Working with a student of mine, we just completed a study looking at the relationship between gender and a number of variables in online learning. We were fortunate enough to have access to a large sample of high school students taking courses online via Michigan Virtual High School.
There were a number of predictable resulst such as more males than females took computer courses online, and that there were a wide range of reasons for taking online courses such as it being a required course for graduation, personal interest etc.
What was a bit more interesting was the apparent contradition between survey results and some of the established wisdom:
Established wisdom: Females have a more empathetic brain type (Simon Baron-Cohen) and that they are more collaborative by nature. Conversly, Males are more systematic and tend to divide and conquer as a work methodology.
The study revealed that while it was true that the females missed the personal contact and feedback from the professor, they rated themselves everybit as comfortable with the systematic layout of an online course including science and math courses. In fact, the women indicated that they were more likely to sign up for an online course than the males. The males annecdotally indicated that while the courses were of no particular problem content-wise, that they had trouble with the self-management required to be timely in their work.
What we can conclude from this study is that in order to make online learning more gender friendly (at least at the high school level), we need to do at least two things:
1) For Females especially: build in a higher communication constant in the course. Make sure that their are group discussions, well maintained FAQ’s, and that faculty respond quickly and personally to emails and submitted assignments. I emphasize the “personally” since the warmth of human collaboration can only be communicated in the words of an email or work product feedback. A couple of simple examples include making sure that the teacher use the student’s name in the salutation i.e., “Hi Amanda…” and commenting (even briefly) on the course discussions, showing that the teacher is reading what is being said. Again, there needs to be a personal component in the message i.e., “The comment about your uncle being a math savant…”
2) For Males especially: make sure that there is good tracking of course participation. Let them know that you are tracking their engagement. Most online learning platforms include usage statistics. Be direct with the males and let them know that it has been four days since they last logged on, or that they only read 20% of the discussion postings. This type of feedback will help the Male student self-manage their time more effectively and be more accountable.