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Teaching Online in Texts and Technology

About the Author

Brandy Dieterle is a Ph.D. students in the Texts & Technology program at UCF. Her research interests are in multimodal composition, identity construction, and the use of various technologies as teaching tools.

Key Terms

Wordle: female identity in digital spaces

Related Material

PBS.org featured a show entitled: "digital_nation: life on the virtual frontier." This looks at what it's like to live in the 21st century when we are surrounded by technology. From the website, visitors can watch the full show or they can watch short videos of interviews with scholars such as Sherry Turkle, creator of Second Life Philip Rosedale, scholar on learning and education Marc Prensky, James Paul Gee, etc.


Henry Jenkins is a leading scholar in media studies, and much of his work focuses on participatory culture similar to what is discussed in the book by Gee and Hayes listed in the recommended sources section. His personal website is devoted to posting interviews with persons in the industry and other academics. 


In the video below, Katie Salen discusses what video games have to teach us about learning.


This video discusses the issues of having a male/female gender identity binary. Although Sam Killermann is talking specifically about biological sex, gender identity, and gender expression, the video is useful for understanding the complexity of gender and attributing certain traits to an individual based upon biological sex.


Untangling the Web: 20 Tools to Power Up Your Teaching provides a useful guide for integrating web 2.0 technologies into the classroom.

Female Identity in Digital Learning Environments

The following source list and annotations join the ideas of female identity and digital learning environments. Oftentimes research takes up one of these issues, but research has shown that gender, in addition to many other factors, influences learning. In thinking about online learning specifically, Sullivan and others have found that the “anonymity” of online learning spaces provides a more welcoming environment for women. However, other research, such as that by Huang, Hood, and Yoo demonstrate that women often have more anxiety than men when it comes to using technology, which largely stems from the perception of technology as being male-dominated. To combat this perception, scholars such as Hayes are actively trying to dispel these myths.

This guide, then, ultimately identifies research on the following:

  • Methods and strategies for considering the use of various digital learning environments, such as video games and online communities, to supplement online learning. Many of the items in the list recommend adopting a feminist pedagogy that calls for the teacher to serve as a “mentor” instead of a “master.”

  • How female identity is constructed, either by themselves or by others, and the impact that identity can have on learning. Sources remind teachers to be mindful of identity and potential obstacles when designing course curriculums, and also to work towards increasing technological literacy in women.

Recommended Sources

Antlitz, Susan, Will Banks, Ron Fortune, and Jim Kalmbach, eds. "Teaching and Learning in Virtual Spaces, C&W 2002." Kairos 7.3 (2002): n. pag. Web. 17 Feb. 2014. <http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/7.3/binder2.html?coverweb/intro.html>

This webtext is a collection of the papers presented at the 2002 Computers & Writing conference that addresses learning in digital spaces. Although some papers discussed face-to-face instruction in addition to e-learning, the focus was on significant areas of study within the topic such as gender and the use of new media, video games, and hypertext in writing classrooms.

Gee, James Paul and Elisabeth R. Hayes. Women and Gaming: The Sims and 21st Century Learning. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Print.
In this book, Gee and Hayes looked at women and gaming from a variety of perspectives and literacies. The authors particularly looked at digital literacies, engagement in participatory cultures, and multimodality. The book seemed to take a writing studies approach by focusing on the rhetorical choices female gamers make, particularly when engaging in these communities and producing their own content. As an example of this, Gee and Hayes looked at the game The Sims where players are reappropriating the game for their own purposes, such as designing their own role-playing game and developing fan fiction. Towards the end of the book, the authors more explicitly created links between the work female gamers are doing in these communities and skills that are applicable to their pursuit of higher education. Also, understanding how women utilize video games can be useful for instructors seeking to bring video games into an e-learning setting.

Haas, Angela, Christine Tulley, and Kristine Blair. "Mentors Versus Masters: Women's and Girls' Narratives of (Re)negotiation in Web-Based Writing Spaces." Computers and Composition 19 (2002): 231-249. Print.
In light of technology typically being positioned as male, Haas, Tulley, and Blair explored the possibilities of teaching girls web-based literacy while fostering technological mentoring through the use of narrative. The authors concluded that teachers should strive for a feminist pedagogy in online learning and challenge the status quo of the male-dominated hierarchy associated with technology.  They argued this is achieved from shifting from being a "master" in the classroom to being a "mentor." This source is particularly useful for thinking about pedagogy in e-learning that is inclusive for all students.

Hayes, Elisabeth. "Women, Video Gaming & Learning: Beyond Stereotypes." TechTrends 49.5 (2005): 23-28. Print.
Hayes aimed to point out issues with popular assumptions about female gamers and provide alternatives for understanding their orientation to gaming. Ultimately, Hayes' goal was to provide recommendations for designing educational video games without furthering female gamer stereotypes or myths. To discuss this, Hayes analyzed the experiences of two females in a college course on game-based learning. From this study, Hayes was able to conclude that designing educational video games that are appealing to women is really just about designing good video games in general by paying attention to "diversity of experience, ability, knowledge, and goals" (28). In thinking about bringing video games into an e-learning classroom, this article will help the instructor make decisions on what games might be best to include and also dispel myths they may have of their own students.

Huang, Wen-Hao David, Denice Ward Hood, and Sun Joo Yoo. "Gender Divide and Acceptance of Collaborative Web 2.0 Applications For Learning in Higher Education." The Internet and Higher Education 16 (2013): 57-65. Print.
Huang, Hood, and Yoo investigated the role computer anxiety plays in female students' perceptions of utilizing web 2.0 tools for learning. The study consisted of 432 college students, both male and female, and the results demonstrated that females were more anxious about using web 2.0 tools than males. However, the authors also discovered that this anxiety wasn't present when looking at two types of web 2.0 tools: social networking sites and online video sharing tools. The authors also found that students were uncertain about the use of certain web 2.0 tools, such as games and social networking sites, in education. Even so, Huang, Hood, and Yoo concluded that including web 2.0 tools would add enjoyment to learning. This article helps us understand where student anxieties lie and if there are gender differences. Here instructors can get ideas for the types of technology they can utilize and how to construct discussions around the subject to make students more comfortable using them.

Sullivan, Patrick. "'It's Easier to Be Yourself When You Are Invisible': Female College Students Discuss Their Online Classroom Experiences." Innovative Higher Education 27.2 (2002): 129-144. Print.
Sullivan conducted a study with 125 female college students to further learn how online learning environments provide a more female-friendly classroom. The majority of respondents had positive experiences with online learning, and this was largely attributed to anonymity because it provided a more comfortable space to learn. However, Sullivan recognized that there are many variables that play a role in female student's experiences with online learning, such as personality, learning style, and family and work responsibilities. He concluded online learning environments provide a "less chilly" space for learning than what is found in face-to-face classrooms.

Turkle, Sherry. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1995. Print.
The overall theme of this book is the role technology plays in society, but of particular interest to the notion of female identity in digital learning environments is Turkle's discussion on computer-mediated communication. Turkle argued that having the freedom to experiment with race, gender, and orientation was therapeutic. Since digital learning environments inherently involve computer-mediated communication, it is important to consider how identity formation within these spaces can impact learning. Additionally, Turkle took up the role of gender and gender-swapping in digital environments, such as MUDs. Through her study, she determined that while having the freedom to create one’s own identity was freeing, it also came with its own struggles as other participants would respond differently to the adopted identity. When thinking about implementing alternative digital learning environments, instructors need to consider student representations within the space and how it could potentially impact the learning experience, positively or negatively.

Viti, Lynne Spigelmire. "Cybering Towards an Audience: Do Women Find a New/Different Voice in an Electronic Forum?" Kairos 6.2 (2001): n. pag. Web. 19 Feb. 2014. <http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/6.2/binder2.html?coverweb/gender/viti/index.htm>
Viti conducted a study where the students enrolled in her course were required to participate in online forums with other participants beyond the class and even the university. Viti's goal was to discover how interacting with an outside audience would impact student writing, and she discovered that it had a pretty significant impact. Having an audience beyond the classroom forced students to clarify their positions and arguments in ways that was difficult to replicate when writing was contained within a classroom environment. Although this article doesn’t specifically address female identity, it is still helpful for thinking about the possibilities of developing e-learning environments and connecting with outside audiences.

Wolfe, Joanna L. "Why Do Women Feel Ignored? Gender Differences in Computer-Mediated Classroom Interactions." Computers and Composition 16 (1999): 153-166. Print.
Wolfe aimed to study the effects of computer-mediated communication on the discourse between men and women to further demonstrate that online learning doesn't inherently equalize the classroom environment. While the study revealed online communication developed a friendly environment, Wolfe also discovered women did not receive the same amount of support and recognition as the men. This was in part attributed to men and women expressing themselves differently and having different attitudes towards providing such support. However, Wolfe also learned that women had difficulty defending themselves when their ideas were challenged. This article will be helpful in reminding instructors that it is difficult to equalize the learning environment and course tools need to be purposefully used.

Zauchner, Sabine, Karin Siebenhandl, and Michael Wagner, eds. Gender in E-Learning and Educational Games: A Reader. Innsbruck, Austria: StudienVerlag, 2007. Print.
This book is a conference publication for a conference that took place in Austria in 2006. The aim of the conference, and consequently publication, was to think about e-learning from a gender perspective. The articles within the book provide best practices, theoretical approaches, and research projects on a variety of topics in the study of gender, e-learning, and educational games. Of particular relevance to the theme of the book overall is the notion of play as a constructivist tool for learning.