Critical (Digital) Pedagogy

I’m writing this post to clarify my thinking on critical  pedagogy after a discussion based PGCERT session on critical digital pedagogy at Goldsmiths. The session was OK but I felt like I needed to discuss some key concepts like the banking model of education at the beginning of the session with the participants and have a more focused small group discussion.  We had quotes from some articles on critical digital pedagogy as prompts for the discussion but I quickly realized that I had too many quotes (about 7-8) and they weren’t easy to relate to perhaps because all of them were posing questions/making statements in the abstract. This made me question the content I have chosen for this session and my overall approach to introducing folks to critical pedagogy. 

So where to start if you don’t know much about critical pedagogy? I guess most of us, well at least me, turn to the works of seminal scholars like Henry Giroux, bell hooks, Paulo Freire, Ira Shor, Michael Apple, etc. to learn about the approach. (It is, by the way, interesting to see that Shor and Freire refer to the approach as transformative pedagogy, experimental pedagogy, radical pedagogy, or even democratic pedagogy in a spoken book, and I counted only two mentions of critical pedagogy.Anyway, going back to the heart of critical pedagogy, working in collaboration with students for social justice, means that you first recognize that there is a good deal of  injustice, inequality, and simply ugliness happening in educational spaces. Understanding how power plays out in the society in terms of color of skin, ethnicity, gender, class and so on is a never ending process and recognizing that this is actually happening everywhere on a daily basis is transformative – you can never look at the world in the same way after you start seeing the power structures in the society.

But I believe we need more contemporary scholars who are able to bridge the gap between theory, personal experience and the current conditions of education, which of course may not be the same for everyone. The language of critical pedagogy is heavy and discussions in this arena are full of jargon that are difficult for a lot people to understand, as some participants rightly commented in the session. We don’t just need theory, the theorization of education, we need examples from real-life practice, and lots! We need teachers who openly share their experiences doing critical pedagogy, in online or face-to-face spaces. Something as simple as:  this is what we did in class, this is what happened, this is why I think it didn’t/did work. Maha Bali is a great example, a great thinker/teacher, who does that. Maha says,

It is one thing to read about critical pedagogy in the abstract, but I believe there is much more to learn from contextual understandings of how the philosophy of critical pedagogy works in practice.

This is a view I now fully embrace. Shor and Freire’s talking book the Pedagogy of Liberation is great because critical pedagogy is contextualized as they both give examples from their practice. bell hooks also gives plenty of examples from her practice in her books. But still, it’s not like hearing from a colleague about what works and what doesn’t, what worked and what didn’t. We don’t even have enough examples to decide if this is something that actually works in class (I mean in formal learning spaces online and face-to-face) across different disciplines.

So what I’d like to ask is, what is your experience of critical pedagogy? How do you go about it in class? What works and what doesn’t? If you could share a comment here or send me a link to a blog post, I would love to collect some examples from practice and perhaps turn them into an edited book in the future, of course with your permission and in collaboration with you!



The crit experience

Posting my reflections on B plus or A minus? Assessment in the Creative Disciplines @ University of the Arts London – 09 Feb, 2018.

The day overall was well structured and led to thought-provoking discussions. Some of the things that stood out for me were the importance of building a shared language with students in any given stage of assessment and feedback, the messiness of why and how we use learning outcomes, ipsulative assessment (looking at individual progress in context), a deeper focus on the learning process and an awareness of power dynamics within any learning setting.

The most eye-opening session for me was when we sat down in small groups with a UAL undergrad student and talked about his projects.

I want to reflect on the session here to clarify my thoughts on assessment and feedback:

– Giving feedback, including grading, is something we should be doing for the interests of our students.

– It shouldn’t be something we’re doing for the institution – related to this, in another session our discussion group came to the conclusion that learning outcomes are mostly written for institutions, not for the student or for the teacher.

– Shouldn’t be about validating the quality and the rigor of a program.

– Shouldn’t be about showcasing expert knowledge or presenting the expert as the source of inspiration (the guru model)

– Students are grade focused but even process-oriented approaches won’t make a difference unless we think about formal education in fundamentally different ways (can we ditch summative assessments, for example?).

– The choices we make in assignments reflect our vision for students and our knowledge of how to get there.

That doesn’t mean we decide everything for students. Rather, this should be about co-creation, collaboration and dismantling existing power structures.

Now, going back to the small group session with the UAL student (this is a bit hazy but I asked a colleague in our group and she confirmed the story), this student described a group critique in which an assessor ripped up a student’s work because it was, apparently, rubbish. When I reacted to this, a design lecturer told this story: One day an expert designer from the industry visits the class, takes a quick look at student projects and then crosses all the works he/she doesn’t like with a red marker. Everyone is in shock – they talk about this for a long time.

Both the lecturer and the student said this type of feedback was questionable but also commented that these kinds of experiences help students detach themselves from their work: help them have an objective look into their creation. Some students didn’t like such approaches, but on reflection they agreed that their work wasn’t “good.”

But here is what was discussed earlier:

We spent all morning talking about power and agency…

Ok, I’m not going to talk about the first incident (assessor ripping up student work) because it’s possible that this was an extreme example and also because I’m hazy on it. It’s possible that it was the student who ripped up his/her work based on feedback. I’m going to tweet this shortly and I hope somebody from the session will correct me and say something like, well it was actually, quite the opposite, the student work was never ripped up, in fact, it was a valuable learning experience and … never mind.. but I carefully listened to the second incident and I know that an expert evaluating student work with a red marker in hand did happen.

Isn’t part of our duty as critical educators help students see the existing hierarchies of power, between students and teachers, between experts and novices, and in the society at multiple levels? Isn’t it our duty to recognize the student as a whole person, and set aside our own assumptions and interpretations of what is good or bad? Isn’t it our duty to provide a safe space for all learners, a space of trust and well-being? I would love to kick that expert out of class, although I think in practice that would be a bit difficult without some sort of drama.

This morning made me think about the importance of creating bonds and relationships in education, of the meaning of feedback and grading, the meaning of power, red marks, crumpled up student works.