Blog Post

06. Theories of Feminisms: A DOCC

What is a DOCC?

Alex Juhasz and Anne Balsamo designed, implemented, and taught the first “DOCC (Distributed Online Collaborative Course), a feminist rethinking of the MOOC” during the fall of 2013. A collective of over a dozen scholar/teacher/activists taught under the broad rubric of “Feminist Dialogues in Technology.”  You can see more about their experiment with the DOCC here and here.

The idea of a DOCC as a tool that critiqued MOOCs while still claiming the space of online learning for feminisms intrigued and inspired me.

I did what I too often do brashly and without thinking: I issued a call for a Theories of Feminisms DOCC.

Why a DOCC for Theories of Feminisms?

What inspires me about MOOCs is the large numbers of people participating in educational readings, discussions, and other types of engagements. This inspired me and reminded me about feminist activism from the late 1960s through the 1980s. Feminism as an idea and political practice inspired hundreds of thousands of women to meet, read, and think together to generate new understandings about our world and share them with other women. Thus, I see energy of MOOCs linked with the energy of feminism.

In teaching Theories of Feminisms to undergraduate students, I am also interested the ways that feminist theories are linked with a community-based movement of feminism and ways in which they are not. That is, when I first encountered feminist theory as an undergraduate the formation of feminist theories was intimately linked to a community-based, activist political practice. That is, feminist theory came out of women’s experiences with activist work. Here I think in particular of theorists like Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, bell hooks, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Cherríe Moraga, Gloria Anzaldúa, and others. Though even in the late 1980s, there was significant theory generated from academic locations, but the commitment always was that if the theory was important and vital, it was accessible to everyone, or at least every woman, and we should each read it, engage with it, and evaluate it.

In the years between my undergraduate education and my return to graduate school, it seems that more theory is generated from academic locations and less from activist or community locations. The advent of MOOCs—or the feminist response of a DOCC—seemed an opportunity to address and change these relationships to bring a different balance to the genesis, consideration, and relevance of feminist theory.

Perhaps a MOOC—or a DOCC—could be one of the catalysts for a renewed form of activist feminisms and reenergized engagements with the generation and circulation of feminist theories.

These are my secret, somewhat grandiose hopes for the DOCC. I wrote, inviting people to join with more circumspection. This from my initial email inviting people to join me in a Theories of Feminisms DOCC:

I envision this DOCC, or collaborative course, as an energizing and exciting opportunity for us as teachers to work together and share as well as an opportunity for students to expand their vision of the world and their sense of the opportunities for feminist collaboration.

Who is Involved?

Three people responded to the idea of a Theories of Feminisms DOCC and together we are teaching on this spring as our first experimental foray into building something meaningful.

The four of us are all situated at very different universities across the country. Agatha Beins is an Assistant Professor in Women’s Studies at Texas Woman’s University, Karen Leong is an Associate Professor in the School for Social Transformation at Arizona State University, and Sarah Whitney is a lecturer at Pennsylvania State University – Behrend. For this academic year I am a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland.

The formats for our classes vary: Sarah and I are teaching classes that meet face to face and have an online component; Agatha and Karen are both teaching online only classes.

What is Happening?

During the fall, the four of us met to formulate and develop what we would do with the inaugural class. We agreed on three elements for collaboration:

  • Google Hangout Groups for our students
  • Four shared or overlapping themes (Economy, Indigenous Feminisms, Immigration, and a Novel)
  • A shared assignment as a Class Wiki

Now we are underway in this first, experimental semester. This week the first google hangouts are happening with four or five students in each of the groups – two students from the University of Maryland, one from PSU-Berend, one from TWU and one from ASU. We are all eagerly awaiting student reports on these experiences. Already we know that students are learning a lot about the challenges of technology collaboration across multiple time zones.

As the semester unfolds, students will continue discussions across campuses, across time zones, and across academic locations. They will read novels and think about how novels posit feminist theory. Collectively, the four of us as professors will evaluate what works in this collaborative world and what does not—and we will imagine new modes of collaboration for the future.

What is Next?

I continue to hope to build a collaborative across multiple platforms for teaching Theories of Feminisms that reaches women outside of academic settings—working women, women in prison, retired women, women seeking feminism through a flickering computer screen.

What happens though will unfold in a collaborative way with the current cohort of professors and, hopefully, a future cohort of people interested in working together, thinking together, and teaching together as a strategy to energize our teaching and scholarship and as a strategy to provide more skills, tools, and knowledge to our students in their disparate, yet connected, locations.

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