MOOCs and DOCCs in light of Feminist Ways of Knowing

The critique about MOOCs being patriarchal is theoretical rather than literal. Patriarchy does refer to authority being in the hands of men, either within a family unit or in a government or organisation. Most societies are still patriarchal in the literal sense because the majority of people in power, either in government, are men. This persists despite legal and constitutional reforms in many societies that provide equal rights, for the most part, to women. Patriarchy is also discussed in a more abstract sense in theory. For example, the history of Western science and philosophy is imbued with bias due to the fact that documented and produced knowledge was predominantly created and validated by European men. The voices of women, colonised people, indigenous people, disabled people, and sexual minorities were not widely heard, known or constructed as valid knowledge. Western philosophy privileged reason above emotion, mind over body, culture over nature. These dualisms led to hierarchies and women were associated with emotion, body, and nature. The prototype human being in science and philosophy was male. Simone de Beauvoir wrote about how women were Other. This historical production of knowledge with bias imbued in the scientific process is sometimes referred to as objectivistic, rationalist, and masculinist in feminist theory. Postmodern feminism takes issue with the category of women, or Woman. Some theorists object to an essentialist view of the category of women. Despite the fact that they might have physically gendered bodies, women do not necessarily have naturalistic, deterministic characteristics that are stable and fixed. Postmodern feminism is not only concerned with gender but also the concept of race, sexual orientation, ablebodyism, etc. Some theorists reject the idea that women constitute a single category because the material existence and lived experiences of women who are not white, heterosexual or ablebodied are underrepresentated and not constructed as valid knowledge. For example, African American theorist bell hooks argues that we live in white heterosexist capitalist patriarchy, a hegemonic culture of violence and injustice that is invisible to most because it is taken for granted and not questioned.

The feminist response to xMOOCs, the Stanford model of MOOCs, not the connectivist MOOCs, is related to the above theoretical ideas. In the mass-produced, pre-packaged courseware offered in xMOOCs through a centralised platform, the knowledge is centred around the course content and is managed by one (or a small number of) professor(s). The feminist critique is that this model reproduces a hierarchical power relationship between a teacher and learner and that knowledge is produced within the institution and delivered to the learner who must assimilate the information and reproduce it, without contributing, collaboration or questioning its production and validation. Feminist theories, methodologies, and pedagogies focus on collaboration and co-creation, reduce power hierarchies, and emphasise polyvocal knowledge production processes.

The structure, pedagogy and methodology of the DOCC have been reflective of feminist principles. Not only was the form based on feminist principles, so was the content. The course dealt with feminism, science, and technology. The DOCC proposed a common skeleton and video dialogues which partnering universities and course instructors could use and supplement with material determined in accordance to the situatedness of participating students. This provided for the collaborative experience. Students at participating universities and self-directed learners were invited to produce learning artifacts and publish and disseminate them.



DOCC 2013, or Feminist Anti-MOOC

The creation of the first DOCC – a distributed open collaborative course – is a response to MOOCs by FemTechNet, a network of feminist scholars, artists, and students. Their response is motivated by a shared concern regarding MOOCs as centralised courses offered by a professor or instructor to a massive audience, more reflective of xMOOCs than cMOOCs. The centralised format of one (or two) professor(s) and the pre-established courseware or syllabi appear to maintain distance between an all-knowing professor who owns or transmits knowledge to subordinate learners, which is perceived by some FemTechNet collaborators as patriarchal. DOCCs are meant to challenge the concept of MOOCs. The DOCC’s introduction for Self-Directed Learners states: “Unlike during a MOOC, SDLs (self-directed learners) will not receive knowledge from DOCC 2012, but rather SDLs will participate in designing and directing their own experiences with DOCC 2013 materials and with other participants.”

The nodal course or DOCC 2013 is entitled Dialogues on Feminism and Technology. Seventeen institutions are designing, delivering, and constructing the course, with F2F classes and self-directed learners participating, including: Green State University, Brown University, California Polytechnic State University, Colby-Sawyer College, The CUNY Graduate Center, Macaulay Honors College and Lehman College (CUNY), The New School, Ohio State University, Ontario College of Art and Design University, Pennsylvania State University, Pitzer College, Rutgers University, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Yale University. Building on theoretical feminist principles and feminist pedagogies, the nodal course explores the following themes: labour, sexuality, race, differences, body, machine, systems, place, infrastructure, archives, and transformation. The video dialogue series feature Anne Balsamo, Dean of the School of Media Studies at the New School, and other scholars interviewing two guest speakers at a time for 45 minutes talks. Theorist Donna Haraway and her 1985 essay The Cyborg Manifesto have heavily influenced the guest speakers, who are scholars, artists, and activists (Judy Wajcman, Julie Levin Russo, Lucy Suchman, and Donna Haraway herself). The interdisciplinarity and blend of academics and artists in the DOCC’s video dialogues are very appealing. Learners enrolled in the course through an institution for credit can engage with their F2F colleagues and disseminate individual and groups projects. Self-directed learners can also participate in various networked spaces such as Facebook and Google+. The WikiStorming Project invites participants to write and edit Wikipedia content in order to augment the presence of women and to create awareness of the gender bias existing in in the encyclopedia.

In terms of weaknesses, the DOCC, which is meant to be global, has drawn primarily on American, British, and Australian guest speakers and the majority of participating universities are American. The interviews have been in English and no transcription is available for potential translation (through automated translation programmes, for example). The potential to reach learners internationally could be facilitated by engaging with universities outside the English speaking world.

It is not clear how different a DOCC is from a connectivist MOOC. The distributedness of a DOCC seems to correspond to connectivist principles. Can connectivist MOOCs exhibit elements of patriarchy? Connectivist MOOCs might still be run primarily by men. The first DOCC has involved all women scholars and deals with gender and feminism(s), without defining the construct of women. The dualism of gender and the essentialism of the category of women are called into question by various speakers. Further research could explore if and how connectivism is compatible with feminism and if DOCCs apply connectivist principles.