Wikipedia Editathon 2016. Meganlorraine [CC BY-SA 4.0]

This is one of a number of mini-essays I have set myself on the subject of feminism, open education, and technology.

I read a lot about open pedagogies, and they often remind me of conversations from 30 years ago about whether there is (or could/should be) a distinctively feminist pedagogy. 

A classroom characterised as people connected in a net of people who care about each other’s learning as well as their own… Such a perspective is ecological and holistic. The classroom becomes an important place to connect to our roots, our history, to envision the future. The web of interrelationships in the classroom is seen to stretch to the local, regional and global communities.

This vision of a global, interconnected classroom predates the world wide web by several years and the first MOOCs by almost twenty. It was written in 1987 by Carolyn M Shrewsbury in a special issue of Women’s Studies Quarterly on Feminist Pedagogy. Other contributions focused on journaling, linking personal and academic identities, and building communities of practice. 

If any of this sounds familiar, it may be worth exploring what feminists have learned about alternative pedagogies. Bringing women’s lived experiences into the spaces of formal learning and knowledge meant talking about new ideas, but it also meant enacting new kinds of relationship and producing new kinds of subject – teachers/students who were willing to challenge the intellectual apparatus, while demanding recognition from it. This was never an easy experience. In particular, teaching, learning and writing collaboratively are troubling, not just of the academic status quo out there, but of our deepest ego needs as well. 

In the same issue, from Barbara Omolade:

Three issues form the context of my thinking about Black feminist pedagogy: the clarification of the source and use of power within the classroom, the development of a methodology for teaching writing skills, and the need for instructors to struggle alongside their students for a better university.

All of these speak to us today. Consider how networked knowledge and networked learners have helped to clarify and challenge sources of power. Consider how a set of critical practices with text, image and code have equipped the disadvantaged with ‘writing skills’ of the highest value. Consider how the struggle for ‘a better university’ has become a struggle over the idea of the university, and over public knowledge more broadly. And how alive we have to be – how we must ‘raise our consciousness’ of the system, from inside the system – if we are to resist the repressive, regressive alternatives. We might discern here the shape of a critical pedagogy fit for 2020 and many years beyond.

I use pedagogy [to mean] a relationship of responsibility with and to another. With the attachment of ‘critical’, the meaning of pedagogy problematises the relationship of the ‘other’ [and] the various ways in which the discourse of power produces its subjects’

Kathleen Berry, Critical Pedagogy: Where are we now? (2007)

The choice to work against the grain, to challenge the status quo, often has negative consequences. And that is part of what makes that choice one that is not politically neutral.

bell hooks, teaching to transgress, (2009)