Monday, March 12, 2012

Interview with Caroline J. Smith, George Washington University: Innovators in Education Series

A new collection of essays, Feminist Cyberspaces (Cambridge UP, 2012) addresses innovations in technology and how they can be used to expand access to education. In addition, the collection brings together new views / approaches to feminist theory in light of technological innovation.

1. What is your name, affiliation, and relation to education and/or e-learning?
Caroline J. Smith, Assistant Professor, The University Writing Program, The George Washington University

At GW, I teach a first-year composition course. In our program, instructors are encouraged to plan their courses around themes that interest them. I've taught courses about women's contemporary popular fiction, food writing, and even the television series Mad Men. Many of my courses focus on gender representations. And, I am a big advocate of online resources. We use blogs each semester as a place for students to practice their writing and read and respond to each other's work. I've also taught an online version of the course over the summer.

2. What was your role in Feminist Cyberspaces?
Sharon, Alvina, and I - along with another colleague, Carolyn Bitzer - presented on a panel together at the National Women's Studies Association. The panel focused on teaching, technology, and the Women's Studies classroom. There was such interest in it that we decided to edit an anthology. I served as one of the editors and co-wrote the conclusion for the anthology.

3. How does the body of work / the work you did with the collction complement your own research, teaching, and other activities?
As a graduate student, I taught for the Women's Studies program at the University of Delaware. Though I teach writing courses now, I feel they are very much influenced by the teaching that I did at Delaware and my scholarly interest in representations of women in contemporary popular fiction (I have a book about chick lit and another coming out about food memoirs). In each of my writing courses, we analyze, research, and write about texts often in relation to gender. I find feminist philosophies of pedagogy to inform the way I structure my courses and conduct myself in the classroom.

4. What are some of the key issues addressed in the collection?
I think an overall theme that I took away from the anthology was the idea of community. Each essay discusses really interesting approaches to using technology in the classroom, and while it may seem that technological advances could separate individuals (i.e. you might imagine each student typing away on her laptop from the comfort of her own home rather than engaging with each other in the physical classroom space), many of the essays explicitly or implicitly discussed how students still felt connected to one another. For me, this continuing theme was interesting to discover and speaks to just how important community is for feminism.

5. How do some of the core concepts of feminism and gender equity theory apply to technology?
Some of the essays in our anthology address the way in which technology can be an "equalizing" factor for women. For instance, Sharon's introduction talks about the way in which women are making their presence known in virtual worlds. Other essays, though, talk about the ways in which real life gender inequalities can manifest themselves online.

6. Where has the Internet fulfilled and failed to fulfill some of its early implicit promises?
This is a good question. I'm not sure I have the best answer, but I do think that - for those women with access to the Internet - that the Internet can offer some amazing opportunities for publishing to a wide audience. I'm working on a project now where food blogging is a component, and I find that many food bloggers started writing for themselves, publishing on the Internet, and realized how much their work resonated with others as they started getting more and more feedback. It's exciting to me that so many women have embraced blogging - many who might not have had a chance to be formally published.

7. What are some of your teaching, research, and other activity plans for the future?
This year, I've been on leave from teaching at George Washington. I had a baby last May, named Henry, so I had the fall off from teaching for family leave. This spring, I am on sabbatical, working on a project about contemporary women's food memoirs. When I return to teaching in the fall, I'll once again be teaching my course of Mad Men.

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