Teaching with Blogs and Blogging while Teaching, part 1: An Introduction

Note: Today I am giving a talk/workshop on blogging for feminist teaching and research. I have decided to post it as a series of entries on this blog so that it can serve as a virtual handout for those attending the workshop and as a resource for those who couldn’t make it. Another reason I am posting this talk here is that I am experimenting with using the blog, instead of powerpoint, as the format for my lectures and talks. Some of the material in these posts has been posted on other entries on this blog. This is part 1.

Have you ever wanted to use blogs but felt overwhelmed by learning new technologies and techniques? Have you tried using blogs in your classes but found that the students didn’t really engage with the blog or each other? Are you looking for new strategies for implementing feminist pedagogy?

These are just some of the questions that I will be addressing in my talk/workshop on blogs. In addition to discussing why blogs are valuable for both teaching and research, I will provide some strategies for using blogs in the classroom and offer a brief, hands-on tutorial on some blog basics. So, whether you are already using blogs in your classes or you aren’t even sure what a blog is, this workshop is for you!

My Background
I have used blogs in my Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies classes for three years now. Although many of these blogs were not that successful (a few, especially this and this, were great), they have helped me to learn a lot along the way. Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely not an expert (or even close). But, I do feel that I have picked up a thing or two about how and, more importantly why, blogs are helpful in classrooms–especially queer and feminist ones. The goal of this workshop/talk is to share some of my experiences using blogs. I am not interested in telling you, “this is how you should blog,” but in sharing my own experiences with blogs and facilitating a reflection (offline and online) on the benefits and drawbacks of blogging in the feminist classroom.

Here is a link list of the blogs that I have created/managed at the University of Minnesota through UThink:

Pop Culture Women

International Feminist Theory

Queering Theory

Rebels, Radicals, Revolutionaries
Introduction to GLBT Studies
Feminist Pedagogies

Contemporary Feminist Debates

Feminist and Queer Explorations in Troublemaking
Feminist Pedagogies
Queering Theory

Feminist Debates
Queering Desire
Feminist Pedagogies

Feminist Debates
Politics of Sex
Queer/ing Ethics

In addition to using blogs in my classes, I started writing in my own blog in the summer of 2009. I envisioned it as a tool for writing and teaching, a way to demonstrate and explore connections between my academic training and the “rest of my life,” a way to promote critical thinking and to persistently and passionately argue that it exists everywhere and should be practiced all of the time, and an archive and resource for my own research on troublemaking. For a full explanation, see my “about this site” page. In the summer of 2010, I added two more blogs: It’s Diablogical! A Collaborative Project in Feminist Pedagogy and Unchained.

Why Blog?

Having used blogs in my courses for over three years now, I see how valuable they can be for:

  • Developing connections between class members
  • Enabling students to engage with the material and each other in different ways
  • Encouraging students to really think about and process the readings/course topics
  • Helping all of us to organize our thoughts and ideas
  • Establishing a central location for posting information and handouts
  • Extending the space of engagement and learning beyond the physical classroom
  • Getting the students excited about the class
  • Providing a space for students to track their own ideas and engage in critical thinking, learning, community building and knowledge production

I have found blogs to be particularly helpful in my own development and implementation of feminist pedagogical practices, like:

  • Shifting/reworking who counts as an authority or who can produce/share knowledge
  • Providing students with more ways to engage and express that engagement
  • Enabling students to learn from each other, enabling instructor to learn from students
  • Requiring students to claim more responsibility for the class and how it works/doesn’t work
  • Training students in an important form of technology (access)
  • Giving the instructor more opportunities to engage with students/material and to share their own research/knowledge in creative ways
  • Disrupting the rigid boundaries of the classroom in space and time
  • Encouraging the instructor to experiment with new techniques and strategies
  • Cultivating a space for public scholarship and for connecting with a wide range of people/communities inside and outside of the class and the university

And writing and managing my own blog while teaching has been very valuable for my own scholarship. Writing in this trouble blog has enabled me to:

  • Continue writing and researching while teaching 2 courses per semester
  • Find unexpected connections and develop new directions for research as I critically engage with course materials on my blog
  • Maintain my writing/researching skills as I regularly practice them on my own blog and the blogs for my courses
  • Share my work in progress with other scholars, students, folks outside of the university
  • Archive my findings in a way that is accessible for future work
  • Document my writing/researching/thinking process

My Spring Courses

Recently I have been working on my blogs for Feminist Debates and Feminist and Queer Explorations in Troublemaking. I currently have 50 students enrolled in my feminist debates course. Yet again I am pushing at the limits of how blogs can work in a classroom by requiring all of them to use our blog regularly. To make the process easier for everyone involved, I have spent a lot of time (maybe way too much) on the assignment and the worksheet that accompanies it.  I am looking forward to seeing how the blog works (or maybe doesn’t work) in such a big class. I wonder, do any instructors use blogs in really big classes–like classes with 75 students or more?

Word count: 116 words

What is queering theory, part 2: Explaining the title

The subject of class for Thursday (9.17) is “What is queering theory, part 2.” We will be focusing our attention on Cathy Cohen’s chapter in Black Queer Studies entitled, “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” (also found in GLQ). For this reading reflection post, instead of writing a lengthy post on Cohen’s argument, I thought I might briefly discuss one possible way to reflect on the reading–I call it “explaining the title.” [note to students in queering theory: you might find this form helpful to use in your “direct engagement” entries]

Many authors, myself included, like to spend a lot of time (maybe too much) picking out a title that succinctly or cleverly or playfully describes what our central argument is. So, as I often tell students,  one effective way for recognizing, understanding and articulating the thesis of a reading is to think (and write) about that reading’s title. While this doesn’t always work (some titles are hard to explain or don’t necessarily get at the point of the essay), I think it works quite nicely in the case of this reading. In fact, I think Cohen’s repeated explanation of the title (in different ways) throughout the essay is a real strength of the article.

Here is my brief explanation of the three parts (“Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare queens,” “The radical potential of queer politics,” and the ? mark at the end) of Cohen’s argument. Cohen believes the radical potential of queerness and queer politics can be found in queer’s ability to bring a wide range of non-normative folks–whose relationship to power marginalizes them in many different ways that are not exclusively based on heteronormativity, (like the punk, bulldagger and welfare queen)–together to engage in “progressive transformative coalition work” (22). Her question mark at the end of the title speaks to her doubt about whether this radical potential can be realized within the term “queer” and queer politics because queer, as it is currently used by queer theorists and white queer activists, fails to consider the complex (and intersecting) ways oppression occurs. Another way of explaining this doubt is this: queer politics frequently fails to attend to the complex ways in which power relations work and, without an analysis of power (and how it travels based on gender, sexuality, race and class), the radical potential of queer politics cannot be realized.

In case you are interested, my summary is 157 words. Now, this explanation of the title is a good starting point, but it doesn’t get at how Cohen makes this argument. In engaging with this reading, it would be helpful to offer a few examples that Cohen uses to support her argument. Like when she talks about how some queer politics-as-it-is, as particularly manifested in “I Hate Straights,” is based on a “single oppression framework” (31) that fails to offer any intersectional analysis of how power works outside of the hetero/homo divide (32). Or when she discusses how ‘mall visibility actions’ fail to address a whole bunch of reasons (besides sexuality) that queers might be feel alienated and unsafe in the mall (33). Or, you could talk about how she explains her title through a brief history of how marriage is an oppressive institution for many not just because it perpetuates heternormativity, but because it shores up “white supremacy, male domination, and capitalist advancement” (39).

I will admit, it can be hard to sum up an author’s argument in such a short amount of space. How do you think I did?

terms? what terms?

This blog is all about experimenting. Experimenting with blog writing. Experimenting with teaching ideas. And experimenting with how best to organize my posts, both for the reader who is reading it (in theory, at least) and for me who is using it as a reflecting-on-my-research-tool. Sometimes experiments fail. Well, maybe fail is too harsh. Experiments go awry or have unanticipated effects; they don’t work quite right. Like my “terms” category. If memory serves me right (ah, Japanese Iron Chef how I miss you so), this was my description of the purpose/goal of this category:

TERMS: While writing in this blog, I may come across terms that need some clarification or explanation. Perhaps they are loaded (with theoretical baggage) terms. Perhaps they come off as too jargony and inaccessible. Perhaps they are rich with meaning and require some unpacking. For whatever reason, I will devote an entry to explaining/reflecting on a term that requires additional consideration and file it under this category. Right now I am experimenting with how best to engage with (and explain/reflect on) these terms.

Here are the entries (all 10 of them) that I have done so far. They aren’t working quite like I had planned. Everything started out okay. My first three entries follow my goal as it is outlined in the “about the categories” post. But, then I lost steam. In the abstract, offering a glossary of loaded terms seems great. I even have a to do list, which includes:

  • liminal
  • abject
  • virtue
  • queer/queering
  • performativity
  • agonism (versus antagonism)
  • excess
  • livable life
  • beside oneself
  • truth-telling

If you are thinking that this looks like A LOT of work, you are right. Maybe that’s why I haven’t done these posts yet. Would this be a good assignment for students in my queering theory course? Hmm…

Okay, here comes a mini brainstorming session. Now you can really see how my brain works. Is the idea of creating a glossary terms just more work than I can do or is there something inherently wrong or too difficult about the task? I have assigned students certain terms in past classes, but it hasn’t ever worked out very well. Part of the problem could be that I made the assignment too informal–it was an in-class, small group assignment. Also, I didn’t offer any models/examples of how to describe/engage with the term. Would it work better if I made this term assignment formal (as in, built into the syllabus and with detailed instructions) and if I provided more examples of how to do it? Should students do these terms independently or work in pairs/groups? Or, what if I picked out a term for each week, one that the readings touched on particularly well, and then have students focus their reading/thinking around that term? Then, I could have the students get together at the beginning of class and compare their ideas before we launch into our discussion? Any thoughts? I will report back on what I actually decide to do.

Okay, enough of that musing. Back to the terms as I have written them on this blog. Even though they don’t exactly fit with my intended goal, I do still think that my posts are useful (for me? yes. for you? who knows). I have written about several terms that describe a particular way of embodying the troublemaker: the rebel, the whisteblower, the bullshit detecter. I have also written about terms that engage with the ethical implications of trouble: queer hope, queer optimism, curiosity-as-care. Perhpas I shouldn’t judge the terms so soon–maybe I should assess them later, once I have spent more time writing in this blog?

I guess it’s time to start working on my syllabi…

It is July 13. Classes start on September 9. I still have some time, but if I don’t want to be freaking out all next month, I better start thinking seriously about my syllabi for Queering Theory and Feminist Pedagogies. Maybe this blog can help me. I have taught both classes before (see here and here) and am keeping a huge portion of the syllabus the same for each class. But, because I always like to mix it up (and to trouble my own teaching practices), I want to add in some new texts. What to choose?

I also need to think about how to set up my blogs for these classes. As I mentioned early on in this blog, I am working on using blogs more in the classroom. One major purpose for writing in this blog this summer was to practice my own blogging and experiment with how I might be able to use blogs in my fall classes. Perhaps the first thing I need to do is figure out movable type 4.0. The University of Minnesota just upgraded the blog system and the interface is much different. I also need to review some of the research on teaching, blogging and feminism that is out there. A good place to start is S&F Online/Blogging Feminism: (Web)sites of Resistance. This is a great resource that I used last spring in my Contemporary Feminist Debates course as a way to get students thinking about the political and critical possibilities for feminist blogging.

51RH2KFC7FL._SS500_But before I get to my blog research, I want to think about possible texts for Feminist Pedagogies. One text that I am considering adding is: Troubling Speech, Disturbing Silence, edited by Megan Boler. In the introduction, Boler describes a tension concerning hate speech that motivates much of her work: “How can freedom of speech be claimed as a functioning law of society when people are in fact individually and systematically silenced as a result of their identity and/or views” (vii)?

She also discusses her theory of “affirmative action pedagogy” which grounds the book:

I conceptualized and argued for an “affirmative action pedagogy” to illustrate how social hierarchies confer unequal weight and legitimacy to different voices, making dialogue a difficult ideal to acheive in our classrooms. Just as affirmative action seeks to redress historically embedded inequities, so do I suggest that there are times when countering dominant cultural beliefs (especially within the abbreviated time space of a classrom( may require privileging traditionally silenced voices (vii).

The tension between protecting free speech and ensuring democracy, empowering students to speak and regulating students who speak too much are important issues within the feminist classroom. Also important are the ideas of silence (when should we encourage students to speak, when do we respect their silence, what can we learn from silence) and voice (whose voice is heard, what language is used, when is speaking empowering and when is it too dangerous). I like the wide range of topics addressed in this collection and the format: each writer directly responds to the others. I also like the emphasis on racism, democracy and critical pedagogy here. So, I think that I will use this book. The question becomes: should I use the entire collection or just pick a few important essays? One of my strengths as a teacher is how I bring to together a wide range of readings (some of which wouldn’t, upon first glance, seem to connect) under a theme. I have had less success in using whole books. Discussions about entire books seem to take a lot more effort to get going and aren’t always as productive. Hmmm….perhaps I should skim the whole collection again and figure out what to do. Has anyone else out there used this book? Can anyone else relate to my dilemma (a whole text or merely fragments)?

41iTdc0U+AL._SS500_Another edited collection that I was thinking of using is Feminist Pedagogy: Looking Back to Move Forward. I was initially very excited for it to come out this summer–especially since there seem to be so few new books on feminist pedagogy these days (so much is from the past). But now that I actually have it (as opposed to just glancing at the table of contents online), I am not sure if I want to use it. First, it seems dated. Most of the sources that the two extensive bibliographies at the end of the book cite are from the late ’90s and earlier. I also don’t like the organization, particularly the separating out of race (towards the end of the book and including only 2 essays) from the other topics. Shouldn’t race matters–which is what the race section is called–be infused within much of feminist theories on pedagogy and practice? The question of how we address race and its relationship to class, gender, sexuality, ablebodiedness, global positioning is an important one that feminist teachers have developed many different strategies for dealing with–reading selections, course organiation, class assignments. Maybe including this entire collection could allow us (students and teacher) to critically explore this question of inclusivity, complexity and diversity in terms of categories and experiences of difference?