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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

FemTechNet offers a possible solution, one that might not have anything to do with feminism, but at the same time has everything to do with it. Juhasz explained the DOCC concept in relation to the MOOC, “Instead of a top down model, where one teacher from an elite institution tries to maximize the number of students, we’re more interested in democratic model,” she said, adding that “Each [nodal] is different and neither has any more authority than the next.” Boyer and Varela emphatically insist that in their DOCC, “instructors are as much participants as the participants are facilitators.” Juhasz noted that “a feminist understanding of the work of teaching is that it’s collaborative, a democratic process. A lot of good teaching happens in that process and that practice.” She added, “It takes a long time.”

Compare this to the allure of the MOOC, in which one or two superstar professors lecture virtually to tens of thousands of students. While MOOCs have created a fever pitch of hype due to their free and easy accessibility, some claim that it’s actually moved pedagogy backward, once again equating education with giant, impersonal lecture courses and rigid performance metrics, and drop-out rates are almost as astronomical as enrollment numbers. Perhaps not coincidentally, to this day MOOCs are dominated by male professors teaching STEM-related courses. “It’s a lazy and an oppressive way to imagine how education actually works,” said Juhasz, bluntly. “A lot of teaching is knowing your own students,” she added, which is almost impossible for MOOC instructors with thousands of students tuning in from all corners of the globe.

Yet these structures can offer incredible value to a motivated learner without physical or economic access to higher learning institutions. One needn’t be enrolled in or have taken prerequisite courses for the vast number of MOOCs available online. FemTechNet has seized on this accessibility component, augmenting it with the personalized and collaborative emphasis of feminist pedagogy, providing an exhilarating way to reach underserved, intellectually curious learners. No current nodal demonstrates this better than Boyer and Varela’s free FemTechNet Taller.

For one, while 2011 census numbers show that nearly 80 percent of San Antonio residents have graduated high school, only 32 percent had either two-year or four-year degrees. The number of San Antonians holding a bachelor’s degree was less than 25 percent in 2011. Also, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center study, Latino/as, which account for more than 60 percent of SA’s population, use the internet less than whites in any age group. This large Saytown population is smart and driven enough to stay in school, but unwilling or unable to pursue a traditional college degree plan, possibly even unable to access a computer and internet connection for a MOOC, but there’s no reason to assume that this demographic doesn’t want to continue learning for learning’s sake.

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