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.

 

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.

 

 

A response to #BreakOpen Breaking Open: ethics, epistemology, equity, and power

A response to the provocative question posed by Maha Bali, Taskeen Adam, Catherine Cronin, Christian Friedrich, Sukaina Walji, Christina Hendricks’s (+ Martin Weller and Jamison Miller):

How do we use openness to exclude, overpower and/or oppress marginalized individuals, communities, knowledge systems?

Initial reaction: This question assumes that “we” are the ones in the privileged position. Asking it from a place of power, a place of comfort and confidence. The question also assumes that there is somewhere a united “we” – could this be the OER18 community?

How about..

How do we use openness to exclude, overpower and/or oppress the other, whoever that might be?

The other doesn’t have to be “the marginalized.” Their opinions and habits might actually matter. For politicians it can be another group with power. For designers it can be the “end user.” For educators the other can be students.

The other might be anyone or anything we want to silence, exercise our power on, take advantage of, make profit from.

Refined reaction: But…something isn’t right..

Could it be because  I have created the “other” with the way I asked the question?

Othering: Any action by which an individual or group becomes mentally classified in somebody’s mind as “not one of us”.   

Could it be because there is something missing in this question… a sense of connection… connection with real life and experiences, people’s stories.

Could it be because exclusion, overpowering and oppression are different things? They can be very different things and can come in many forms.

What does all of this mean for me?

Has there been a time where openness excluded, overpowered, or oppressed me? How so? How did I feel about it? What did I do about it? What could I have done about it?

Ok, this feels quite personal and the search for experience is emotional.

Has there been a time where openness excluded, overpowered, or oppressed YOU? How so? How did you feel about it? What did you do about it? What could you have done about it?

I’m asking something personal. Something that matters to you. Something that made you feel bitter. Or something that you aren’t even aware of yet. I don’t know what this might be,  I don’t want to make assumptions. Only you could tell me. 

What do you think?

Going Beyond Humanizing Online Learning

If “democracy is a system of self-governance where governance is justified by consent of the governed,,” then are our educational institutions democratic? How about our classes? How about the online learning areas we set up for our students like the VLE?

Join this talk to discuss ways to create a democratic platform in online and blended learning. We will talk about shifts and tensions in teacher identity when we move to online spaces,  our imagined audience and community building. Students are welcome to join the discussion!

This is my session abstract for a talk I will be giving at Goldsmiths tomorrow titled Going beyond humanizing online learning: Creating a democratic platform for and with our students.

The session is discussion based, so I am hoping to tackle this complex topic with the participants on the day and also here on this blog prior and after the event. The motivation for this talk comes from my recent reflections on Parker J. Palmer and  bell hooks. I’ve started to think increasingly about democracy in education and how we might achieve that in online settings. We talk a lot about humanizing online courses, making it a social experience for both teachers and students, but we don’t talk much about how that social space is organised; we don’t talk much about the politics of it. I see a strong need to focus on that, especially to critique and improve our institutional learning spaces.

Palmer (2011) says:

“If students are to be well served and are to serve democracy well, we need to invite them into a lived engagement with democracy’s core concepts and values. There are at least two ways to do this: by engaging students in democratic processes within the classroom and the school and by involving them in the political dynamics of the larger community.”

So what are democracy’s core concepts and values? Well, there is civic responsibility. There is this expectation that you will be “a productive, responsible, caring and contributing member of society.” Palmer mentions many ways to achieve this but what struck me was his argument on creating democratic habits of the heart – the qualities we need to be able to “listen with an open mind” and “respond respectfully”:

  1. We must understand that we are all in this together.
  2. We must develop an appreciation of the value of otherness.
  3. We must cultivate the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways. (This is about turning a seemingly negative event into something positive.)
  4. We must generate a sense of personal voice and agency.
  5. We must strengthen our capacity to create community.

But there is a problem I observe in online spaces: even the most democratic educator, the most caring instructor, can easily shift to quite authoritative teaching methods and ways of being online, if he/she has limited understanding of possibilities. It is not uncommon for instructors to use online spaces to ask students to do things (“submit your assignment,” “book a slot for your one-on-one,” “read this book,” etc.). Students are expected to do things in a space that is designed for them but not with them. The learning space becomes a space that reflects institutional choices and preferences and personal tastes of course designers (I once knew an instructor who had purple background on her site because she liked the color) more than a communal one.

One of the reasons why this shift happens is the heavy emphasis on content. It is so much easier to deliver content online than to build an active and supportive learning community.  A learning community open and responsive to diverse voices… a learning community that welcomes students as a whole person to the environment – real people. The former requires resources and tools, the latter requires commitment and care beyond all content.

In the talk, I will propose that the first step to democracy, to creating democratic habits of the heart, is by enabling open structures in learning (I draw from bell hooks and Parker Palmer on this). An open educator:

  • makes the initial structures of working and/or studying explicit to students and open to discussion (imagine a teacher encouraging her students to comment on the syllabus, on the class activities and assignments);
  • co-constructs the structures of working and/or studying with students (imagine modifying the assignments with the help of students; students co-constructing a code of conduct for their online interactions);
  • doesn’t confine education to a certain space and time (imagine learning “on the web and with the web,” with the public and for the public; imagine a teacher tweeting a resource to the class hashtag long after the course ends);
  • centers education around dialogue (imagine a teacher using conversations with students as content to work with).
  • recognizes the whole person in education (this is complex, but imagine a teacher making the emotional well-being of her students a priority, a lot more important than assessing in-class/for-class “performances.”)

Can our educational institutions be democratic when there is so much reliance on standardized tests, when we want to get accreditation for our programmes, when teachers have so much more power over their students on deciding how things should look like in the learning space, and how the learning should be organized? How can we help students “practice in real responsibility, real dialogue and real authority” (Palmer,  2011) despite institutional and curricular constraints? And how about the limitations of democracy as a system of governance? (Think about how the rule of majority can be a problem in educational settings.)

What do you think? Please join the discussion and let me know about your thoughts.