Silences on the Net: Fulfilling the Feminist Potential of the Electronic Classroom

by Traci Gardner


Roundtable Participant. Conference on College Composition and Communication. Washington, D.C.: 25 March 1995.

Theory and discussion of computers and writing focus on the potential of synchronous and asynchronous discussion to empower speakers and writers usually silenced by traditional classroom protocols and to lead to an egalitarian discussion among those speakers and writers; however, the current state in most computer-mediated discussion is such that voices of authority still manipulate and control the discussion, those with more technological know-how and access are privileged, and, thus, the traditional classroom to the electronic classroom with little change, generally breaking down into the same marginalization of women and minorities.

If we are to create writing communities in the electronic classroom that fulfill the theorized potential for empowerment and egalitarian participation rather than creating classrooms that promise change but that duplicate the traditional systems of privilege and authority, we must acknowledge the socio-cultural factors that shift patently from the traditional classroom to the computer-based classroom and devise strategies that challenge and engage speakers and writers in new ways, ways that grant them the position and authority necessary to become equal, active participants in the writing classroom. In short, we must realize it is not the space that empowers speakers and writers, but the strategies that the space allows them to invoke.

The computer-networked classroom is not a panacea for the marginalized and disenfranchised speakers and writers in composition classrooms -- there are as many silenced women and minorities on the "net" (that is, within the networked classroom and on the internet) as there are in any other classroom. If composition studies is to allow the electronic classroom and the benefits of computers and writing to fulfill their potential, pedagogical methodologies and institutional changes must first be adopted that result in strategies that rethink and reconstitute how speakers and writers interact. If we merely transfer the rhetorical strategies and practices of the traditional classroom into the computer classroom, nothing will change -- the feminist potential for generating powerful, active speakers and writers, regardless of gender, will not be met. The silences in the classroom will simply become silences on the net. The challenge to the profession, then, is finding the pedagogy to bring sound and voice to those silences.