Gender in Distance Education Technology

Gender in Distance Education Technology

Colette Wanless-Sobel
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-87828-991-9.ch150
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Distance education is defined by six pedagogical elements: (1) physical separation of teacher and learner; (2) regulatory function or influence of an educational organization; (3) media to connect teacher and learner; (4) two-way communication exchange between teacher and learner; (5) individualized pedagogy instead of group focus; and (6) “industrialized” facilitators, entailing less individuated instructors (Keegan, 1980). Distance education technologies include video (videotape, satellite delivery, microwave delivery, broadcast video, and desktop video), computers (e-mail, Web-based courses, video conferences, DVD, and CD-ROM), collaborative activity software (chat, discussion rooms, and white boards), voice /audio technology (telephone, voice mail, audio conferences, audiotapes, and radio), supplemental print material (books, study guides, workbooks, and FAX), mobile technology (laptop computers, PDAs, tablet PCs, and cell phones), and blended-learning combining one or more of these delivery methods together, including face-to face instruction. Distance education technologies as tools are situated in the larger context of technological and scientific knowledge, economic institutions, including the property and market institutions of capitalism, and social institutions, such as education, which historically has been unequal and exclusionary due to class structure and the system of gender and racial power relationships (Carroll & Noble, 2001). People barred or deterred from regular access to education in various ways have always been users of distance education technologies, starting with its inception as correspondence course education in the 19t h century and continuing today in high tech distance education classes with women comprising the majority of enrolled students (Hansen, 2001; Ossian, Christensen, & Rigby, 1968). The promise of distance education technologies in the 21s t century is for empowerment of students through democratization of knowledge, personalized pedagogy, and convenient access. Despite the promise and the current high enrollments in distance education courses, attrition rate is high in North America and Europe (Carr & Ledwith, 2000; Serwatka, 2005), and this is a concern to educators and social policy makers, who search for reasons to account for the discrepancy between promise and practice. While recognizing men students have high attrition in distance education courses, too, the fact is women comprise the majority of distance technology users. If educators and policy makers hope to use distance education technology to reach female students (and garner the interest of more male students as well), then issues of gender in distance education technology need to be addressed. A female gendered perspective on distance education technology reveals a number of variables that explain women’s disengagement and dissatisfaction with online educational delivery systems. Educators, secondary education institutions, and instructional software designers are some of the groups working to create and implement inclusive, constructivist, and rich multi-media instructional design (McLoughlin, 2001) that will accommodate a wide range of learner needs.

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