Applying the gender perspective to the reality of higher education makes it possible to demonstrate the existence of inequalities and biases that cross the entire system . These inequalities also condition the daily interactions of the students. Especially with regard to group work, the evidence shows a tendency for teachers to evaluate rational, productive and public aspects.
As we have analyzed at another time , this is going to affect female students, who assume private, reproductive and emotional management behavior patterns that are not visible and consequently are not valued.
A weakness and a strength
This issue is a weakness and, in turn, can be a strength in a context in which progress is being made in the implementation of active learning .
It is a weakness because, if these issues are not considered, these methodologies can negatively affect female students, in addition to unconsciously and invisibly reproducing inequalities.
However, this explosion of active learning methodologies can also be an opportunity: if the key to cooperative methodologies is for students to be co-responsible for the advancement of their classmates’ learning, they can be oriented so that it is done equally .
Interdependence and reflection
Cooperative methodologies such as project, case or problem based learning are based on two key aspects: reciprocal interdependence and group reflection on the progress of learning.
The first principle considers that learning is not an individual negative sum game in which one person wins against the rest of the group. On the contrary, interdependence implies a positive sum game in which all the people that make up the group have to take responsibility not only for their progress, but also for the progress of the rest of the components. To address this collective responsibility, a tool that is often used is the group contract .
This document usually begins with a photo that shows the group identity (one of us) and usually ends with the signature of all of its components. It usually contains a diagnosis of the strengths and weaknesses of each member of the group, their individual commitments, collective commitments, the way tasks are distributed and problems are managed.
This contract can be an excuse to work with the students on roles and the distribution of responsibilities with a gender perspective. After its writing, we could rethink with the students what the photos express, the commitments that are assumed and who assumes them, the way in which gender norms are expressed in the identification of individual strengths and weaknesses.
In short, the elaboration of this group contract can be an excuse to identify explicit commitments to try to overcome or face gender norms and potential inequalities in group work.
Report on inequalities
For the elaboration of this contract, it could be pertinent to inform the students about how gender inequalities operate.
At this moment, in the Political Science degree at the UPV/EHU we are analyzing gender biases in learning, supported by four questionnaires that seek to identify differences in the assessment of cooperative skills by students, in learning styles , on the impact of the impostor syndrome or impostor , and on the distribution of tasks associated with group work.
Once this grade photograph is obtained, the results will be used to make them available to the work groups in the classrooms. In this way, we face the second of the principles of cooperative work, that of group reflection, making it easier for students to compare the results of these tests in their work group with those of the course and the grade as a whole.
Finally, in addition to the contract and diagnostic tests, another tool used in cooperative methodologies, which can be implemented with a gender perspective, is the travel notebook.
Normally, this tool is used for students to identify the “productive” elements of learning (the most important concepts regarding a task, the structure of the work, the topics to be addressed).
However, another dimension could be added to this dimension in which the group would reflect weekly or fortnightly on elements of a reproductive nature such as the distribution of tasks.
A ‘diary’ of the process
The travel notebook can identify throughout the learning process who has to do what, the evolution of compliance with previous commitments, the emotional state of the group, the conflicts that are arising…
For this purpose, in addition to the classic elements, the travel notebook could be designed to force students to identify aspects of an emotional nature (reflecting the state of its components, their level of illusion or disappointment with the project, possible personal or family problems that have prevented commitments from being met), reproductive (allowing coordination and mutual support work to become visible) and non-visible (defining who will correct the work, who will prepare the presentation, etc.).
In this way, teachers would have at their disposal a tool that allows them to monitor not only curricular progress, but, above all, the process (and, consequently, its gender expression) that allows the group to advance. And it could analyze and redirect this learning process from equality .
Author Bios: Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga is Professor of Political Science at the University of the Basque Country / Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea and Cecilia Guemes is Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Law at Autonomous University of Madrid
This article is based on the work carried out with Patricia Martínez and Delicia Aguado, from Aradia Cooperativa Feminista , with whom we have written the guide How to make a feminist classroom , published by the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training within the framework of the project The adventure of learning .