As a Masters student in an English department, I have taken my fair share of discussion-based classes on campus. In fact, my university refuses to give a Masters degree in Literature to a student who hasn't taken a required number of these classes. Most of them are night classes, and as a full-time student, TA, and mother, taking these at night can be rather stressful. I found myself longing for the freedom of an online class. As an undergraduate, I had taken many online classes---mostly so I didn't have to be on campus.
Ah, the thinking process of a twenty-year-old.
However, as a 32-year-old wife and mother, being able to take an online class or two is important to be able to accomplish the large amount of work that I am tasked with every semester. My first one in graduate school will be "Language and Gender," taught in the Fall of 2018. It is being taught by a male professor whom I've never had before at this university, and I must say, I'm a little nervous. Online classes are a tricky business. Some professors have a very laid-back attitude, while others couldn't care less if you signed in or not. One-on-one interaction and group discussion is a crucial part of a degree in Literature, and I can't help but wonder how this class is going to be. Will there be males in the class? How will the professor handle the sensitive topics? How will we do class discussions? As I think about these things, I'm reminded of one of the most informative classes I've ever taken as a graduate student: Instruction of Composition. This campus class was taught by a female expert in composition pedagogy, and although the class met in an actual classroom, the professor found interesting ways to incorporate online elements into the daily activities. My favorite of these activities was what I called "Skype Speakers." Every few weeks, a different expert in the field of composition would Skype into our classroom and give an interesting lecture and answer questions. It was an amazing learning experience, and the entire class was engaged and focused on the material. This is, however, not the case with many classes, including those taught online. But how can we get there? How can we take an online forum and make it informative, interesting, engaging, and memorable? The answer might lie in feminist pedagogy.
Feminist pedagogy is an all-encompassing way of teaching material to a class. It is more learning-centered, more democratic in execution, and redefines the power dynamics that are usually present in most online classes. In Nancy Chick and Holly Hassel's article "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Virtual": Feminist Pedagogy in the Online Classroom," the authors attempt to clear up the misconceptions of feminist pedagogy and argue that this specific type of teaching can help students in every class they take throughout their college careers. Chick and Hassel point out that "This framing of [these] questions also puts the emphasis on how to use the technology, but we don’t want the technology to dictate our pedagogy" (197). Unlike a regular classroom, technology can hinder the teacher-student dynamics and can create a sterile, name-less environment. So how can we use feminist pedagogy to create a more welcoming, informative learning environment? Well, for starters, teachers must reevaluate the power dynamics in the virtual classroom. The learning process must be more democratic in nature; the professor should not assume that he/she is all-knowing and the students are the subjects of that knowledge. A discussion must be a two-sided entity, and both parties must teach and receive. Chick and Hassel also suggest smaller group size when doing online discussions. This makes the discussion more personal and relatable. They even suggest that the class use teamwork to build a wiki page together, something that would enable students to work together and to maintain an open dialogue with their peers.
Overall, feminist pedagogy attempts to restructure not only campus classes, but online ones as well. By adopting these characteristics, online classes can begin to have a more engaging and informative learning experience. I, for one, would love to think that feminist pedagogy could become the norm for online classes. Imagine the discussions! Imagine the freedom!
I hope my Language and Gender professor knows about this.......
For more information on online feminist pedagogy, see Chick and Hassel's article, "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Virtual: Feminist Pedagogy in the Online Classroom."