Journal of Applied Computing and Information Technology

ISSN 2230-4398, Volume 17, Issue 1, 2013

Incorporating the NACCQ publications:
Bulletin of Applied Computing and Information Technology, ISSN 1176-4120
Journal of Applied Computing and Information Technology, ISSN 1174-0175

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Box Refereed Article A1:

Computer self-efficacy - is there a gender gap in tertiary level introductory computing classes?

Shirley Gibbs
Department of Applied Computing, Lincoln University

Gibbs, S. (2013). Computer self-efficacy - is there a gender gap in tertiary level introductory computing classes?. Journal of Applied Computing and Information Technology, 17(1). Retrieved September 22, 2021 from


This paper explores the relationship between introductory computing students, self-efficacy, and gender. Since the use of computers has become more common there has been speculation that the confidence and ability to use them differs between genders. Self-efficacy is an important and useful concept used to describe how a student may perceive their own ability or confidence in using and learning new technology. A survey of students in an introductory computing class has been completed intermittently since the late 1990's. Although some questions have been adapted to meet the changing technology the aim of the survey has remain unchanged. In this study self-efficacy is measured using two self-rating questions. Students are asked to rate their confidence using a computer and also asked to give their perception of their computing knowledge. This paper examines these two aspects of a person's computer self-efficacy in order to identify any differences that may occur between genders in two introductory computing classes, one in 1999 and the other in 2012. Results from the 1999 survey are compared with those from the survey completed in 2012 and investigated to ascertain if the perception that males were more likely to display higher computer self-efficacy levels than their female classmates does or did exist in a class of this type. Results indicate that while overall there has been a general increase in self-efficacy levels in 2012 compared with 1999, there is no significant gender gap.


Gender, first-year students, computing knowledge, computer self-efficacy, confidence, end-user computing

1. Introduction

Computing technology is very much an integral part of everyday life for many people. Certainly students beginning their university study are likely to have been at schools where computer and Internet access is common as is access in many New Zealand homes. While many factors have been found to influence how a person uses and interacts with technology, gender is one demographic factor which has been said to have some effect on the perceptions a person has of their own ability and their confidence to use technology. Confidence can and does mean different things in terms of academic studies; for this study we use the term confidence to refer to one aspect of a person's computer self-efficacy.

In today's world it is generally accepted that incoming university students are confident using technology. Often a person's level of confidence is mistaken for their ability. Both of these things, confidence and perception of ability, are encompassed by the theory of Self-Efficacy, a person's belief in their own competency (Tomte & Hatlevik, 2011).

Students in the 1999 and 2012 classes of a university introductory computing subject were surveyed to find their levels of confidence using computers and their perception of their computing knowledge. Students were asked about their education and computing backgrounds and to rate their confidence using a computer as well as their perception of their computing knowledge. This paper sought to identify any differences between genders in the student's computer self-efficacy and examine if student's self-efficacy had altered in the time period between surveys.

2. Literature Review

Just as computers have become a bigger part of our lives so have the studies investigating the different factors which affect interaction with them. Historically there has been an informal view promoted in popular media that boys do better with technology than girls (Sanders, 2006). This view is supported by physiological research that tells us that men and women process information differently (Bem, 1981). Tomte and Hatlevik (2011) say that it is not uncommon to find reports asserting that there are gender differences in the attitudes of users of computers and related technology. They say in classroom situations boys are likely to dominate the use of computers and often show lower anxiety levels in the use of technology than girls in the same classes. Imhof, Vollmeyer and Beierlein (2007) report that, although they found no evidence of a gender gap in computer self-efficacy in their study, they noticed a gender difference in the use of technology for personal use. However, in the classroom they found that both genders made use of the technology in a similar manner. Likewise, Vekiri and Chronaki (2008) reported that, while the school boys in their study reported more support from family and friends when using computers than the girls, they found evidence to suggest that both genders do equally as well within a school technology program. Vekiri and Chronaki (2008) went on to say that the males in their study displayed higher levels of confidence when using computers than their female colleagues. This result was similar to that found by Tomte and Hatlevik (2011) who say that it is likely that boys will display higher computer self-efficacy than girls.

Computer self-efficacy (CSE) can be defined as a person's judgment of their computing ability (Compeau & Higgins,1995). It is suggested that a person's judgment of their ability in certain tasks can very much depend on whom they are comparing themselves with and the past experiences they have had (Compeau & Higgins,1995; Wood, 1989; Karsten & Schmidt, 2008; Gibbs, Steel & Kuiper, 2011). Some researchers go so far as to say that CSE is a better gauge of actual performance than actual competence, because a person's CSE is aligned with previous experiences and may determine how a person approaches a task in a given domain (Smith, 2001). However, discrepancies in a person's CSE may occur because of misjudgments of knowledge or task requirements (Bandura, 1977). Many students begin university with immense confidence in their ability to use computers, but are often not capable of completing tasks without extensive instructions (Smith, 2001).

Gender is said to be a stronger factor in assessing skill than other demographic factors such as age or education (Hargittai & Shafer, 2006). The implication is that males are more likely to attempt new tasks with technology than their female colleagues because they generally have higher confidence levels in using technology. Lower computer self-efficacy has also found in women working in specific IT roles. These highly trained women can lack the confidence of their male colleagues when it comes to applying for more senior positions or even rises in salary (Logan & Crump, 2007).

Hutchinson and Weaver (2004) reported that one of the largest groups entering tertiary education at the time of their study were women seeking retraining. Their study showed that while this was a large group many of its members felt uncomfortable in what they perceived to be the male-dominated field of information technology.

Previous studies have reported some differences in the attitudes of males using computers compared with females, while other studies report no such difference. The aim of this study is to detect any current gap in CSE between females and males in an 2012 introductory computing paper and compare these results to those from a similar class in 1999 in order to identify any changes that may have occurred during the given time period.

3. Method

To help determine the level of computing confidence of introductory computing students at the beginning of each semester a questionnaire is undertaken. The main purpose of this questionnaire is for teaching staff to be able to keep track of the changes in classes of students as technology and exposure to this technology change.

3.1. Participants

The samples used in this study comprised two cohorts, 1999 and 2012, of first-year undergraduate students in an Introductory Computing class. The sample from 1999 consisted of 284 students, from varying disciplines but mainly from the Commerce Faculty of the University. The sample from 2012 consisted of 80 students again from varying disciplines but mainly from the Commerce Faculty. In both cohorts there were around 60% males and 40% female students.

3.2. Instrumentation

The questionnaire asks respondents a number of demographic questions, such as age, sex and also if they undertook any computing training prior to coming to university. As well as collecting this demographic type data, respondents were asked to rate their level of computing confidence and their perception of their computing knowledge. For each of these questions respondents were required to respond using a five point Likert scale ranging, for the confidence questions, from 1 (Not confident) to 5 (Very Confident). Likewise for the knowledge perception question respondents were asked to choose a rating from 1 (Absolute Beginner) to 5 (Expert). These two measures are used to address and assess the respondent's level of self-efficacy.

3.3. Procedure

For each of the sample cohorts the questionnaire was distributed and collected during the first lecture of the semester. All students in the classes were given a questionnaire but were not required to complete it if they did not wish. Students were advised that there was no identifying information collected and their grades would not be affected by participation or non-participation.

Analysis of this data used quantitative methods and is described in detail in the section that follows.

4. Results and Discussions

A summary of demographic data for both of the cohorts being examined was collated and is presented in Table 1. It is interesting to note that most of the data over the years has remained relatively stable.

Table 1. Demographic data 1999 & 2012

While the split in genders in both class groups has remained the same it is pleasing, although probably not surprising, to see that a greater percentage of the 2012 cohort studied computing at high school than their 1999 counterparts. A more pleasing aspect of this result is that the proportions of the genders having studied at high school have remained equal.

4.1 Self-rating of computing confidence

Survey participants were asked to rate their confidence using computers making a choice of one of the following categories:

No Confidence; A little Confidence; Average confidence; Confident; Very Confident.

These choices were given a Likert type score from 1 (not confident) to 5 (very confident) and averaged.

Table 2. Confidence ratings

Results displayed in Table 2 show that this measure of computer self-efficacy has increased with a trend upwards. In 1999 the average confidence level was at the low end of the average rating while in 2012 it has moved to the high end of this category. Males in both cohorts had higher confidence ratings than their female classmates but the difference between genders has remained stable. This result supports research that says males are more confident using computers than females (He, 2010; Isamn & Celikli, 2009). However, the gender gap measured by this self-efficacy rating in this current study is minor and not statistically significant.

When viewed by categories of confidence (Table 3 & Figure 1), the results indicate a contrast in the two sets of data. In the results from 2012 there appears to have been a shift away from the lower confidence ratings. The students in 2012 were more likely to rate their confidence as average or confident than the students in 1999. In 1999 a number of both males and females indicated they had no confidence when using a computer, no members of the 2012 class considered they had no confidence. This result can likely be attributed to the already noted increase in participation of High School computing. One of the aspects affecting a person's self-efficacy is their previous experiences in a domain. As computers become more common it follows that a student's self-efficacy is likely to improve (Gibbs, Steel & Kuiper, 2011; He, 2010; Vekiri & Chronaki, 2008). Another notable change that may explain this upward trend is the growth of home access to computers. In 1999 58% had access at home whereas in 2012 this had increased to 97%. This result supports findings in previous research that has found home access to computers is significantly related to a student's attitude toward computer use (Vekiri & Chronaki, 2008).

Table 3. Confidence ratings by females and males in 1999 and 2012

Figure 1. Confidence ratings by Introductory Computing students in 1999 and 2012

When these data are analysed by gender we can see that in 1999 the females were more likely to rate themselves as having a little or average confidence than their male classmates whereas in 2012 more males considered themselves as average. Likewise more females considered themselves to be confident than their male classmates. It is worthwhile to note that in 1999 there was a greater number of males than females who self-rated as having no confidence in using a computer, compared with 2012 when no one chose this category (Figures 2 & 3). It is also curious to note that more females in the 2012 class rated themselves as confident compared with their male classmates but fewer females in this class considered they had average confidence compared with their male classmates. This result is a reversal of the result from the class in 1999 where females were more likely to rate themselves as average or having little confidence than the higher levels of confidence.

Figure 2. Confidence ratings by Introductory Computing students in 1999

Figure 3. Confidence ratings by Introductory Computing students in 2012

It is useful to see where the actual confidence ratings have changed within the genders over the time period (Figures 4 & 5). While the overall confidence ratings have improved between the two groups from 1999 to 2012, when comparing confidence results for the groups of males from each class you can see that the 2012 group has a much higher confidence rating that their counterparts of 1999.

Figure 4. Confidence ratings by male Introductory Computing students in 1999 and 2012

Figure 5. Confidence ratings by female Introductory Computing students in 1999 and 2012

Not only is there an overall trend toward the average and higher average ratings there is a definite trend away from the no confidence ratings. It is also useful to mention that while, in general, the 2012 females were more confident than their counterparts in 1999, no female in 2012 rated herself as being very confident whereas in 1999 there were ratings by females at this level.

3.2 Self-perception of computing Knowledge

In both years survey participants were asked to rate their perception of their knowledge of computers by choosing one of the following categories: absolute beginner, some knowledge, average knowledge, pretty knowledgeable or expert. These choices were given a Likert type score (ranging from 1 for absolute beginner to 5 for expert). The results are shown in Tables 4 and 5.

Table 4. Knowledge perception ratings by 1999 and 2012 Introductory Computing classes

Table 5. Ratings of knowledge perception by females and males in 1999 and 2012

The averages of 2.35 for 1999 and 2.9 for 2012 suggest a perception of increased knowledge in the latter year. In 1999 there was little to separate the males and females in their perception of their knowledge, while in 2012 a slight gap is present. Although this gap between the male and female students in 2012 is not statistically significant it is worthwhile to mention it given that no such gap was evident in 1999. This gap may be present due to the overall shift in distribution toward the higher levels that has occurred in the 2012 results and is supported by research findings that females are more likely to be more reticent when rating their ability using computers (Sanders, 2006; Logan & Crump, 2007).

Figure 6. Knowledge perception ratings by Introductory Computing students in 1999 and 2012

The most notable results are perhaps in the 2012 data where more females than males perceived themselves to be "Pretty Knowledgeable" but more males had the perception their knowledge was average. This is a reversal of the results from the 1999 class. Curiously, in both years, more males than females rated themselves as being absolute beginners. This is somewhat surprising given that the mean levels of knowledge perception in 2012 (Table 4) show that the males have higher self-efficacy in this area than their female classmates. In 1999, while the results shows that the knowledge perception for both genders was almost identical (Table 4) we can see in Figure 7 that the females were more likely to choose an average knowledge rating than their male classmates but only a very small number chose any higher knowledge rating.

Figure 7. Knowledge perception ratings by gender 1999

Figure 8. Knowledge perception ratings by gender 2012

As with the confidence measure, the perception of knowledge has trended toward the higher ratings. When we examine the results by gender we get a clear indication of where the changes have occurred (Figures 9 & 10). Not one female in either cohort rated herself as Expert however many more in 2012 considered they were either at an average level or "pretty knowledgeable than their counterparts in the 1999 study. The number of males perceiving their knowledge to be at the absolute beginner level has decreased from almost 20% of the 1999 cohort to less than 10% in 2012. These findings, as with the confident measurement, are supported by a general increase in self-efficacy that has been reported (He, 2010).

Figure 9. Male knowledge perception

Figure 10. Female knowledge perception

5. Conclusion

The purpose of this paper is to examine results from the computer self-efficacy section of a survey given to introductory computing classes in 1999 and in 2012 with the aim of identifying any gender gap that may be apparent. Although the CSE aspect is only a part of the full survey, it is interesting to look at this dimension and appreciate that analysis of the data gathered from both groups of students has provided some thought-provoking, if not statistically significant, results.

Overall the computer self-efficacy of the students in 2012 is higher than their counterparts in 1999. While no significant gender gap was found in either set of data it should be noted that there was a very slight gap in the results of the knowledge perception ratings for 2012, with the male students having a higher perception of their own knowledge than their female classmates. While, at face value, this is perhaps not surprising given that we have been led to believe that there is a gender gap, we were somewhat surprised given the increased levels of confidence and knowledge perception shown by female students over the given time period. No such gap was evident for the same question in the 1999 data. Other notable results were that overall the students in 2012 are more confident than their 1999 counterparts, this result, while perhaps not surprising, may in part be explained by the greater access to technology that the students in 2012 have compared with those studying in 1999. It is very pleasing that this trend is equal between the genders, showing that females are gaining as much in their confidence using technology as their male classmates.

It will be interesting to monitor the self-efficacy ratings of students in this introductory paper in future years to see if the growth in confidence does continue and if the slight gap in knowledge perception noticed in these results is still evident in subsequent cohorts.


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