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.

Note, 2019: Several years ago, the University of Minnesota migrated to another platform. My blogs became no longer available. I was able to find some of them on wayback: Course Blogs

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

Why did we stop asking questions?

I am really enjoying using my course blogs (here and here) as a way to experiment with and further enhance my pedagogical practices. With all of the organizing of the blogs and posting entries and comments, I haven’t posted much here. I would like to find a way to balance my time on the different blogs. Any suggestions?

Okay, now to the purpose of this post: curiosity. I have been interested in curiosity and its connections to troublemaking and care as feminist virtues for some time on this blog (like in these entries). As I was preparing for my feminist debates course this semester, I was really pleased to find Cynthia Enloe’s book, The Curious Feminist. I know I have looked at the book before–it’s from 2004–but I don’t remember paying attention to how cool her introduction is. It’s called, “Being Curious about Our Lack of Feminist Curiosity.” I was so excited that someone had spent time reflecting on the importance of curiosity from a feminist perspective that I assigned it to my feminist debate class. We will be discussing this introduction in connection with my own reflections on the topic: What is feminist debate?

In her essay, Enloe is primarily concerned with exploring why so many of us have stopped being curious. As her title indicates, she is curious about our lack of feminist curiosity. Enloe attributes this lack to a variety of factors: laziness and an unwillingness to exert too much effort; the desire to conserve energy for more “important” activities; an over-reliance on what is “natural,” “traditional, “always” and “oldest”; a strong encouragement by those in power to not question or think about why things are they way they are and how they could or should be different; and a desire to remain comfortable (because thinking too hard and asking too many questions might be too disruptive or unsettling to ourselves and/or others).

Enloe reflects on this lack of curiosity by offering up an example of her own laziness. She writes:

for so long I was satisified to use (and think with) the phrase “cheap labor.” In fact, I even thought using the phrase made me sound (to myself and to others) as if I were a critically thinking person, someone equipped with intellectual energy. It is only when I begin, thanks to the nudging of feminist colleagues, to turn the phrase around, to say instead “labor made cheap” that I realized how lazy I had been. Now whenever I write “labor made cheap” on a blackboard, people in the room call out, “By whom?” “How?” They are expanding our investigatory agenda. They are calling on me, on all of us, to exert more intellectual energy (2).

I really like this idea of creating phrases that encourage (and sometimes even demand) that we ask questions about our basic assumptions or the ideas that we become (almost) too comfortable with using. It is relatively easy to throw around the phrase “cheap labor” without really thinking about what that means and at whose expense. “Labor made cheap” invites us to take the topic seriously.

But, what does it mean to take a topic seriously? Here is Enloe’s explanation, from pages 3-4:

  • listening carefully
  • digging deep
  • developing a long attention span
  • being ready to be surprised
  • recognizing that something (and/or someone) is worth thinking about
  • paying close attention to

And, what is the aim of our curiosity? Why should we exert so much effort? Enloe argues that being curious about and giving serious attention to women enables us “to throw into sharp relief the blatant and subtle political workings of both femininity and masculinity” and to expose patriarchy, in its many forms. In other words, being curious about the world enables us to become aware of how power structures work–“inside households, within institutions, in societies, in international affairs” (3)–and at whose expense. And, that awareness enables us to organize, to connect with others and to develop strategies for transforming unjust structures/cultures/societies.

In her promotion of curiosity, Enloe wants to encourage/inspire/entreat us to be curious; to never stop thinking and paying attention and, most importantly for me and my thinking about feminist virtue ethics, to care about the world. What is really cool about her brief essay is that her framing of a discussion of curiosity participates in that very effort. Instead of merely telling us that curiosity is important (for feminist thinking or as a way to connect all of her essays), she asks us to think about why we need to be convinced of that in the first place. Why, she wonders, aren’t we curious about the world? Where does our lack of curiosity come from and who is invested in preventing us from asking questions and wondering about the world? By focusing on our lack of curiosity instead of on the value of curiosity, Enloe creates an opportunity (much like “labor made cheap”) for investigation. Maybe writing “Feminists lack curiosity” instead of “Feminists value curiosity” on the blackboard would be followed by, “Why do they lack curiosity?” or “Why did we stop asking questions?”

One more thing…In my feminist debates class, we recently read bell hooks’ feminism is for everybody. Hooks uses the phrase “white supremicist capitalist patriarchy” instead of just patriarchy (see my class blog entry for more information). In contrast, Enloe continues to emphasize “patriarchy,” which she describes as “the structural and ideological system that perpetuates the privileging of masculinity” (4). Later in the essay, Enloe suggests that patriarchy is only one of many forms of oppression and she encourages us to investigate, “How much of what is going on here is caused by the workings of patriarchy? Sometimes patriarchy may be only a small part of the explanation. Other times patriarchy may hold the causal key” (7). Yet, even as she recognizes other forms of oppression and their connections to patriarchy, she still wants to separate out patriarchy and focus on it. So does one of these phrases, hooks’ “white supremicist capitalist patriarchy” or Enloe’s “patriarchy” encourage more curiosity and require more (potentially productive) effort? What do you think?

Note: I was planning to post this entry yesterday (1.31), but some trouble occurred. See my recent “oh bother” post for some details.

oh bother, part 9

So, I have been working on a blog entry about Cynthia Enloe and curiosity over the past few days (yes, it usually takes me a few days to finish an entry). I happened to be in Rochester, MN today and thought that I would finish it up at a local Pantera (or, what many of you might call Panera) since they have free wifi. Anyway, I clicked on the bookmark for Trouble and got a message indicating that my blog was blocked. Here is the explanation they gave me:

Really? According to what definition is this blog pornography? Who determined it to be such–(or what keyword/topic triggered the block)? Why are any sites being blocked? There are many, many reasons being blocked bothers me (not the least of which is the fact that I wasn’t able to finish my blog entry and have to work on it tomorrow). Sigh….so, what do you think? What bothers you about certain blogs/websites being blocked at restaurants? Or coffee shops–Caribou, I am talking to you.