by Beth Hardin and Maria Pramaggiore (from FEMINIST COLLECTIONS vol. 17, no. 2, Winter 1996, pp. 3-4)
Integrating information technologies such as the World Wide Web into a women's studies course serves two feminist pedagogical goals. First, we empower students, giving them more control over their learning process by helping them develop the skills to use information technologies. Second, we familiarize students with the enormous body and tremendous variety of women's studies resources, reinforcing the importance and ubiquity of women's issues both inside and outside academe. Furthermore, designing a course-specific web page makes our teaching more flexible and effective. Periodically adding links to the web page makes it a dynamic resource created for and, ultimately, by the students. This process provides students access to specific websites of interest to them and allows us to address current issues that textbooks do not treat comprehensively.
Establishing a Course-Specific Women's Studies Web Page
When planning to use the web page1 in Introduction to Women's Studies, we wanted it to be an integral resource that students could use with minimal difficulty. Although we teach at a large, technology-oriented university, we believed students could not be assumed to have the computer literacy to use the web page. We prepared tutorial handouts and devoted two class periods (and several sessions outside class) to training. As it turned out, three-fourths of the students had never used their computer account for Internet work, so this hands-on support was essential.
The web page was tailored to this particular course; headings in the first major section correspond to topics on the syllabus (e.g., feminism in U.S. history; race and racism; violence and abuse; women, class, and work). We found relevant websites by browsing the Web, subscribing to listservs that announce new sites, and reading listservs devoted to women's studies or feminist issues. Rather than merely listing links on the class web page, we included descriptions of the kind of information available at the link.
We also wanted the web page to provide a single interface for locating course materials, sending email, and obtaining information on subjects beyond the scope of the course. Buttons at the top of the page link to the class syllabus, the class listserv archive, help information, the library catalog, and Web search engines. One button also links to a form that makes it easy for students to send email to the class listserv and the two instructors. In addition to material on class topics, we included links to other women's studies programs; essays on feminism, race, gender and sexuality; electronic discussion lists and newsgroups; women's organizations and activist resources; and local women's resources. These links provided good starting points for students seeking more information of their own choosing. We added new links to the web page throughout the semester as they were announced or as students found them.
Before the course began, we met several times to discuss the organization of the web page; the actual construction took one week by a person proficient in HTML. For someone less experienced with this language and technology, using an already- existing women's studies web page would be a viable option. Our web page could be used in other Introduction to Women's Studies courses, and could be revised to reflect syllabus changes and to incorporate new links.
Using the Web Page in the Classroom
We assigned three exercises that required students to use the web page. The first, part of the initial training, required students to find a website of interest to them, bring the URL to class, and discuss what they found. We subsequently linked these URLs to our web page. For the second assignment, students were asked to interview a woman about a body-image issue, find a related website, and post their findings to the course listserv. This proved to be an extremely effective exercise, allowing students to integrate theory, "real world" experiences, and Web resources. Finally, students were required to use two web sites as sources for their final papers.
The course-specific design of the web page and the training sessions were critical to the course's success. The design of the web page made it possible for students to coordinate class readings and discussions with Web resources. Furthermore, teaching students to use the Web gave them the tools to explore at their own pace. Students evaluated the course in precisely these terms: "I like the way [the web page] organized the Internet, so you don't have to know URLs or anything too complicated." "Very interesting layout." "The information is versatile and helpful in linking to other resources." "The training sessions were helpful." "The extensive handouts were also helpful for teaching oneself in follow-up sessions."
In general, student response was overwhelmingly positive. A survey early in the semester gauged student interest in using the Web and a final evaluation examined the web page's usefulness to the course, their own feelings of competence at using it, and their plans to use the Web in the future. Comments were universally favorable regarding the training, handouts, web page design, and use of information technology in the course.
Several students went beyond pragmatic discussions to acknowledge the importance of mastering these new information technologies. One wrote, "I am glad that computer literacy is a component of this class. It is the first attempt by any instructor to correlate technological resources with classroom material." Several students remarked that using the Web made them aware of the scale and variety of women's studies/issues; many found websites of interest and planned to visit them in the future.
We believe we achieved our goals of empowering students with Web skills and familiarizing them with women's studies as a field of academic and activist interest. Our experience suggests that this success was based upon: 1) devoting class time and, if possible, out-of-class time to training students; 2) requiring students to use the Web for assignments; and 3) designing a fully integrated, course-specific web page that can grow to reflect the interests of students in a particular course.
[Beth Hardin is completing her M.S. in Technical Communication at North Carolina State University. She founded OnLine Design, a consulting firm that designs web pages for educational, not-for- profit, and commercial use.
Maria Pramaggiore is Assistant Professor of Film Studies and Women's Studies in the Department of English at North Carolina State University.]
1 Although we used HTML to construct our web page, recently released software allows the creation of web pages in an environment similar to a word processing program.
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Updated May 17, 1996