Critical Pedagogy: This is Real Life!

In “Teaching As An Act of Love: The Classroom and Critical Praxis,” Antonia Darder (2002) draws from Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and the concept of teaching as an act of love is directly connected to educators who have passion for teaching to the extent that they may have had a lifelong dream to teach.

As a child I would always hear, “wait until you experience the real-world,” and it was my understanding that the real-world experience would occur post my undergraduate college experience or upon entering the working world as an adult. Because I was conditioned to think of the real world in this way, I sustained that same pattern of thought. As an adult, I found myself repeating the same thing to younger generations: “wait until you experience the real world.” With a passion to teach in higher education, I intended to influence the next generation by preparing them for—you guessed it—the real world. Friere’s perspective is that “anywhere where human beings are congregated and engaged in relations of power (as they are in schools) constitutes a real-world experience” (p. 98). Friere is absolutely right! I think somewhere in my mind I envisioned higher education as a microcosm of real-world experiences that encompass greater risks to our quality of life. The lack of consideration for higher ed as the real-world can impact the lens students use in learning new knowledge—students not forming their own connections between lessons and applicability of those lessons to their lives. Perhaps as instructors, we are working harder to incorporate “real-world applications” because we demarcated the academy from the rest of the world.

I am excited about Friere’s work because he demystifies ideologies we live by as pedagogues. Unfortunately, he made recommendations and expressed concerns with oppressive pedagogy over 50 years ago, and we have still managed to maintain these bad habits as standards. For example, earlier in the semester, we read Ellen Langer’s (2000) “Mindful Learning,” which discussed an approach where learning is framed as fun using play as a teaching method. Friere refutes learning as only fun in that students will face difficult concepts and educators should be prepared to support difficult moments. Essentially, learning isn’t consistently experienced as fun, which aligns with a real-world experience—-life isn’t always fun. We face challenges and ideally, we’re prepared to face them. As educators, we can help students understand how to manage the ebbs and flows of our reality because academia is the real-world. In critical pedagogy, I grasped the importance of embracing humanity in our experiences to meet the real needs of our students. Our pedagogy affects our student’s real lives.

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References:

Darder, A. (2002). Teaching as an act of love: The classroom and critical praxis. Reinventing Paulo Freire: A pedagogy of love, 91-149.

Langer, E. J. (2000). Mindful learning. Current directions in psychological science, 9(6), 220-223.

A Glance At Digital Pedagogy

After reading “Decoding Digital Pedagogy, pt. 1: Beyond the LMS,” Morris’ statement “not every teacher is a pedagogue,…pedagogy is a scholarship unto itself,…[and] pedagogy is also different from the study of education” immediately grabbed my attention because a research interest I intended to take up at the onset of my doctoral studies was pedagogy. In my naivete, I assumed pedagogy (or in my mind “how to teach”) would come by nature of pursuing my doctoral degree with a graduate teaching assistantship. Morris’ statement helped me to frame what pedagogy is and its value in the field. I am now left to make a real decision about my pursuits with a new understanding of pedagogy.

I agree with Morris’ concern about learning management systems (LMS) that “classes taught within its structure generally land with a dull thud.” If we think about the discussion board feature, it is not as dynamic as an instructor would hope. In my experience, students are not actively engaging with the discussion board thread to maintain an ongoing discussion about a particular topic. Often, the instructor will pose a question and the students will respond according to the number of times required by the assignment. Maybe it’s the LMS platform and the requirement to log in to see the status of the discussion and provide input. Social media platforms work well because of the notification feature; the sites are designed to keep you engaged even when you’re not thinking about the discussion threads. Basically, discussion boards within the LMS are a “set it and forget it” feature, which begs the question, are students learning from the discussion board interaction? Morris would argue that the LMS, in this instance, is controlling the learning/lesson and may not be the best method for what the learning outcome.

From my understanding, digital pedagogues are not bound by the LMS but taking advantage of the boundless digital landscape to support students’ learning and pedagogical strategies are organic according to what the students need in any given class. Digital pedagogues are willing to take a deep dive into digital epistemologies.

In “Decoding Digital Pedagogy, pt. 2: (Un)Mapping the Terrain,” Jesse Stommel states “the digital pedagogues teach her tools, doesn’t let them teach her.” Stommel elucidates that the digital pedagogue does not conform to the digital tools, like the LMS, but extends the digital tool to help students’ understanding—not allowing the LMS to shape pedagogical strategies. Stommel draws from Fyfe to describe digital pedagogy as a “pedagogy of hacking.” I extend this metaphor in that hackers expose vulnerabilities in systems, and to view digital pedagogues as hackers would mean that digital pedagogues expose pedagogical failures to improve pedagogical strategies in the digital landscape. Lastly, I think it is important to make note that digital pedagogues dismantle educational hierarchies that obstruct the learning exchange between teacher and student. I am curious about ways to grow as an instructor and will incorporate what I have gleaned from Morris and Stommel about digital pedagogues.

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References:

“Decoding Digital Pedagogy, pt. 1: Beyond the LMS” by Sean Michael Morris
https://hybridpedagogy.org/decoding-digital-pedagogy-pt-1-beyond-the-lms/

“Decoding Digital Pedagogy, pt. 2″: (Un)Mapping the Terrain”
https://hybridpedagogy.org/decoding-digital-pedagogy-pt-2-unmapping-the-terrain/

Case-based Teaching vs Problem-based Learning: What’s the Difference?

As I continue to think about my teaching philosophy and pedagogical practices, I analyzed the differences between Case-based Teaching and Problem-based learning. There are multifarious ways to teach and learn, and I know this because I have engaged as a learner outside of these aforementioned styles.

Case-based learning includes teaching using case studies from real-world events, which provide examples for students to help them conceptualize how problems and solutions manifest in the world. Some examples of implementing CBL could include activities such as role-play, interactive games, or small group discussions.

Problem-based learning is centered on hands-on and active-learning activities to investigate resolutions for real-world problems. PBL facilitates an opportunity for students to derive a solution rather than memorizing answers to a problem given to them by a teacher. Students are challenged to draw from their existing knowledge-base to apply that knowledge to a solution. However, there is criticism about PBL with the concern that in this way of knowing a thing, students cannot determine what is important. Also, in preparation for PBL, teachers spend more time planning and executing PBLs than other teaching styles that impact the possible volume of material that can be covered.

After understanding CBL and PBL, I am more inclined to use PBL in the classroom because based on my experience in industry/the real-world resolutions to complex problems come about through derivation. Problems are often similar but rarely the same and deriving a solution using the knowledge you already possess allows for improvement when problems are similar. When we broach brand new problems, there is an opportunity for invention. Our interactions with the world are almost always messy and require us to think critically, which is the intent of PBL. I understand that criticism exists for PBL because education has mostly conditioned us to learn assuming a dichotomy constantly exists where there is a right vs wrong in every scenario—as if there is some answer sheet to all of our problems.

I am somewhat biased in my disinterest in case studies based on my own experiences as a student. Often I could not conceptualize the events in case studies because I could not connect them to my own experiences, which often occluded me from processing what was to be learned from the example.

Maybe my perspective on CBL vs PBL will shift as I delve deeper into this Contemporary Pedagogy course.

References:

Problem-Based Learning (PBL)

https://crlt.umich.edu/tstrategies/tscbt

 

Approaches to Inclusive Pedagogy

I have been thinking very deeply about inclusive pedagogy throughout my Ph.D. degree program in Rhetoric and Writing.  My views of inclusive pedagogy is not just understanding that we have implicit biases or that we are complicit in the system that we aim to deconstruct.

I was hoping to understand how I have implicit biases by taking one of Harvard’s Project Implicit. I selected the skin-tone test that assessed if one favors light-skinned people vs. dark-skinned people. Interestingly enough the images displayed within the test did no represent, to me, any Black or African American faces. As a dark-skinned Black woman, my lens for what light-skinned and dark-skinned people look like is within the context of my race and is the only context that I hear these dichotomies referenced. I spent more time trying to understand how the test was designed to assess me that by the end I realized that my (slow) speed was the major factor to determine my skin-tone of preference. With that, I cannot say that the test results are a true representation of my perspective because I was not intuned in taking the test correctly. Also, I was distracted by the skin-tone associations with positive or negative words and the test designed where the user can have “wrong” answers. I share my test experience because as I mentioned before there is more to inclusive pedagogy than just an awareness that our attempts at effective pedagogical practices will never be free of biases.

However, we can begin to reimagine what an inclusive pedagogy looks like and begin to implement concepts from the literature on this topic to take baby steps toward dismantling our old perceptions of our teaching practices. After reviewing The Teaching Commons, I realized there are similarities with research that I have previously conducted on the racialized experiences of Black graduate students.

Below is an abstract of my current research focus:

There are vastly more Black graduate students earning their degree from Historically White Colleges and Universities (HWCUs) than from any other type of academic institution (U.S. Department of Education). HWCUs are comprised of a majority of white faculty who lack engagement in race discourse that “results in further disenfranchisement for people of color” (Patton, 2016, p. 334). Although research exists on the racialized experiences of Black students at HWCUs (Patton, 2016), there is limited research about Black graduate students on these campuses. Black graduate students struggle at HWCUs due to alienation, racial tension, and a lack of support and representation (Milner, 2004), which often leads to withdrawal from the general campus community and relegation to find “like-minded and like-complexioned” peers (Bonner II & Evans, 2004, p. 5). HWCUs do not disrupt the marginalization of minorities reifying color-blindness by faculty and peers, which affects Black graduate students’ experiences in the classroom. Black graduate students face “stereotype threat” and “silencing” in seminar-structured courses (Milner).  “Critical mentorship” (Kynard and Eddy, 2009) empowers Black graduate students to understand how their ways of knowing and meaning-making disrupt normative epistemologies and dominant narratives about Black graduate students’ identities. The “color-attentive approach,” as preparation for critical mentorship, encourages “writing instructors [to] be intentionally reflective on their pedagogical practices and constantly adjust their practices to address newly realized forms of whiteness and/or racism” (Pimental, et al, 2017, p. 120). In this presentation, I will argue for the convergence of “critical mentorship” (Kynard and Eddy, 2009) and “color-attentiveness” (Pimental, et al, 2017) by professors, advisors, and advanced graduate students to help Black graduate students recognize their agency in their classes.

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References:

Bonner II, F. A., & Evans, M. (2004). Chapter 1: CAN YOU HEAR ME?: VOICES AND EXPERIENCES OF AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDENTS IN HIGHER EDUCATION. In Long Way to Go: Conversations about Race by African American Faculty & Graduate Students (pp. 3–18). Peter Lang Copyright AG.

Kynard, C., & Eddy, R. (2009). Toward a new critical framework: Color-conscious political morality and pedagogy at historically black and historically white colleges and universities. College Composition and Communication61(1), W24.

Milner, H. R. (2004). Chapter 2: AFRICAN AMERICAN GRADUATE STUDENTS’ EXPERIENCES: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF RECENT RESEARCH. In Long Way to Go: Conversations about Race by African American Faculty & Graduate Students (pp. 19–31). Peter Lang Copyright AG.

Patton, L. D. (2016). Disrupting postsecondary prose: Toward a critical race theory of higher education. Urban Education51(3), 315-342.

Pimentel, O., Pimentel, C., & Dean, J. The Myth of the Colorblind Writing Classroom: White Instructors Confront White Privilege in Their Classrooms. Performing Antiracist Pedagogy in Rhetoric, Writing, and Communication, 109.

Discovering My Authentic Teaching Self

I began discovering my authentic teaching self during the first semester of my Ph.D. program, Fall 2019. I had no prior experience teaching in an academic setting. There I was, in my GTA assignment, in front of 60 materials science and engineering students to teach them about technical writing. My experience up until then was in industry training individuals on how to use the content management system that managed our proposals, leading proposal teams, and tutoring elementary school children. I completely felt ill-equipped and tremendously nervous in my new role as an instructor, compounded with being a first-year Ph.D. and a 13-year gap since my last in-person academic experience. The question surfaced very quickly. What is my teaching identity? Ironically, I have a Graduate Certificate in Teaching Technical Communication, but even that experience was in theory and not in practice. It is safe to say that I have an understanding of what teaching could look like, and I admit that there is significant room to grow into what I imagine is my authentic teaching self.

I survived my first-semester teaching technical writing, and the students produced a critical review of a material as their final project—a small victory. This semester, I am teaching the same course for the second time, but this time around I am much more familiar with what I am teaching and what material was not sufficient the last time. During this pandemic, my class meets synchronously via Zoom, so I am reframing my teaching methods to account for the situation (learning environment). A benefit to teaching on Zoom is that I now have recordings of myself presenting the content. Unfortunately, I cringed at watching myself teach the students. The number of “ums” I said per second was unbecoming. Although prepared, I was thrown off by switching in and out of a PowerPoint presentation and walking the students through other content I was displaying. I think the “ums” was my way of playing it cool.  I post the recordings for the students to revisit later, and that is my motivation to be my better self. Don’t worry. It is my nature to be hard on myself—I can handle it.

After reading “Finding My Teaching Voice” by Sarah Deel, I realized that I too considered my experiences with teachers that I identified as good or bad teachers and hoped to build my teaching identity from there. Deel asked the questions, “How did the good professors interact with students?” and “How do I create a professional relationship with my students? Can I maintain authority and treat students fairly while striving for them to like me? Where should the boundaries be?” As I reflected on my previous teachers, I thought about how I enjoy getting out of class early. With my students, I exercised my power to do so mostly on football game days—my class is taught on a Friday afternoon. Also, respect is crucial to me, and I want to be sure that the boundary of the teacher/student is clear, so I require my students to address me as Ms. Evans. I also have my students use my last name because I am aware that I look younger than my age, so, again, I do not want the lines blurred in my interaction with students. Deel explains that “becoming a good teacher [is] more than just adopting a set of techniques and strategies.” I agree because even with trying techniques that I thought would make me better, I still feel a bit lost in my teaching identity. I will heed what Deel gleaned from Parker Palmer to bring more of yourself into your instruction to become a better teacher. What is funny about this is that I gave this exact advice to new graduate students at orientation as I sat on a panel answering questions from nervous graduate teaching assistants. Just maybe, I instinctively know what to do, but I am second-guessing myself with ideas of what the identity of the “good teacher” looks like.

As I ponder on my teaching identity more deeply, I have separated my teaching identity into two separate identities: classroom identity and office hours identity. I am much more comfortable with students one-on-one during office hours and feel more like myself in that context. My redeeming qualities are that I am approachable and give the students positive reinforcement about the quality of their work. I want them to trust their writing abilities because I understand a positive attitude about their writing will help them strengthen their writing skills over time. There is something to be said about my hang-ups surrounding my “classroom identity.” I am optimistic that I will discover my teaching identity by the time I earn my Ph.D. and ready to teach as a professor.