Q: Isnt online learning a lonely enterprise?
A: Well, to begin with, students who arrive in our virtual
classrooms immediately discover that they are never alone. Using simple
rituals, each student introduces herself/himself and then gets to interact
with the others who have already introduced themselves. Right from the
very beginning, therefore, the participants begin bonding with each
other and preparing themselves to take part in a learning circle.
Q: Ah, I see, even though your participants never meet
each other face to face, they do, nonetheless, strongly engage each
other in collaborative learning.
A: Exactly. Online, however, the possibilities of collaborative
learning exceed those found within the live classroom. When you arrive
for your online class, you are accepted on the basis of your own story
and your own skills. You may be exceedingly attractive or very plain.
You may be rich or very poor. You may be graceful or painfully awkward.
Online, however, these things simply dont get in the way of internet
exchanges in the way that they do in real life exchanges. And another
thing. The anonymity of the internet enables women who might normally
be too afraid to speak out in a classroom discussion to present themselves
quite forcefully and quite sophisticatedly within an internet forum.
Going further, Catherine College firmly believes that
any classroom that has only one teacher is impoverished. In the best
of classrooms, everyone has something to teach and everyone has something
to learn, including the professor. The most critical role that the professor
plays is often to make a safe place in her classroom wherein women can
find their true voices and to express themselves freely. The bonding
that takes place in the virtual classroom must accordingly be joined
with a shared sense of respect and mystery in the face of co-learners
struggling to become their authentic selves even when they have for
so long been beaten down and forced to adapt roles that conceal their
Q: Do you imply that learning at Catherine College
can allow students to recover lost parts of themselves?
A: In my own practice as a teacher, I have always noted
that deep learning is always accompanied with a transformation of self
that is liberating, healing, and empowering. This is where the traditional
classrooms so miserably fail. So much attention is given to mastering
a subject in a prescribed manner that there is no time or place to acknowledge
the personal joys and frustrations, insights and healing that necessarily
accompanies deep learning. And this is true whether one is studying
physics or philosophy, literature or womens studies. But already,
I am gratified to say, the students in our pilot classes have again
and again said to us that we are doing something very important, very
healing, and very academicall at the same time.
Q: Does all this apply to your Virtual College?
A: Well, take the case of the Women Writing for (a)
Change. Here is a sampler of what three participants say:
Our class was so great--we have come so far, trusting
one another with our words and trusting the process. I loved it! It
was very meaningful; in fact, I will remember this month of sessions
for decades to come.
I am reflecting and feeling empowered that there
is a place for me and for my contributions in this world. . . . And
to the other women in this class -- you are valuable and you matter,
too. I treasure the sharing that you have done and look forward to
I loved this session. I loved being accountable
and not being able to run away and hide -- knowing that I needed to
put my best foot forward and write and post and share.
In addition to combining soul-searching with skill building,
our students find that our international and intercultural atmosphere
is also a real plus. When someone from Indiana shares insights with
someone from India or someone from Spain shares the difficulties found
within her own culture, this is a stretch and an inspiration for all
concerned. At times it is positively exhilarating to have a learning
partner who lives half-way around the world!
Please join us and discover these things for yourself.