- Gender, Space, and Discourse across Borders:Talking Gender in Cyberspace
"Feminist academic practice crosses boundaries/borders of disciplines, of identity and of difference"(Kirkup 2005: 27)
The possibility of online student collaboration over cyberspace for two groups of students in Australia and Singapore was conceived by JaneMaree Maher at Monash University in Australia in 2005 after hearing a paper given by a colleague that detailed the experience of a three-way cross-country dialogue using flexible learning technologies (see Pickering et al. 2004). A recent visit to the National University of Singapore had elicited the information that a gender studies minor had just been established; on the basis of these two factors, Maher approached NUS gender studies colleagues, and Chng Huang Hoon followed up with enthusiasm. An email correspondence ensued, which established our mutual interests as feminist pedagogues in gender, space, and teaching, and we decided to generate a cross-national collaboration within the courses we teach that focus on gender, media, and space in the Australian classroom and language, gender, and feminist practice in the Singapore location. This project offered a unique opportunity for educators and students to engage in cross-national learning in cyberspace. The proximity of Australia and Singapore and the minimal time zone difference facilitated collaboration.
This paper examines the possibility of the cyber-classroom as a safe discourse space for all our students, but perhaps more specifically for our female students. If the physical space of the conventional classroom on campus is already shaped by the politics of gendered differences, will a pedagogical cyber domain change the ways gender shapes articulation and silence in the classroom? The answer we arrived at the end of our pedagogical journey is clearly "yes." The cross-national aspect of our collaboration also allowed us to consider the silences and omissions in national discourses of gender and feminism, inside and outside the classroom.
The Starting Place . . .
An important aspect of the success of this project was the strong intellectual links between the two courses we combined. JaneMaree Maher coordinates Women, Media, and Consumption at Monash University, focused on gender and the [End Page 202] media. Women, Media, and Consumption enrolls approximately sixty students each year. The students are at the second and third-year level of a three-year undergraduate degree. Drawing on the work of scholars such as Joanne Hollows, Elspeth Probyn, and Linda McDowell, students examine the construction and consumption of the norms of femininity and masculinity in contemporary Western societies. One of the key objectives of the course is to examine the production of gender in social spaces and through the processes of consumption, and students are encouraged to critically evaluate how gender is performed differently in different spaces. Activities designed to encourage this critical reflection include visiting a local shopping mall to consider how the space itself is designed to regulate entrance and encourage certain performances of gendered identity, and exploring the classroom as a public space with attending prescriptions for appropriate gendered behavior. Exploring the intersection of gender and space allows critical examination of how architectural structures and social spaces shape gendered performances of subjectivity and selfhood. All material in this course is necessarily attentive to the ways in which all practices of consumption and use of public spaces, even when they are local and immediate, are affected by contemporary processes of globalization (Cvetkovich and Kellner).
Media is the other critical term in the course; the structure and materials invite students to focus significantly on media effects, media experiences, and the ways in which emerging media forms may offer new opportunities to participate in media culture. With this objective in mind, Women, Media, and Consumption has harnessed various forms of flexibility offered via the Internet. Monash University has utilized a number of online platforms with the most recent of these being WebCT. Course materials and relevant resources have been delivered on this platform to augment and enhance face-to-face teaching. Previous specific uses of online pedagogy have included conducting seminars online (Maher) and supporting online assessment exercises. As is common in most academic courses, online research also forms a significant part of students' activities...