Open Critical Pedagogy: It’s about the students, not you as the instructor.

“And again who are we seeing higher education is reserved for? It’s not about just not systematically alienating a segment of our population. It’s about all benefiting from taking a more inclusive approach. So it’s like at the end of every conference presentation there’s usually the Q and A period and somebody will so I don’t need the mic. But the mic is not for you, it’s for the people in the room who are hard of hearing. And it’s that the thinking that I’d really like to trigger as people think about accessibility.” – Rajiv Jhangiani, Critical Open Pedagogy

Out of this week’s resources, this quote really stood out to me. As instructors, we often rely on our experiences of learning when we develop our teaching methods. How often do we pause and think about the students in the room who come from learning backgrounds that are different from ours?

Rajiv’s podcast episode made me reflect on some important conversations that we have had in our class so far. The episode opened with a conversation about accessibility and the dreaded, expensive textbooks that most professors require their students to purchase. That made me think about the discussions we had in Week 3 – Digital Technology. The small group that I was in talked extensively about the affordability of technology in the classroom. One example that I gave was about when my friends and I shopping for laptops before the beginning of our freshman year. It was almost expected that each student owned a laptop and at the time, I didn’t think that anyone would have a problem with buying a laptop. However, I mentioned this conversation to my friend who went to a smaller university where many of the students were first-generation college students. She had a friend who didn’t have a laptop and never owned one throughout college. He took notes by hand and had to go to the library every night to do his homework. To me, this seemed like a huge accessibility issue since almost every assignment of any class requires a laptop or computer. I’m not sure if that school allowed their students to loan laptops, but I remember when my laptop broke down and I had to loan one from the VT library. The library has a small supply of laptops and some weeks it was difficult for me to borrow one because they were in high demand.

My biggest question right now is how do we get “old school” professors to think in a new mindset where they alter their course to accommodate the needs of marginalized students? One of the professors that I used to TA for often goes to higher education pedagogy workshops and talks on campus. She aspires to learn new techniques to improve her class and make it more inclusive. However, she mentioned that every time she goes to these events, she always sees the same people. How do we include more professors to attend these workshops and improve their classes? In short, there are multiple reasons why they don’t attend, such as time and their focus on research, which takes priority over teaching. Maybe they’re not interested in changing the way they teach because they’ve been teaching like that for decades. However, being exposed to the discussions around open critical pedagogy may allow them to make subtle changes to their classrooms, which could benefit their students.

19 thoughts on “Open Critical Pedagogy: It’s about the students, not you as the instructor.

  1. mgbullar says:

    You make an interesting point, especially about the accessibility of laptops for students at the university. When I think about our discussion of the use of technology in the classroom, I can’t help but think of these students, who may not be able to participate in an in-class markup of a syllabus or take joint notes using Google Docs if they don’t have a computer. How can we make sure that those students are able to contribute equally to the class discussion, especially if the majority of the discussion takes place through online media? How can we find a balance between incorporating technology and making sure that the class is still accessible to students?

  2. Heather Kissel says:

    Susan, I think this is a great post and you raise some interesting and important questions. I think the way to get more faculty members to attend these events is to incentivize them in some way. I wish they would go just because topics of inclusivity and new teaching techniques are important, but sometimes people need some extra encouragement. I know certain workshops on campus give faculty members credit for a technology refresh–if they get enough credits, they can get a new laptop from the university. Perhaps the incentive for the higher education pedagogy workshops could be something that makes the implementation of these new techniques easier (for example, if you attend this workshop, we will have someone come set up Polleverywhere or some other resource for you, so you can see how it would work without the stress of trying to figure it out for yourself).

  3. Really good Post, Susan. I think you are completely right in identifying that most of the “old school” professors are not willing to change their ways to accommodate the needs of all students. Heather makes a good point here that more encouragement (or incentives) is needed. But I wonder if the young professors go as well? For many professors teaching is just a secondary thing. I wish that there is some way to change to change this mindset.

  4. Deborah McGlynn says:

    In an effort to make the classroom more inclusive, I think departments would benefit from requiring their faculty to attend pedagogical seminars. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if universities moved in this direction in the future. Part of the issue might also be that professors don’t necessarily know that those seminars exist. I for one didn’t know about them.

  5. bpsutliff says:

    This is a good point, and I think there’s something to be said about surveying your class on the first day and adjusting your style from there. If every student has a laptop, smartphone, and internet access at home, go ahead and use all the technology you want. However, if even one student is missing some of that, professors have to either adjust their teaching accordingly or get the student the missing resources.

    Also, to Deb’s point, I think departments do need to put some weight on continual pedagogical improvement. They often support conferences and seminars related to the department but frown on other events. I think departments should require or incentivize improvements outside of research. They need to make it important to faculty, especially as more students like us demand more from our professors.

  6. Samuel Sherry says:

    Interesting points. I will say in my experience as a TA if I though of a good policy or a way to make the teaching experience better the teacher was always receptive. As far as the professors that don’t want to change I’ve said it before and ill say it again, they eventually flame out and the new more receptive/progressive generation of professors take their place (at least I like to think so).

  7. glupton says:

    I recently read an article that included research on this very topic! I’d encourage you to read it here: My take away after reading it – and your post – is that we measure what matters. So long as teaching practice isn’t measured for effectiveness (including inclusivity and engagement) it isn’t going to get a lot of attention, especially when other things that aren’t teaching are being measured.

  8. I often wrestle with this question of the “old guard” in many different contexts. I don’t think there is a one-size fits all response, but will be in response to power dynamics among faculty and leaders in the department and university, as well as student buy-in. I think it depends on how fixed people are into learning themselves, and learning new things, and how entrenched they are in power structure. For some schools, it will have to be coup over the “old guard”

  9. Hi Susan,

    Good post this week. You’re asking a lot of important questions about inclusion and access that I think many struggle with. It is a challenge to meet students where they are and to tailor the classroom experience so that everyone is in a good place to learn and benefit–it’s a challenge, but not impossible! I hear you on the laptop/technology in the classroom issue. Owning expensive devices can be a serious barrier for some students, especially since we are growing ever more dependent on these kinds of tools for teaching and instruction.

    I am interested in the discussion happening in your comment thread about engaging teachers with workshops/opportunities to improve their pedagogy. I think there has to be a spectrum of reasons/motivations for why faculty attend or why they don’t. In part, I think some might be genuinely interested, but they’re over-worked, so it’s challenging to make time. At the same time, there are clear examples of faculty who could give a shit and just aren’t interested. There are probably 1000 other examples that we could generate, but I think it’s still an important discussion for departments & programs to be having internally about how they can help improve the student experience by offering continuing education to educators.

    Thanks for the post this week!

  10. I agree with your interesting points about accessibility and also inclusiveness workshops. I think it requires support from decisionmakers in each department. In the course that I am instructing, for one seccion, I ask student’s to use their personal laptop and I always think about how it can be done without asking them to use their personal laptop but based on the facilities provided in the computer lab, I could not find a better solution.

  11. Minh Duong says:

    Hi Susan,

    Your point on the accessibility of technology is a great one. I think this is something that is sort of lost when we talk about incorporating digital technologies that help us with teaching (ex: TopHat, Polls, etc.) Issues such as affording a computer or a subscription to the e-program are rarely discussed. There is an assumption that students will have a laptop, but this may not be the case for everyone. With that in mind, how do we as current (and future) educators, incorporate elements of open pedagogy, with regards to open educational resources (OER), and also make sure we are being inclusive of all students.

  12. pallavi raonka says:

    Interesting post! Education is no more public good, but it is only for those who can afford it. Conferences are costly to attend. I feel pressurized as a graduate student to present my paper at a various professional conference. Honestly, we don’t gain much out of these conferences. They are useful for adding to your CV, which I am not sure what does it mean.

  13. Hi Susan, I appreciate your post and your sincerity in raising the issue of the accessibility of laptops for students at the university, which in fact we generally tend to take it for granted. And, particularly I totally agreed with Deborah’s point or suggestion for institutional guidance for faculties to attend pedagogical seminars. I really appreciate our class in this regard but I believe each department needs to think about the certain workshops/seminars to guide their faculty in this direction. I am teaching a class this semester and I feel that my department would provide a common ground that every faculty learns together and each other.
    I like your thoughtful post, thanks.

  14. Limited technology and laptops’ accessibility by the students could be a barrier against applying open pedagogy. But also, we don’t have to forget all expensive textbooks that the students have to buy each semester in order to be able to take the class. I agree with the comments proposing solutions to that issue by adapting the classroom teaching method based on students’ ability to access all of these required tools.

  15. Khaledalshehri says:

    Great post Susan, I agree that technology could change and facilitate the way of teaching and learning. The technology plays critical role in the educational environment. Using laptops/computers/tablets can motivate students to be engaged in the class and be more active.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  16. Susan,

    Spot on with the questions. You’ve already gotten some excellent resources and suggestions from the other comments (I particularly like bpsutliff’s survey suggestion. ) so I won’t take up too much space with my response. I’d suggest that as instructors, we set aside some time towards organizing students to voice their specific concerns and work with them on strategies to improve both at an individual class level as well as at an organizational/departmental level. Perhaps this could be done in part at the beginning of the semester, as an optional evaluation question on a mid-term, and again as part of evaluations at the end of the year? We’ll never know for sure until we ask the right people, i.e. the students.

  17. mfb106 says:

    Thank you for your post! I really appreciate how you point out that people’s personal experiences/thoughts sometimes bias their approach to teaching. It’s something that I consider pretty often and think it manifests itself in a number of other academic pursuits whether its mentorship, work expectations, etc. I think people are inherently result oriented, and it’s easy for someone to equate x success with z approach and reinforce the notion that x is the ‘right way’ when x might be one of a number of correct approaches. The problem comes from the inability to accept that there are other (just as acceptable) approaches that exist and only place value in the students who succeed in that singular approach.

  18. mohammed baaoum says:

    Good post Susan,
    I agree with you, unfortunately not many faculty member take teaching seriously. To answer your question, I think it require a policy change in the academia. Currently faculty are evaluated mainly based on research not teaching in most universities. Unless , there is a policy change to give teaching higher rank in the evaluation few people will care about it. Nice post. Thanks

  19. Dami says:

    Great post, Susan! I made mention of many professors not wanting to invest effort and time into improving their pedagogy. I agree with you that one of the reason is the emphasis placed on research at the expense of teaching for promotion. If professors knew they’d be evaluated on their teaching, then they would attend seminars to improve their teaching.

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