Using Classroom Community to Achieve Gender Equity in Online and Face-to-Face Graduate Classes

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to determine the degree to which graduate students' perceptions of classroom community in their online and face-to-face classes differed based on gender. Students participating in the study were generally from urban, suburban, and rural school districts in Southwest Texas. All students (144) who were pursuing a master's degree in educational leadership using either face-to-face or online format in the fall semester, 2008 were emailed a survey. Of the 126 surveys returned (88%), 102 participants were selected for this study based on completion of data. Perceptions were measured using the Classroom Community Scale (CCS), which included three measures: Total classroom community, connectedness, and learning. Classroom community in both online and face-to-face classes was evaluated by students who were enrolled during the fall semester, 2008. It was found that after implementing classroom community elements, there were no statistically significant differences in the perceived total classroom community, connectedness, and learning of male and female students attending both face-to-face and online classes. The study also found that there were no statistically significant differences in the perceived total classroom community, connectedness, and learning of male and female students attending only online classes and for those attending only face-to-face classes. Findings suggest that by providing elements of a positive classroom community, university instructors can better meet the needs of male and female graduate students, thus eliminating any potential gender inequities in both face-to-face and online classes.

Keywords: online learning, gender, gender equity, gender gap, distance learning, classroom community, connectedness, learning, web-based learning

Introduction

Enhancing online learning has been the goal of many universities today. Enhancement may come in several formats, but critical to the quality of any online program is successful completion for all students, regardless of gender, race, age, or ethnicity. Even though technological advances have been made with regard to male and female participation, studies reveal that gender differences still exist in several areas related to distance learning. In this paper, we explore how the implementation of Classroom Community can serve as an equalizer for female students who may otherwise struggle with online learning and/or the use of technology as a learning tool. Studies have examined gender differences in confidence, teacher attitude, computer experience, and perceptions of computers as a male domain (Young, 2000). In addition, Muilenburg and Berge (2005) when analyzing barriers to online learning found gender as a barrier with respect to administrative issues as well as time and support for studies. In a later study of age, gender and ethnicity in web-based instruction, Enoch and Soker (2006) found gender to be a factor in terms of access to technology for Israeli university students enrolled in web-based courses. Additionally, Wolfe (1999), in her study of gender differences in computer-mediated classroom interactions, found that "electronic communication does not automatically equalize the proportion of discourse spoken by men and women" (p. 153). In their analysis of retention problems for female students in university computer science, Bunderson and Christensen (1995) reported that females were less likely to take advantage of computer learning opportunities than males. Similarly, Young (2000) reported gender differences in the way high school students oriented themselves to the world of computers and technology, with boys being more confident than girls in their use of technology.

One essential element of online learning is the creation of classroom community where students are both challenged in their learning and feel they are a contributing member of the group as a whole (Rovai, 2001). Researchers have found differences in how males and females perceive classroom community in both graduate and undergraduate online classes (Booker, 2008; Rovai & Baker, 2005). …