Dissertation Information for Jane L. Howland
MPACT Status: Fully Complete
Title: Women as learners: Self-direction and connection in an Internet learning environment
Abstract: The delivery of instruction via the Internet is a relatively new phenomenon in distance education. The rapid growth in college and university courses that are offered online and the increasing number of distance education students presents the need for investigating how students experience their learning in this new environment. Women, who in the past have encountered gender-related differences in the way they experienced face-to-face classes, are a large segment of the distance education population. The purpose of this study was to examine the way women discerned their learning in an Internet classroom. It also explored the nature of computer-mediated communication and the ways that it can help or hinder knowledge construction. Gender-related differences were investigated to determine whether or not these differences that have been found in face-to-face classrooms and in social computer-mediated communication environments carried over into the Internet classroom and, if so, with what effect. Interviews of seven women and two men in a graduate-level Internet course were analyzed using grounded theory methods. The data suggest that the women demonstrated self-directed learning strategies in connecting with learning opportunities through the instructor, instructional materials, and other students. This phenomenon was identified as Self-Directed Connections to Learning. Women spoke most of the connections through other students that occurred in the context of the online course's Discussion Board. They used others' experiences and new perspectives gained from this dialogue to construct knowledge that they could apply to their own professional situations. While online communication appeared to have mediating effects, including mediating students' perceptions of gender differences in the class, it also presented conditions that interfered with learning for some students.
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