Teaching Women's Studies: Exploring Student Engagement in Technology-Rich Classroom Learning Communities

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Staking, Kimberlee
Rosenfelt, Deborah
King, Katie
Although university students are key participants in knowledge-making processes, their insights about learning are sparsely documented, and too rarely considered in contemporary conversations in higher education. In centering the insights and experiences of students enrolled in two women's studies courses at the University of Maryland, this dissertation produces a substantive intervention that both democratizes and disrupts existing academic discourse. The research utilizes empirical data collected from students enrolled in three sections of Women's Studies 250: Women, Art and Culture, and from students enrolled in an online course, Women's Health and Well-Being, Transnational Perspectives, which was taught cross-institutionally at four universities in Africa, Israel and the United States. Qualitative analysis of empirical data facilitated the description of processes by which women's studies students were engaged in classroom knowledge-making. Student texts, interpretively stitched together within a crystallized presentation format, produce a poly-vocal narrative illuminating the robustly material and multi-sensory nature of processes in, through, and by which participants transacted their learning. Collectively, their shared stories affirm the value of a technology-rich classroom praxis, one that facilitated dialogic and peer-centered learning processes, to students' active and productive engagement in collaborative knowledge-making endeavors. Research findings also illuminate how such a praxis, scaffolded on dialogic engagement, and on the deployment of socio-constructivist pedagogies in a technology-rich learning environment, deepened participants' collaborations with one another as equally knowledgeable peers across difference, which simultaneously and materially facilitated their capabilities to critically and reflexively engage relevant knowledge frameworks. The strength of these findings attest to the benefits of focusing qualitative research on the nature of the transactional processes by and through which students are engaged in classroom learning. In explicitly asserting the value to learners of these material processes above others in facilitating collaborative knowledge-making transactions, this dissertation documents shared ownership in processes of classroom knowledge-making as an enabling factor in participants' abilities to capitalize on vital resources of peer diversity that, when mobilized, have the capacity to support potentially trangressive and tangibly transformative social justice outcomes for individuals and for the classroom learning community as a whole.