New Web site suggests ways to choose best computer technology for girls and young women

May 21, 2001

NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- A new Web site offering guidelines for selecting computer software and other technological resources that empower young women has been launched by the Douglass Project for Rutgers Women in Math, Science, and Engineering at Douglass College, the college for women at Rutgers, in partnership with Girl Scouts of the USA.

The Web site, "GirlsTech: Girls, Science, and Technology," located on the Internet at http://girlstech.douglass.rutgers.edu, offers useful pointers to help teachers, parents, librarians and other youth leaders evaluate Web sites, CD-ROMs, games, and other electronic information resources to judge both their appeal to girls and young women and their ability to stimulate interest in science and technology.

"GirlsTech" complements the award-winning Douglass Project's efforts to draw more young women into typically high-status, high-salary computer- and technology-related fields.

"Research shows that one reason women are not drawn to these fields is because, as adolescents, they're less likely to use computer games, which are primarily meant for male audiences. Therefore, they're less likely to develop an interest in and confidence about working with computers and other technology," said Ellen F. Mappen, director of the Douglass Project.

The GirlsTech Web site is grounded in research by Denise D'Agosto, who recently received her Ph.D. from Rutgers' School of Communication, Information and Library Studies (SCILS) in New Brunswick. D'Agosto reviewed 37 CD-ROMS and 342 Web sites and also conducted group interviews with young women to develop a framework for choosing the best technological products for girls and young women.

The Web site describes criteria that should be considered by anyone selecting technology for girls and young women and rates specific products by how well they meet these criteria.

"Among the questions that should be asked are: 'Will this product offer support for and recognition of girls' and young women's skills and abilities?' and 'Will it help boost their self- confidence and counteract gender-related self-doubt?' " said Kay E. Vandergrift, associate dean of SCILS, who guided D'Agosto's research.

She said some other questions that parents, teachers, librarians and others should ask are: "Does the product encourage girls to work together?"; "Will girls be able to personally identify with it?"; "Does it depict people of as many diverse racial, ethnic and gender groups as possible?"; and "Does it provide contextuality and flexibility, so that it flows in narrative form and allows girls to follow multiple possible paths?" Vandergrift noted that these are all factors that have been found to resonate with girls and young women.

The Web site was developed under a $185,000 grant from the Toyota USA Foundation to Douglass College and Girl Scouts of the USA. That grant also funded the joint Douglass College and Girl Scout Leadership Institute in Science and Technology, a summer program that brought high school girls from across the country together on the Douglass campus to explore science and technology in both 1999 and 2000.

Established in 1986, the Douglass Project addresses the under-representation of women in the sciences, math and engineering by providing mentoring, research opportunities and other activities to high school and college women interested in these areas. In 1999, the program received the prestigious National Science Foundation's Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring at a White House ceremony.

Founded in 1918 by Mabel Smith Douglass as New Jersey's first public college for women, Douglass is the nation's largest women's college. As a unit of Rutgers, it offers the supportive environment of a single-sex institution within one of the country's leading public research universities.

Girl Scouts of the USA is the world's pre-eminent organization for girls, with a membership of more than 3.7 million girls and adults. Today, as when founded in 1912, GSUSA helps cultivate values, social conscience, and self-esteem in young girls, while also teaching them critical life skills that will enable them to succeed as adults. In Girl Scouting-and its special girl-only environment-girls discover the fun, friendship and power of girls together.
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Rutgers University

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