2/2 Critical Media Literacy in Preschool Years – Gender Bias

Continuing from my previous post on critical media literacy in preschool years.

I think compared to Turkey, where the gender bias is kind of “in your face” in many aspects of life, in the UK the biases in popular media tend to be more hidden. For example, in Peppa Pig, Mummy Pig does work, but from home (we don’t know what she does) – not like Daddy pig who works in an office with colleagues as an architect. Yes, Daddy Pig can’t fix a computer but we all know he is being a bit silly. Miss Rabbit is very good at handling multiple jobs, but at the same time she is this eccentric character who is a workaholic with no family of herself. Or take Paw Patrol for example, which is all about team work and problem solving. In the program, six of eight puppies are boys and so is their leader. These characters are important for my daughter–everything she plays with is important for her. When we are reading a book or when she is watching something on TV, she pays great attention to gestures, clothing, manners, how people react to situations and what they do.

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Peppa Pig. A typical work day for Mummy Pig.

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Paw Patrol. Can you spot the two girl puppies?

So it’s no surprise that we often hear from our daughter things like, Football is for boys, That’s a boy’s game, I won’t do such and such because everyone will think I’m a boy…

Such comments always make me a bit unsettled because although they are often very sweet and naive comments, it shows how she already has constructed a binary world of boys and girls. I believe, and I hope I’ll be proven wrong, this construction is only going to get stronger if there is no purposeful intervention; I mean small ones like ours (having a chat about something, asking questions) or formally as a program in school. This really bothers me because I want her to know that the distinction we see in media between girls and boys is really nothing but a social construction, and even sometimes, a political project. That construction is simply wrong and things should change because it is destructive in many ways. So when I see gender bias in children’s programs, this genuinely makes me sad. It makes me sad to see how little thought and care is given to little girls’ agency in the production process.

Programs like Do you Know are good at having kids explore the science and technology of everyday things but how about teaching kids the sociology of everyday things? It’s a mistake to think that closing the gender bias in STEM is simply an issue of resources and a love of tech, math and science, and that the precondition for success in these areas is simply engagement with those subjects and the determination to succeed. If we want more girls–a lot more girls–going into STEM careers, what we need is critical media literacy to help both girls and boys understand how and why things are produced in the way they are, in a social world, and that things can change, because the inquiry into “why we live as we do,” can be life changing and open many previously closed doors.

 

 

Inclusion in HE

I’m sharing here some work I’ve done on inclusion at Goldsmiths to get some feedback. Inclusion has always been a major concern for universities but with recent cuts in Disabled Students’ Allowance in the UK, academic staff are now legally obliged to teach in accessible ways. I think beyond legal obligations, we have a duty of care for our students (this was mentioned by George Siemens in  tweet in response to xMOOCs but I now lost it, so please let me know if you have a record of it somewhere) and need to focus on learner engagement and well-being in this discussion.

With this work I’m trying to make sense of the larger picture and connect inclusion to student engagement and democratic education overall. I look forward to your comments!

Context: Inclusion at a HE institution in the UK
For whom? (some specific groups)
People with disabilities People who speak English as a second language + International students Mature students (those who return to education after a gap) Marginalized groups: LGBTQ, ethnic and religious minorities
Why?      
For the learner: Better engagement with resources and connection with the learning community

For everyone: To learn from diverse experiences, expand worldviews. Learning within a community of co-learners (including the teacher/facilitator).

How?
  • Reasonable Adjustment
  • Universal Design
  • Multimodality
  • Culturally relevant or responsive pedagogy

 

  • Heutagogy (self-determined learning)
  • Critical pedagogy
  • “Liberating the curriculum”
Also:

  • Metacognition (thinking about thinking) as a key skill
  • Connected and Networked Learning (peer-to-peer, connecting strengthening nodes in the learning ecology)
  • Working on classroom dynamics, community building
  • Sharing experiences outside the curricula: interest in the “whole person”
  • Building understanding and awareness, ethics of listening and caring
  • Student partnerships (through unions, departments and within class)
By whom?
Usually “Teacher → Student” but we need more “Student →Teacher” and “Student ↔ Student” communication on this.

Reasonable adjustments and universal design are usually teacher led and specific classroom pedagogies are chosen and applied by the teacher or the department. However, any effort on inclusion should be a multidirectional process among students, teachers and the larger community.

If not provided?
Poor inclusion lead to disengagement and dissatisfaction with learning. Students might feel silenced or ignored. They might feel frustrated. This is more about the social aspects of learning than the technical aspects in many cases.

 

 

 

Impressions, feelings, and senses of things

 

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I recently had the pleasure to meet with Ceiren Bell from the Department of Media and Communications (Goldsmiths, University of London) to talk about the VLE space. Here I post my reflections about designing online learning spaces after our conversations.

Jesse Stommel says,

When we teach online, we have to build both the course and the classroom. A good learning management system is a tool that can help with this process; however, we should never let its design decisions — its architecture — dictate our pedagogies.

Indeed, teaching online requires good design thinking because the web architecture, the structure of the space, is more or less malleable. The space itself can change and should change with students, with their activities and with what they bring to the class, but at the very least, instructors should know how to create a welcoming and engaging living space. “It’s all about media and communications!” Ceiren said at one point in our conversation, and I couldn’t agree more.

Media, as Marshall McLuhan suggested, affects how we perceive the message. Imagine an instructor posting a welcome video on her site rather than text based content during the first week of class. The video will have a different feeling than text, even if the content is exactly the same. Or let’s say, even if the content appears the same because, as Ted Nelson explains,

“The character of what gets across is always dual; both the explicit structures, and feelings that go with them. These two aspects, exactness and connotation, are an inseparable whole; what is conveyed generally has both. The reader or viewer always gets feelings along with information, even when the creators of the information think that its “content” is much more restricted” (p. 319).

Nelson also talks about how technical manuals, for example, might carry with them an air of authority, non-imagination or competence depending on the readers’ perceptions of how the information is presented. Because, he says, “people receive not only cognitive structures, but impressions, feelings and senses of things.”

Yes! We need to think about content, resources, activities, assessments… but beyond all of that… beyond the “deliverables,” isn’t there a need to pay more attention to “impressions, feelings, and senses of things”? Decisions about media do matter in an online course, where visual clues and bodily experiences are limited by the two dimensional structure of the web.

If we are going to pay attention to the visceral experience, we may also ask, is the VLE a space of reflective (or social) engagement or is it a space of isolation and disengagement? As instructors, how can we make it a space for and of creativity, critical and radical thinking with our intentional choices? How can we make it a place where the whole person can exist? (By whole person I mean acknowledging students with all their complexities, as political and social beings – not just brains to be filled in with new knowledge.)

These are big questions but it may be surprisingly easy to create an engaging online space. Posting informal videos, asking students to post media on the site, allowing them to work on projects that personally matter to them, giving them choices and the agency to further shape the environment are all ways to achieve a vibrant learning environment. It’s, as Ceiren said, all about media and communications, understanding that the VLE is a space we can all co-construct together – for better and or worse.

Ending my post with a smiley face! Below on the left is my default profile picture on Dropbox. How would you compare it to my default profile picture on learn.gold (Goldsmith’s VLE)?

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Thinking about thinking

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You’re giving a 20 minute lecture and you don’t want your students to drift away while you’re passionately talking about your slides. What would you do? (Let’s say “I wouldn’t lecture my students for 20 min. in the first place” is not an option.) According to the University of Sussex, there is a lot you can do to win your listeners’ attention. You could ask your students to stretch their legs, for example. Or ask them to take notes and give them some time to check their notes with their classmates at some point during the presentation. You could ask them to write down a few questions about the lecture. Learners can discuss a question, take a short test, brainstorm keywords, watch a video clip-the list goes on. One final strategy is to ask learners to reflect on the lecture. For example, you can ask students to “take three minutes to think about what we have dealt with so far” while “stay[ing] quiet so as not to interfere with others’ reflection.”

Reflection is often thought of as a planned activity, a learning strategy, and the list by the University of Sussex clearly illustrates that. It is often an afterthought. The thing is.. all the strategies I mentioned above to engage students are a type of “reflection” as long as we consider students as thinking human beings, consciously or unconsciously. Our reflections could be formal (as in we may be asked to think about thinking) or they could be informal (like asking “are we there yet?” when stretching our poor legs).

I’m not really against the lecturing method, although it may sound like it because of the way I protest against how the University of Sussex frames student engagement during lectures (it all started with a simple search on student reflection in lectures). So after thinking about (reflecting on) the structure of assignments in #thoughtvectors, I am almost convinced that in formal schooling, what matters most is to encourage students to ask questions, get them excited about their learning, and help them see the world from a different perspective. Regardless of the pedagogical model–inquiry based, project-based, lecture, etc.–we need to design the learning activities in such a way that reflection should be understood as part of teaching and learning, at all times. So you might use an inquiry-based approach and but if you don’t really have time to attend to the learner experience and work with surprises, what is the point?

EDIT: I’m now thinking one thing that is missing in my post is metacognition or metacognitive reflection. I also slightly  edited the original post where I talk about reflection in class. I wanted to say something about reflection as a dialogic process, but that’ll probably be another post:)