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Feminists Launch Model for Online Learning

Source: Womens eNews - Wed, 14 Aug 2013 12:17 GMT
Author: Womens eNews
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Subhead:  This multi-university online course emphasizes feminist contributions to technological innovation and a collaborative approach that contrasts with the MOOC. "Expertise is distributed throughout the network," says a facilitator. Byline:  Hajer Naili

Credit: Aidan McMichael/~ l i t t l e F I R E ~ on Flickr, under Creative Commons

 

(WOMENSENEWS)--A year after The New York Times ran an article about Silicon Valley, which opened with "Men invented the Internet," is about to launch an online curricula highlighting the significant contributions of feminists to technology.

FemTechNet, which describes itself as "a global network of feminist, students and artists who work on, with and at the borders of technology, science and feminism in a variety of fields," is calling the curriculum a DOOC, or Distributed Open Collaborative Course.

"Dialogues in Feminism and Technology," its first DOOC course--running from Sept. 16 through December in 15 universities across the United States and Canada--is something of a pilot, which starts in North America and aims to expand across the globe in the coming year.

Two goals are preserving the history of feminist contributions to technological innovation and advancing feminist principles of social justice in future educational models and pedagogies, FemTechNet said in a press statement.

Examples of women's contributions to technological innovation abound. , a 19th century English mathematician and writer, has some claim to the title of the world's first computer programmer. American computer scientist Grace Murray Hopper developed the first for a computer programming language in 1950s. Radia Perlman, an American computer scientist, is considered to be the "mother of the Internet" after she invented the spanning of tree protocol which is fundamental to modern Ethernet.

Anne Balsamo, dean of the School of Media Studies at the New School in New York, is facilitating the DOOC along with Alexandra Juhasz, professor of media studies at Pitzer College in Los Angeles.

In a phone interview this week, Balsamo said she hopes schools in the United Kingdom will develop their own DOOC in 2014 with the help of FemTechNet.

'Feminist Rethinking'

Balsamo describes the DOOC as a "feminist rethinking" of the Massive Open Online Course, or the MOOC, model of online curricula.

Credit: Image produced by Tony Germano for Anne Balsamo, 2012. Courtesy of

Tamar Lewin, in a published last year by The New York Times, described the fast-growing reach of the MOOC. In the fall of 2011, for instance, Stanford University enrolled 160,000 students in 190 countries to a course in artificial intelligence, 104,000 to a machine learning course and 92,000 for introduction to databases.

But Balsamo and others take issue with the characteristics of the MOOC as a centralized pedagogy led by a single expert faculty and the economic interests of a particular institution.

In the DOOC model, by contrast, the approach is collaborative.

"The expertise is distributed throughout the network and it is not just located in the teacher but it is actually shared between teachers, the public and instructors and among the students," Balsamo said. "Who you learn with is as important as what you learn."

DOOC 2013 has been made possible through what Balsamo calls distributed funding. "All the support for the project and activities come from individual instructors or individual participants. There is no central funding," she said.

Three of the video dialogues were created by Brown University in Providence, R.I. Six others will be supported by grants from colleges.

The budding DOOC network aims to engender a set of digital practices among women and girls by encouraging them to become more active participants in the creation of a global archive.

"From a feminist perspective, we think of technology differently than just as objects or applications," said Balsamo. "Technology from a feminist perspective is social, cultural, technical objects or arrangements."

Tailored Courses

Each participating institution will tailor its own course but will include material provided by FemTechNet that consists of 12 recorded video dialogues featuring scholars and artists who think and understand technology through a feminist lens. Each week a video will be made available online and will cover a key topic to be discussed with the instructors and students.

"We are providing the videos as a catalyst but each instructor is tailoring the course for their own class and is providing students with background information, reading, web assignments, websites to visit, etc.," said Balsamo.

More than 30 instructors have been selected for their preeminence in topics such as the machine, ethics, labor, race and sexualities, FemTechNet said in a press statement.

FemTechNet will also facilitate an activity called "Storming Wikipedia," which encourages participants to edit and revise Wikipedia pages currently seen as "skewed now toward male participation."

The network hopes to engage a wider group of participants in the effort of writing and maintaining a digital archive of feminist work in science, technology and media.

"Today in the English version of Wikipedia, if you type feminism and technology it says 'no page exists'," said Balsamo. The objective, she said, is to leave Wikipedia in better condition than "when we started the project," as a "cross-cultural digital archive."

In 2011, a survey found that less than 15 percent of Wikipedia's contributors were women. The Wikipedia Foundation set a goal to raise the share of female contributors to 25 percent by 2015.

More recently, Amanda Filipacchi, an American author, found out that hundreds of female novelists were being systematically removed from the category "American novelists" in Wikipedia and assigned to the category "American women novelists." Her published in April by The New York Times set off a furor.

Hajer Naili is a New York-based reporter for Women's eNews. She has worked for several radio stations and publications in France and North Africa and specializes in Middle East and North Africa.

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