Memo #4 from Mobile Learning Week 2015

Paris, France
February 26, 2015

This year’s Mobile Learning Week was a collaboration of UNESCO and UN-Women.  The collaboration led to a unique theme of how to empower women and girls with mobile devices.  The keynotes, panels and breakout sessions therefore focused on this intersection of technology and gender, and the topic of gender-sensitivity was front and center throughout the week.  But let’s be candid.  Some people do not know what gender-sensitivity means, and too many people have misunderstandings and wrong assumptions around women and girls’ interests in mobile learning.  My goal with this blog posting is to demystify the important topic based upon the research that we did for this week’s workshop. Let’s jump in by examining this gender-sensitivity from several levels!

Why is this topic important? 
Based upon the Speak Up data as well as results from several mobile learning evaluations conducted by Project Tomorrow, we have observed that mobile learning has a gender component.  When students are asked about how they want to use a mobile device to support their learning, girls and boys have different aspirations for schoolwork usage. For example, middle school boys want to use a mobile device to find online videos to help them with homework. Comparatively, middle school girls are often more interested in using their smartphone or tablet for collaborations with classmates, taking notes in class and communicating with classmates and teachers. Despite best efforts, instructional materials including digital content that are used with mobile devices may not be as gender sensitive as they could be.  Given that reality, it makes sense that we should dig more deeply into how digital tools and resources are either reinforcing or debunking traditional gender based norms and/or stereotypes. The goal therefore should be to more gender-sensitive or responsive in our plans for and use of those digital tools so that all students have an equitable opportunity for education.

What is the definition of gender-sensitivity?  
There is an extensive body of research on the many terms used when discussing gender issues in education including gender-unequal, gender-blind, gender-specific and gender-sensitive.  Per the research, the three defining characteristics of gender-sensitivity are as follows:

  • Gender-sensitivity considers gender norms, role and relationships
  • It takes into account the impact of policies, projects and programs on women/girls and men/boys
  • And it tries to mitigate negative consequences of the gender impact.

Comparatively, gender-blind see no differences between how girls and boys approach instructional materials or technology.  Instructional materials that are gender-unequal or bias are developed to favor one gender over another.  Gender-specific is similar but without the inherent negative consequences.

How can we become more gender-sensitive in our selection of instructional materials for use in classrooms by girls and boys?
As noted above, the research on this topic including case studies and implications for a wide range of instructional materials is available through multiple sources.  However, despite the extensiveness of the research, there is surprisingly very few resources that could be used by a teacher, school or district to evaluate the tools and content that they are using within instruction. For our workshop on Monday, therefore, we developed that kind of tool that can help you identify the gender-sensitivity of the digital content you may be using with students right now.  The Guide for Evaluating Gender-Sensitivity within Digital Content includes a list of “questions for consideration.”  The questions are categorized into four themes:  categorization, imagery and language, storyline and results.  While the guide will not give you a grade or score for your digital content, it will help to instigate new discussions around gender-sensitivity, the use of digital content within instruction, and education equity.  The best news is that you can access this guide on our website.  Check out both versions of the guide (one for digital content and a similar one for digital games) at www.tomorrow.org/UNESCOworkshop.html.  If you use the guide within your school, district or organization, let us know your thoughts on this new tool.

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