Monday, July 14, 2008

Gender Differences

This summer I conducted a review of literature focused on quantitative research regarding the relationship between online discussions and student performance. Obviously, student performance is a subjective term and it is operationally defined quite differently from study to study, but overall there is overwhelming evidence of a clear correlation between online discussions and increased student achievement.

I have written up my findings and I plan to go over some of the more interesting aspects of the research here in this blog over the next few months. But in the mean time I wanted to share one particularly interesting finding.

Building on the overwhelming evidence that women are underrepresented in traditional classroom discussions, which tend to be dominated by male voices, Caspi, Chajut, and Saporta (2006) conducted a study in which they examined the relationship between gender and participation in both face to face and online discussions. Relating overall participation to the baseline attendance ratio they were able to determine whether women were underrepresented or overrepresented in terms of their contribution to discussion in each environment.

Not surprisingly to those of us who have run class blogs ourselves, women were significantly underrepresented in face to face discussions and yet were actually overrepresented in terms of their contributions to online discussions. Why females prefer the online forum is not yet entirely clear, but the implications for anyone wishing to run an equal-opportunity classroom are obvious. Though neither is a perfect forum for discussion, providing opportunities for both types of discussion to take place in a classroom is the best way to ensure the greatest number of voices will have a chance to be heard. Relying only on old-fashioned face to face discussions in a classroom is simply not a recipe for equal participation.