In my final course for the program, I decided on MDDE 651: Gender Issues in Distance Education, the first assignment was described as an "integration essay". The course itself serves to interrogate "sex inequalities and feminist principles in distance education includ[ing] access to education in both developed and developing nations, learning design and support, technology access and support, and curriculum issues." (MDDE 651, n.d.). The goal of the activity was to synthesize and reflect on the issues presented in the first two units of the course. I elected to write mine in an unconventional way, in that I wrote a blog post as essay, and it can be found here.
I selected this artefact for a few reasons. The first, is as this is my last course in the program, a bookend supporting the final chapter in my learning journey. I hope it truly evidences how far I have come. Meaning, that if I was to go back to the first essay I submitted, and compare it with this one, I can confirm my progression as a student and as a writer. Second, I think that the skill of "synthesis" is one of great importance in our work - as learners, scholars and practitioners. To read and review sixteen articles and then provide a succinct response as to how they are all thematically related, in addition to providing commentary (and in under 2000 words), is not an easy feat (5,6). It is much more difficult than being offered carte blanche to write until you are finished.
More, this work is important. The United Nations' Sustainability Development Goals includes the provision to "ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all" (SDG 4, n.d.). While this includes all forms of education and delivery, there is perhaps none more poised to help recognize this goal than the provision of distance and online learning opportunities. As noted by Sachdeva and Wong (2015), open and distance learning (ODL), "provides marginalised populations - irrespective of gender, age, ethnicity, location or education - with an 'equalising opportunity' to tap into formal and informal learning " (p. 2).
It is my belief that for the benefit of teaching and learning in higher education, there is nothing more important than finding praxis. As a practitioner who is concerned with social justice, and who endeavours to take a critical approach to pedagogy, and who constantly tries to improve my practice for ALL learners, and in particular believes that gender mainstreaming does benefit *all* learners, this course has been an important part of my learning journey in this program.
This is the hardest reflection to write. In some ways because I am still taking the course, and so wondering about my choice of artefact, when it might have been easier to write about something with time and space, and in fact evidence suggests that this is good practice for reflection. But, I am determined. I think to describe what I have learned, means I have to step outside of this course, and specifically this "artefact" for a moment. I need to simply write about me for a second. I was raised to be a feminist, largely by my mother as I am not sure my dad would qualify. My mum bought me my first copy of "Our Bodies, Ourselves" when I was six - an age that some point argue was too early, but it certainly shaped me. That being said, I went through a period in my life where I wasn't so much a denier of my own feminism, I just didn't identify wholly with its part in my identity. I am not sure what changed over the years. Was it because I became a mother? Was it when I turned 40? Was it when that guy touched me too many times at work, and then proceeded to gaslight me for the next 2 years? Was it because of the depressing state of the world, and in particular, the (still seemingly lacking) place for women in it? What I do know, however, is alongside learning to use my voice more generally, I have certainly found it when it comes to feminism and many other important social justice issues. I have become outspoken, and have promised myself to never again sit by if I bear witness to injustice. I have even gone on the occasional public rant.
I mention all of this for a reason. It is because despite living my life in this way, this course made me realize I still have a lot to learn. I remember turning to my mum, who was visiting in the first unit of the course and suggesting that I was having a mind-explosion moment. It is because it wasn't until recently that I had really and truly thought about the implications of patriarchy on the academy, on academic "knowledge" in general. And not just patriarchy, but racism, classism, ableism, homophobia....need I go on? I have also gained increased confidence in my pedagogy, while also realizing (again) that I have a lot to learn. For example, to more carefully consider positionality in the classroom, both face-to-face, but also online - especially when articles such as this are being published. I found myself feeling grounded by post-structural feminist approaches, in particular the reminder to consider both the systemic and structural, but also to make room for individual voices, and multiple truths. I also was reminded of the importance of finding balance between theory and practice - that to be dogmatic with either is not the balance that I need or want. Especially when our academic knowledge, as mentioned above, is dominated by an androcentric approach. When the majority of our scholarly publications favour white, Western, men.
As in other courses, I struggled with the currency of some of the readings. While there is always a place for seminal readings (of course), it felt as though with everything happening in the world, that we may have at least supplemented our readings with some timely options. I did appreciate the course's emphasis on both the developed and the developing world. In writing this essay, it was helpful to read multiple perspectives to distance learning programs, as it is too easy to be complacent in our own experiences, and to take for granted the ease some experience more than others. But it was also important to turn a critical lens on our own context. I spent a lot of time in this course thinking about the recent push to indigenize and decolonize the curriculum in post-secondary programs in Canada. This is an important step on our path to reconciliation, and so we have work to do. The University of Regina's Dr. Shauneen Pete offers "100 ways to Indigenize and decolonize academic programs and courses" and I have a feeling I will be reading it and reminding myself often.
With a new gender equity initiative kicking off on my campus (although admittedly I am critical of its seeming less than inclusive approach so far), I am looking forward to applying some of what I have learned through participating locally. I am also looking forward to finishing up the last course assignment, which asks learners to consider a redesign of a training or course initiative toward a more gender-inclusive approach. I think this learning has raised questions that I will be reflecting on for some time to come, and it has helped me consolidate a list of my own questions that I will be bringing to my work and practice. I think if I were to sum up this course simply, it is that it has (re)opened my eyes to the ways in which I can engage with these issues on a day to day, and that through small contributions, I can strive for better.
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