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Boys dominate the keyboards

Karen Thornton reports from the British Psychological Society conference

GIRLS still see computers in the classroom as toys for the boys, according to research presented at this week's British Psychological Society conference.

Girls who were paired up with boys for non-computer-based tasks held their own. But when a computer was introduced into the partnership, it was the boys who came out on top - to the extent of physically pushing girls' hands away from the keyboard.

Researchers Helen Fitzpatrick, of Strathclyde University, and Margaret Hardman, of Bolton Institute, warn their work has implications for how teachers make increasing use of computers in the classroom.

They observed seven and nine-year-olds from four primary schools in Bolton. Same gender and mixed pairs were told to work together on two similar tasks involving word beginnings and endings - one computer-based, the other involving a board game.

There was a high level of collaboration by both age groups on both tasks. When collaboration broke down, the children in same gender pairs were equally assertive, confident and competitive.

However, boy-girl working partnerships broke down more readily. When this happened, girls dominated physically and verbally on the board game - but the boys took over verbally and sometimes physically on the computer.

The boys dominated - insisting on "their goes", making assertions and issuing orders - and became more bossy as they got older. In one case, a girl's hands were pushed away from the keyboard.

The girls believed they were as capable as the boys - indeed, the younger girls had a more confident attitude towards using computers than their male classmates - but were reluctant to take them on. Computers were seen as a male preserve.

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