Gender Beneath the Surface

Lynn V. Marentette

I'm a school psychologist who has been taking computer classes part-time for the past four years. I'm the mother of two daughters, so I have a personal interest in the area of women in technology. Last semester, I took two graduate courses - Human Computer Interaction and Ubiquitous Computing. There were very few female students in my classes, which has been the case in all of the computer courses I have taken. I'm 50 years old, and assumed that things would be much different by now.



Last semester, I worked on projects designed for large, interactive touch-screen displays. I wanted my prototypes to work well on a touch-table. After the semester was over, Microsoft announced the new Surface, a coffee-table-style user interface designed to "break down traditional barriers between people and technology." I was excited to learn about this, since I hope to focus my graduate research in the area of interactive touch-screen displays and tables. Given my background in education, I hope to develop user-friendly applications that would work well in K-12 settings.



Recently I learned that the executive team for the Surface is all male. This is frustrating to me. The primary focus of Surface, at least for now, is entertainment and retail. The SDK and table are not available for use by university researchers and graduate students at this time. It bothers me that no women are "at the table" at the executive level for a product that has so much potential for education.



It's a bit ironic that I was one of 10 female students selected as "academic all-stars" by Microsoft Research to attend the 2005 Serious Games Summit. The purpose of this was to encourage more women to pursue education in computer science and IT-related fields. I'm happy that I had the opportunity to attend the conference, but disheartened to learn that I have no means of getting my hands on a Surface to pursue my research anytime soon.



I'd like to address the issue of women and technology in a way that will reach decision-makers. I'd also like to inspire more women, of all ages, to take computer science and other technology courses, and provide computer/IT instructors and professors with the tools needed to successfully reach non-traditional computer/IT students. Although there have been changes in some introductory computer courses, there have been few large-scale changes.



I want to do something to change things: first, by pursuing my interest in computers and technologies, despite my age and gender; and then, by networking with others who have similar interests. My focus has been centered on sharing information about technology, and I use my blogs primarily as resources for teachers as well as for people who have attended some of my workshop presentations about related technology topics.





Lynn V. Marentette works as a school psychologist in the Union County Public Schools and is a member of the Computers and Technical Applications in School Psychology interest group of the National Association of School Psychologists. Lynn is applying to the Ph.D. program in Information Technology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and she blogs at TechPsych: http://techpsych.blogspot.com/.