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Mixing Personal and Learning Lives: How Women Mediate Tensions When Learning Online Open Access


Other title
poststructural feminism
online focus group
post-secondary education
online learning
distance education
photo-elicitation interviewing
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Kelland, Jennifer
Supervisor and department
Chovanec, Donna (Educational Policy Studies)
Campbell, Katy (Faculty of Extension)
Grace, André (Educational Policy Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Butterwick, Shauna (Educational Studies)
Foster, Rosemary (Educational Policy Studies)
Watt-Malcolm, Bonita (Secondary Education)
Department of Educational Policy Studies

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Current statistics suggest women form the majority of online learners. Their enrollment levels may be a result of promotional materials suggesting online learning allows learners access to flexible learning opportunities that will complement their busy lives. This research questions those assertions by examining the tensions women experience while learning online. Using a poststructural feminist approach, tensions are defined as the messy spaces where complexities, contradictions and competing ideas, actions, expectations, values and emotions interact to produce opposition and opportunities. Research questions asks: How do women learning online mediate tensions in the learning environment and in their own personal context? What tensions do women face when learning online? What strategies do they use to address these tensions? Are they able to find ways to balance or overcome these tensions? A poststructural feminist theoretical framework acknowledges the diversity of women’s experiences and allows space for questioning discourse around lifelong learning, online learning, women’s responsibilities, and institutional authority. Data was collected using multiple methods: photo-elicitation interviews and an online focus group plus a demographic survey and autoethnography. Twelve women, who all completed at least two online courses, participated representing learners of different ages, marital and family situations, geographical locations, and level and field of study. Six women took photographs, which formed the basis of face-to-face interviews. Six other women participated in an asynchronous online focus group. Themes from the results showed the tensions they experience, namely, the blurring between the boundaries between home and school, the cost of flexibility, and three strategies they used for mediating tensions (multitasking, procrastinating and persevering). While the women acknowledged the benefits of online learning and demonstrated that they were successful students, their narratives make it clear that they faced challenges in attending to and completing their schoolwork to the standards they desired, while meeting family and work responsibilities. A theoretical analysis explores how the poststructural feminist concepts of positionality and subjectivity are useful in examining women’s experiences learning online and where there are gaps in applying this theoretical framework in online learning contexts. Participants’ narratives and photographs and the researcher’s own autobiographical narrative are included.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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File title: Kelland_Jennifer_Winter2010
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