Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 22, No 1 (1997)

Gendered Evaluation Responses to Experiential Learning as an Adjunct to a Basic Communication Skills Course

Judith A. Rolls (University College of Cape Breton)

Abstract: The author examined gendered evaluation responses to experiential learning in terms of how students rated the overall experience, responded to experiential learning, and responded to experiential learning facilitators. An analysis of evaluation forms indicated no difference in the overall rating of the experience. In responses to the experiential learning context, females noted receiving encouragement and claimed communication apprehension reduction. Regarding experiential learning facilitators, males focused on instructional competence and individual practices while females noted facilitators' knowledge and their easy-going natures. The facilitator's sex did not influence responses. The findings underscore the importance of personnel in creating gender-sensitive experiential learning contexts that offer a "warm climate" for both men and women.

Résumé: L'auteur a comparé les réactions d'étudiants males et femelles à l'égard de l'apprentissage expérentiel examinant selon la leurs perspectives sur l'expérience globale, l'apprentissage expérentiel et les facilitateurs d'apprentissage expérentiel. Une analyse des formulaires d'évaluation ne permet pas d'indiquer une différence entre hommes et femmes quant à la perception de l'expérience globale. En ce qui a trait à l'apprentissage expérentiel, les femmes ont noté les encouragements qu'elles ont reçus et ont déclaré une diminution dans leur appréhension à communiquer. Pour ce qui est des facilitateurs d'apprentissage expérentiel, les hommes ont souligné la compétence d'instruction et les pratiques individuelles tandis que les femmes ont noté le savoir des facilitateurs et leur nature paisible. Le sexe du facilitateur n'a pas influencé les réponses. Les résultats mettent en évidence l'importance pour le personnel de la création de contextes d'apprentissage expérentiel quitiennent compte du sexe des participants et qui offrent un "climat chaleureux" autant pour les hommes que pour les femmes.

Introduction and rationale

Communication education scholars recognize that the instructional system from kindergarten through university, and the promotional process within the academy itself, treats and rates females and males differently (Bowen & Wyatt, 1993; Civikly, 1992; Cooper, 1993; Flynn & Chambers, 1994; Foster et al., 1994; Gerlach & Hart, 1992; Goldberg, 1968; Hawkins, 1994; Pearson & West, 1991; Peterson, 1991; Reynolds, 1995; Sadker & Sadker, 1985, 1986, 1990, 1994; Sandler & Hall, 1986; Spitzack & Carter, 1987; Treichler & Kramarae, 1983; Wood, 1992, 1993; Wood & Lenze, 1991). Among the calls to combat this institutionalized sexism was an issue of Communication Education devoted solely to the topic of "Gender Issues in the Communication Classroom" (Rosenfeld, 1991). Gender insensitivity may be displayed through course content that marginalizes, devalues, neglects, or misrepresents the experiences of either sex. Most often this phenomenon is directed toward women. Peterson (1991) avows, "Nowhere is this marginalization of women more evident than in basic speech communication courses" (p. 60). Basic communication skills courses typically feature public speaking or interpersonal communication. In many cases they are hybrid courses of selected communication topics. Peterson (1991) asserts that curriculum revision directed toward inclusion of research by and about women provides a force to oppose and resist sexism in the basic courses.

Wood & Lenze (1991), however, argue: "Gender insensitivity may also result from pedagogical processes, which consist largely of instructors' language, classroom style, and ways of responding to students, all of which convey a great deal about what instructors value and endorse in their classrooms and, more generally, in human interaction" (p. 17). Given that the reduction of sexist practices in basic courses is inhibited by the fact that much of the devaluation or marginalization of women occurs inadvertently, a closer examination of basic course routines and procedures is required.

One pedagogical device employed regularly in basic courses is experiential learning, or learning by doing. To ensure a student's possession of the requisite communication skills, most introductory courses provide this tool in the form of adjunctive exercises. For instance, students in public speaking courses learn public speaking theory and then engage in experiential learning by presenting speeches. Through the process of speaking and the feedback they receive, students hone their individual skills. Or students in interpersonal communication courses might engage in simulated games and exercises to demonstrate and /or apply interpersonal theory. However, not all experiential learning occurs in the classroom; some institutions have communication laboratories which serve as experiential learning centres where students are taught in a guided, informal atmosphere.

2 This research responds to the need to examine how males and females respond to experiential learning. Such a teaching /learning context is worthy of consideration because of its widespread use as an adjunctive strategy in basic communication courses. Further, educators are recognizing the value of active learning and the creation of more informal experiential learning environments. Finally, little research has examined gender responses to experiential learning. Such gaming and simulation strategies could well be sites for sexism; at present, we simply do not know. Specifically, the researcher attempted to determine if gender differences exist in terms of how females and males (1) rate the overall experience; (2) respond to experiential learning; and (3) respond to experiential learning facilitators. Given the disciplinary commitment to conducting gender-inclusive learning practices, the results of this investigation might be useful to individuals interested in creating inclusive, supportive, experiential learning climates for both sexes.

Although research featuring gender and experiential learning is rare, Rolls (1993) examined how basic communication course students in general responded to and rated their experiences in a special experiential learning model course at the University College of Cape Breton (UCCB), Nova Scotia. Both an interpersonal and a hybrid course (focusing on interviewing, small group discussion, and public speaking) serve as basic courses at UCCB. The model adheres to a philosophy or goal that seeks to promote in students not only a cognitive mastery of interpersonal and public communication, but an affective and behavioural one as well. Focusing on the cognitive domain, students gain a theoretical comprehension of interpersonal and public communication. In terms of the affective dimension, they are provided an opportunity to examine the feelings they experience in these contexts. For the behavioural component, concentration is placed on communication skill acquisition. Therefore, students successfully completing a basic course understand the relevant theoretical communication concepts, become more confident and competent in these communication contexts, and gain more overall effectiveness as communicators.

To achieve this three-pronged goal, courses are structured to include experiential learning.

In addition to three hours of class time, students are required to meet in a communication laboratory for one hour per week, earning a percentage of their final course grade. In regularly scheduled small groups (five to seven persons per gathering), students engage in videotaped learning exercises that complement course theory and /or they practice for upcoming classroom performances. Conducted by the co-ordinator or a peer facilitator, each lab is goal directed and seemingly unstructured as personnel endeavor to create a safe, relaxed atmosphere where students feel free to express themselves. (Rolls, 1993, pp. 182-183)

2 For example, before students present their graded in-class speeches, they do practice runs in front of their small groups. These are videotaped so that both presenters and facilitators can assess the students' communication strengths and weaknesses. Based on the lab performance, students learn what adjustments are required to make a more polished in-class presentation.

Peer facilitators are upper-level male and female communication majors who apply to teach one to five labs per week. They are hired on the basis of their sensitivity, interactional, and leadership or instructional competencies as determined by the lab co-ordinator who hires and trains them. "Having completed both basic courses as prerequisites for upper-level ones, facilitators come equipped with considerable knowledge of the goals and structure of the lab. Subsequently, training focuses on how facilitators can best meet student needs" (Rolls, 1992, p. 7). Sessions are held at the onset of the semester and facilitators learn how to conduct labs, deal with troublesome students, grade experiential learning, meet expectations associated with the peer facilitator role, and so forth. Throughout the semester peer facilitators attend weekly meetings to review and discuss lesson plans, student evaluations, and so forth. Later, facilitators' expressed strengths and weaknesses are critiqued in individual appraisal interviews with the co-ordinator.

Other elements of the UCCB model include videotaped classroom presentations for later individual student assessment as well as the completion of question and answer journals to help students examine their cognitive, affective, and behavioural development. "Outside of scheduled labs, students come [to the lab] to view classroom performances, to meet for informal communication apprehension counseling, to arrange for missed labs, or just to say `hello' " (Rolls, 1993, p. 183).

While mainstream public speaking and hybrid courses cover similar content or provide some form of experiential learning, the UCCB courses are unique. They focus on students as individual communicators who learn to identify, assess, and improve their interpersonal and public speaking strengths and weaknesses in this experiential learning context.

The model's overall goal is to promote students' mastery of the cognitive, affective, and behavioural domains of speech communication. Using those dimensions for the analytic schema, Rolls' (1993) analysis of student journals and lab assessment forms demonstrated that the experiential learning model was effective. However, gender differences in response to the model were not examined.


This current study extends the Rolls (1993) study and uses the UCCB model as a basis from which to explore gender differences in responses to experiential learning. The narratives contained in lab /facilitator evaluation forms allowed comparison of male and female reported experiences in a specific experiential learning context. Three research questions were explored:

Do gender differences exist in terms of how students rate their overall experience?
Do gender differences exist in terms of how students respond to experiential learning?
Do gender differences exist in terms of how students respond to the experiential learning facilitators?

Lab /facilitator evaluation forms

The data consists of responses to two-page lab /facilitator evaluation forms completed by basic course students at the end of the semester. These surveys serve as a major tool for assessing both the lab facilitators and the general role of the lab in relation to the course. Data for this study comes from a basic hybrid course at UCCB which focuses on interviewing, small group discussion, and public speaking. Students might, for instance, conduct short, videotaped, profile interviews and learn how to time and organize an interview, how to make the interviewee comfortable, how to use probing questions, and so forth--all in a relaxed, informal experiential learning atmosphere. The cognitive, affective, and behavioural knowledge garnered in this context should carry over to the classroom when they are called upon to make spontaneous, graded in-class interviews.

The lab /facilitator evaluation forms used to collect the data consist of five multiple-choice/statement questions and one open-ended question (see Table 1). Students are not asked to record their names on the forms, but space is provided for their lab facilitator's name. Although no further demographic information is required, students in the basic courses generally consist of first-year, 18- to 24-year-old, undergraduate, white, middle- to low-income female and male students.

Table 1:
Communication Lab / Facilitator Evaluation Form
No Name Please
For each statement, please circle the choice you feel best describes your opinion.
1. How important to your progress do you consider work in the lab?
a. essential
b. helpful
c. of little value
2. Labs for this course should be
a. more rigidly structured
b. relatively unstructured, based on students' needs, as at present
c. no comment
3. The lab facilitator is able to communicate effectively his or her
knowledge of the subject.
a. strongly agree
b. agree
c. undecided
d. disagree
4. The facilitator was not able to establish a good relationship with the students.
a. strongly agree
b. agree
c. undecided
d. disagree
5. The facilitator made lab experience worthwhile.
a. strongly agree
b. agree
c. undecided
d. disagree
6. Please provide any comments, suggestions, criticisms, recommendations, etc. regarding
the communication lab and /or the competence/personality of the lab facilitator.
Name of Facilitator:

Data collection

To determine whether an evaluation was completed by a male or female, lab facilitators were instructed by the lab co-ordinator to place a check on the back of the male evaluations as they were handed in. When the co-ordinator finished the end-of-semester assessment process, the researcher received two packets--one containing 105 evaluation forms completed by females and the second containing 105 evaluation forms completed by males. Some (3 female, 2 male) were eliminated due to sorting errors.

RQ1: Rating the overall experience

The lab /facilitator forms of 102 females and 103 males were analyzed. The multiple-choice items provided a direct overall rating of the students' responses to experiential learning. To assess gender differences, male and female replies were tallied. The results, as shown in Table 2, were strikingly similar. For instance, 103 (100%) of the males and 99 (97%) of the females agreed that work in the lab was either essential or helpful to their progress in the course; 57 (55%) males and 56 (55%) females strongly agreed that the facilitator made the lab experience worthwhile. Overall, both sexes favourably appraised the lab experience.

Table 2: Lab / Facilitator Evaluation Form Tabulations
Males Females
1. How important to your progress do you consider
work in the lab?
a. essential 49 50
b. helpful 54 49
c. of little value 0 3
2. Labs for this course should be
a. more rigidly structured 6 8
b. relatively unstructured, based on students' needs,
as at present 80 73
c. no comment 17 21
3. The lab facilitator is able to communicate effectively
his or her knowledge of the subject.
a. strongly agree 55 58
b. agree 45 40
c. undecided 2 4
d. disagree 1 0
4. The facilitator was not able to establish a good
relationship with the students.
a. strongly agree 4 4
b. agree 2 3
c. undecided 5 3
d. disagree 91 91
5. The facilitator made lab experience worthwhile.
a. strongly agree 57 56
b. agree 42 38
c. undecided 4 4
d. disagree 0 3
Not all students answered all questions.

Total males: 103; total females: 102.

Because the names of the facilitators were included on many evaluation forms, I was able to assess how subjects responded to facilitator gender. Male and female student responses to both female and male facilitators were analyzed. When the responses were tallied, the results showed that the gender of the facilitator did not affect the overall rating of the lab experience. For example, 94.6% of males with a female facilitator and 99.9% of males with a male facilitator either agreed or strongly agreed that he or she was able to communicate a knowledge of the subject while 96.8% of female students with a female facilitator and 96.3% of females with a male facilitator also agreed or strongly agreed to the same statement. These results are available in Table 3.

Table 3: Lab Evaluation by Sex of Facilitator
Male students Female students
1. The facilitator is able to
communicate his / her
knowledge of the subject.
a. strongly agree 36 (48.6%) 22 (75.9%) 37 (57.8%) 18 (64.3%)
b. agree 34 (46.0%) 7 (24.0%) 25 (39.0%) 9 (32.0%)
c. undecided 4 (5.4%) 0 1 (1.6%) 1 (3.6%)
d. disagree 0 0 1 (1.6%) 0
2. The facilitator was not able
to establish a good relation-
ship with the students.
a. strongly agree 1 (1.3%) 2 (7.0%) 3 (4.7%) 1 (3.6%)
b. agree 1 (1.3%) 2 (3.0%) 3 (4.7%) 0
c. undecided 5 (6.8%) 0 3 (4.7%) 0
d. disagree 67 (90.5%) 26 (90.0%) 55 (86.0%) 27 (96.4%)
3. The facilitator made lab
experience worthwhile.
a. strongly agree 36 (48.6%) 22 (75.9%) 33 (52.0%) 19 (68.0%)
b. agree 34 (45.9%) 6 (20.7%) 25 (39.0%) 7 (25.0%)
c. undecided 3 (4.1%) 1 (3.0%) 3 (4.7%) 2 (7.0%)
d. disagree 0 0 3 (4.7%) 0
Not all students answered all questions.

FF: Female Facilitator.
MF: Male Facilitator.

74 males (73.3%) had a female facilitator; 29 males (28.7%) had a male facilitator; 64 females (70%) had a female facilitator; and 28 females (30%) had a male facilitator.

There were 11 facilitators in total. Seven were females and four were males. Females taught 71% of students and males taught 29% of students.

In all, these results suggest no difference in the way females and males rate this experiential learning, regardless of whether the peer facilitator is male or female. The results, however, reveal little about what specifically it is that students are responding to or what facilitators do that make students assess them so positively. Isolating pedagogical practices and ways of interacting with students which are looked upon either favourably or unfavourably by students of both sexes is worthy of investigation.

This kind of insight is gleaned more readily from responses to the open-ended question. A narrative analysis of responses to this question showed how males and females reacted to the experience and responded to the lab facilitator. These data are described in the following sections.

RQ2: Responses to experiential learning


Procedure. All female and male answers to the open-ended question which invited suggestions, criticisms, or recommendations regarding the lab and /or the lab facilitator were scripted under the headings "Comments Made by Males" and "Comments Made by Females." Because the name of the facilitator was indicated on the form, male and female comments could also be divided into those with male facilitators and those with female facilitators. Thus, gender differences in relation to the sex of the facilitator could be analyzed as well. More females (92.4%) than males (73.8%) responded to the question. After scripting the comments, the narratives were colour-coded using the schema described below.

Coding schema. In keeping with the overall goal to promote students' mastery of the cognitive, affective, and behavioural domains of speech communication, these three dimensions served as the analytical schema to assess gender differences in reaction to the communication lab experience. Students' statements were coded under the cognitive dimension (pink) if they explicitly or implicitly referred to theory learned (or not learned) in the classroom. For instance, comments such as "It was a good experience to back up things learned in the class" or "It enables students to ask questions they did not ask in class" were included in the cognitive domain. The affective domain was isolated by identifying (in yellow) all comments reflecting how students felt about the experiential learning experience. Descriptions referring to inspiration, confidence, apprehension, enjoyment, and so forth were coded under this category. Finally, the behavioural dimension (green) was operationalized to include reference to skill attainment (or lack thereof ) or to the value of the lab experience in gaining interview, small group, or public speaking skills. A statement such as "The lab was very helpful. It got 2 me ready for class presentations..." exemplifies a behavioural comment.

Inter-rater reliability. To provide evidence of the validity of the conclusions drawn by the researcher, two other raters were trained by the researcher to colour code the data in the manner described above. One coder was an assistant professor who teaches the basic communication skills course and the other was an upper-level undergraduate student who worked as a basic course peer facilitator. Both raters possessed a good knowledge of the cognitive, affective, and behavioural goals of the experiential learning model. Accustomed to assessing journals which probe students in each of these areas, they were familiar with the dimensions / definitions as they related to the rating schema. To attain inter-rater reliability, the trained coders would generally have to place the statements in the same categories as did the primary researcher. This informal method of assessing reliability is used when no statistical test is available for determining reliability for data such as these.

The results of the coding process were positive in that clear colour patterns emerged among the three raters. Although not all parts of all statements were colour coded exactly alike by all raters, the primary researcher's coding was identical with one or both of the raters in 60 out of the 70 coded individual comments made by females (85.71%), and in 51 out of the 53 coded comments made by males (96.2%). In a meeting with the raters to discuss the results, we were able to negotiate some agreement on those statements that were coded differently. Given the relative consistency between the researcher and the two other judges, the researcher felt sufficiently confident in the reliability of the coding schema to proceed with the analyses.


After student responses to the open-ended question regarding the lab and /or the lab facilitator were coded, they were retyped under the appropriate headings. These included affective comments by females, affective comments by males, behavioural comments by females, behavioural comments by males, cognitive comments by females, and cognitive comments by males. These groupings enabled the researcher to make comparisons between female and male behavioural comments, between female and male affective comments, and between female and male cognitive comments. Because the facilitators were named, the affective, behavioural, and cognitive comments by males and females could be further divided by the sex of the lab facilitator.

Affective domain. Fifty-eight percent of the statements made by females contained comments coded under the affective domain and 44% of the male statements contained such remarks.

In response to the experiential learning lab model, the comments of both men and women clustered around the words enjoy/enjoyed, comfortable/relaxed, and confidence. More specifically, 72% of female narratives coded as an affective statement contained reference to these words as did 79% of the male narratives. Comments like "I really enjoyed coming to lab," "feel very comfortable," "very enjoyable," "encouraging and positive," "has helped me a lot to improve my comfort levels with public speaking," and "even though I utterly hated being on camera, I still enjoyed going to the lab" exemplify this reference.

In addition, the women's commentary regularly referred to two additional terms which were not evident in the male narratives--encouragement and overcame. In particular, female students commented on "nervousness" and "fear of public speaking." The following comments were typical of the women:
"The lab was fun and it helped to overcome my fears."
"I'm glad I took this course because it allowed me to overcome some of my fears associated with public speaking."
"I do not usually speak up in a classroom setting and coming to lab regularly helped me to overcome my shyness. I still do not speak up but I do feel more comfortable."
"It helped me overcome my nervousness."

Given that the data consisted of narratives in response to an open-ended question, the fact that both males and females reference comfort, enjoyment, and confidence as responses to the experiential learning model deserves attention. The same holds for encouragement and overcoming fears which were noted by the women students.

Behavioural domain. More male responses (48%) were coded under the behavioural dimension than were female responses (38%). Overall, no distinguishable gender differences were identified in this category. The most commonly used descriptors by both sexes were helpful, practice/preparation, and progress. Students seemed interested in developing their individual skills as well as practising for classroom presentations. The following comments are representative of both women and men:
"It gave me the opportunity to practice on my feet."
"It was good practice for what you had to do in class."
"Very helpful to me. It gave me a chance to practice material before it was presented."
"It is helpful for improving communication. It gave me an opportu- nity to work on areas of my communication that I was having diffi- culties with."
"It prepared us for what to expect when we did our presentations in class."

Perhaps the confidence noted in the affective domain is a result of the practice referred to in the behavioural domain. Further, practice may also be related to the reported communication apprehension reduction that females noted. It appears that practice might meet the varying needs of males and females.

Cognitive domain. So few statements were coded in this category that it appears irrelevant to responses to experiential learning. As defined in this study, comments coded under the cognitive dimension referred to theory learned or not learned in class. Students mostly phrased what they learned in terms of skill acquisition, coded under the behavioural dimension. It could be argued, however, that skill development is so closely tied to theory that in basic communication courses the two are interrelated. For instance, the student who says "I learned how to present myself more confidently" might really be thinking of establishing credibility or ethos, as well as using a compelling style of delivery. Although theory and practice are often partitioned, there appears to be a need to develop cognitive links between the two.

In summary, based on narratives from the lab /facilitator evaluation forms, two major gender differences in responses to the lab experience were identified. Women reported that they received encouragement and support and reported a reduction in apprehension. Otherwise, both sexes enjoyed the experiential learning, were comfortable in the lab, and increased their communication confidence levels. Further, women and men found the labs helpful for developing interviewing and presentational skills and for providing practice for graded in-class presentations. The sex of the facilitator did not seem to influence responses to the experiential learning. That is, those themes that emerged from both male and female narratives operated across facilitator sex. It appears that facilitators, regardless of their sex, adapted to the different needs of males and females as expressed in the lab /facilitator evaluation forms.

RQ3: Responses to experiential learning facilitators


Procedure. The female and male responses to the open-ended question were also used to explore possible gender differences in response to lab facilitators. The narratives were scripted and divided into the following categories: comments by females with female facilitators, comments by females with male facilitators, comments by males with female facilitators, and comments by males with male facilitators. In this way, gender differences in relation to the sex of the facilitator could be analyzed. After scripting the comments, the narratives were colour coded using the analytic schema described below.

Coding scheme. As noted earlier, the peer lab facilitators who were evaluated in the study were hired largely because of their proficiency in the following areas: (1) sensitivity competence, (2) interactional competence, and (3) leadership or instructional competence (Rolls, 1993). Therefore, these categories were selected as the coding design to compare male and female responses to experiential learning facilitators. Statements were coded under sensitivity competence (yellow) if they indicated a response to the affective needs of students. For instance, "She made me feel comfortable" would be considered a "sensitivity competence" statement. Interactional competence (green) was operationalized to include any aspect of facilitators' temperaments or personalities. Remarks such as "had a good sense of humour" or "shows a lot of enthusiasm" exemplified interactional competence comments. The final coding dimension, leadership or instructional competence (pink), referred to the facilitators' ability to direct labs, to demonstrate their knowledge and to get information across to students. "Our lab facilitator was very effective in teaching and relating the material to the students" would clearly be coded in the leadership /instructional competence category. These three classifications allowed the researcher to compare what facilitator characteristics were deemed important by females and males.

After the narratives were colour-coded using the schema described above, they were re-typed under the appropriate headings (sensitivity comments by females, sensitivity comments by males, interactional comments by females, interactional comments by males, leadership /instructional comments by females, leadership /instructional comments by males) and further divided by the sex of the lab facilitator. These groupings provided an avenue for the researcher to compare female and male responses to experiential learning facilitators.

Inter-rater reliability. An inter-rater reliability check was required to provide readers with confidence in the conclusions drawn by the researcher. The same two coders trained for Research Question 2 were also trained to code these data in the manner described above. Again, in order for this section of the study to have some reliability, the coders generally had to place the statements in the same categories as did the primary researcher.

The results of the intercoding process were positive. As in the coding process used for Research Question 2, not all parts of all statements were colour coded exactly alike by all three raters. However, clear patterns emerged: Of the 71 comments made by males, the primary researcher's coding overlapped with one or both of the raters 67 times (94%) and in 66 of the 73 comments made by females (90%). This degree of overlap provided evidence for the validity of the coding process.


Sensitivity competence. Twenty-eight percent of the female and 23% of male comments focused on facilitators' sensitivity or empathic competence, defined as their response to students' feelings. Both sexes highlighted facilitators' abilities to put them at ease or to make them feel comfortable. This response suggests no discernible variations in gender responses to facilitators' sensitivity levels.

Interactional competence. Forty percent of females' total comments and 29% of males' were coded in this grouping. Statements referring to any aspect of facilitators' temperaments were placed in this area. Although remarks ranged from "great all round gal" to "Frank's a great guy" both males and females most often described their instructors as friendly or nice. A common theme found only in the female narratives refers to easy going or easy to get along with.

Leadership /instructional competence. Forty-seven percent of male comments directed toward lab facilitators in general centred on instructors' abilities to "teach" or direct the labs--that is, their leadership /instructional competence. This result contrasted with 31% of the females' comments and might suggest that males more than females place importance on the operational dimensions of experiential learning.

Upon initial inspection of the data comprising this category, no clear thematic differences between males and females emerged. In fact, it was difficult to partition the comments into any meaningful clusters, perhaps due to the fact that this category was so broad. Recall that statements coded under this dimension included comments that referred to the facilitators' ability to direct labs, to demonstrate their knowledge, and to get information across to students.

In keeping with this coding scheme, the researcher decided to further bracket, or divide, the comments contained in the leadership /instructional competence category into four distinct classifications. The first three represented the ways in which the leadership /instructional competence domain was operationalized: (1) general competence, (2) level of knowledge, and (3) ability to get messages across. A fourth classification, specific pedagogical behaviours employed by the facilitator, was also used. These four classifications seemed more accurately to represent the assessment groupings contained within the narratives. When these divisional schema were used to sort out comments in the leadership /instructional competence category, clear gender differences emerged in response to facilitators' leadership or instructional style. Males and females each clearly highlighted two different facilitator classifications as described below.

Male-highlighted classifications: Pedagogical behaviours /general competence. Male comments clustered almost exclusively on facilitators' specific pedagogical behaviours or their general competence level. Further, male commentary coded under this section was generally longer than the females' statements. The following male comments refer to facilitators' individual teaching strategies.
"Dawn was always open for suggestions or opinions. She always reminded us of what to watch for in our presentations. She picked out the little things which are hard for the person who is speaking to notice."
"Any time he made a remark about a presentation, the negative was always balanced by the positive."
"He allowed us to open up and learn our strengths and weaknesses. Stephen did an excellent job."
"Her thoughts and criticisms were useful and helpful."
"We were able to ask questions at any time and she had the answers for us. I think she is a good lab instructor."

The following is a selection of male comments coded under the "general competence" theme. Often these remarks reflected an air of self-assurance.
"The facilitator had no problem whatsoever.... I think he had a genuine interest in students."
"Overall, she was a very good facilitator. I was very pleased with her."
"The instructor had an outgoing personality which I feel is necessary for such a job."
"Because this course makes students apprehensive, I feel it is essen- tial to have a good lab facilitator to complement the regular course material. Ryllonna fit this to a T."

Female highlighted classifications: Level of knowledge/ability to get messages across. When organizing observations of the scripted comments, females appeared to make generally shorter comments than males and emphasized instructors' level of knowledge or their ability to get messages across. For instance, "Knew what he was talking about at all times," "Very knowledgeable about our topics for discussion," and "Marie is very knowledgeable about communication" were typical comments found in the female summaries. Regarding the ability to get information across, statements referred with regularity to facilitators' propensity to use examples or to express themselves well. The following assertions are characteristic of comments in this segment of analysis.
2 "He was very helpful, explained and gave examples of the work done in the lab."
"He can get his point across."
"She explains herself well."
"She expresses herself well and she helped us to express ourselves better."

An examination of student responses to experiential learning facilitators indicates that both sexes found instructors to be friendly and nice and to make them feel comfortable in the experiential learning setting. Women also highlighted the notion that the trainers were "easy going" or "easy to get along with."

The most noticeable variation in response to facilitators pointed toward their leadership /instructional competence. Males focused almost exclusively on instructors' general competence or their individual instructional practices, while females made note of the facilitators' knowledgability or their expertise at getting messages across, using examples, and so forth. The sex of the facilitator did not seem to influence comments made by females or males regarding instructor leadership /instructional competence. That is, the type of comments varied but the response to facilitators did not.

Discussion and directions for future research

Overall, the results of this study revealed no difference in the way males and females rated their experiential learning experiences. However, emergent themes contained in narrative responses to an open-ended question which solicited comments, criticism, or recommendations regarding the lab experience and /or the lab facilitators suggested some similarities and differences in the ways males and females perceived their lab experience. Both sexes noted that they felt comfortable and relaxed, and that they generally enjoyed the lab. Females also commented that they received encouragement and claimed communication apprehension reduction.

Women's attention to and recording of encouragement could signify (1) that they received encouragement while the men did not or (2) that the women were more sensitive to any encouragement they did receive, perhaps feeling they need it in order to participate in classroom presentations. The latter makes sense in light of women historically having been denied access to public forum (Kramarae, 1981) and the socialization of boys at an early age to vie for and maintain communication control (Treichler & Kramarae, 1983). Although women receive slightly higher grades than males on their classroom speeches (Barker, 1966; Hayes, 1977; Pearson & Nelson, 1981), they also report slightly more public speaking apprehension than do men (Infante & Fisher, 1974; McCroskey, Simpson, & Richmond, 1982).

Females' attention to facilitators' easy-going natures and /or their ability to express themselves may also have influenced the perceived encouragement and subsequent communication apprehension reduction they reported. Regarding reaction to lab facilitators, males focused on operational dimensions while females gravitated toward relational considerations. Perhaps women place more importance on facilitator affinity and disposition than do men. This is in line with literature on women's experiences in the classroom, which consistently shows that university classrooms are inhospitable climates for women (Kramarae & Treichler, 1990; Sadker & Sadker, 1994; Sandler & Hall, 1982; Treichler & Kramarae, 1983; Wood, 1992). Too, women tend to value relationships more than men. It would make sense, therefore, for women to tune in to a quality which suggests that facilitators are easy to deal with.

These differences underscore the importance of personnel. To meet all students' needs, experiential learning trainers must not only be adept communication coaches, they must also be sensitive to pupils' affective requirements. Both male and female facilitators function equally in this capacity, as all comments made by male and female students applied to both male and female facilitators. Female sensitivity to the support and incentive offered within this particular experiential learning model might account in part for this positive outcome. Perhaps this model provides women with the encouragement, motivation, and assurance that is otherwise subtly (and not so subtly) denied by educational institutions. Males did not sense or note such assurance but instead tuned in to the overall functioning of the experiential learning.

The similarities as well as the differences are relevant to those interested in creating gender-sensitive experiential learning because they offer some idea of how females and males felt in response to the learning and the learning facilitators. This understanding is important in the elimination of sexism. Only by establishing what subtle, elusive, implied behaviours, attributes, and attitudes are targeted as meaningful by both, one, or the other sex can we begin to understand how the elimination or inclusion of such behaviours by instructors can be conceived as sexist or devaluing to one or the other sex.

Interestingly, the results of this study seemed to contradict the research on the chilly climate for women. However, such research referred to the traditional "in-class" learning environment, not the experiential learning context. It may be that women feel more comfortable in experiential learning contexts than in formal classrooms. Donaldson & Dixon (1995) report that female chemistry students "preferred the laboratory manual as a learning resource and the laboratory experiment as an evaluation, while more men preferred audio-visual and multiple-choice evaluations. If changes were to be made, more women than men preferred more interactive laboratory evaluations" (p. 40). It is possible that experiential learning utilizes more of the ways women traditionally have learned. Typically, experiential learning in higher education environments has been devalued although there is a need to integrate reflective cognitive insights with skills, particularly in basic communication skills courses.

Facilitators in this current study apparently created a warm climate for both sexes, and it appears that a warm climate for women did not institute a cool one for men. Further, this hospitable atmosphere was fostered by facilitators of both sexes. In fact, all gender similarities and differences operated across facilitator sex. Accounting for this may be the facilitator selection process, the facilitator training process, and /or facilitator personality and trainer characteristics. Facilitators are selected very carefully and must not only demonstrate organizational and instrumental competence, they must also possess excellent interpersonal skills. They are encouraged also to complete a gender and communication course, although this is not a prerequisite for the position. Clearly, additional research is needed in this area.

Future research might also examine how gender and encouragement interact in communication apprehension reduction. Further, in this investigation, gender responses to experiential learning were essentially probed in the small group context. Males and females might not respond the same way to games and simulations conducted in larger classrooms. Finally, one of the weaknesses of this study is that the results might not generalize to other experiential learning contexts. Replication looking at different institutions or different contexts, or using a quantitative methodology, might further elaborate on our knowledge of this area.

In conclusion, to eliminate sexist practices in the basic communication course, it is necessary to detect pedagogical processes that impede or promote gender-sensitivity. Gaining an understanding of gender responses to experiential learning represents an important step in achieving this goal.


An earlier version of this work titled "Gender Responses to Experiential Learning as an Adjunct to the Basic Course" was presented at the Speech Communication Association Convention, New Orleans, 1994. The author thanks Pat Andrews, Carol Corbin, Jo Liska, Jenny Morrison, Pearl Peers, and Celeste Sulliman MacPherson for their help and thoughtful comments. This research was funded by an Assistance to Small Universities Program grant.


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