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Vol. 10, No. 5: April 2004

Teaching Scholars ForumWomen's Studies Online: An Oxymoron?*

by Pamela Whitehouse,
Harvard Graduate School of Education and the
University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth


*Copyright 2002 by Pamela Whitehouse. This article was originally published in Women's Studies Quarterly, Fall/Winter 2002, Vol. 30, Nos. 3&4, 209-25; it is reprinted here with permission from the author. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission from the author.

Over thirty years ago now, the first women's studies courses tentatively made a space of their own in the curriculum of the social sciences in higher education. The women academics that taught were on the cutting edge of developing a feminist pedagogy that challenged the traditional notions of experience, objectivity, the definition of theory, and rationality as the cornerstones of pedagogy. They demanded herstory as well as history, honored personal experience as part of the learning and writing process, and breathed vibrant life into Gloria Steinem's radical declaration, "the personal is political." Women academics joined in and celebrated through their writing and teaching the women's liberation and civil rights movements, and explored the implications of birth control-preparing a generation of college women to ask for it all, to be a person, a mother, a worker. The courses were discussion-based inquiries defined by consciousness-raising and healthy skepticism of the status quo, with the professor acting as facilitator to allow women students to find their own voices and their own paths to new ways of knowing through connecting personal experience with feminist theory and activism. It was an invigorating and validating experience for many women who had been silent in the classroom and settling for what they could get in the workplace.

Today, distributed learning environments (teaching and learning occuring both online and in the classroom) can better prepare our students to be activists by using technology-driven innovations in teaching and learning, as well as prepare them for high-end jobs in the global workplace. Distributed learning environments can promote student-centered learning (learning through doing) and constructivist teaching (guided learning through doing) by offering students "experiences that are delivered on demand in a real world problem-solving context." All traditions of teaching are now challenged by new ways of thinking, knowing, and learning through the technology innovation that permeates our school system from kindergarten to higher education. It is time for women's studies scholars and teachers to lead the way through another time of significant social change and workplace reformation just as they did in the 1960s) to find the connections between women's lives and experiences in the "Information Age." The purpose of this essay is to explore the notion of teaching women's studies in a distributed learning environment and to think what that would look like. But first, why do it at all?

Is women's studies online an oxymoron? How can we and why should we teach a discussion-based class that honors personal experience in an online environment to a student population that generally conceives of computing as a male domain and specifically is doubtful of the efficacy of computers in their own lives? Among the key recommendations offered by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Educational Foundation Commission on Technology, Gender, and Teacher Education, chaired by Sherry Turkle of the Massachusetts Institute for Technology and Patricia Diaz Dennis of SBC Communications, was the need for professional development for teachers to shift from "mastery of the hardware to the design of classroom materials, curricula, and teaching styles that complement computer technology." There is compelling evidence that women educators are building effective learning communities online that are both formal and informal venues for adult education.1 I propose that the distributed learning course (taught both online and in the classroom) in particular offers multiple entry points to learning that are very effective in reaching the goals of feminist pedagogy and may offer some insight to quality learning experiences for all students in a distributed learning classroom.

A substantial but not exhaustive review of the literature on women, online learning, and technology reveals a mixed bag of discussion from postmodern theoretical work about feminism and the cyborg to discussions of how to make cyberspace more hospitable to women. There is also a political/social discussion that purports single mothers may now enjoy easier access to higher education despite their multiple roles of mother, worker, and person. Other work takes a feminist pedagogical turn and explores women's experience in distance learning courses that were combinations of television, telephone, and email, and reveals that the women students understood their experience in pragmatic terms-they could not have taken the course in the traditional classroom and access through these means was better than nothing.

Women's actual experiences in taking online courses are not readily found in the literature because the differences between male and female students are often measured in terms of expertise rather than quality of experience. Many studies have shown that women's technical expertise becomes equal with that of men as they become more experienced computer users, and some researchers and academics have asserted that that is the extent of the technology gap. There is evidence that this is an oversimplification and the fuller story is much more revealing. Other studies find a different sort of technology gap between men and women. This gap is not limited to stereotypical explanations that run the gamut from biological factors-boys just being better at math and science-to powerful agents of socialization that push girls away from computers. These studies reveal that the important issue is not whether girls can achieve skill parity with boys (they do), but that girls "opt out" and the skills and usage gap grows as we trace the girls and boys to adulthood. The emerging literature on computer self-efficacy illuminates another side of this issue: Girls feel that women in general are effective using computers but do not apply this belief to themselves. What does it all mean? It means that young women coming to college will have lesser skills in computing than young men (in general-there is a further gap between public and private education), less confidence in themselves as users of computers, less inclination to work in computer sciences, be at a disadvantage in college courses that use technology for teaching and learning, and ultimately not competitive for the highest-paying jobs in the ever growing technology job market.

There are increasingly a number of voices in the literature pointing out that after decades of economic and social gain, women will become marginalized academically and in the job market (see Kirkpatrick and Cuban, for example). Their lack of training in networking and computing skills associated with the systems thinking that is now part of corporate planning and implementation in the business of making money will result in women remaining in lower skilled jobs (Berge). The U.S. Department of Labor reported that jobs in the technical sector (computer analysts, scientists, etc.) will double by 2008, and there is already a shortage of skilled workers. Women are needed to fill this gap but there is no reason to believe at this point that there will be enough women to fill the jobs.

The implications for academia are important and currently shape the stampede for developing online learning programs in growing numbers of universities. The implications are particularly important for women, whose disaffection with new technologies and computing may push them to the edges of the global economy rather than freeing them from the space and time boundaries of the traditional workplace. Or, as Kramarae suggests in her recent report for the AAUW, new technologies could create a "third shift" for women as they work, parent, keep house, and then take online courses at night.2

Women in Higher Education

"College education, whatever its form, has always carried with it a consciousness of possibilities for women"(Solomon xx). I do believe that teaching in distributed learning environments can accomplish something valuable for women students, and that the skills gained from the experience will stay with them in the workforce-a "consciousness of possibilities" (xx). Belenky et al. argued in their seminal work Women's Ways of Knowing that women come to the classroom with a range of "epistemological perspectives" that frame their ways of knowing and learning. Their research revealed that women respond better to pedagogical practices that allow for connected knowing, rather than separate knowing (15). Teaching that honors these ways of knowing should result in effective learning experiences for women students, particularly if the goal is not only to open up new areas of thought but to encourage activism. If new technologies are not used as delivery systems for mastery of content, but instead as multimedia learning environments that support different types of learners, then instructors can model sophisticated uses of new technologies that do not lead to data-entry jobs.

The traditional feminist classroom opened up new entry points for women coming to higher education with diverse frames of reference. It gave women voice in the traditional university setting and taught them how to move from the margins of the workforce to the center. Now it is time to give energy to the discourse on gender equity in new technologies and examine how feminist pedagogy can assist women in becoming more comfortable in the culture of computing.

First, I will discuss some of the course designs used by institutions of higher education, and then demonstrate my vision of a feminist constructivist distributive learning design. Online course design in higher education takes on many guises, from the simple replication online of the traditional class-posting the syllabus and the e-mail address of the instructor-to more elaborate, theory-based models. There are some recurring themes, however, and an emerging body of literature that explores each of them. The theoretical design models that I will discuss are behaviorist, community of learners, and constructivist. These were chosen to give a general flavor of online and distributed learning course design, but I do not claim that these are definitive of the field. I will begin with the online course design that feels furthest from feminist pedagogy to me and work toward constructing a base for comparison and reflection for the distributed learning design that I offer as a fourth model for reflection: a feminist distributed learning model.

The behaviorist model of online learning is often based on mastery of content. For example, Texas Tech is using a modified version of the "Personalized System of Instruction" (PSI) to design their Web-based courses. Robert Price described this model as "based on behaviorist and cognitive psychology and encourages mastery of course content" (2). In addition to course information and the syllabus, each self-paced course offers an introduction, lesson objects, step-by-step instructions (in order), discussion (text), self-help exercises, and a lesson assignment section that requires each student to pass a multiple-choice quiz to demonstrate their "mastery" of the subject matter. Price opined that this model is probably best for skills building or informational courses, not for courses that require group interaction.

In "The Ideal Online Course," Alison Carr-Chellman and Phillip Duchastel offer a more flexible view of the behaviorist approach and write of the value of "distributed learning" or the blurring of the boundaries between class time and Web time. They further argue that "online education is a specific medium in its own right and thus, it will have its own design considerations for effective instruction" (232). Their ideal online course has a study guide as its central element. Lecture notes and audio or videotaped lectures should be there to "enhance the student's identification with the course," not just to deliver content (234). Assignments may be either individual or collaborative-the main point is that the learners must actively seek the knowledge they need through texts and the class website, and the assignments must have real-world applications (authentic assignments is a recurring theme in the literature on online course design). Feedback, examples of exemplary work, and discussion as a class and as individuals are also considered important elements of the online classroom so that students will know whether they have correctly mastered the material or need to do further work.

The main issues that arise for feminist online classrooms using the PSI model is the lack of space for discussion and the use of mastery, a term that implies a single, correct perspective of understanding. This is truly an individualized model for skill building and therefore has little connection with many feminist classrooms. The second model is more aligned with a constructivist model but does not offer a sense of building a community of learners, a key ingredient for many women's studies courses. It is limiting in that "mastery" of the material is required, and that implies there is only one way of knowing the material as determined by the instructor, a sage on a new virtual stage, if you will.

At the other end of the online learning spectrum are learning communities, built for exploring particular issues. Linda Harasim argues that the internet is more than a network of connections-it is a place, and learning communities can be built there. Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt argue that cyberspace learning communities are more than a place: "They are formed around shared issues of identity and shared values; they are not place-based" (25). The link between the two notions is that the learning space is real and that people create this space deliberately. The learning community model could be constructivist, but not necessarily. The main criterion is that a group of people come together to work toward some goal that is both shared and individual, which leaves much space for individual interpretation.

In the case of an online class, Palloff and Pratt define the characteristics of online community as:

  • Active interaction of both course content and personal communication;

  • Collaborative learning-the evidence is dialogue among students, not just questions and comments addressed to the professor;

  • Socially constructed meaning built through dialogue and agreement;

  • Students share resources; and

  • Students encourage and support each other.

These criteria also delineate the difference between a social community and a learning community because of the connection between discussion and course content.

Moller argued that Web class design should be understood through the perspective of learning communities whose main functions are to provide information and social reinforcement. This asynchronous learning environment (a threaded discussion place where participants post and read posts at their convenience, for example) provides the learner with academic, social, and personal support that are further bolstered with collaborative assignments using real-world problems both to actively engage the learners and foster community-building.

The main similarity between the online community frameworks is that they are student-centered, with faculty acting as facilitators in most cases. An important difference between the learning communities models and the other models is that although learners are actively involved in making meaning of the material presented to them, they may be ability-centered rather than effort-centered, which is not necessarily conducive to the connected knowing experiences that distributed learning design can offer women students.

The constructivist approach to online learning also defines the learner as an active agent, but the focus is on student effort rather than just rewarding ability. I will concentrate on the work done by Michael Hannafin et al. because their model is abstract and generalizable to a variety of constructivist approaches rather than falling prey to the longstanding debates on the exact definition of constructivist. Hannafin et al. argue that a "grounded learning systems" design is most effective in overcoming some of the problems associated with the academic disputes on what is constructivism, by providing a framework that is "rooted in corresponding foundations and assumptions," not by which epistemology is assumed to be inherently correct. It also offers a solution to the on-going problem of how to define what "good" online education looks like. Grounded learning systems design approaches ensure that, by design, methods are linked consistently with given foundations and assumptions" (104). The authors define the foundations as psychological, pedagogical, technological, cultural, and pragmatic. The assumptions will change with content.

They cite three examples of grounded-constructionist designs that each use different assumptions and demonstrate the flexibility of the grounded learning system approach. I will limit mention of these to the Jasper series, based on cognitive theory and anchored instruction, which offers problems through stories on video.3 The information needed to solve the problems is within the story, and student groups must sift through all the information to find what information is relevant to the problem they are endeavoring to solve. This is a model of authentic problem-based collaborative learning, where students are involved with not just mathematics but also the ways in which mathematics intersects with our lives in a messy, real-world context. In summary, the importance of using grounded learning systems is evident-it does not advocate one best way for teaching online but instead offers a way to link theory and practice in meaningful and organizing forms that allow more, rather than less, academic freedom for instructor and student alike.

To take this thinking a step further, we can make the connection to using new technologies. Hannafin and Susan Land describe a student-centered learning environment (SOLE) approach to online course design in a recent article published in the Journal of Computing in HigherEducation. They attribute the rise in popularity of this approach to "shifting beliefs and assumptions about the role of the individual in learning" (5). The design is focused on the notion that technology allows "sophisticated partnerships among learners, experience, discourse, and knowledge" (5-6). Hannafin and Land describe two exampies of SCLEs. The first, Problem-Based Learning (PBL), or authentic assignments, allows students to engage in real-life problems and use the structure of individual and group assignments to "learn by doing." For example, Hannafin and Land cite Hmelo and Day, whose article described a medical school that used a multimedia package which allowed students to work through the case of a woman diagnosed with breast cancer. The students use technology to hold simulated interviews with the patient, watch a breast biopsy, and conduct their own physical exam. Project-based designs are another form of SCLEs and allow students to pose their own questions, produce products, and publicly post and discuss their projects. This type of model is useful for professional development as well, and offers teachers multiple entry points to reflecting upon and designing new curriculum with new technology (Hannafin and Land).

Sharon Smaldino describes instructional design principles that must achieve balance between four elements-learner, content, method/material, and environment. She argues that none should take precedence over the other, although student needs should take precedence over the convenience of the instructor. Her main idea is that using these four elements as the framework for design will lead to an online learning environment that is well-conceived and effective for student and instructor alike.

A couple of recurring themes are worth noting for each theoretical perspective offered to this point. All advocate active learning as a way to provide the student with extrinsic motivation to do the work, but it is important to note that the definition of active learner shifts from an individually based effort in the behaviorist section to a more communal/collaborative definition in the learning community and constructivist sections. There is an even finer shift here. Learning communities may focus on student ability or student effort while constructivist models tend to focus on effort-centered learning approaches. The second common theme is that all, to a greater or lesser degree, advocate for authentic or real-world learning that will engage the learner. All use technology as the means to bring that "realworld" connection to the learners. This is a key point of interest for a women's studies course because personal experience and personal history (real world) are the main connectors from theory to practice.

There are two important omissions that I will explore in more detail in the following section. The first is that there is little concern with offering multiple entry points to different learners, or in some cases for transforming online courses from delivery systems to learning communities that offer multiple entry points for different types of learners. In fact, there is a whole body of literature emerging from researchers attempting to define the "ideal online learner," essentially a search for ways to weed out those who do not fit the mold. The second important omission is the assumption that the online environment is set, and the students must fit the environment-the environment need not fit the students. David Jonassen et al. argue that "the most productive and meaningful uses of technology will not occur if technologies are used in traditional ways-as delivery vehicles for instructional lessons. Technology cannot teach students. Rather, learners should use technologies to teach themselves and others". This brings us to the fourth online course design model that I offer for consideration-the feminist distributed learning model.

How does one draw in women students and create a learning environment that builds a community of active learners who, as most students indicated in recent course evaluations of my Introduction to Women's Studies distributed learning course, "never felt so responsible for their learning," "never worked so hard," and "would definitely take another online course"? The feminist distributed learning design I propose for reflection draws from traditional feminist pedagogy and the research literature about distributed learning design (particularly David Jonassen), as well as the "teaching for understanding" concepts developed by David Perkins to design a distributed learning environment for women's studies students. This model is intended to continue the discourse on gender equity and teaching in the information age and is not intended as the definitive feminist model. The course design incorporates virtual and face-to-face advantages that include synchronous (online but in real time) and asynchronous tools (threaded discussions, bulletin boards, class website).4 Its flexibility both temporally and spatially and its use of multimedia offer multiple entry points for different learners and seem particularly well-suited to the needs of a feminist constructivist classroom.

So what does that look like? I teach women's studies at a state university and most of my classes are populated by women students who work (often full time), who are mothers (often single mothers), and who often have little social support. The first challenge is to design a space where students begin forming their own questions about why they are taking the course and what they want to learn. This begins in the classroom in the form of introductions and warm-up exercises but extends beyond this to the class website. The class website has a page called the Who's Who page, and it gives the students a template for constructing a simple Web page about themselves. I posed questions for the students to answer: What did they hope to learn; why were they taking the course; what favorite quotes and books would they like the class to know about them? Students had the option of posting their photographs on their pages.

The Who's Who page offers a new entry point for students who cannot "think fast on their feet" and who may have left the class feeling they did not acquit themselves well in describing themselves or their learning goals. The Who's Who page can be edited all through the semester, and many students make changes in their pages to reflect progress in their thinking. I found that students were periodically going back to check on their classmates' pages, looking for changes. The Who's Who page allows students to extend the notion of the self beyond the first face-to-face impression and to change and grow as they explore new territories of thought and learn to challenge the status quo.

The challenge of offering multiple entry points for different kinds of learners runs through the rest of the course design. It is perhaps best exemplified by the introductory page of the class website where students are welcomed and offered several ways to communicate with each other through the Discussion Forums, America Online (AOL) Instant Messenger, a section for questions that come directly to the instructor, and a question-and-answer archive for frequently asked questions. The students also have the option of waiting until face-toface class time to ask questions or voice concerns, but there is an immediacy about sending off an e-mail to a fellow student or instructor that can be very satisfying.

Students have immediate access to several ways of communicating synchronously (face to face or in a chat room) or asynchronously (through posting on the discussion forum or class listserv) with their classmates or the instructor. Discussion or comments on the reading assignments or thoughts that come up while writing journals can be shared almost immediately, and in my experience builds a sense of community as other students respond to the urgency of the student posting in the discussion group. I post PowerPoint "mini-lectures" that are intended to expand on the ideas presented in the readings in a summary form. I used PowerPoint to illuminate issues of identity, and through the slides and links to websites, take students step by step through answering questions about themselves at the home, local community, state, national, and international levels. We then discuss, both face-to-face and in asynchronous discussion forums, what they have learned. Distributed cognition, the "dispersal of intellectual functioning across physical, social, and symbolic supports," creates a complex interplay between student and the affordances of the internet and the classroom that cannot be achieved through the traditional classroom alone, and supports diverse learning styles. On a more practical note, students who usually emerge as "natural" leaders in face-to-face discussions cannot dominate the asynchronous discussions any more than the shy or timid student can dominate the face-to-face discussions.

The women students in my Introduction to Women's Studies course were very challenged by the technology, and according to a self-assessment survey of their skills, few had much confidence in their ability to overcome technical barriers and computer glitches. Our Computing Information Technology Services provided a Just in Time" learning section for the class website. The tutorials were designed for a faceto-face workshop and then were redesigned to offer step-by-step instructions on the site as an immediate resource. These resources could be thought of as information vehicles that provided timely access to information needed to function within the online portion of the course and available at any time the students had internet access Jonassen et al.).

Our face-to-face classroom was a state of the art Macintosh laboratory designed for small group work as well as individual work on the computers. The students learned to use the website in the first two weeks of face-to-face class time by collaborating in pairs to work through the tutorials provided for each section of the website. The workshop atmosphere fostered a sense of camaraderie and "we're all in it together" that provided successful models of women using computers which might not have evolved so quickly if the course were either totally online or face to face. At the same time, course content was not neglected as students used the course readings and other materials to demonstrate their ability to post resources to the discussion groups.

The references section of the website offers some insight into other ways that students construct meaning and take charge of their learning through the online environment. Students initially saw only the online links that I provide for them. These range from the fun (Museum of Menstruation) to the political (Women's Bureau Online and the Institute for Women's Policy Research).5 After students had had time to familiarize themselves with the range of links I provided, they were then given a rubric to guide them in choosing sites that they felt were important or funny to share with their classmates. This section quickly grew to more than three times the length of my own offerings. Student discussion in the Forum and by private e-mail demonstrated that not only were the students connecting the links they provided with their reading, but they were connecting with their own and their classmates' experiences. Students built their own knowledge base from which to co-construct knowledge and new understandings about women's place in American society.

The asynchronous discussion forum became the heart of the class and our face-to-face meetings shifted from discussion to procedural issues and how their online discussion experiences changed their views of the world over the course of the semester. The classroom became a place for reconnection with each other, and the discussion forum became the center for expanding one's thinking. As Jonassen et al. have argued, we as instructors can support discourse in a knowledge-building community by using technology as a social medium that allows a safe controllable place for student thinking and discussion. The online conversation ranged from consideration of readings to discussion of assignments. For example, each student interviewed a woman from another culture, using the social status indicators from a United Nations website to take with them to the interview as discussion points with their interviewee. This formed the basis for some really fascinating interview results and vig orous discussion on the Forum about their experiences doing the assignment, as well as connections with the readings.

Students soon used the Forum as their own space, often talking about me as if I were not there and confiding personal experiences or memories that were raised by the reading and the discussion. The Forum became a safer place than the classroom for many students although some found that their best discussion and engagement still remained in the classroom setting. The point is that the students had a choice in the matter and more control over content. Although many teachers and students have pointed out that the online asynchronous forum is invaluable for shy students or for students who need time to think, little is said about the students who tend to take over a discussion and become "leaders" in a course that should honor all experiences and voices. In the Forum, no student can take over the discussion-one does not even have to read her posts. Students who naturally "take over" soon learn to join the discussion, although there are certainly times when one student's voice is clearly leading the discussion forward. Another portion of the Forum revealed the help that students gave each other over the course of the semester, from advising on where to look for online sources to where to apply for ajob. Students also used AOL Instant Messenger to talk about class issues and develop friendships in "real time." Palloff and Pratt argue that a key characteristic of an online learning community is evidence of collaborative learning and socially constructed meaning built through dialogue and agreement, and the asynchronous discussion forum and resources Web page certainly became such places.

To review the teaching design issues:

  • The technology becomes less visible and barrier-like for two reasons: easily accessed technical support both online and off and constant use makes procedure less visible.

  • The individual and group ownership of the class is demonstrated through the Who's Who page, the Resources page, and the Discussion Forum.

  • Creating a safe place is evidenced by student participation in the discussions, not only through the posts but through the content of the posts, which reveal collaboration, meaning making, and agreement.

  • Building a community of active learners is evidenced by the Resources page, where students co-constructed a knowledge base. All of the students chose their own research paper topics, discussed their choices in the Forum, and mutually agreed to post their papers before the end of term so they could read and discuss them.

The student learning challenges were met in the same ways. They helped each other reduce the technological barriers by giving each other advice and offering support. The hybrid course offers multiple entry points for different types of learners and has the added value of teaching women students to understand technology from a systems thinking perspective that is similar to the modern workplace. Students learned to use materials posted online, develop their own online material, share their thoughts and their work effectively, and make decisions using the most appropriate form of communication for a given situation. In other words, new technologies provided a context to support learning by doing. The main differences between the feminist constructivist model and the other models are rooted in the differences listed earlier: There is more scope for welcoming different types of learners at multiple entry points. The definition of active learner remains broad, effort-centered, and can handle both collaborative and individual work. The authentic or real-world learning that has always been a part of women's studies remains and is broadened in scope because students can relate their personal experiences through multiple avenues of communication and through constructing their own space on the website.


I hope that this model of what a feminist distributed learning environment could look like invites further discussion not only about what is missing here, but what we can gain from modeling how new technologies can be used in ways that make the culture of computing accessible to women. Even more than making the culture accessible, however, this discussion hopefully demonstrates how we can use it to create "technology fluency" for women that includes the "ability to use technology proactively, understand design issues, and be able to interpret the information that technology makes available."

There are two issues that I feel need further reflection, and each leads to larger issues that concern distributed learning environments in general. The first is the problem of fitting the learner to the learning environment rather than fitting the learning environment to the learner. Many institutions of higher education have spent much time and money to define the profile of the successful distance learner rather than creating distance learning environments that provide affordances for multiple entry points for different learners. I think this is worth further consideration for all distance education courses but it is especially necessary for women's studies courses online. It may be that instead of analyzing more surveys in an effort to define the type of student most likely to succeed online, we should instead be asking students what they need from an online environment. The idea of distributed learning, or using a combination of face-to-face class meetings, multimedi a, and virtual environments, is taking hold on many campuses. Distributed learning models may truly offer a new paradigm for teaching because they are not limited to thinking about one teaching and learning space but open up the possibilities for authentic learning experiences in a variety of places beyond the traditional.

The second issue arises from the first-the assumption that online learning and new technologies are neutral in terms of race, class, and gender. Although race and class issues were beyond the scope of this essay, they are important factors to consider because a growing body of literature reveals that African American boys and Hispanics have not embraced new technologies either, and these groups may also face economic marginalization as well. Marcia Linn, co-author of Computers, Teachers, Peers: Science Learning Partners, from the University of California, Berkeley, said, "The most important aspect of equity is to have effective teaching that motivates the students." Equity means offering new technologies that provide multiple entry points for different learners, as well as equality of access.

In conclusion, I have offered a model of a distributed learning design for the feminist classroom in the hopes that it will contribute somewhat to the discourse on women and new technologies. As Chris Dede so aptly noted, "The most significant influence on the evolution of higher education will not be the technical development of more powerful devices, but the professional development of wise designers, educators and learners" ("Emerging Technologies" 25). Computer literacy and computer fluency are both important issues for women in the new millennium, but I think even more important is for feminist teachers to find effective ways to model and teach using the affordances of new technologies, not only because it is good for women's potential in the workplace but because it is a blueprint for creating "communities of practice" that can support and uplift women for all of their lives (Wenger).



I would like to thank David Perkins for his wise and always thought-provoking feedback during the writing of this essay. Any mistakes or "puzzles" are entirely of my own making.

1 For example, see Joan Korenman's syllabi on the Web at http://

2 See

3 The Jasper series is an innovative math program that uses a real world setting for solving problems. Students watch a short video, then work in groups to answer a set of math questions based on the events in the video.

4 For example, chat rooms, shared learning environments like Groove (see, or multiuser virtual environments (MUVES) like Tapped In, a MUVE for educators (see

5 For the Museum of Menstruation, see For the Women's Bureau Online, see For the Institute for Women's Policy Research, see

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Pamela Whitehouse

Pamela Whitehouse is the research coordinator for WIDE World, an online professional development program for educators, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is also adjunct faculty at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, where she recently received two outstanding online teaching awards. She is completing her doctoral work at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, with research centering on design for online learning environments.

*Copyright 2002 by Pamela Whitehouse. This article was originally published in Women's Studies Quarterly, Fall/Winter 2002, Vol. 30, Nos. 3&4, 209-25; it is reprinted here with permission from the author. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission from the author.