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FemTechNet Hopes to Revolutionize SA’s Higher Education Possibilities

Photo: Donte Griffin, License: N/A

Donte Griffin

Geeks who think: FemTechNet San Antonio’s Laura Varela (left) and Penelope Boyer at Geekdom

So the theory behind FemTechNet’s content is that it will enhance women’s sorely needed participation in digital technology, but as Juhasz said to me by phone recently “For me, one of the things that defines feminism is that theory and practice go together.” It’s the practice, how the Network plans to activate itself, that is perhaps the most startling (or ‘disruptive’ if you’re into buzzwords) part of FTN. To make the Network accessible to as many as possible, Juhasz and Balsamo knew early on they wanted a free, online community where interested parties could find one another and chat about topics related to education, technology, art and feminism. But they also knew that the classroom structure already provided an excellent way to build community and sought a way to combine the two. To many, this idea may sound a lot like Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), but Juhasz and Balsamo bristled at the for-profit, hierarchical structure of these free-to-low cost online courses currently taking higher education by storm.

FTN proposed a new model they call a Distributed Open Collaborative Course (DOCC). The DOCC structure eschews centralization for several “nodal” classes that are based around proposed themes and augmented by video discussions available on FTN’s website. Many of these nodals take the form of for-credit courses at universities ranging from top-tier institutions like Brown and Yale to massive state schools like Ohio State and Pennsylvania State to smaller colleges like Bowling Green State and Colby-Sawyer. Yet there’s plenty of opportunity for non-traditional students via the FTN website’s free, self-directed learner component. And then there’s San Antonio.

“San Antonio really is such an aberration,” said Penelope Boyer, one of two women responsible for bringing FTN to SA. Over lunch earlier this month, Boyer and co-facilitator Laura Varela explained how their program manages to fall even further outside the DOCC’s loose construct. After first learning about FemTechNet during an International Society for the Electronic Arts conference in 2012, Boyer started talking about bringing a nodal to SA with professors at Trinity, Texas A&M—San Antonio and Palo Alto College. “Nothing was particularly right,” said Boyer, in regards to a local hosting institution. Partnering with local filmmaker Varela, with whom she had previously collaborated and whose past projects include the documentary As Long as I Remember: American Veteranos and the video art installation Enlight-Tents (which projected images of Native Americans onto the Alamo), Boyer decided to host the DOCC locally as a “Taller,” or workshop, utilizing Varela’s already-established connections at Geekdom.

If it proceeds as planned, Boyer and Varela envision it as a free “media club,” sort of like a low-pressure book club. “We’ve got all the flexibility in the world,” said Boyer. “People can come and go, there’s no requirements or reports.”

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