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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

Each Tuesday at Geekdom, starting September 24, any and all are welcome to gather with Boyer and Varela, watch a video of well-known feminist thinkers and academics discussing the topic of the week, and then stay for a loosely structured dialogue, aided by local advisors, about the video. The video topic schedule appears here, and includes “Sexualities,” “Difference,” “Archive” and so on. While there’s plenty of extracurricular resources available on FTN’s website, Boyer and Varela say it’s not necessary to have a computer or internet access at all to stay engaged in the digital technology dialogue.

However, because the course was directly inspired by the perceived lack of women in technology, each participant is encouraged to engage in creative, digitally-based projects before the course ends in December. One of the projects involves “Wiki-storming,” in which participants directly address the lack of women and feminist theory in technology by creating or augmenting Wikipedia pages to reflect the participation and influence of various women in relevant fields. Other projects may include short video production, feminist mapping and substantive blog commenting. Many nodals will offer object-making as the final project, which, with its emphasis on DIY and/or craft methods and intention that the end product is then given as a gift to someone else, seems a little Portlandia at first blush. However, the process purports to help students think outside of capitalistic norms, create community and connect their learning to a tangible object, or “artifact” as the FTNers are fond of saying. In keeping with the FTN ethos, nodals like Boyer and Varela’s Taller may employ all, none or some of these project ideas. The San Antonio facilitators hope their participants end the course leaving behind “a beautiful digital object” that will be of use to future FTNers’ study.

Coincidentally, Varela, who has taught as an adjunct at UTSA, had recently been approached by the University to teach a MOOC about film. She turned down the opportunity, citing her preference to teach face-to-face with students. “[MOOCs] can’t be intimate in that way,” said Varela, noting that her classes we based primarily on two-way dialogues about the films. “[The students] needed these discussions to happen,” she said “and the projects that come out of that.”

Varela is far from the only educator skeptical of the MOOC, despite the millions of students and growing list of big league universities signing on to the relatively new end-run around pricey college courses. In a 2011 article published in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, Rita Kop noted that the MOOC structure of online video lectures followed by quizzes and tests (oftentimes multiple choice) did not include much in the way of community building, resource sharing or even an alternative to professor office hours for students struggling with material. Similar assessments have been made in The New York Times, C-Net and the Associated Press. In a November 2, 2012 article titled “The Year of the MOOC”, Times education reporter Laura Pappano wrote “How do you make the massive feel intimate? That’s what everyone is trying to figure out.”

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