Notes from ARLT SIG 9th March 2023 webinar – Anti-oppressive Pedagogies in Online Learning with María Miguéliz Valcarlos
by Dr Teeroumanee Nadan, Chair of ALT’s Anti-racism and Learning Technology Special Interest Group
This blog was originally posted on 23 April 2023 on Dr Teeroumanee Nadan’s blog teeroumaneenadan.com.
The “Anti-oppressive pedagogies in online learning: a critical review” (https://bit.ly/3KwiAO9) paper had been the subject of discussion in a few previous ARLT SIG events and email exchanges in the past, and it was with much pleasure that I had the opportunity to invite María Miguéliz Valcarlos to join us to share her perceptions around anti-oppressive pedagogies.
Upon request of our guest to not record the session for a more authentic engagement with the participants, I thereby provide in this blog post a short summary of the session.
Summary of Question & Answer
Questions 1-6 were based mostly on previous conversations I have had with María in previous meetings, followed by questions from attendees. So happy reading and most importantly happy understanding! Note: This is not a word-to-word recollection of the discussion but rather a summary.
Q1. What has been the motivation behind your research?
María highlighted the gaps she observed during her own interactions in the education sector. She found there was a need to explore how educators were using anti-oppressive pedagogies in online learning. Whilst there are many theoretical and conceptual papers, there are very few practical papers to which practitioners can relate to e.g. what does it mean in the class to draw on critical pedagogies?
Our guest touched upon Paula Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” (https://bit.ly/43gPqbY) philosophy, it is to be noted his pedagogies extended to feminism, antiracism, and anti-Blackness as well. María also referred to Bell Hooks’ works “Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom” (https://bit.ly/3q592Sb) around critical pedagogy, and Gloria Ladson-Billings “Just what is critical race theory and what’s it doing in a nice field like education?” (https://bit.ly/3MlkjVS).
The critical review of literature was informed by Young’s critical social theories the “Five faces of oppression. In Justice and the politics of difference” (https://bit.ly/3MPiWAb): exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence – both in education and society in wider perspectives. These five faces of oppression include racism, sexism, elitism, classism, any oppression due to social identity such as race, ethnicity, language and so on.
Q2. Institutions tend to be the biggest obstacle, even now we see that many universities are pushing for staff and students to come back to campus when a large proportion would prefer working remotely or studying online which they find more conducive. Do you have observations of how institutions have pushed or still push for oppressive pedagogies?
Things have changed a lot because of Covid, but most institutions want to make a profit. Education is becoming more and more a business rather than for the public good and this is what anti-oppressive pedagogies are trying to address.
For anti-racist efforts to spread, we need to engage in meaningful conversations around these issues, they have be embedded in every course.
It is not what technology can do, but what we can do with technology.
Q3. We often find people keep doing whatever they have been doing in the past because they do not know anything else or not even ready to know anything else. Has your research reinforced this or have you noticed some change in the sector?
The review has shown that there are some people who are doing things to change the system, they are accommodating. In some of the articles in the review they began with trying to do something anti-oppressive but they went down the hill, and these were based in the UK, they were not personalising what needed to be done.
Our guest referred to the work of Dr Ruha Benjamin (https://www.ruhabenjamin.com/) who describes there are four ways that racism works in technology. One of them is Default Discrimination, it is the default settings it is how discussions mostly work because many educators do not know anything else.
One way to have an anti-oppressive society is to have difficult conversation. We need to have Professional Development for staff about social issues of students – dialogue for social awareness. The idea is to critique the status quo and also provide opportunities to know how to challenge the status quo. First, it is important to build trust so that it gets a bit easier to talk about racism, sexism, etc.
Educators can use anti-oppressive pedagogies by:
- Legitimating students’ epistemologies which is important in any antiracist pedagogy e.g. promoting personal narratives of students, connecting their lives and culture with the content of the course
- Establishing expectations for critical awareness, making sure students are able to analyse the power dynamics within their course
- Democratising educators’ and students’ roles (both are learning), try to decrease the power of educators and increase the power of students.
Q4. Do you think we engage with students in online education or do we prescribe education and feed it to students?
Most of online education is content-driven, it is not context-driven, it is asynchronous, there is little engagement with peers, educators. It is basically feeding to the students.
Q5. Many people believe that online discussion is ideal for engaging students, what do you have to share with us about quantity v/s quality of content?
It is not because there is a discussion, that the discussion may be meaningful and impactful. Many students post on discussion forum because they have to post, not because they want to post. It is not a discussion but often many monologues one after another. Often responses to students’ posts are not engaging e.g. “Thank you for talking about X topic, I agree with you, great point”. There is little interaction and even when there is interaction, it is not a discussion but rather pushing for personal ideas e.g. “This is my idea on topic X”. But most of the times, it is mostly monologues.
Q6. Many marginalised students often do not speak in class or during group discussions in breakout rooms for fear of derogatory comments such as being called an “idiot” or “it is a girl” etc. In online discussion boards, it is difficult to notice the discomfort of these students, what would be a potential solution for this in a hybrid learning context?
We do not need too many discussion boards, we have to think of other ways of engaging students. Discussion boards do not always create meaningful conversations.
Also, sometimes engagement on discussion boards are allocated a percentage of marks towards the overall module marks, but this is not helpful for marginalised groups.
We need to use ice breakers and build a learning community of trust because minoritised students often fear to speak because they are portrayed in different ways.
Our guest also highlighted that with BlackBoard Collaborate (the platform used for the session), she could not even blur her background. How would a neurodivergent student cope with this or a student in a lower socio-economic environment who may feel uncomfortable of their background. Several comments were also made from the attendees about the lack of captioning in BlackBoard Collaborate.
María went on to say that technology is not fixed for everyone, we should not use one model for everyone.
Q7. Do you have any ideas around Ed Tech companies and how they engage (or do not!) with anti-oppressive ideologies? They are so steeped in our educational systems now I wonder how far we can make a difference if there is oppression at the root level.
Institutions want to make profit and online learning is portrayed as delivering the content rather than fixing social inequities. The idea of online education being able to access anywhere, everywhere to some extent goes against the work that we need to do against social oppression. There are some companies that are working towards that.
Dr Ruha Benjamin’s website (https://www.ruhabenjamin.com/) has lots of critiques on digital inequity.
The guest also referred to a past event that was organised by ARLT SIG “Anti-racist Approaches in Technology with Liza Layne” (https://bit.ly/3VmlveC). Please check the post for
Online learning uses a lot of text, content.
Q8. Do you have suggestions on how we, as lecturers, facilitators, instructors, etc, can legitimize students’ personal narratives, emotions, and culture in online settings?
There needs to be more connections between educators and students. It is important that the educator remove themselves from the stage, so that students can take the stage . But with online learning, the stage is for content, rather than for students.
You can use synchronous meetings, but there are many things you need to be aware, for example students do not always have a space where they can have a meeting, the space is shared with other people in the house and being abled to blur the background.
Another way is to adapt the content to the students you have. Personalise your content to the students’ cultural perspectives, engage with local educators if needed.
It is important how you want students to engage with the content. Are you asking students to write essays or to write personal narratives? Are you asking students how to analyse the content from a social perspectives and making connections with social oppression? When one person is racist, it is a trouble, but the major problem is when the system promotes racist ideas or racist profiles.
Diversity is important in recruitment so that there is the right understanding of students’ personal narratives in assessments.
Dr Ruha Benjamin’s (https://www.ruhabenjamin.com/) refers to the four ways that racism works in technologies.
Q9. When you say technologies are racist, is that because the technology assumes that the lecturer provides knowledge and the students digest it? Or are there other reasons as well?
Technologies themselves are not racist, they are not determined to be good or bad, but they can enforce and recreate racism and other social oppression. They can do this in different ways, e.g. on purpose being designed to be racist.
The works of Dr Ruha Benjamin’s (https://www.ruhabenjamin.com/) has several examples. There are technologies that profile African-Americans to not to allow them to buy houses in particular neighbourhoods or get bank loans. In some recruitment companies there are technologies that depending on the name you have or gender will put you in different scales and they give you access to different positions. This is done on purpose but it could be also promoting oppressive values by default. As individuals, we have biases, and we bring those biases in the work we create, in this case technology.
There were also issues with the Apple Watch not working very well for darker skinned people (https://bit.ly/3IBTziF) and there were also racial bias in pulse oximeters used in hospitals (https://bit.ly/43ii3WR) because the technology was designed for White people, they designed did not think outside the standard which is usually White heterosexual males.
This blog has several other examples: “Anti-racist Approaches in Technology with Liza Layne” (https://bit.ly/3VmlveC) which were covered during the session.
María Miguéliz Valcarlos’s presentation slides are available at: https://bit.ly/3BMpKIp. Please note our guest has edited out the slide with examples shared during the live session. Additional materials shared during the session are listed in the following section.
- Paula Freire “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” philosophy (https://bit.ly/43gPqbY)
- Bell Hooks Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom (https://bit.ly/3q592Sb)
- Young Five faces of oppression. In Justice and the politics of difference (https://bit.ly/3MPiWAb)
- Ladson-Billings Just what is critical race theory and what’s it doing in a nice field like education? (https://bit.ly/3MlkjVS)
- Further readings from Dr Ruha Benjamin https://www.ruhabenjamin.com/
- Anti-racist Approaches in Technology with Liza Layne” (https://bit.ly/3VmlveC)
- Critical Digital Pedagogy in Higher Education (https://bit.ly/439L6fa)
- Danah Boyd What World Are We Building? (https://bit.ly/45uHPs8)
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