How Online Grading Feedback Might Benefit From a Grounding in Feminist Theory

How Online Grading Feedback Might Benefit From a Grounding in Feminist Theory

Jennifer Schneider (Southern New Hampshire University, USA & The Community College of Philadelphia, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4836-3.ch010
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Abstract

This chapter explores the application of feminist theory to online grading feedback processes in higher education. Christianakis describes teacher research as a feminist act. This chapter presents the argument that grading feedback can be viewed from a complementary lens. Many believe that feedback, when offered correctly, has the ability to transform a learner for the better. When actively and intentionally viewed from a feminist perspective, feedback offers a plethora of opportunities to not only teach content, but also to empower and address power inequities. Feminist theory also offers helpful guidance on how to do so.
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ally in [the] tradition of critical theory. From the start, . . . feminism is first and foremost a political movement interested in changing the conditions of women for the better. It never pretended to be neutral or objective, remote from the lived reality of real women. It did not rely on abstract, ahistorical, decontextualized understandings of women’s experience. Nor did it shy away from having a value-oriented intention to transform society. (p. 73)

Kohli and Burbules, citing Nielsen (1990) and Harding (1987), present a “discussion of what it means to conduct ‘feminist-based inquiry’ (Nielsen, 1990, p. 1) and whether there is a ‘distinctive feminist method of inquiry’ (Harding, 1987b, p. 1)” (p. 67). Kohli and Burbules, citing DeVault (1999), further note that “just as it is not easy to define or categorize feminism, we also recognize here the complexity in answering the query, ‘What is feminist methodology?’ (DeVault, 1999, p. 21)” (p. 67). Kohli and Burbules next recollect a number of feminist epistemological frameworks and explore “different perspectives on feminist inquiry” in a successful attempt to shed light on the meaning, complexity, and application of “feminist-based inquiry” (p. 67). A common thread or theme permeating much of their work is an acknowledgment that:

[o]f, course none of these topics will have singular or uncontested answers. Given the plurality of feminisms and the many feminist challenges to traditional scientific and social scientific inquiry, there will be, necessarily, a plurality of approaches to feminist research: approaches dependent on the varied assumptions brought to the endeavor by different feminist researchers. (pp. 67-68)

One of Kohli and Burbules’s most enduring lessons is, in fact, the breadth (and associated “complexity and controversy”) of feminist theory, work, and active research (p. 68). In particular, feminist theory should be considered broadly and, like critical theory, grounded in “an emancipatory purpose with a strong commitment to connect theory with practice and action” (p. 75). As the author reflects on the work and writings of Kohli and Burbules, it is both the authors’ and feminist theory’s “commitment to connect theory with practice and action” that presents as most powerful. In many ways, and much like Adichie (2013) and hooks (2015) suggest, feminist theory is everyone’s theory. That is, anyone seeking emancipation from whatever societal forces marginalize, burden, implicate, and demoralize can benefit from the liberatory and determined perspective of feminist theory (Kohli & Burbules, 2012).

In this chapter, the author extends this analysis and related discussion and explores the application of feminist theory to online grading feedback processes in higher education. Christianakis (2008) describes teacher research as a feminist act. This chapter presents the argument that grading feedback can be viewed from a complementary lens. Many believe that feedback, when offered correctly, has the ability to transform a learner for the better (Hattie, 2012). When actively and intentionally viewed from a feminist perspective, feedback offers a plethora of opportunities to not only teach content, but also to empower and address power inequities, in ways not dissimilar from hooks’s (2015) definition of feminism as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression” (p. 1). Feminist theory also offers helpful guidance on how to do so.

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Higher Education And Patriarchies

Many institutions of higher education worldwide reflect “a historically patriarchal system that has not undergone significant structural change since its inception” (Cooper, 2019, p. 98). In recent years, however, online learning has served as a fundamental structural change to the way in which millions of students access higher education and will continue to do so (as projected numbers of online learners continue to rise) (Allen & Seaman, 2017; Seaman, Allen, & Seaman, 2018).

Changes to the structure of higher educational systems (both those that offer online learning as well as those adapting in response to competitive implications of burgeoning online programs) yield wonderful opportunities for access and shifts in long-standing practices (Allen and Seaman, 2017). The resulting structural changes and implications of this new form of access support the argument that, in fact, in many ways online learning is a fundamentally feminist endeavor and a fundamentally feminist opportunity. Just as Adichie (2015) writes of deliberately choosing not to pretend that “it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded”, it is important to recognize that online learning serves to expand access to those long excluded from higher education (p. 41).

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