Women and Online Connectivity

Women and Online Connectivity

This March, with IU East (as well as almost every other college in the country) switching to online-only classes, the celebration of Women’s History Month has been curtailed, with many events and activities cancelled.  But the very act of e-learning offers an avenue to honor a particular way that women’s innovation and accomplishment have improved our world, in the form of the computer technology that is now so vital to maintaining any semblance of higher education in this country today.

Women have always been instrumental to the development of computing technology.  The world recently lost mathematician and innovative computer programmer Katherine Johnson, whose life and contributions to early computer development are well known thanks to having been recently dramatized in books and films like Hidden Figures (alongside fellow pioneers Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson).  But women have been involved in computing, and the major iterations of online connectivity and learning, all the way to the present day.  For this Women’s History Month, we especially feel our debt to these heroines.

Yvonne Marie Andrés is an educator and author who pioneered the idea of an internet-based education with global reach, which could make lessons available to anyone anywhere in the world.  In the early ‘80s, she founded Global SchoolNet, a nonprofit that works to that end.  She was also involved in World News Now, the first livestreamed television show delivered on the internet, and remains active in collaborative and internet learning.

In the late ‘80s, Elise Gerich was involved in building the network model used by the public internet, which involved securing the cooperation of numerous university, commercial, and governmental organizations to adhere to the same standards.  She has subsequently been involved in improving the technology on which the internet operates, such as internet service-providers switching to high-speed cable across the globe.  She has also helped facilitate the transfer of control of the internet from the hands of the US government to the international Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.

In the mid ‘90s, programmer and inventor (and holder of over 200 patents) Marian Croak foresaw the need to move beyond wired phone technology to internet protocol.  Her greatest innovation was Voice-over IP (VOIP), a technology which everything from text-messaging on a smartphone to video calls on the internet relies upon.  Applications like Skype rest on the foundation of VOIP.  Later in her career, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, she worked to create a system to allow for monetary donations made via text message.  If you have made a donation via texting in the current COVID-19 crisis, she made it possible.  She continues her career at Google, where she is the Vice President of Engineering

Anne-Marie Eklund Löwinder helped build the Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC), which allows websites to use digital signatures to verify their identities, and give users the confidence that they are networking with legitimate websites who are who they claim to be.  Her career has focused on cryptography and internet and data security, allowing for an information framework that keeps things like, for example, student grades secure and confidential.  As an internet safety advocate, she has spoken around the world.  She is one of seven people who control the DNSSEC key generation for the Domain Name System (DNS) root zone on the internet, maintaining its security and integrity.  She was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame in 2013.

All of these women’s innovations have created the framework that allows college classes to be delivered over the internet.  Our highly ranked and recognized online program was meticulously developed and the protocols prepared by faculty right here at IU East.  Professors like Margaret Thomas Evans and Edwina Helton developed early expertise in online teaching, and ironing out the kinks in how best to facilitate learning in the new environment.  In 2005, choices@EAST was our first program-level initiative, which has grown to the variety of full degree programs online available today.  Many students across the country may experience frustration as their colleges attempt to enact this different way of teaching.  But because of the work that women like Margaret Thomas Evans and Edwina Helton did, IU East students can have as high-quality learning experience online as they did in their in-person classes.

Their contributions are particularly noteworthy in thinking about Women’s History Month.  Women’s history is not just made far away, by larger-than-life people in books or films.  It transpires locally, by everyday women who care and who don’t relent when pushing towards something better in their field.

The library offers many other resources for you to explore, focused more generally of women’s contributions to every aspect of society.  These include databases like North American Women’s Letters and Diaries, American Women’s History Online, Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000, Contemporary Women’s Issues, and GenderWatch.  Interested in learning more?  Ask us at iueref@iue.edu.

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