Pathways to feminist pedagogies — Charis Enns

femnist pedagogiesMy introduction to feminist pedagogy took place as an undergraduate student in an upper-level geography class at the University of British Columbia. The final assignment for this class involved conducting a community-based research project. Students were assigned small groups, in which they partnered with community organizations to design and carry out research based on the organization’s needs. My small group partnered with a local food bank, which asked us to investigate how the food bank could partner with community gardens in order to contribute to food security in Vancouver.

This learning experience was transformative. Ultimately, it shifted my thinking about social life in Vancouver and motivated me to pursue my interests through research. Importantly, through this class, I was introduced to spaces within the university that were orientated towards building community and social action. This is one explicit intention of feminist pedagogy. In classrooms grounded in feminist values, “there is a need and desire to move learning beyond the walls of the classroom” (Shrewsbury 1993, p. 171). Students are encouraged to extend theory to action, and then action is brought back into the classroom in order to inform theory. 

What is feminist pedagogy?

My initial experience with feminist pedagogy not only shaped my research, it laid the foundations for my approach to teaching and learning. Broadly, feminist pedagogy is a way of thinking about teaching and learning that is grounded in feminist values. It is therefore more appropriate to speak about feminist pedagogies, and then to highlight what these different approaches to teaching and learning have in common. Common principles of feminist pedagogies include:

  • Resisting hierarchy and empowerment: In a traditional university classroom, the instructor holds power over the class and knowledge is passed from instructor to students.  In contrast, feminist pedagogy involves the de-centering of power. Instructor and students exist in a “symbiotic” relationship and knowledge is constructed through discussion, dialogue, and critical inquiry. Importantly, students are also invited to play a role in influencing the design of the class and to participate in the delivery of content.
  • Building community and using personal experience as a resource: Like a traditional university classroom, many classrooms grounded in feminist values continue to rely on traditional sources of information, such as textbooks and academic journals. However, feminist pedagogy also involves drawing on students’ and teachers’ own experiences as learning materials. This promotes critical thinking, as students are challenged to bridge scholarship with “real-life.” Drawing on personal experience in order to deepen and widen understanding of course content also encourages students to value difference and diversity.
  • Transformative learning: This is the principle that was put into action in my first experience with feminist pedagogy as an undergraduate student.  Traditional university classrooms may provide limited space for critical thinking and problem solving. However, in classrooms grounded in feminist values, teaching and learning aim to shift thinking in new directions. Students are asked to examine either their own experiences or social phenomena in new and critical ways. This often involves creating learning experiences that draw attention to real world problems or power differences that contribute to inequality.

Importantly, feminist pedagogy is a way of thinking about teaching and learning that shapes both what we teach and how we teach it. But how can this translate into classrooms that might, at first glance, not appear conducive to such approaches? In other words, are there practical applications of the principles of feminist pedagogy in all university classes? Or, is feminist pedagogy best reserved for certain levels of learning and certain disciplines?

Feminist pedagogies in practice

Research suggests that there is space for feminist pedagogy in all university classrooms and at all levels of learning; however, what this looks like in practice is likely to vary significantly. Here are some examples of feminist pedagogy in practice, along with links to research in support of this practice:

  1. Feminist pedagogy can be used to change teaching strategies and deepen learning outcomes in engineering. For example, Cashman and Eschenbach (2004) use labs to teach students how to work in small-groups to design their own approach to solving real-world problems. They ask students to solve problems that are community-based or locally relevant. Cashman and Eschenbach (2004) have found that this empowers students to extend their classroom learning into the community – some students even become involved in community projects or local politics. This approach also encourages students to approach exams and homework assignments using real-life scenarios.
  1. Feminist pedagogy can be used in psychology education to de-centre power in the classroom, contribute to more diverse curriculum, and to guide students in developing their feminist consciousness. For example, Robinson-Keilig et al. (2014) adopted the photovoice research methodology for a classroom project on violence against women. The project encouraged self-disclosure of students’ own lived experiences, as a means of integrating student knowledge into classroom content. The authors of this study found that this particular project facilitated critical consciousness, as students became more aware of the multiple systems of oppression that exist in society and became empowered via new insights and self-reflection to make change.
  1. Feminist pedagogy can be integrated into economic classrooms to include students in the learning process and urge students to grow as critical thinkers. For example, Nelson and Goodwin (2005) argue that economics learning materials often do an inadequate job at integrating feminist concerns into introductory economics courses. Accordingly, they have published alternative learning materials that introduce students to neoclassical economic principles but also make room for ecological and feminist concerns. They argue that this deepens students’ understanding of economics, as they are exposed to less mainstream debates about the interconnection between economics, gender, and the environment.

Ultimately, if we understand feminist pedagogy as a way of teaching and learning that empowers students to be reflective and critical learners and to apply their learning through social action, it is possible to imagine how this approach is relevant across the university and beneficial to students, regardless of discipline. 

References 

Crawley, S. L., Lewis, J. E., & Mayberry, M. (2008). Introduction—feminist pedagogies in action: Teaching beyond disciplines. Feminist Teacher19(1), 1-12.

GEA – Gender and Education Association (n.d.). Feminist Pedagogy.

Shrewsbury, C. M. (1997). What is Feminist Pedagogy? Women’s Studies Quarterly, 25(1/2), 166-173.

Charis Enns is a Graduate Instructional Developer in CTE and a PhD Candidate at the University of Waterloo and the Balsillie School of International Affairs. 

What is the “Case Method”?

Teaching using case studies has typically been used in Business Schools, Law Schools, and Medical Schools but it is a technique being used by other disciplines to provide exposure to complex real world problems for which there is no “right” or “wrong” answer. At Waterloo, cases have been used in disciplines including Engineering, Biology, Accounting, Social Work, Environment and Business, English and others.

The traditional “Case Method” used in Business Schools involves a three stage process where:

  1. students are given the case and asked to work on it individually to come up with a recommendation or course of action (done outside of class time). The key here is for students to be able to justify and support their choices or decisions.
  2. students meet in small groups of 4 or 5 to discuss the case and their recommendations (done outside of class time) – the objective here is to share perspectives, not come to a consensus as a group
  3. the case is discussed in class with the entire class with the Professor acting as a facilitator to guide discussion.

The amount of learning increases over each stage with exposure to different perspectives.

Learning using the Case Method

While this is the typical method used in MBA programs where cases are used in most courses, it can be modified and adapted. For instance, students can read the case and prepare before class and class time can be used for small group discussion and then discussing the case as a large group (i.e. the entire class). It is important to communicate expectations to students about coming to class prepared as the quality of discussion depends on proper preparation. One technique to encourage students to prepare is to give them questions about the case to answer and submit before class begins.

These techniques of using small group work for peer teaching (i.e. small group work to share perspectives) and facilitating a discussion with the entire class can be adapted and used for other contexts than just cases.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Case Method or using cases in your course, contact Scott Anderson in the Centre for Teaching Excellence.

Waterloo Cases in Design Engineering also writes and supports the use of cases in Engineering courses.

References

Erskine, J., Leenders, M., and Mauffette-Leenders, L. (2012). Learning with Cases, 4th Edition, Ivey Publication Services, Richard Ivey School of Business, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.

Erskine, J., Leenders, M., and Mauffette-Leenders, L. (2003). Teaching with Cases, 3rd Edition, Ivey Publication Services, Richard Ivey School of Business, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.

Mauffette-Leenders, L., Erskine, J. and Leenders, M. (2001) Writing Cases, 4th Edition, Ivey Publication Services, Richard Ivey School of Business, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.

Learning from Challenge and Failure – Julie Timmermans

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This year’s University of Waterloo Teaching and Learning Conference theme, Leaning from Challenge and Failure, is an opportunity to open up discussions with our colleagues, our students, and ourselves around the beliefs we hold about challenges, setbacks, and failure in the context of teaching and learning at the University.

How do these beliefs shape the ways in which we teach, learn, and lead? How do we work to cultivate a culture that encourages risk-taking, growth through experimentation, and learning from our earnest attempts that lead to failure? What measures can we put in place to ensure that the members of our community have the opportunity to flounder, perhaps fail, and flourish?

During the Conference, we will explore not only challenges and failures, but the work of learning from these challenges and failures. The difficult cognitive and emotional work of learning from these experiences does not happen automatically or autonomously. It takes time and must be guided by people who care deeply about our development.

Airing our experiences of challenge and failure publically may certainly feel vulnerable and risky. But what might be the risks of not sharing these stories? Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB) publishes annual ‘Failure Reports’ in which they highlight a dozen or so stories of failure – and learning from failure – in their international development efforts. This is risky in many ways – financially, for an organization that depends on contributions from donors; emotionally, for the people in the field sharing their stories. But EWB has determined that the benefits of disclosing these failures outweigh the costs of hiding them. Because hiding them does not help them, or other organizations, solve the problems which they are hoping to solve – poverty, access to clean water, food security, etc. This approach recognizes that we are involved in a collective endeavour to improve our communities.

As we began to introduce and discuss the Conference theme with others on campus, we discovered that conversations about failure, challenge, and resilience are already going on in residence rooms and in meetings rooms. Often, however, these rooms are behind closed doors. Through the Conference, we hope to bring these conversations out into the public spaces of our University – a learning organization – so that when we share our stories of innovation, experimentation, and publication, they integrate the stories of uncertainty, failed attempts, and rejections. Because the whole story of our successes often include failure. We hope that the Conference will be one space of many in which we can collectively explore our potential to learn and grow from challenge and failure.

For links to resources on learning from challenge and failure, including an excellent blog series from the Faculty of Arts Teaching Fellows and CTE’s Kyle Scholz, please visit the “Resources“section of the Conference website.

Register for the Conference

Keys for a TA to Succeed in the Classroom — Aser Gebreselassie

TutorialAs an undergraduate student currently in my third year of ERS at the University of Waterloo, I have had the chance to interact with various types of Teaching Assistants (TAs) over the course of my studies, whether it be in labs, tutorials, in class, via email, or having assignments marked by them. There are plenty of great stories about TAs whom I have had in the past, and unfortunately, a few stories of some questionable TAs as well. Being a successful TA consists of many different aspects, but the three characteristics that I appreciate in a TA is their ability to relate to students, knowledge of the course content, and an ability to communicate effectively and efficiently.

Relating to your students helps build trust between the TA and the student which helps to manage the classroom effectively, as the students will have respect for the TA. Quick but effective activities which I have personally seen in my classes include icebreakers during the first day of meeting your students, as well as having a sense of humour and giving out a positive vibe. A few new things I learnt during the Building Rapport with Students workshop earlier this week was that maintaining positive body language throughout the session gives the students a positive impression about yourself, and learning the student’s names as soon as possible to help develop trust and understanding between the TA and the student.

Knowledge of course content is also key. Most people think that their TAs are those who have taken the course before and have done fairly well in it. This isn’t always the case. Sometimes the TA may never have taken the course, or sometimes they didn’t complete their undergraduate degree in the same faculty as the course they are TAs for. If this is the case, doing the readings and making detailed notes would help a lot. The students understand that a TA is a student as well, and if you as a TA can’t answer a question but are willing to do some research to find the right answer, students find that extremely helpful and are willing to wait to get a right answer, instead of getting a wrong or incomplete answer immediately.

Being able to communicate successfully can make or break the trust and respect that students have for a TA. Setting basic rules on the first day can help a TA significantly. I have had TAs in the past tell us a couple of ground rules: for example, they only will respond to emails during business hours (9 am to 5pm), and that students should not email questions about a majoTutorial 2r assignment the night before it is due as it will be too late to get a response of any value. Prompt responses and setting ground rules can help alleviate pressure from students, and can significantly help boost a TA and student’s relationship. Sometimes TAs respond weeks, even months after receiving an email and it destroys any rapport that they have built with the student.

Lastly, my pet peeve: it is frustrating when students compare grades after an evaluation, and have written two very similar things on their paper, but get two completely different marks. The TA has now lost a lot of the positive feelings that they may have gained over the semester by being inconsistent. Both students are now alienated and concerned, and will go through every little detail of their evaluation to make sure nothing else was missed. Both students will come to the TA with many concerns about their marks. Being consistent, whether it be giving both those students an 85% or a 55%, will save a TA a massive headache.

 

An Invitation to be Still – Veronica Brown

After many years at Waterloo, you would think I would be ready for September. Yet every year, I feel a bit walloped. The end of August, that rare time on campus when things are quiet, is such a contrast to the energy of the first few weeks of September. But by Thanksgiving, I am ready for a rest.

So, rather than sharing some ideas through this week’s blog post, I am inviting you to take five minutes to be still. I realize for some, the idea of sitting quietly for five minutes is unbearable. For others, it is a welcome respite from the busyness of our academic life. Even if you last only a minute or two, don’t discount the value of this quietness.

If it helps, consider listening to this song (https://soundcloud.com/timothy-corlis/silent-dawn). It is by one of my favourite composers, Timothy Corlis, who studied physics at Waterloo as well as music, theology and peace and conflict studies at Conrad Grebel. The song is performed by the Da Capo Chamber Choir. Another option is to simply reflect on the images at the end of this blog. They are from places where I have enjoyed moments of calm solitude.

Or perhaps, take a few minutes to walk around campus and notice the changing leaves, the crispness of the air. Whatever you do, just take a moment to catch your breath.

 

Red rock and sand with blue sky and a few clouds at Valley of Fire
Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Farmer's field of dandelions with a grey sky
Near St. Jacob’s, Ontario
Sunset over water with small islands and pine trees
Georgian Bay, Ontario

September Welcoming Events for New Faculty 2015 – Monica Vesely

ivy on brickYesterday, Wednesday, September 9th, nearly 50 new faculty gathered at Federation Hall to attend this year’s New Faculty Welcome Event. The program for this annual half-day orientation event features a series of information sessions designed to acclimatize our new faculty to the University of Waterloo and to provide opportunities to meet one another and members of the larger University of Waterloo community.

After a brief welcome from Ian Orchard (Vice-President, Academic and Provost), the day got underway with a presentation entitled Navigating Your Roles at UWaterloo which provided an overview of the roles new faculty will have to assume in their academic careers. Donna Ellis (Director of the Centre for Teaching Excellence), John Thompson (Associate Vice-President, University Research) and Tim Kenyon (Arts Associate Dean, Research) addressed the faculty triumvirate of teaching, research and service.

Next came the Getting to Know Waterloo session which provided a big-picture overview of our institution and what defines the Waterloo Way. Logan Atkinson (University Secretary & General Counsel) spoke about the university’s structure and governance and made extensive reference to the Secretariat and Office of General Counsel website particularly when referring to some the key university policies. Sue Grant (Assistant Director, Organizational and Human Development) discussed the culture at Waterloo and highlighted our Basic Principles. The FAUW (Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo) President, Sally Gunz, talked about the organization of the faculty association and the support services available through their office. Scott Davis (Faculty Relations Manager for Arts, Environment, and Accounting) rounded out the session with a presentation about co-operative education and how it interfaces with all aspects of university activity.

The morning concluded with the Adjusting to Waterloo panel discussion where peers spoke openly about their own experiences as new faculty members and shared thoughts and insights with the audience. This year we were joined by Joanna Garcia (School of Accounting and Finance), Simron Singh (School of Environment, Enterprise & Development) and Mark Smucker (Management Sciences). The post-session Q & A period allowed new faculty to seek answers to a variety of questions ranging from academic (What types of tenure and promotions considerations do I need to be aware of?) to broader community interest inquiries (Where do I find the best craft beer?).

Incorporated into the program were opportunities for new faculty to explore the Academic Support Units Resource Fair showcasing services and resources available across campus. There were 21 academic support units represented this year and such a gathering of resource material represented a unique opportunity for new faculty to pose those questions that were in need of answers to the very people that could provide those answers.

The morning was capped off by a luncheon with the Chairs, Directors and Deans accompanied by more conversation and an informal information exchange.

What’s next on the new faculty calendar? Later this week, on Friday, September 11th, new faculty and their families have been attended to attend a BBQ at Steckle Farm in Kitchener. This annual event is co-sponsored by the Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo (FAUW) and the Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) and will be hosted by University President, Feridun Hamdullahpur, and FAUW President, Sally Gunz.

These welcoming activities were intended as a brief introduction to faculty life at the University of Waterloo and to provide a forum for our incoming class of 2014-2015 new faculty to share experiences and start making connections with their colleagues and the broader University of Waterloo community. These two marque events were planned and hosted by the New Faculty Committee which is composed of representatives from the Centre for Teaching Excellence, the Faculty Association and Human Resources.

Increasing your Confidence in Teaching – Marcie Chaudet

Confidence in the classroom is a quality in teaching that some people may struggle with as an instructor. Despite having a high level of knowledge and experience, new instructors can battle this perception of ability. This is a quality that I personally have struggled with for a number of years during my time as a graduate student. The thought of having to speak in front of a group of people was always something that terrified me and as result influenced my confidence. When I began graduate school it was clear that public speaking was not a task I could avoid and this fear was something I would have to face.
Naturally, my uneasiness of public speaking crept into my confidence in the classroom as a teaching assistant. I found that during my teaching assistantship I would be nervous talking in front of the class and interacting with students. In order to improve my confidence in my teaching I sought out support from the Centre of Teaching and enrolled in the Fundamentals of Teaching certificate program and began my journey into improving my teaching skills.

Upon attending my first few workshops I was amazed at how confident the facilitators were while standing up speaking at the front of the room. I was impressed with their communication skills and how at ease they were with presenting and I wondered to myself if this was something I was also capable of. A component of the fundamentals program is the completion of three microteaching sessions. A microteaching session consists of giving a short 15 min talk delivered to your peers, followed by immediate constructive feedback. Following my short talk I was pleasantly surprised by the positive feedback I received from my small audience. It turned out I actually was not terrible at pubic speaking and my peers found my presentation quite engaging. This validation of my efforts was remarkable and I immediately could sense a difference in my self-confidence. It felt as though a switch had been turned on in my brain, all of sudden I felt little more confident in my abilities at speaking in front a group of people. By the time I completed my third microteaching session I wasn’t fearful of public speaking and felt confident to present a talk. I also found that during my teaching assistantship I was feeling more comfortable talking in front of the class and providing instructions.

Overall, I found the fundamentals program to be a positive experience and I was encouraged to begin the next certificate program, Certificate in Undergraduate Teaching. Participants of this program are expected to complete two guest lectures within their discipline. In the past, the thought of giving a guest lecture to a 100 undergraduate students would have been terribly frightening, but I found that I was actually excited to complete this task. By the time I competed my two guest lectures I was very confident in my teaching abilities and was looking forward to the future of new teaching endeavours and speaking opportunities.

Confronting my fear of public speaking has allowed me to gain significant confidence in my communication skills. By exploring the teaching programs at the Centre for Teaching I have not only increased my knowledge of post-secondary education but also learned specific strategies that allow me to feel comfortable in front of a class and confident with presenting. The feedback I gained from these experiences was greatly constructive and allowed me to reflect on my performance and gain insight into my communication skills.

Based on my experiences at the Centre for Teaching of Excellence I learned three main things about confidence in the classroom:

1. Expand your Pedagogy Knowledge
The greater understanding you have of teaching and the learning environment will translate into demonstrated confidence in your knowledge of the classroom. Also, by exploring new teaching ideas and methods you will find you are inspired and this will give you a sense of courage in the classroom.

2. Push Yourself to New Heights
Even though there may be certain elements of the teaching environment that are new and may make you feel unsure of your abilities, be sure to push past those fears. By taking risks and pushing forward you will find over time these fears will disappear and your confidence will increase.

3. Explore Alternative Opportunities
Exploring new opportunities that fall outside your teaching assistantships or sessional teaching will allow you to expand your knowledge and ultimately increase your confidence in the classroom. Focusing on new challenges and opportunities, such as speaking at an academic conference, will allow you to build your self-confidence and gain valuable perspective that your fears can be conquered.