IT is a gender thing, or is it? Gender, curriculum culture and students' experiences of specialist IT subjects in a New Zealand High School
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis explores students' experiences of specialist information technology (IT) courses at the secondary school level in New Zealand. It asks whether students experience a gendered curriculum culture in relation to specialist IT subjects. The exploration involves a survey of national curriculum arrangements and detailed consideration of the manner in which the curriculum is implemented in practice by teachers and experienced by students in three case study classes in a conventional high school, Kahikatea High School (KHS). These classes are year 12 computer studies (CPS) and years 12 and 10 text and information management (TIM). Twenty-two students were the focus of detailed observation in the course of a year. It is found that students experience a gendered IT curriculum culture at KHS, which takes form in both gendered subject and classroom cultures. Gendered subject cultures are established in part through national curriculum structures that maintain subjects from historically gendered domains. Conservative local subject arrangements at KHS contribute to a gendered curriculum in practice. The curriculum takes on a gendered character as a function of choice - teachers' choices about subjects they will offer and the way courses are organised and presented, and students' choices about what subjects they will take. Particular subjects and courses are associated with nominally masculine and feminine computer practices and are thereby imbued with masculine and feminine subject identities. There is considerable variation and nuance in the way students experience different IT courses and in the meanings they make of their experiences. In short, individual students experience the same course differently. They are influenced to greater and lesser degrees by a range of factors, including expectations, prior experience, classroom pedagogy, classroom relationships and performance. Also, individual students are negotiating their masculine and feminine identities as students of IT and computer users as they participate in specialist IT courses and in other arenas of their lives. As they negotiate their roles as computer users and students of IT at KHS, males and females are established in relations of power or authority with the technology and with each other - as computer controllers, aspirant controllers and competent users. These relationships have a gendered character that derives from the attribution of the status of controllers to (some) males and the exclusion of females from this group. However, individual males and females aspire to and are attributed the characteristics and status commensurate with a range of user roles. Gender is a factor in individual students' experiences, but in ways that defy stereotyping and that are highly individualised. All this suggests that gender is not essential in the sense that it implies sameness, but also that gender is not passé or inconsequential as a factor in students experiences of specialist IT courses. Gender relations are a fundamental and inescapable feature of students' experiences of the IT curriculum in practice at KHS.