Category Archives: GRAD 5114: Contemporary Pedagogy

Critical Pedagogy: Teaching Is A Human Act

“The climate of respect that is born of just, serious, humble, and generous relationships, in which both the authority of the teacher and the freedom of the students are ethically grounded, is what converts pedagogical space into authentic educational experience.” – Freire (1998).

For this week’s blog post, I decided to summarize points that resonated with me from Freire’s (1998) chapter on Teaching is a human act. The quote above captures the complexities involved in teaching from a humanistic perspective. Freire (1998) advocates for mutual respect between students and teachers. Furthermore, a true leader won’t confuse ego with power, meaning that one can acknowledge the power dynamic without it challenging their authority.

This section of the chapter speaks to the political and ethical commitment educators have. For instance, Freire (1998) argues that our mere presence in the classroom is inherently political. Furthermore, I think our individual social locations absolutely add to this argument because many lives are politicized or used as props for political gain. For instance, as a Black bisexual/queer woman I am always aware of how I am coming across to others — and my interactions with students are no exception. Freire (1998) encourages us to challenge what we think is “ethical” because approaching this argument from a neutral stance would completely dismiss our individual experiences.

Openness to dialogue
As we exist in institutional spaces that honor innovative insights, we must also encourage people in positions of power to be introspective in discerning what ideas they think are worth honoring. A right step in this direction would be for educators, and admins, to understand that they have so much to learn from students — regardless the amount of educational clout one has. I can especially relate to this as a novice because I am very cautious of spreading false information. For example, I had a student in one of my Human Sexuality classes ask me why the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) removed hysteria as a diagnosis for women. This was my very first lecture (I was being observed by my GTA supervisor) and I recall coming up with something completely off the top of my head. After my lecture, I had a feedback session with my supervisor. She was very gentle in reminding me that if we don’t know something, we don’t “B.S” it, even when we feel the pressure to have an answer in that moment. She reassured me that it is completely okay to tell a student you don’t know something and that you will get back to them. But make sure you get back to them. I think Freire (1998) speaks to our humanity here in asking us to extend grace and curiosity to our students.

Caring for the students
What I really appreciate about this text is the consideration of student needs. Freire (1998) states “I am not afraid of my feelings and I know how to express myself effectively in an appropriate and affirming way” (p. 125). This is an important skill because I have seen teachers, regardless of their status, react rather than respond to a student when the student asked a question that made the educator self-interrogate their own beliefs. This relates to my previous point: the personal is political. If a teacher is becoming reactive because of a student’s genuine curiosity, then there is a chance that student will refrain from speaking up again — in all classes. I think this is a completely valid response on behalf of the student, in this case, because the power dynamic was reinforced the moment the teacher dismissed the student’s question. This can be a “joyful experience” if the teacher remembers the power they have, and the potential they have to also learn (Freire, 1998, p. 125).

Digital Pedagogy: Personalization As a Means to Equity

The first article I read this week was by Tauber (2013), in which they consider the future of online education. One point worth considering is the idea of personalization as a tool to facilitate student engagement digitally. For instance, massive open online courses (MOOC) are becoming increasingly popular among adults who want to learn a new skill or advance their knowledge in a certain area. This is great when we consider accessibility to higher education, however, the retention is low (90% of registered students do not finish a MOOC course). So, Tauber (2013) suggests course personalization as a way to remediate the lack of student engagement online.

Stommel (2013) further supports this point by stating that “students and learners should be central in mapping the terrain of digital pedagogy.” In regard to institutional learning, Stommel (2013) agrees that digital learning must deviate from a systematic blueprint to learning. Instead, digital pedagogy has “electronic elements.” As technology advances, so will these elements. Morris (2013) speaks to the flaw in systematic thinking as online educators try to relocate their classrooms by using already created lectures and assignments to “create a slideshow or a video or a piece of audio, load it all up… there you have it: online learning.” This copy and paste approach to teaching online takes away the opportunity to discover one’s digital pedagogy.

Relating back to my first point about retention, educators may risk having little to no student engagement if the content is not suitable for the online format. Personalizing the course to suit the needs of one’s students also requires engagement on behalf of the instructor. I know in my department we have what we call “shells” for each course that is taught in our department. These “shells” are Google drive folders that all of the graduate teaching assistants and faculty have access to. These are updated routinely by a graduate assistant. The idea is not only to update material, but also to make sure that material taught is cohesive across different sections for a particular course. I even learned recently that there is a certain percentage of content that each instructor MUST adhere to. This was a surprise to a lot of us because we didn’t think the courses we taught were so standardized.

If we consider a “process of unlearning, play, and rediscovery” as Stommel (2013) suggests, then we also must think about what it means to teach from a place of equity versus equality. This means unlearning what “works” as you enter a new semester, which is easier to do earlier on in your career because you have little to no experience teaching. Furthermore, we have to learn how to play or be spontaneous with how we deliver our content. Some weeks you may have a lecture, other weeks you have the students create a blog post. Or perhaps, you have them choose how they want to learn more about a particular topic. If you wanted some sense of structure, you could provide options. The point is that we are opening ourselves to the possibility of rediscovery, especially for ourselves as we find new ways to educate topics that we teach regularly or have expert status on.

Case-Based and Problem-Based Learning Pedagogy in the Social Sciences

As a Ph.D. student in Human Development and Family Science, I thought it would be interesting to apply this concept to my discipline.

Case-Based Teaching
This article discusses the application of case-based learning in a sociology class at the University of California – Santa Barbara. The author uses this pedagogical approach because they “want to encourage the debate and development of critical skills” (p. 44). As a teacher, I identify with this stance in the classroom because I realize that I have my own biases and blind spots; therefore, the lens through which I teach encourages thoughtful critiques and reflections as students make sense of the material. The author also emphasized the power of a discussion-based lecture in helping students to draw their own conclusions. In this regard, classmates are viewed as colleagues rather than peers. I think this also aligns well with my approach to teaching because I do a lot of small group activities in-class. When I teach in-person, I walk around the room making observations on how the students are engaging with the material, and with one another. I prefer this approach in-person, rather than using break out rooms on Zoom, because students can see you making your rounds around the room and they can hear the overlapping conversations taking place in other groups. This can pose distractions, of course, but I think the advantage here is the opportunity for a student (and teacher) to hear a different perspective. As students share their perspectives, they are actively engaging in a collective analysis on the material. This is particularly helpful in my class, Human Sexuality, because context matters in shaping one’s beliefs and actions.

Problem-Based Learning
From what I gather, PBL is a common approach in American, K-16 education. This article, however, is more focused on post-secondary education. There is an emphasis on groupwork and its utility. First, groupwork can foster a sense of a ‘learning community’ as students stretch outside of their comfort zones to interrogate new information. Second, groupwork encourages effective and clear communication as each member navigates their group dynamic. Finally, groupwork holds each member accountable to their learning process. After the instructor provides a ‘minilecture’, the students are then left to their own devices to solve problems. It is important to note that this is an open-ended approach that is “ill-structured” on purpose (p. 2). One issue, however, is the reality that students come from diverse backgrounds and have different degrees of existing knowledge. This can either be a barrier to non-traditional learning, or it could be perceived as a strength for students who are better with “real world” problems. Furthermore, these problem-solving sessions can be lengthy because the goal is to deepen one’s knowledge on a particular issue. I conclude by highlighting the active, rather than passive, nature of PBL. As an educator, I appreciate how this approach involves students directly in the learning process.





How Are Humans “Programmed to Learn” Microaggressions?

I believe we all have filters through which we interpret and make sense of the world. But sometimes — these filters fail us and when that happens, we fail to make positive, meaningful connections with others.

When writing about interpersonal experiences, I like to position my sociocultural identities. What I mean by position is, I want to describe the parts of me that intersect with one another, with parts that I may not know I have, and with parts of you — my audience.

I was raised in a predominantly White, rural town located in the foothills of North Carolina. I grew up with my mom, who is White and she was a single mother for most of my childhood and still to this day. Because of our circumstances, we were working-class growing up. I am biracial (my father is Black) and I identify as a Black biracial woman. My sexual orientation is bisexual, my gender expression is queer, and my gender identity is cisgender. I use she/her pronouns. I am able-bodied. I am agnostic, but practiced Christianity growing up. My family is religious, but not in a conservative way. The things I continue to learn and observe inform every part of who I am, specifically the filters through which I process new information. I believe we all have filters through which we interpret and make sense of the world. But sometimes — these filters fail us and when that happens, we fail to make positive, meaningful connections with others.

Microaggressions, or pesky mosquitoes, interrupt our ability to pause and think critically before passively interacting with another person. This is because we are “programmed for learning ” (Jacob 1991, as cited in Freire, 1998). Unfortunately, many of us have been the givers and receivers of microaggressions because of how we were programmed to interact with people; stemming from our distinct families of origin.

The mosquito metaphor was a lighthearted way of viewing a harmful concept; palatable, but not in a juicy way. When we don’t properly season the complexities of our identities, we end up with an under cooked concept. Instead, I like the approach of Freire (1998) in explaining the social construction of ideas, which is to “discuss with students the logic of these kinds of knowledge [or concepts] in relation to their contents” (p. 36). For instance, I resonate with the hair touching and the Angry Black WomanTM microaggressions against feminine presenting individuals who are melanated. Although, I am afforded “light privilege” because of my lighter brown complexion (Hargrove, 2018, p. 3). This privilege was a confusing reality to understand as a child — even into young adulthood — because I didn’t have an established Black community of friends and family growing up. Therefore, I once interpreted microaggressions such as hair touching/petting of my coily curls as a compliment because people were so amazed and fascinated with my otherworldly hair. I refused to be further objectified when I learned what microaggressions were in undergrad, specifically the informed language to articulate why hair touching was insulting because of the historical and cultural context of hair across the Black diaspora. Furthermore, the idea of being aggressively rude because of one’s skin tone is another way I was conditioned to sit back and observe growing up, rather than take a stand and speak up when things were not quite right. I don’t think the mosquito video offered us the nuance of cultural factors, such as the different elements I outlined here.

Overall, my critique of how information is presented, such as microaggressions, is supported by Freire’s (1998) concept that “critical reflection on practice is a requirement of the relationship between theory and practice. Otherwise, theory becomes “blah, blah, blah,” and practice, pure activism” (p. 30).

Finding My Teaching Voice

As I started to reflect on my teaching voice, I first turned to this week’s video lecture given by our professor. I was intrigued by the teaching advice given, especially the piece about mindful use of humor. I consider myself a self-deprecating, go-with-the-flow person; and this is apparent in my teaching style. I have gotten feedback from in-person teaching that I make the topics approachable and create an environment that attempts to reduce bias. For context, I have been Instructor of Record for Human Sexuality three times (in-person, over winter break online/asynchronous, and currently online/asynchronous this semester). This course appeals to students from all majors and backgrounds, which is interesting because sexuality is a taboo topic in many cultures. Since I am aware of this polarization, I use my self-deprecating humor to alleviate tension. Additionally, I have my master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and I’m an associate licensed therapist. I’d say I’m uniquely attuned to interpersonal dynamics and can facilitate a dialogue in a direct (hopefully, confident) manner, and my modesty around my expertise allows me to connect with a group of diverse individuals.

Furthermore, as I moved onto the article by Sarah Deel, I started to compare my experience to theirs. In my department (Human Development and Family Science) we get a semester of training called our “teaching apprenticeship” within our department. Doctoral students T.A. for Human Sexuality, Family Relationships, and Childhood Development to name a few. While we T.A., we get to guest lecture two classes. Every supervisor goes about this a little differently. Some supervisors will let their T.A. pick the two topics, whereas my supervisor assigned me two topics. I sort of liked my supervisor’s approach because both topics were novel to me and because of this, I felt like I used her feedback to help me refine my expertise in these topics so that my first time teaching on my own I felt more confident. In retrospect, I’m not certain that I would have chosen the same topics if I were given complete agency. I think I would have picked the topics I was most comfortable with so that I could truly express my teaching style without feeling anxious about being a novice on the content. In contrast, Deel reported not having a lot of structure and being assigned teaching assignments without a lot of course preparation.

As I conclude my reflection, the last point to consider is the teaching that I observed and experienced as a student throughout my academic career. A moment that stands out to me as a student was having a professor in my master’s program at Appalachian State University who identifies as a Black man. I am a Black biracial woman and come from a very white, rural town so I had never been taught by a Black teacher in any capacity. He was able to connect with me holistically by considering the context in which shaped my beliefs about the world. He was also very transparent about his identities and, because of this, I find that I now am open about my identities as well because it allows for room to amplify voices that were not previously allowed in these higher education classrooms.

Given that I teach Human Sexuality, I hope I find ways to continue to incorporate “myself” in the class because I think this is important in engaging students, but also in making the content relatable and less daunting. I feel like I have personally lucked out by being in the social sciences, specifically human development, because it makes my job so much easier since everyone goes through their own sexual development as humans. I always ask students why they chose to take this class and I often am surprised by the amount of genuine interest and curiosity in learning more about this topic. If students are already looking forward to the class, I feel it is partially my responsibility to match their energy, but more importantly to encourage growth and success as a result of being in this class.