Margaret Daisley
The University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Perhaps it is quite apparent that there is a glaring silence in this paper in terms of specific markers of identity for the teacher and students mentioned in this study. My purpose is not to confound readers, at least not permanently. It is a common practice in ethnography to substitute pseudonyms for the names of participants in a study. However, it was "Terry's" request to be referenced by a "gender-neutral" name; this suggestion led me to think, then, that if the identity of the instructor is to be concealed (at least temporarily), then so should the identities of the students. However, in a recently reported research study (1995), Haswell and Haswell demonstrate that it is almost impossible for a reader to respond to a text without supplying genderized interpretations. "Gendership is ... an inevitable action, or reaction, of readers," the Haswells say (251). At the same time, they caution against notions such as "gender-blindness" and "gender neutrality." "Solutions to gender bias lie within the social and psychological reality of gender," they conclude, "not in attempts to negate gender" (251).

Indeed, even at this early point in my study of the data gathered in this research project, it was difficult to overlook findings that potentially relate to the gender of participants. Most significant was the "struggle for leadership" between Students 1 and 3, as mentioned in the section on "Silences that Students Encountered." To recount this piece of narrative evidence: Student 3 (a male) made remarks in his interviews which indicated he assumed his experiences and "natural" abilities to lead groups would be duplicated in this situation. I interpret the subsequent series of events that led to his being negatively evaluated by his group to show that, in assuming what might be viewed as a traditional male hierarchical perspective, Student 3 wrongly saw the role of group correspondent in CMC as analogous to the role of "secretary" in a business situation, where it would be common practice for a "boss" to dictate to a secretary what to say in a piece of correspondence.

The two females in this group, on the other hand (Students 1 and 2), alternately played the roles of correspondent, though neither claimed group leadership. Student 2, in fact, called herself a "mediator," and described how she used collaboratively-constructed texts to mediate group situations. I would also characterize Student 1 as a type of "mediator." In group situations, Student 1 was invariably gregarious or extroverted, and routinely used humor as if to mediate situations within her group. For example, during the Internet hunt assignment, Student 1 led her group to a cache of risque jokes. In a practice MOO session, she led her group's singular character into the hot tub. (These were exercises enacted collaboratively by the group during the in-class sessions held in the computer lab. Each situation resulted in much laughter from the whole group.) The last member of the group--Student 4, a male--was, as mentioned, both group-shy and technology-shy from negative past experiences, but gained confidence in his ability to use computer technology as the semester progressed. As mentioned also, this student found that he could play a valued role in the group as a note-taker on required readings.

However, such observations based on frameworks of gender and subject identity lead to conjectures beyond the scope of this present study. Future research questions, however, which seem pertinent to ask would be: Would it be fair to characterize Student 4 (a male) as assuming what are traditionally considered feminine roles and characteristics (technophobia, non-dominance in group participation, and the inclination to assume the role of note-taker for a group)? Perhaps the "leadership struggle" in this group would be better characterized as a struggle (by Student 1) against the idea of anyone assuming a dominating position within the group. In fact, as I have mentioned, neither Student 1 nor Student 3 characterized themselves as leaders of the group, and both females acted alternately as both online correspondents and mediators. Did females, more frequently than males, take the role of correspondent in other groups in the class? Do females characterize the group correspondent role as analagous to a "secretarial" position, or as something else? Would it be fair to conclude that females are more likely to see themselves as mediators, while males seem to see their roles in groups in a more binary fashion--i.e., as either leaders or followers? What, in fact, would be a "feminine" characterization of "leadership"? Were M/F more likely to protect, or break, "codes of silence"? What, in fact, was the ratio of M/F participation ... and non-participation online?

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