Women in technology

| women

I volunteered at the Women in Technology workshop on webpage authoring
this morning. Overall, it was a great event. The girls had a lot of
fun using Netscape Composer to make webpages about animals, movies,
fashion, and other topics. A few things particularly stood out to me,
though, and I wish I could've done something to fix them.

I saw one of the volunteers practically walking students through the
short quiz. He didn't dictate the answers, but by nodding or
eliminating other options, he gave the answer away. He didn't even
give them time to think, to ponder. That gave them perfect points, but
I really don't think that helped build their confidence. If anything,
it probably made them feel more uncertain and more dependent.

As much as I like rewarding people and making them feel good about
something, I think the students really would've been better off wrong.
I think they would've been better off knowing that they should listen
and read instead of waiting for someone to spoonfeed them. I think it
would've been better if the test distinguished between the people who
paid attention and the people who didn't.

I knew there might be trouble. True enough, when the girls were
supposed to be making the webpage, he was the one at the computer.
When I saw him use the little eraser mouse to select clipart when the
kids were perfectly capable of doing it themselves, I couldn't help
but ask a pointed question: “Have you girls used this kind of mouse
before?” That reminded him that he had brought a regular mouse which
the students could use to do the work themselves.

They were okay for a while, but then I saw him in charge again. It was
near the end of the period. He said that they had agreed to let him do
the work because there were a lot of images and not enough time.

I still feel that's wrong, you know. They could've made a simpler
webpage themselves and still felt proud of their accomplishment. As it
stood, they had a fancy webpage, but it wasn't _theirs._ I think
that's broken. If I were to improve this workshop, I'd be more focused
on helping everyone gain confidence in it and teaching other people
how to do things rather than making at least two webpages with at
least one picture and at least one link. I'd also try to tie it in
with school material so that they understand the reason why people
publish. Ah, well. Things to remember for whatever camps we'll
organize in the future…

The other thing that broke my heart was the sight of a painfully shy
girl shunted aside by her more outgoing classmates. She sat at the
edge of the table, bangs and thick glasses hiding her eyes. When the
two girls seated beside her moved to the computer to make their
webpage, she remained at the edge of the desk, not even watching the

I took the empty seat and started talking to her. I asked her what her
favorite movie was. No response. I asked her what the last movie she
watched was. I saw her struggling to respond. Aha! I pulled a piece of
paper over and wrote down, “The last movie I watched was:”. After some
nudging, she wrote down, “Scream.” I asked her if she liked it, and
she nodded. I asked her why she liked it, and she said that she liked
it because it was scary. I coaxed her to write it down so that we
could make a webpage about it.

Her friend came over and helped her spell “scary.” Hearing them
converse in a foreign language, I asked them where they were from.
Korea, the second girl said. Ah, well, no chance to use a little bit
of Japanese to help them relax, but that's okay. The second girl was a
little bit more confident, but still a quiet sort of girl. We
introduced ourselves and waited for the computer to be free.

When the other students left the computer for their recess, I coached
the girls on how to add text and images using Netscape Composer. The
second girl explained everything in swift Korean while helping the
first use the mouse. We had the beginnings of a webpage on the screen.

Unfortunately, our time was over too soon. The facilitator asked me if
I could get the girl to wrap up as the other students wanted to edit
their nearly-finished pages and add links. I bit my tongue, smiled,
and helped the two girls save their webpage – one line of text and one

The other girls resumed working, boisterous and cheerful. The second
girl went back to working with her group, and this little shy girl
went back to hiding behind her bangs and her glasses.

I wrote an encouraging note in as simple words as I could. I told her
that computers are nice because she can learn about them on her own. I
told her that if she watches people, she can learn from them to. I
told her to ask questions, to learn as much as she wants, to never
give up… Ay! If only I knew the words that would help her discover
confidence. If only I could patiently teach and reteach things until
she discovered their joys. If only I could listen until she overflowed
with stories. (And if only I knew enough Korean to help! What would I
have said: aja?)

She smiled and waved at me on my way out. That was just the most
beautiful smile I've ever seen.

Random Japanese sentence:

You can comment with Disqus or you can e-mail me at sacha@sachachua.com.