Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Critical Pedagogy: Intentions and Realities (Online Edition)

Back in September Maha Bali's post on Critical Pedagogy: Intentions and Realities hit the interwebs on the Hybrid Pedagogy site. It's something I've been thinking about writing an Online Edition from my own experiences teaching in an online environment.  It seems to be a bit slow on Connected Courses this week (at least as compared to last week, measured in blog posts), so this seems like a good opportunity to write a little about the topic.

I should say that I haven't overtly thought about applying critical pedagogy to the classroom†. It is quite odd, if you really think about it because of where my academic foundations lay.  I am a graduate of the Applied Linguistics department at UMass Boston.  A department created and shepherded by Dr. Donaldo Macedo (those who know of Freire's work, also know Macedo). But we don't just have Donaldo in our department, we also have other scholars who move in the same circles as people like Henry Giroux, so to not have overtly covered Freire seems odd.  At the same time, in about half my curriculum I could see influences of Freire, so it may not be that odd that I didn't explicitly read any of Freire's work - it was, after all, an undercurrent of our entire MA program.

Anyway, enough with the name dropping.  Since I haven't read the actual text of Freire's work, I will rely on Maha's initial intents (as posted on Hybrid Pedagogy) and I will discuss a bit of my own experience in the online environment.

Intent A: Treat students as peers in a learning community.  Maha writes:

Ellsworth critiques critical pedagogues for discussing this in a paternalistic manner, where “treating” students as peers is a means to “empower” them so they can reach the level of knowledge of the teacher. But I truly believe each of them has valuable experience from their own context to bring to the classroom (that the rest of us have little knowledge of) and I hope my class is a place for them to learn from each other, for me to learn from them, and for them to reflect on their own experiences in ways they can take with them beyond the class so they can keep developing long after I am gone from their lives... 

I agree with what Maha writes.  Especially in the course that I teach I see learners working in various corporate departments, in a variety of fields, learners in higher education instructional design, in K-12 environments, and freelancers, too! This wealth of experience, not just in a variety of work environments, but also the variety of ages and experience in the classroom, is valuable to all learners, including me.

That said, luckily, I have not encouratered the realities that Maha has encountered.  The only reason I can think for this is that my course is further down the stream for most students.  Perhaps, by the time they come to the course that I teach they have already been primed by other professors. As far as research goes, there is nothing covert here ;-) If I am  experimenting with new practices I tell them upfront. Chances are high that I am tweaking something in the course to see what happens, and for instructional designers in training this is a teachable moment. No design is final, everything is up for reconsideration, everything is always to be examined for improvement.

The one thing I have come across, however, is the notion (by some learners) that I should better curate my readings.  I have both required readings and optional readings in my course. Some learners would be just as happy to have me remove the optional readings and make sure my required readings are the best readings that given them answers to everything they need to know about that module's topic.  This, however, is something I can't bring myself to do.  Readings aren't there just as a content dump.  I do pick readings that could be picked apart and critiqued. They may represent the view of some in the field, but whether that is canonical knowledge that every designer should know and abide by...well that's up for debate.  In this aspect, even though learners like the way I run/manage/facilitate/teach (RMFT) the course, some still feel more comfortable putting me on a pedestal and expecting the best of the best of the best for me to give them to consume. Quite interesting, and not at all unexpected. Luckily this isn't the majority of the learners.


Intent B: use the class to promote social justice, and a stance towards social justice and challenging the status quo.

This isn't something I do overtly. Should I be doing this overtly? Does it fit with the course? If so, how?  Good questions! I don't know. When I inherited the course there was an assignment in the early weeks, the weeks that stimulated prior knowledge (or at least gave a really quick bootcamp to the newbies that shouldn't have been assigned to the course due to pre-requisite requirements). The assignment was to find a television commercial and analyze it for the learning styles that it attempts to address (using the VARK framework). I should say that I am not a big fan of teaching learning styles.  While I do think that they begin the discussion and it allows us to think beyond our own preferences for learning, I do find that learners (in general) latch on to this and view instructional design through this lens, which isn't helpful (because there is no discussion).  They take VARK, and learning styles, as an innate fait accompli.

Anyway,  after I RMFT'd this course for a year and half, and it appeared that I would be the instructor of record, at least for now, I decided to tweak this assignment and not focus on specifically on learning styles, but on design in general, and the cultural predispositions to certain designs.  I also encouraged students, if they spoke other languages, to find ads from other countries and share and analyze those.  The assignment went well, but I still think it needs tweaking.  VARK still reared its ugly head. I think I will need to do some more thinking about how to better implement this assignment. I also think it didn't help that another instructor, in their course, used a similar assignment in the same week.  Talk about mixed signals.  This is probably as close as I come to social justice.  I wonder how others, who RMFT instructional design courses deal with this issue.  Instructional Design, as a field, seems quite structured and behavioristic.  Even though it's billed as the Art and Science of Instruction, the Art (and heart) seems to get lost in our processes.  Thoughts?


Intent C: Equal Participation for Students.  Maha Writes:

...which includes students calling me by my first name, and calling each other by their first names; it also includes everyone feeling they have a voice in class, that their contribution is equally valued and equally valuable. But even though Freire suggests that “dialogue cannot exist without humility”, Ellsworth is more realistic about the illusions of equality in dialogue. 
With equality I can see at least a couple of different levels: first the social aspect, which I never really consciously thought about because I always introduced myself as "AK", instead of the "professor". Ever since the first class I RMFT'd we were all on a first name basis.  I do wonder if this is both a function of the course being further down the stream (thus learners have already been prepared for a more equal level of participation), and due to my own education (where we were on a first name basis with our peers and the professors).

I must admit that this is not the equality that first came to mind when I read Maha's post.  The equality that came to mind is equal air-time in the forums, and how some will participate based on the letter of the rubric (3 posts per week, 1 original, 2 responses), and how others open themselves up to much more.  My first thought was that you can't dictate equality, i.e. I posted 10 posts so YOU must post 10 posts.  Upon consideration, I think that I'll keep equality as Maha defined it, but this other type of "equality" I will rename "freedom to participate as much or as little as you need."  I know that this is hard given my current rubric, which dictates certain levels of participation, but with my thoughts about taking this course and designing and redefining it as an (M)OOC‡ there is the opportunity to design a dip-in, jump-out mechanic for participation. I must admit I feel a bit uncomfortable designing this mechanic, both because I've been "schooled" in always including discussion in my online course designs, and because I think that there is better learning through participation. However, I don't think you can meaningfully dictate participation in class.  I may just make the course Pass/Fail, and use badges to distinguish between those who've done the minimum to reach that passing grade, and those who really took advantage of the learning opportunities afforded by their peers. (note to self - save this for dissertation proposal).

Your thoughts?


Side notes, side thoughts, miscellanea: 
† I had originally typed "my" classroom, but I changed this to "the" classroom, since I don't control the physical space (blackboard), and the course can always be given to another adjunct, so the course isn't even "mine" - quite an interesting thought, perhaps for another blog post, about the concept of property and how we apply it to our courses.
‡ Whether or not it's Massive still remains to be seen.  I suppose I should define what "massive" is before I run my experiment.
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