly connected to the frequency of student-to-teacher harassment (Ferganchick-Neufang "Breaking the Silence") . Many of our respondents to this study indicated that student-to-teacher harassment occurred because students did accept a teacher's authority because they were female. Women are continually asked to prove themselves because our society's continued belief in the "weaker" sex extends past physical ability and into mental capability. When dealing with computers, students may transfer this societal bias against women's capabilities to their teachers and further challenge their authority with the attitude of "you can't teach me anything; everyone knows girls don't know much about computers!"


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