How to meet an online student?

Among many others I found an interesting blog of a teacher who is teaching online and offline classes about gender and race. Danielle Nielsen posted her thoughts with an interesting title that caught my eye –  “Responding to Online Students – How Do We Tell Them They’ve Made a Mistake?“.

ImageDanielle is troubled with her niceness and that she do not dare to tell her students then they are wrong. It is interesting! We as women have sometimes our special hidden agendas that can produce difficulties in social situations and therefore we learn to make these issues explicit… It is a great achievement of feminists to give us, women, a voice!  But Danielle`s pedagogical gendered reflective discussion opened also an other door (or some might even call it the Pandora´s box). This door is the next door from the one with the GENDER label and is called POWER issues in the classroom.

Somehow I have always considered it so obvious that these two doors are opening together, so if you open one of them, the other one opens automatically. It might not be the case at all! And that is something that interest me a lot. So, thank you for sharing your dilemma, Danielle!

I´ll post some parts of my comments addressed to Danielle here because I think that her dilemma is mirrored in many of our lives and experiences as teachers as well as learners and perhaps we can learn something from that.*

When I read your post I see that you are very conscious about the gender issues but it is much more difficult for you to explain the part of your work that has to do with learning/teaching. You would anyway prefer to continue to be a nice person that students like while you secretly plan turning them to the “right” direction. It is important that they are not attacking you while you do it…

Well, I do not think that we as adult educators need this pretended female niceness, it is not a kindergarten. Adults want to be met like grown ups who are capable of making their own decisions. If I talk to someone who is “totally wrong” (in my opinion:) then I just meet the Other in an open discussion. Honesty and authenticity is most vital when we would like our students to become independent and able to judge/think/decide by themselves. It does not matter weather you are working online of offline. 

It is always a question how to be able to meet with the students as equals in all different kinds of learning spaces but if you meet openness and genuine interest in mind so much (more!) can happen. Otherwise you just pass on what you know and that I find uninteresting. Can we even consider it as a real learning process? It might lack the creative power or inspiration for the students to continue with the topic or questions posed.

Of course if we just want to teach them ABC and then leave the space, then we can forget all about what I just wrote. But then we have not right to say that we love our students because it is just pretending… and they will notice it for sure.

You also write that we all want our students to “become something better than they are.”

I cannot agree to that. The students are as they are (each different and talented in their own ways) and it has nothing to do with good and bad… “We can grow together and learn so much from each other” is what we all want (both me and my students). 

To critically examine our basic assumptions about teaching and learning is the possible way out of the puzzle. There are many beautiful theories that combine gender, race and learning. For example if you read French thinker Jacques Ranciere. There was a special issue of “Educational Theory” in Nov 2012 about his ideas. It is very interesting …

With lot of love,


*Since the discussion is already an open I did not ask for Danielle`s special permission to publish my post. I will remove my comments as soon as she notifies me.