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

Heather J. Wik University of British Columbia

ETEC 500 Section 65D Dr. Cliff Falk February 15, 2011


Miller, Schweingruber, and Brandenbrug (2001) completed a quantitative study that concluded the gender gap pertaining to computer access, use and perceived competence had decreased significantly during the previous decade. They based their conclusions on a survey completed by 512 middle school students (age 11 to 15) from eight public and private schools in the Houston, Texas area, located in four different school districts. Schools and participants were selected based on the goal of having a diverse socioeconomic status representation and equal gender representation. Between October 1998 and April 1999 participating students completed a paper and pencil questionnaire during either a computer technology or science class period. A total of 68 questions were asked, using both open and closed formats. Three areas were investigated: 1. Self-perception of computer skills and their acquisition 2. Exposure to technology at home and at school 3. Media style and content preferences (Miller et al., 2001, p. 125) In their study, Miller et al. reviewed literature selected from 1984 to 1999 which looked at the attitudes, accessibility, approaches, and preferences of female and male students related to use of technology. They also cited studies related to the increasing presence of the Internet, both in homes and schools. Miller et al. articulated several significant observations. They stated the rapid increase in computer ownership and access to the world wide web had impacted student computer skills and helped narrow the gender gap in terms of computer access, use, and expertise. Eighty percent of students in the study had access to the Internet at home, and 95% of students reported they had used the Internet either at home or at school. Female

MILLER, SCHWEINGRUBER & BRANDENBURG - ARTICLE CRITIQUE and male students had different preferences for their choice of media style, but both approached computer activities with confidence. Though not the primary focus of their

study, Miller et al. found that students of a lower socio-economic status were only slightly disadvantaged. Overall, data from the research clearly indicated the gaps that existed in the early 1990s had narrowed significantly in ten years. Miller, et al. presented a well-structured and thorough report. They included a variety of statistics extracted from the survey results to support their arguments and provided a diverse selection of references to support their findings. However, I do have five criticisms of the paper. First, the selection of the school districts, schools, and student participants for the study was not clearly identified. Table 1 indicates that 6.6% of one school was surveyed, while 65.5% of another school was surveyed. Not only is the decision to base SES solely on free/reduced lunch programs questionable, but also the distribution of schools within SES subgroups is disproportionate. If samples are not randomly selected, then inferences made from the research are questionable (Gay, Mills, and Airasian, 2009, p. 125). Second, this survey relied only on self-reported data, which has innate limitations. The existence of response sets and biases need to be considered (p. 153). As well, Miller et al. acknowledge that terms such as student use and expertise were not defined. Students based their answers on their personal interpretations of what these terms meant, and this diminishes result reliability. Third, Miller et al. quote a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation regarding home use of computers completed in the same year. That study indicated that only 45% of students had Internet access at home. Miller et al. state, This is somewhat less than our

MILLER, SCHWEINGRUBER & BRANDENBURG - ARTICLE CRITIQUE sample that indicated 80% of the students having home Internet access (p. 136).

However, a difference of 35% is very significant, and as no rationale is provided to account for the difference, validity is called into question. Fourth, students took the survey either during a science or a technology class. Data validity would have been stronger if students had completed the survey during the same subject. Student attitudes while taking the survey in this study could have impacted the results. Finally, the authors discussion about the role other types of media were having on students is not relevant. Unless the survey given to participants specifically questioned student television viewing habits and use of other non-computer based media, such discussion should be withheld. While Miller et al.s survey garnered some meaningful information at the time it was completed, there are some significant flaws in the methodology that weaken the studys reliability.

MILLER, SCHWEINGRUBER & BRANDENBURG - ARTICLE CRITIQUE Bibliography Gay, L.R., Mills, G.E., & Airasian, P. (2009). Education research: Competencies for analysis and applications. Columbus, Ohio: Pearson. Miller, L.M., Schweingruber, H., & Brandenburg, C.L. (2001). Middle school students

technology practices and preferences: Re-examining gender differences. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia. 10(2), 125-140.