Laura Beckwith thinks girls aren't using tools. An Associated Press story dated September 24th tells about the many experiments Beckwith, with her advisor Margaret Burnett, have designed to try to figure out why women do not seem to use advanced functions in the software they use. Beckwith suspects that this is down to a difference in the way men and women solve problems.
Beckwith et al (2006) found that confidence did not predict how much men used a debugging tool in an experiment asking subjects to correct broken spreadsheets. Confidence did predict how much women used the tool. When women did not use the debugging tool, the AP article says that they ended up with "more bugs than when they started." After many manipulations of the software, Beckwith was able to create a version of the debugging tool that women used just as often or more often than men did.
I do correct a lot of spreadsheets. I fact, I think it's safe to say that I <3 spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are love. However, I've never seen a debugging tool for one, and I'm generally distrustful of the "suggestions" that any software makes to me, whether it be for spelling errors, formatting, or anything else where that damned paperclip pops up and makes me want to strangle it. Yes, I know, I could use OpenOffice -- or even just turn off the Paperclip. That's not as much fun as having a focus for my frustration.
Beckwith's main suggestion is that there are differences in the way men and women solve problems, and that current computer tools are not set up to make that intuitive for women. However, what I find really interesting is her suggestion women over-tinker. The more "tinkering" men do, the more bugs they fix, according to Beckwith. However, women seem to overtinker. This strikes me as related to introducing more errors into the spreadsheets, but I'm not sure how to make the pieces fit.