How can schools and colleges use new learning technologies to advance science interest and education among girls and young women?


Lisa Bievenue
Education Research Associate, National Center for Supercomputing Applications, University of Illinois/Champaign-Urbana

Paul Grobstein
Eleanor A. Bliss Professor of Biology and Director of the Center for Science in Society, Bryn Mawr College


Participants included people actively involved in the creation and dissemination of new learning technologies, people using such technologies in college and pre-college teaching, educators interested in using such technology, and parents concerned about finding ways to enhance science education for their children.


The ongoing development of new learning technologies was generally seen as a promising avenue for advancing science interest and education among girls and young women. While early, probably necessary, evolutionary phases of this development largely replicated traditional pedagogical styles, there is an increasing movement toward materials that engage students in individualized ways in interactive learning experiences, which stress learning by doing and make available a remarkably rich array of materials, experiences and techniques. These seem likely to contribute to a broad rethinking of the presentation of science in a way that will better engage and maintain interest in science among young women at all educational levels.

For science educators, new learning technologies make it possible to:

  • Teach science and scientific perspective not as an isolated subject but as beginning with and related to questions of general interest to students;
  • Engage students in doing meaningful explorations themselves;

  • Provide students with usable forms of sophisticated visualization and simulation tools actually used in science;
  • Make a wide variety of materials available to students, from which they (or their teachers) can "individualize" their education, and find approaches and topics that fit their own interests, backgrounds and learning styles;
  • Give students and teachers the encouragement and capability to make contributions to the scientific observational base and the interpretation/ discussion of that data.

Sample Uses of New Learning Technologies in Science Education

While there is substantial promise and activity in the development of new learning technologies, at the moment this work is largely occurring in isolated ways.

Recommendation: It would be advantageous both to the creators of such materials and to those interested in making use of them to have a central and continually updated directory of information about ongoing developments. Such a directory, which could be maintained by an organization such as the NSF’s Division of Education and Human Resources, could serve to provide critical analyses of existing materials as well as of the general direction of ongoing development.

The workshop also engaged the question of "learning styles" and possible population differences between females and males in the kinds of experiences they find engaging. Participants discussed the following learning style continuums:

  • More inclined to (a) "mess about" vs. more inclined to (b) plan in advance/pursue directed goals;
  • More inclined to (a) accept goals inherent in a task vs. (b) want to create a product on one’s own;
  • More inclined to (a) "test" understanding against constraints vs. more inclined to (b) "free play;"
  • More inclined to (a) focus on individual activities in relation to an external task vs. more inclined to (b) focus on interpersonal dynamics.
  • Most existing science education materials that use new technologies emphasize (a)-type activities, though there are clear examples of (b)-type materials, such as graphics packages and the Sims-type of computer games.

Recommendation: If existing materials are more appealing to males than females (on a population basis), this difference must be better understood and changes must be made in educational technologies.

More important, perhaps, is the opportunity to use technology to create science education materials that appeal to a variety of learning styles.

Recommendation: By combining (a)- and (b)-type activities in a more balanced way, we can realize the potential of new learning technologies to help engage girls and young women in science and technology.

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