Towards a Pandemic Pedagogy: power and politics in learning and teaching

Preprint (PDF Available) · May 2020with 1,282 Reads 
How we measure 'reads'
A 'read' is counted each time someone views a publication summary (such as the title, abstract, and list of authors), clicks on a figure, or views or downloads the full-text. Learn more
DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.29280.64005
Cite this publication
Preprints and early-stage research may not have been peer reviewed yet.
Abstract
Let's talk about pandemic pedagogy. Pandemic pedagogy, speaks to the approaches we employ in our learning environments to teach and foster learning in a context of a serious health crisis and the spread of a new disease. Health crises are nothing new. But this moment feels and is different. The response has been unprecedented and global, resulting in the cessation of normal social, political and economic activity in the name of preventing the spread of COVID-19. As we all engage in social distancing and the closure of our campuses, we must ask, what does the present pandemic mean for teaching and learning?
Advertisement
1
Towards a Pandemic Pedagogy: power and politics in learning and teaching
Heather A. Smith
1
, Professor, Department of International Studies, University of Northern British
Columbia
David J. Hornsby, Professor, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs and Associate Vice-
President (Teaching and Learning), Carleton University
“The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy” (hooks, 1994: 12)
Let’s talk about pandemic pedagogy. Pandemic pedagogy, speaks to the approaches we employ in
our learning environments to teach and foster learning in a context of a serious health crisis and
the spread of a new disease. Health crises are nothing new. But this moment feels and is different.
The response has been unprecedented and global, resulting in the cessation of normal social,
political and economic activity in the name of preventing the spread of COVID-19. As we all
engage in social distancing and the closure of our campuses, we must ask, what does the present
pandemic mean for teaching and learning? As two political scientists, we are part of a discipline
that regularly prides itself on unpacking the nuanced intersections between power and politics. As
two university professors, we want to reflect on the relationship that exists between power,
pedagogy and politics. We must be mindful of the values we are instilling through our teaching
and how we will come out of this pandemic. We remain hopeful that we can get through this
moment by being more collaborative and adopt a pandemic pedagogy that is inclusive, innovative,
and based on care.
Power in our Pedagogy
International relations theorist Robert Cox (1986: 207) argues “theory is always for someone and
for some purpose”. Adapting Cox’s maxim, central to our argument is the belief that “teaching is
always for someone and for some purpose” (Smith, 2017: 211). Teaching is not neutral. The
classroom and curricula are sites of power and politics. We create the discipline for our students
1
Corresponding Author: heather.smith@unbc.ca
2
through our course outlines. Our course outlines can be sites of inclusion or marginalization. A
well-crafted lecture can be engaging but we fundamentally believe that traditional authoritarian
forms of teaching marginalize student voices and undermine student learning. “Passive curricula
help prepare students for life in undemocratic institutions” (Shor, 1992: 19). Reflecting on the
relationship between power, pedagogy and politics is always relevant but now, in the midst of a
pandemic, reflection is essential. As bell hooks asks: “Who speaks? Who listens? And why?
(hooks, 1994: 40).
Pandemic pedagogy is not only about teaching in extraordinary times, but also about developing
an understanding of who we are, and how we teach our disciplines. The values that inform how
we approach face-to-face teaching, also inform our strategies as we pivot to online learning. If we
prefer lecture-dominated classes face to face, there is a strong likelihood that we will opt for lecture
capture technology or synchronous conference room type classes often personified through such
platforms as Zoom. These reinforce a transfer of information that is passive and predicated on the
idea that students do not have much to offer. Such an approach is often imbued with a politics of
hierarchy that treats students as empty vessels incapable of understanding or relating to the
material at hand.
If we privilege active learning where students are more self-directed with multiple sites of
engagement, we will seek to translate that into an online space as we aim to create discussion
groups, adopt many formative assessment techniques and seek to mix synchronous and
asynchronous approaches. This model encourages students to develop key skills associated with
good citizenship and democracy: cross cultural understanding, problem solving, critical thinking,
team work, to name a few. This type of approach is also rooted in a politics of equity and inclusion,
of a community where the multitude of experiences in a learning environment are treated as
opportunities to develop understanding, awareness and appreciation of difference. A more active
online environment, inherently models democratic norms.
A pandemic pedagogy is also about how we frame teaching and learning in our public discourses.
The lament for the ‘normal’ or ‘return to normal’ obfuscates and denies the inequities of ‘normal’.
Normal in this context generally infers the return to the way things ‘were’. It’s vital to remember
3
however, that ‘normal’ also includes course outlines that have not changed in years, were lacking
in diversity, teaching practices that marginalized the student voice, university practices of
massification, precarity in employment for too many of our colleagues. Do we really want to return
to that normal?
We are not naive. We are well aware of the commentaries (Paxson, 2020) being actively shared
(and pondered) about the economic implications of a fall, and maybe winter, semester online. We
understand there are dire implications for universities, faculty, staff, families, and students if we
go online. We must, however, see our students as whole (hooks, 1994: 15). We must not make our
students, and ourselves, guinea pigs in the name of ‘normal’, and ‘budgets’.
Suggestions for Moving Forward as a Community
Given so much uncertainty, proposals for moving forward are difficult. However, we believe that
as a community we can come together to support our role as teachers, not just researchers.
Teaching is often a solitary endeavour and now is the time to change that. Now is the time to
collaborate and to engage in practices that support our students’ learning.
To be clear, we love being in the classroom. We are not suggesting a long term dismantling of face
to face teaching, but rather our suggestions are designed to support our students, and each other,
as we move through this pandemic. Moreover, many of the suggestions can also transform our
teaching and can be applied to face to face classes in the future.
First, we need to be mindful of the values that inform our course outline and our assessments.
Thinking about our course material - do we move beyond the traditional canon in terms of reading
material or resources? Is our content diverse? When designing our assessments, consider the liberal
use of formative assessments. Formative assessment can help us understand the effectiveness of
our teaching and provide insights into student learning. And do you really need a three hour
surveilled final exam? What does that form of assessment say about trust in the classroom?
4
Second, as Deming (2020) rightly points out, factors that provide students with individual attention
such as small group tutorials, feedback and mentoring are necessary factors in promoting learning
and student success. The challenge, however, is that these things are often neglected or diminished
in online spaces. Whilst the prospect of the more bespoke elements of teaching may be daunting
ignoring them comes with significant consequences for student learning. There is no one mode to
effect tutoring, individualized feedback or mentoring, they are all integral to ensuring that our
students continue to feel as part of a learning community and welcome in the process of learning.
Third, as we plan our courses for fall 2020, regardless of whether it’s face to face, or some variation
of online, we should access, create and share open educational resources in our area of expertise.
There is substantial data that shows the use of OER reduces course costs for students (See Dimeo,
2017). OER can also help colleagues who struggle to develop content or who wish to integrate
new ideas or methods into their courses. We also know that by using alternatives or different
resources can help with encouraging student engagement. The website, E-IR is a great example of
a source for OER for International Relations.
Fourth, the opportunity to move out of the neoliberal model of competition between universities
and to foster cooperation and collaboration is ripe. The Canadian political science community is
relatively small and well networked. Many of us do collaborative research and are involved in
research networks - so why not teaching networks? We could create networks of scholars who
would guest lecture or drop into discussions in your online class. We could share our course
outlines and the OER we create and adopt creative commons guidelines. These resources would
be great in any class whether it is face to face or online and whether or not it is the middle of a
pandemic. Now is the time for sharing not siloing.
Fifth, is there a way to leverage the CPSA or other like institutions and the connections they have?
Is there an opportunity that can be supported or created in terms of coordinating some sharing of
resources, provision of an online space, or creation of a committee to curate resources and highlight
innovative assessment? Are ways to leverage the chairs network -- to support each other -- in the
creation and sharing of resources? Or is there a space for the graduate students’ caucus to play a
role? Many of the annual meetings of disciplinary based organizations have been cancelled but
5
maybe there are ways to pivot to support our disciplinary communities using online formats both
in terms of research and teaching.
Sixth, we must include students in our deliberations and planning. There is a vast body of literature
on students as partners and it outlines how we can work with students in curriculum design,
research, pedagogy partnerships, among other areas (See for example Healy, Flint and Harrington,
2014). The inclusion of the student voice throughout these processes is essential and models more
democratic and inclusive processes. Further, it also acknowledges that our students live and
breathe the politics that we espouse. Their views and experiences matter and are relevant.
Seventh, all of us need to approach our teaching with an ethic of care. “We need to create
pedagogies of care online and allow what we discover in these new spaces to influence what we
do at brick-and-mortar institutions’ (Stommel, 2013). We know from studies that students struggle
to learn in moments of stress, dislocation, and anxiety (Joels et al., 2006). We need to find ways
to adopt pedagogies or assessment practices that acknowledge this reality. Compassion and
flexibility in our classroom needs to be a hallmark of pandemic pedagogy.
Conclusion
The way we approach our teaching and learning environment matters to how we move through
and come out of this pandemic. As political scientists, we are highly attuned to how power and
politics are interconnected and shape our societies. This pandemic also forefronts how power is
embedded in our pedagogical choices. As we look to ensure our learning environments continue
to be meaningful spaces for students to develop understandings of the polis, we need to remember
that our responses to online learning will shape the way our students approach politics going
forward. We have offered a number of strategies to help navigate a way that does not reinforce
hierarchies between professors and students, breaks down silos between institutions and inculcates
a spirit of commonality between colleagues. These are by no means exhaustive, but important
starting points as we navigate this world of pandemic pedagogy.
6
References
Cox, Robert W. 1986. ‘‘Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations
Theory,’’ In Neorealism and Its Critics, ed. Robert O. Keohane. New York: Columbia University
Press.
Deming, David. 2020. “Online Learning Should Return to a Supporting Role.” New York Times.
April 9. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/09/business/online-learning-virus.html
Dimeo, Jean. 2017. “Saving Students Money”, Inside Higher Education. 28, June. Available at:
https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2017/06/28/report-saving-students-
money-oer
hooks, bell. 1994. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York:
Routledge.
Healey, Mick, Abbi Flint, and Kathy Harrington. 2014. Engagement Through Partnership:
Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. York: HE Academy.
Available at:
https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/resources/engagement_through_partnership.pdf
Joels, Marian., Pu, Zhenwei. W., Wiegert, Olof., Oitzl, Melly. S. & Krugers, Harm. J. 2006.
“Learning Under Stress: How Does it Work?” Trends in Cognitive Science 10: 152–158.
Paxson, Christina. 2020. “College Campuses Must Reopen in the Fall. Here’s How We Do It.”
New York Times, 26 April, available at:
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/26/opinion/coronavirus-colleges-universities.html
Shor, Ira. 1992. Empowering Education. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Smith, Heather. 2017. “Unlearning: A Messy and Complex Journey with Canadian Foreign
Policy.” International Journal 72: 203–216.
Stommel, Jessie. 2013. “A User’s Guide to Forking Education”, Hybrid Pedagogy, 07 January,
available at: https://hybridpedagogy.org/users-guide-forking-education/
  • ... Teaching and assessing under the context of the COVID-19 pandemic feels and is different from normal processes for developing and undertaking online courses. Smith and Hornsby (2020) note that the move is unique in so far as it has been swift, under resourced and done without much planning. Most universities around the world are preparing for the delivery of online education at least until the end of 2020. ...
    Conference Paper
    Full-text available
    When approaching the issue of large class teaching it is important to acknowledge that under normal conditions these types of learning spaces often pose significant challenges for lecturers in delivery and for students in learning. The present pandemic, COVID-19, is anything but normal and adds a complicating factor in approaching large class teaching. This is largely due to the fact that most institutions of higher education have ceased face-to-face instruction and are rapidly pivoting courses online, at least until the end of 2020. Under normal conditions, large classes are often synonymous with a lack of student engagement, bad performance, and few opportunities to develop important skills like critical thinking (Ehrenberg et al., 2001; McKeachie, 1980; Cooper and Robinson, 2000; Mulryan-Kyne, 2010). Under conditions of online learning, the possibilities for these challenges to be compounded is real if pedagogical strategies that reinforce passive learning are adopted, or opportunities for direct contact with students are avoided, and the use of summative types of assessments are privileged. Therefore, the purpose of this short essay is to frame and offer some principles to adopt in moving large classes online and developing assessments
  • Online Learning Should Return to a Supporting Role
    • David Deming
    Deming, David. 2020. "Online Learning Should Return to a Supporting Role." New York Times.
  • Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom
    • Jean Dimeo
    Dimeo, Jean. 2017. "Saving Students Money", Inside Higher Education. 28, June. Available at: https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2017/06/28/report-saving-studentsmoney-oer hooks, bell. 1994. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge.
  • Engagement Through Partnership: Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education
    • Mick Healey
    • Abbi Flint
    • Kathy Harrington
    Healey, Mick, Abbi Flint, and Kathy Harrington. 2014. Engagement Through Partnership: Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. York: HE Academy. Available at: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/resources/engagement_through_partnership.pdf
  • College Campuses Must Reopen in the Fall. Here's How We Do It
    • Christina Paxson
    Paxson, Christina. 2020. "College Campuses Must Reopen in the Fall. Here's How We Do It." New York Times, 26
  • A User's Guide to Forking Education
    • Jessie Stommel
    Stommel, Jessie. 2013. "A User's Guide to Forking Education", Hybrid Pedagogy, 07 January, available at: https://hybridpedagogy.org/users-guide-forking-education/
  • Article
    Adopting a narrative approach, I describe how doing research on the Highway of Tears, which exposed me to Indigenous method and theory, required of me an unlearning of core assumptions about who I was as a scholar. In addition, the ongoing process of unlearning has only reinforced my view that we must be mindful about the ways in which the field of Canadian Foreign Policy (CFP) has the potential to construct images of Canada that marginalize francophone, feminist, and Indigenous voices and perspectives. We need to embrace the complexity of our country and tell stories that problematize dominant, and often simplistic, narratives.
  • Article
    The effects of stress on learning and memory are not always clear: both facilitating and impairing influences are described in the literature. Here we propose a unifying theory, which states that stress will only facilitate learning and memory processes: (i) when stress is experienced in the context and around the time of the event that needs to be remembered, and (ii) when the hormones and transmitters released in response to stress exert their actions on the same circuits as those activated by the situation, that is, when convergence in time and space takes place. The mechanism of action of stress hormones, particularly corticosteroids, can explain how stress within the context of a learning experience induces focused attention and improves memory of relevant information.