The inclusion of technology in education can most certainly help or hinder students, specifically the disenfranchised. When used appropriately, technology tools can allow users to reach beyond their immediate lives and situations to examine places, people, cultures and practices that they would not ordinarily be able to reach. However, when placed in situations where there are issues with inequitable access, anyone who is unable to access certain tools, can be at a severe disadvantage. With regards to technology, there are many groups that, for one reason or another, fall under the “disenfranchised” category. One such group is females. This issue of inequality based on gender is nothing new. Unfortunately, it is one that women and young girls have battled for generations. Within the context of education, the inclusion of technology has the potential to bridge the gap between gender inequality.
In their Op-Ed piece, Setting an online example in educating women, Lisa L. Martin and Barbara F. Walter suggest that massive open online courses or MOOCs taught by professors in the United States, and extended globally, have the potential to reach anyone in the world who has access to the Internet. What this means is that we have an opportunity to change the landscape of gender consciousness in the the world. One strategy for accomplishing this, as suggested by Martin and Walter, is for universities to be thoughtful about who teaches online courses. After presenting data that suggest some major universities are employing mostly male instructors, they recommend that these universities make a concerted effort to include females as well because, “by having female scholars teach online classes, U.S. universities could help empower women, which in turn could affect economic development, poverty, governance and more. Signal to the world at the very best scholars from the best universities include women, and you signal to the world that educating women is important.” What this suggests is that technology, if used purposefully, consciously and fairly, has the potential to reshape cultural, as well as global, consciousness. Of course, not everyone in the world will have access to these opportunities and arguably, those in remote places are the ones who would benefit the most, yet I do believe that it is a great place to begin.
In addition to playing a role in shifting global consciousness, technology also presents us the opportunity to reveal truths to our students that they may not otherwise be able to learn. A few years ago, I found that many of my students, both males and females, were very much unaware of gender inequality in the United States and certainly around the world. Consequently, I suggested adding Sold by Patricia McCormick to our sophomore curriculum.
Within this unit, students are able to hear the voice of young Nepalese girl who is sold as a sex slave by her stepfather. Using her naive voice, she shows us the horrors of brothels and as readers, we witness her tremendous loss of innocence. Each time we read the series of vignettes, several students would look to me and ask, “Did this really happen?” It was then that some of my colleagues and I decided that we needed to bring them even closer to the realities of these children around the world who are about the same age as them. Of course, we looked to technology for help and found The Day My God Died, a heart wrenching PBS documentary about sex trafficking in India. The end of the documentary features an organization that is dedicated to reuniting young women with their families. After viewing, many of my students found themselves looking up that, and other organizations, which would allow them to help in some way, reinforcing how technology can widen one’s personal world, while at the same time, narrow the space between human experiences.
While technology can be used to gain information that can lead to a greater awareness of, and hopefully actions toward, gender awareness, I have not found much evidence in my own classroom to suggest that it affects student performance and participation differently based on gender. When presenting my students with technology tools and opportunities to advocate for themselves using technology, I am very thoughtful about how those tools will support their learning experiences. I find that the willingness to engage in thoughtful and sustained online inquiry is something that all of my students are working on and those that struggle cannot be categorized based on gender. I do acknowledge that in some situations, like the ones discussed in App Allows Shy Students To Ask Questions Anonymously, female learners can sometimes experience difficulty, especially in competitive situations where they lack a supportive network. In those cases, reaching out through technology to sites like Piazza can support their performance and participation.
Like any other teaching tool, when used appropriately, technology can help gender equality in the classroom in that it increases exposure and brings us all a bit closer to truths and understandings that might conflict with those that we hold. It is in these moments of confrontation that, if we are are open to new revelations about ourselves and others, we can begin to shift our beliefs and if enough of us do it, we can shift our collective consciousness.
Image Source for SOLD by Patricia McCormick