Boys vs Girls vs Computers

Dixon, F., Cassady, J., Cross, T. & Williams, D. (2005). Effects of technology on critical thinking and essay writing among gifted adolescents.  The Journal of secondary gifted education, 16(4), 180-189.


Article Summary

My area of interest is critical thinking, technology, and pedagogy.  The pedagogy I hope to focus on is Bloom’s Taxonomy.  I want to create a study where all three meet in my fifth grade classroom.  This study interested me because it is about critical thinking and technology and part of the assessment that they used to measure the critical thinking focuses on analysis, synthesis, and evaluation which are the higher level of Bloom’s order so this research fits well with my classroom goal. The technology used in this study is trying to determine if a computer can help students become better critical thinkers when they write.  It is also trying to determine if the students’ gender makes any difference in the outcome.   Researchers decided to determine if technology would have an impact on the writing and critical thinking of gifted high school students.  The research was conducted at a residential, gifted high school.  99 incoming juniors wrote an essay.  39 of those students were males and 60 were females, all were sixteen years old.   One year later, the students were incoming seniors and they wrote a second essay.  The prompts for each essay were based off of the same poem.  Directions given for both essays were identical.  This second time the students wrote their essay, they were randomly assigned to one of two groups.  One group wrote the essay by handwriting it as they had done the first time and the second group used a computer to compose their thoughts.  These essays were also scored by the same two people using the same rubric they used the year prior.   The essays measured critical thinking using a five point scale.  The five point assessment measured the critical thinking skills of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation and did not focus on the mechanics of writing.  To score those, two people were brought in and trained until an interrater reliability was established.  A second critical thinking assessment was also used called the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal.  That was an 80 question test that measured critical thinking a different way than the essays.  The results compared the two scores.   There were two sets of results that this study examined.  One was the comparison of the critical thinking scores and the basic writing indicators.  As far as the first comparison, the conclusions of the study led to the analysis that critical thinking was significantly related.  The other evaluated if gender and the computers were interconnected which was the primary focus of the study.  “A…2 (male, female) by 2 (word process, handwrite) repeated measures multivariate analysis of variance was employed, examining four dependent variables at two points in time (WS-1, WS-2). That revealed statistically significant main effects for gender, method of writing at WS-2, and the repeated factor (time)” (Dixon, F., Cassady, J., Cross, T. & Williams, D., 2005 p.185).  The study found that boys did better using the computer.  It found no difference for girls.



Strengths and Critiques

This study had several limitations that were not addressed.  First, the sample size was very small which makes the results not generalizable.  Not only does it begin with 99 students, but it looks at the results based on gender and the gender is not split evenly to start with so only 39 boys are part of the study out of the 99 total.  That is before dividing the students for the second half of the study.  The researchers also said that the students were randomly assigned to write either by hand or on the computer.  What they did not specify is if the calculations were purposefully made so that the students were evenly divided down the middle or if the random assignments were made by gender.  If they were not, then there is no way of knowing how many male students used the computer and how many completed their second essay by hand. In that case it is possible the results could be very skewed.  Even if the students were evenly divided by gender, that would have left only 19 boys in one of the groups and 20 in the other which is a very small group.   Another issue examine is that this research specifically states that it is done with gifted students.  The authors cite the lack of research in the field of gifted education.  Doing research specifically for the gifted community is a valuable contribution to the field.  However, in addition to repeating this study within the gifted community, because of the small sample size, it might also be a good idea to have another study in which this is attempted in the non-gifted population as well to see what those results show.  A additional study with special education students might also prove worthwhile.


One more issue that was not addressed was the amount of word processing skills or familiarity that any of the students had with the computers.  We don’t know how often these students had access to the computers they used for the second essay and if that could account for any of the disparity.  If, by chance, the males had access to the computers more often that might be a contributing factor to their increased scores.  We also don’t know if they were ever given word processing classes, how often, if they had the same access to it as the females, etc.  Other unknown factors that could have impacted the study were the students’ connection to or interest it either of the prompts or to the poem.


The overall organization of the article was good and the literature study was detailed.  Several articles were given to support the connection between critical thinking and writing as well as articles supporting the use of computers to assist in writing.  There were no editorial errors.



Connecting to Past Research

As a classroom teacher who teaches writing, I think that this study has some interesting promise.  Writing fluency is an important component to being a competent writer.  More research needs to be done to explore the effects of using the tools that are available.  Not only should larger sample sizes be used but other types of research could be explored.  For example, what types of hardware (tablets, personal computers, etc.) would help versus hinder the writing process.  Will word processing programs get in the way of students’ writing because they become too encumbered with the minutia of spell-checking and editing rather than focus on the bigger picture of concepts? If technology is available and can help students with the writing process then it is definitely something that should be explored.  If it is something that is prone to help one gender more than another, that is worth examining as well.  If the findings from this research that males are able to write significantly more fluently by using computers is proven valid then the ramifications could have an enormous impact on the way we help students learn.  The technology is readily available in many classrooms and if the expectations become that we allow boys the access to do their writing on technology, and as a result, they become better able to communicate their thoughts, it could have a great impact on their ability to reach academic excellence.


Furthering My Area of Interest

This connects to my research in that it opens my mind to the type of technology I might use with my students.  This study made me realize that I don’t have to use something extravagant in order to be effective and have an impact on student learning.  I had been searching for a specific technology “tool” to use but it is now something I am starting to rethink.  In one of the research articles I read, they named a precise Microsoft program (Hubbard, J. D. & Price, G. 2013) that they used. After reading this research, I am reconsidering the direction to take. My goal is to use technology to help students become better critical thinkers based on sound pedagogy.  The background piece for this research began by explaining that laptops are in students’ hands every day which is why they chose to do this study.  The impact of their study alone, even with its issues, has made me consider letting some of the students in my classroom use computers to see if it will help them become more fluent writers.  This has made me contemplate that when I choose my study it would be more helpful to my students, and to anyone who reads my study, to have technology that is a part of their daily live rather than an isolated piece.



Hubbard, J. D. & Price, G. (2013). Cross-culture and technology integration: Journal of the Research Center for Educational Technology (RECT) 9(1).