Community and Gender in the Virtual Classroom

Community and Gender in the Virtual Classroom

Alred P. Rovai, Jason D. Baker
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-955-7.ch091
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Numerous studies have demonstrated that alternative educational experiences, such as online learning, produce outcomes similar to face-to-face instruction provided the method and technologies used are appropriate to the instructional tasks, there is student-to-student interaction, and there is timely teacher-to-student feedback (Verduin & Clark, 1991). However, a meta-analysis of 232 comparative studies conducted by Bernard et al. (2004) concludes that while there is no average difference in achievement between distance and classroom courses, the results demonstrate wide variability. In other words, “a substantial number of DE applications provide better achievement results, are viewed more positively, and have higher retention rates than their classroom counterparts. On the other hand, a substantial number of DE applications are far worse than classroom instruction” (p. 406). These findings suggest that appropriate instructional design and good pedagogical practices, rather than the computer mediating technology itself, is at the center of effective online education. The growing demand for online learning only increases the challenges associated with designing and delivering effective instruction. O’Donoghue, Jentz, Singh, and Molyneux (2000) note that “The diversity of demand from these client groups therefore has to be matched by a diversity of supply. ... Meeting those requirements means putting the student at the centre of the system, which in itself represents a substantial change” (Section III, para. 6). When considering such a student-centered approach to online learning, the instructor needs to become increasingly aware of the differences among students and how those differences influence the educational experience. One area of student differences that warrants further consideration in the online classroom is gender, especially since distance education has been extensively marketed to women since early correspondence programs (Kramarae, 2003). “Distance education is ... yet another institution where gender and power differences are constructed, and to ignore the ways that gender is under construction online is to ignore many difficult experiences of real people” (p. 269). von Prümmer and Rossié (2001) go further and declare that, “If gender is not seen as relevant, the system will not be equally accessible to women and men and will offer men more chances to succeed” (p. 137).

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