"Feminist education—the feminist classroom—is and should be a place where there is a sense of struggle, where there is visible acknowledgment of the union of theory and practice, where we work together as teachers and students to overcome the estrangement and alienation that have become so much the norm in the contemporary university."
The decade-long debate about the value of distance education (DE)—specifically online teaching—may become a moot one. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported on a 2004 study, revealing that, "By the end of 2005, Eduventures expects more than 1.2 million students to be taking such courses, making up about 7 percent of the 17 million students enrolled at degree-granting institutions" (Carnevale, "Online"). An even more recent study by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation reports that 89 percent of the over one thousand responding institutions offer face-to-face (F2F) instruction; 55 percent of them offer online courses (Allen and Seaman 5). Overall online enrollment increased from 1.98 million students in 2003 to 2.35 million in 2004 (Allan and Seaman 4). With numbers of such magnitude, it's hard to ignore the fact that online teaching is becoming a reality for more and more instructors at institutions traditionally offering face-to-face instruction. In times of budget crises and calls for efficiency and expansion into new student populations, discussions of online teaching are no longer just for the pioneers in the medium, new faculty pressured into teaching DE, or the cyber-savvy. The chances are high that more and more of us across rank, discipline, campus type, and level of technical ability will venture into the virtual classroom.
As these chances increase, so do the objections about online classes: they exploit already overwhelmed faculty and adjunct instructors; they encourage a consumer model of education, with their accompanying marketing as "flexible" and "convenient"; the increased amount of reading and writing leads to instructor burnout; they are merely correspondence courses masquerading as intellectually rigorous, college-level education; online students are disengaged and even more "estranged and alienated" than hooks's on-campus students; the courses lack the sense of community made possible by face-to-face classrooms; etc. Many of these critiques, however, are not borne out by research. For example, the Sloan Foundation study reveals that at 74 percent of public colleges, online courses are taught by core faculty, as opposed to only 61 percent for their face-to-face courses—indicating that it is permanent, not temporary, instructors who are taking up the work of online teaching. Additionally, one of the criteria for engagement in the National Survey for Student Engagement is the amount of reading and writing students do for their courses—a gauge of engagement supported by the students' reflections on their courses in Richard J. Light's Making the Most of College. Many online classes by nature require plenty of both, in addition to the reading and writing assignments shared with their face-to-face counterparts.
Given the growth in online education and the range of courses now being offered in computer-mediated environments, it is our contention as feminist teacher-scholars that the translation of feminist pedagogy to these educational venues is critical. If we don't clearly, publicly, and repeatedly define feminist pedagogy1 and discuss its benefits beyond current practitioners, many of our advances will either be limited to those already doing the work or credited to advocates of the more generic modes of active learning. In these circumstances, feminist pedagogy will remain a concept understood only by feminist educators, misunderstood by our colleagues, and invisible to our students. Furthermore, failing to outline the many ways feminist pedagogy is applicable to online environments will ensure that myths and misconceptions about online teaching flourish and that only the worst versions of online pedagogy persist. We argue here that feminist pedagogy isn't just applicable to many different disciplines; it's also applicable to nontraditional learning environments. We are particularly interested in how online environments can become sites of feminist pedagogy.
Informing our recommendations on feminist pedagogy in the online setting are our combined experiences in teaching English and women's studies courses...