Teaching, supervising and mentoring for me is a collaborative practice—it is a privilege to support students as they discover their unique abilities and develop as lifelong learners and informed citizens. I aim to help students to experiment and take risks, discover their abilities and passions, learn self reflexivity, and recognize what they don’t know; these skills enable them to be nimble and open to possibilities upon graduation. I approach teaching and the mentoring and supervision of students and research assistants with humility, enthusiasm and a sense of curiosity and playfulness aimed at collective discovery. Recognizing the authority I possess as an instructor, I aim to be transparent, empathic and caring, reflexive and agile to create an environment of trust and open dialogue. Movements for gender, racial, sexuality, and disability justice inform my commitment to recognizing, naming and leveling power; managing debate; and fostering environments for productive critical exchange that prioritize equity, diversity and inclusion. These principles make visible and confront habituated practices of bias, working to decolonize our academic spaces, and enable the full participation and success of all. (Chakravarty et. al., 2018)
Across my career I have taught over 90 courses in media, communication, and digital theory and methods; feminist media studies; science and technology studies; and production and hybrid (theory/practice) courses in multimodal and time-based media. In addition, I have supervised over 50 masters and PhD students, and over 75 undergraduate, masters and PhD research assistants, and postdoctoral fellows. Across my teaching, supervision and mentorship, I employ three core, linked conceptual approaches: critical pedagogy & critical thinking, theory-practice inquiry and knowledge translation. These approaches enjoin students to ask: what do you know and how do you know it?; how can we know through different mediums?; and how can we translate our knowledges into actions? The symbiotic dynamics generated by collaborative learning, in turn, informs my teaching content, methods and practices and inspires new research trajectories.
Critical Pedagogy & Critical Thinking
My critical pedagogy approach is informed by feminist and anti-oppressive frameworks that prioritize curiosity over guilt and defensiveness and offer tools to address practices of bias and oppression embedded in individual and cultural practices, institutions and ways of knowing (e.g. Tall Bear and Saranillio, in Spady). I encourage active, critical listening to manifest a “politics of recognition” and shift our “hierarchy of attention.” (Dreher, 2009, p. 454) Techniques here include co-creating a group agreement, listing what we each need to fully participate in class, such as sharing the speaking space and defining jargon. This agreement can be called up in seminar and research meetings to remind us of agreed upon principles and resolve collaboration issues as they arise. We engage a ‘Calling in and Calling out” tool (Seed the Way, 2021) to support conflict resolution, which, in the spirit of anti-oppression approaches, aims to keep everyone in the room, engaged in the challenges of equity and inclusion work.
I learned key principles of Paolo Freire’s critical pedagogy (1968) in human rights activist and English as a Second Language teaching work, through critical race pedagogy (e.g. hooks) and in co-creating FemTechNet’s collaborative pedagogical approach. Blending these frameworks, I aim to teach to student’s lived experience and provide opportunities for students to obtain the skills and knowledges they seek, which support their imagined futures. For example, I invite students to adjust readings, assignments, timelines, and point value on our course outline. I ensure class content reflects a diversity of scholars, and theoretical and methodological content from global communities of knowledge. I provide students with diverse options for class engagement—including online discussion boards, presenting text and multimodal scholarship, and working individually or in groups. We arrange class seating in a round to encourage students to dialogue with each other, disrupting my position as expert. Accessibility is key to critical pedagogy; here, I provide clear and transparent guidelines for assignments and assessments (including detailed rubrics); flexibly support students with disabilities or enduring hardship; and encourage techniques of self-care to enhance emotional and cognitive wellness. I am deeply invested in enhancing student’s spoken and written communication skills. I provide ample, supportive notes to research paper drafts to improve structure, argumentation, and voice and assign peer feedback assignments to build skills in constructive critique. Similarly, I provide opportunities for class leadership, ensuring students each lead a discussion or group project. In the research lab environment, leadership and group decision making are central—I position students as knowledge holders and decision makers. Students are lateral participants in research meetings with collaborators, lead sub-projects, supervise undergraduates, and author and present at conference presentations and help steer the direction our lab.
Critical Thinking: Feminist, critical race, anti-colonial and critical disability studies inform my classroom teaching, engagement and assessment techniques, united in a “how do we know” framework. Informed by Haraway’s situated knowledges concept, this framework recognizes that the world we understand is the one we make, making us responsible for its construction. Here, we name and recognize the context by which knowledge is made across course content, and presentation and writing/making assignments. We map scholarship and art/design work within a history of ideas trajectory to recognize the importance of historically-situated values, and reveal the dynamics by which knowledges are made, normalized and reinforced by a range of pressures and reveals how privilege is linked to epistemology practices. This technique functions to demystify theory, and build students’ critical and argumentation capacities, and their confidence and agility with academic practices. Situating work historically also helps students to avoid dismissing content as outdated or non-traditional content as invalid. A second technique I employ is Genealogical thinking, to thwart casual argumentation and address the ‘conditions’ that make possible a fact or argument. Using online discussion boards and in-class whiteboards, students trace convergences and divergences across arguments, gaining capacity in synthesis and problem solving. Lastly, I materialize theory in popular culture and art/design examples to make it accessible to students from diverse and equity deserving backgrounds. Binding critical pedagogy to critical thinking approaches builds students’ capacity with scholarship and their ability to employ it in their own work.
Practice-based learning is central in my theory- and my practice-based courses. In a praxis approach, we engage theoretical concepts in art or design exercises for which students choose their medium of practice. I teach a four-step process whereby students ideate an idea, develop a conceptual framework, explore its sensory elements, and then choose a medium best suited to exploring the synergies across those elements. This method disrupts fetishizing the latest software or art tool and foregrounds the importance of matching concept to medium in a manner that best communicates to the intended audience. I seek to expand student’s experiences by presenting art and design work created by diverse, global artists through in-person and digital ‘visits’ to multimodal art projects, ranging from games and videos to international art exhibitions, and emerging media (interactive mapping, mobile, wearable and locative projects, etc.).
In teaching, student mentorship, and team-based lab research sessions, I use visualisation techniques to assist students in navigating between theory and practice and build capacity in sensorial communication. Students use white boards, prototyping paper, and/or software to explore connections and disconnections, and layers of meaning across concepts and visual/multimodal artifacts. In exploring lines of connection via symbolic, abstract, and metaphoric analysis, students engage multiple senses and engage embodied understandings. In this process, aesthetic choice becomes key to the message created. In a similar vein, I invite students to spend sensorial time with data, understanding it as both lively and contingent—a communicator itself, that can recommend a framework for analysis or a medium for creative exploration. There are many lessons here—that aesthetics are always key to a message, that knowledges develop in diverse ways and spaces, and that ‘data is everywhere’—all of which challenge normative habits of converting so-called ‘objective’ data into information and knowledge. Debating interpretations and ideating in groups, students discover that playing with theory-practice connections is productive, enhancing their creative and critical abilities, and their confidence in taking risks in thinking, writing and making. As well, students gain art and design communication skills, including deploying aesthetic form to effectively communicate facts, concepts, arguments and ideas. I reward these learnings via assessments that credit risk-taking, ingenuity and innovative approaches over demonstrating finely honed art skills.
Finally, in order to link critical pedagogy/critical thinking and theory-practice approaches, I employ lessons from Chela Sandoval’s Methodology of the Oppressed. I seek to help students translate their ideas and knowledges beyond the university, transforming theory and concept to action. Here, students are invited to reflect upon how and where they wish to translate their academic learning in their future- whether for activism, advocacy, and/or in places of work or art creation. A key tool I employ is the ‘boundary object’ concept (Bowker and Starr, 2004; Balsamo, 2000), which originated in science and technology studies. It serves as both technique and metaphor to recognize how different disciplines (and groups) attach meaning to an object, based on its assumed origin, value, function, and goal or work. The boundary object can be used to unpack differences and places of connection across disciplines, or social and political groups. We might, for example, discuss #Blacklivesmatter as a boundary object representing different experiences, concerns and goals across globally distinct racial justice communities, criminal justice organizations and policymakers. In conceptualising the boundary as porous, it becomes a space for translation, where students track differences to build contextual understandings, open up space for dialogue and generate conceptual ideas for text and art/design interventions. In group assignments, I invite students to use the boundary object concept to communicate an academic idea, concept or argument (e.g. the cyborg) to a non-academic community. Here, students learn how to ideate a clear and effective message through prose and aesthetics, while considering ethical concerns in creating for or with community. Students leave that assignment with an understanding that lateral justice-based collaboration and knowledge-creation is a formidable, and yet crucial, practice in their academic and future work. Together, these approaches inform our imperfect learning community that, nevertheless, carries on with the hard work of anti-oppressive, critical and creative learning lifelong. Teaching is a privilege, and it continues to retrain, fuel and inspire my research and my personal growth.
Balsamo, Anne. (2000). Teaching in the Belly of the Beast: Feminism in the Best of All Places. In Janine Marchessault & Kim Sawchuk, (Eds.), Wild Science: Reading Feminism, Medicine and the Media (pp. 185-214). London, England and NY, NY: Routledge.
Bowker, Geoffrey C. and Susan Leigh Star. (2004). “Categorical Work and Boundary Infrastructures: Enriching Theories of Classification” from Sorting Things Out; Classification and Its Consequences (285-365). Cambridge, Mass and London, England: MIT Press.
Chakravarty, P., Kuo, R., Grubbs, V., & McIllwain, C. (2018). #CommunicationSoWhite. Journal of Communication, 68(2), 254–266.
Dreher, T. (2009). Listening across Difference: Media and multiculturalism beyond the politics of voice. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 23(4), 445–458.
Freire, Paolo. (1968). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. NY: Continuum.
Haraway, Donna. (1990). Simians, Cyborgs, Women: the Reinvention of Nature. NY: Routledge.
hooks, bell. (1992). Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press.
Sandoval, Chela. (2000). Methodology of the Oppressed. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press.
Seed the Way: Education for Justice and Equity. (2018). Interrupting Bias; Calling Out vs Calling In. Retrieved July 13, 2021, from http://www.racialequityvtnea.org/wpcontent/ uploads/2018/09/Interrupting-Bias_-Calling-Out-vs.-Calling-In-REVISED-Aug-2018-1.pdf
Spady, Sam. (2017). “Reflections on Late Identity: In Conversation with Melanie J. Newton, Nirmala Erevelles, Kim TallBear, Rinaldo Walcott, and Dean Itsuji Saranillio.” Critical Ethnic Studies, 3(1), 90–115.