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Winter 2002 Issue # 1
Learning Online: Gender Equity in STEM

Front Page


What can teachers learn about equity online? How do they learn it?

What do they do with what they learn?

What role does the online facilitator play in the learning?

These are some of the questions that GEMS is in the process of answering. GEMS is a three-year project to determine what middle school teachers learn about equity in mathematics and science in an online course. GEMS research is supported by a grant from NSF's Program for Gender Equity

The course, "Engaging Middle School Girls in Mathematics and Science," is a seven-week asynchronous, online course for which teachers can receive either college credit or professional development points. Teachers complete readings and activities for each of seven sessions, participate in a discussion board, and post a final project.

The GEMS project has two major components in its research. One is use of a case study methodology. Project staff is tracking the experience of eight teachers in this online course. Each research subject provides a profile of demographic data, takes the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory, and evaluates the course.

In addition, a GEMS staff member visits the teacher's classroom to conduct an observation using the "Protocol for Assessing Classroom Equity in Mathematics and Science." The teacher participates in a lengthy interview regarding her/his experience in the course.

From analysis of these case studies, GEMS staff will be able to determine the characteristics of teachers who enroll in the online course, what factors led them to enroll, and their level of knowledge regarding equity before and after the course. Staff should also know the fit between their learning style and the learning environment of the course, what they found helpful and not helpful about the course, and the extent to which their classroom is equitable.

The other component of the research is an analysis of the discourse, which involves a larger number of the teachers. Participants must post a minimum of three messages for each session. GEMS staff is looking at the postings of both the course facilitator and the participants. Factors such a frequency of postings, the content of the posting, time of posting (for teachers), and the effect of a posting on subsequent postings is all being examined.

Staff is also interested in the group dynamics of the online course: who talks to whom, is there a person who dominates the discussion, what happens when someone posts but isn't responded to, and are there "hot topics" that the participants avoid?

Analysis of these data should reveal the dynamics of interaction in an asynchronous, online environment.

In addition to several reports presenting and analyzing the data described above, there are three spin-off products planned for the project. They are:

"What Is an Equitable Online Course?" Similar to the guidelines developed over the past 25 years describing an equitable classroom in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, language, and disability, these guidelines will address these same issues for an online environment.

"Keeping to the Point" Facilitating Online Courses that Have Equity as an Instructional Component or Other Material of a Highly Affective Nature Facilitating a virtual course is very different from teaching a class of live students. There are various models of online facilitation, some of which work better, depending on the course objectives, content, and environment. This document will explore such questions as what to do if participants are avoiding key subjects or what to do if participants get in an argument.

"Should I Do This or Not? A Self-Assessment for Enrolling in an Online Course" The dropout rate for online courses is significantly higher than for face-to-face courses. Online courses require a greater level of discipline and motivation on the part of the enrollee. This self-assessment will help prospective enrollees decide whether starting an online course is an appropriate action that will likely bring them success at this point in their lives.

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