Future practices of teaching

This is my final entry addressing the ONL course – it’s on topic 5 “lessons learned – future practices”

This course was quite an experience! It kept me breathless throughout – from being overwhelmed in the beginning by being confronted with a completely new experience of course design and learning activities, to further taking part in all these activities while also having to teach and the rest of the every day of an academic life, all the way to A LOT of new knowledge and ways of thinking and approaching the online classroom.

The structure of this course was very didactic and a wonderful template for how a well-functioning online course could be designed and taught, e.g. structured by weekly, bi-weekly topics/themes, a blog entry per topic, one webinar with discussion part, a bi-weekly Twitter chat, and twice a week a PBL group meeting with new tools of presenting the discussion results after each theme. We had great facilitators in the PBL group, two people who had taken this course earlier and mentored our discussions and kept the group on track with the tasks and the content.

Throughout this course, I essentially learned that the online classroom is not the same as the IRL classroom. It’s a dimension of teaching that takes engagement, guidance, and emotional presence not so different from the face-to-face classroom yet maybe even more intensified in order to bridge the gap left by the absence of a shared physical space and academic geography with a library, teacher offices, learning spaces, fellow students on a daily level and actual classrooms. To consequently, an increased emotional resonance is important to keep the students engaged, to keep them involved in the course work despite the often parallel running activities outside of any academic environment, and also to create the best possible learning – “transformative learning” (Vaughan et al. 2013).

For me, this component of emotional presence apart from a range of structural elements, theories, and concepts of how learning works (e.g. the Community of Inquiry framework, PBL groups) were extremely valuable. Structural elements and concepts I enjoyed learning about were the digital tools we started to engage with in order to accommodate the general course structure but also to present our discussion outcomes. I started to blog in this course, and I twittered for the first time – I became even more aware of the dangers of social media and am cautious of using this as a teaching requirement – yet, chat rooms as a written discussion form of engagement with students is something I will immediately implement in my next online course starting in a few weeks. Blog writing is great but requires too much technical knowledge to integrate into my online courses – It’s a question of teaching hours which are accounted for face-to-face classrooms and are not adequate for the complex forms of online teaching. However, a chat room on Slack (instead of Twitter) will be a standard tool for my next course. Also online webinars, pre-recorded lectures and a slightly altered form of PBL – weekly seminars that try to get as close to the PBL frame as possible. To provide PBL groups, regularly meeting small groups with a mentor/tutor is not accounted for in my hourly budget and unfortunately impossible until the online classroom is recognized institutionally as a different teaching and learning space (which might require more resources). I really enjoyed beginning to work with presentations using tools such as prezzi, moovly, mindmeister, and coogle; all really nice tools to suggest for students as platforms for their future assignments.

Overall, this course is an extremely really valuable resource, an inspiration in itself to teach online, and do it well – and see how this can be done in a way that is fun, engaging, and connecting.



Vaughan, N.D., Cleveland-Innes, M. and Garrison, D. R. (2013) Teaching in blended learning environemnts: Creating and sustaining communiteis of inquiry. Edmonton: AU Press.






Teaching and Emotions

This entry is part of the course ONL192 (topic 4 “Blended Learning / Design”)

In which way can emotions facilitate students’ learning experience? How can they create more commitment in students and in which way do they help the course to be completed by a majority of participants rather than a few?

This entry, as part of my course work for the ONL course 192, addressed emotional presence online learning environments (“Topic 4” of the course). Learning about emotions in the classroom in a conventional course on online pedagogies, outside of a Gender Studies context, was highly surprising, wildly interesting and really productive for considering my own design for future online courses.

As a lecturer in Gender Studies, the connection between teaching, learning and emotion is obvious. Emotions are a significant part of every class, feminist theory has for a long time emphasised the close links between feelings, learning through emotions, embodied knowledge and rational learning. While academic knowledge production traditionally privileges rationality and detached, non-situated positivist knowledge production, Gender Studies jointly with other fields of study that originated through a critique of conventional knowledge production and its erasures.

Encountering the relevance of emotion in the modern classroom, and particular the online learning environment is thus exciting and gratifying. It confirms an otherwise marginalised idea of the significance of collectivity, connection, relationality and commitment in learning.

Vaughan/Cleveland-Innes and Garrison outline in their book the three significant elements of presence, teaching presence, social presence and cognitive presence (2013). These are part of their developed framework called Community of Inquiry (COI):

A community of inquiry is where “students listen to one another with respect, build on one another’s ideas, challenge one another to supply reasons for otherwise unsupported opinions, assist each other in drawing inferences from what has been said, and seek to identify one another’s assumptions.” (Vaughan et al., 2013).

COI is structured by emotional presence in three elements:

  • Social presence
  • Teaching presence
  • Cognitive presence

I will not elaborate these three elements in detail here but only those I find particularly remarkable and want to remember for my own classroom design.

In relation to teaching presence Vaughan et al. outline 7 principles that are important for a teacher to consider when designing a course:

  1. Encourage contact between students and faculty.
  2. Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students
  3. Encourage active learning
  4. Give prompt feedback.
  5. Emphasize time on task.
  6. Communicate high expectations.
  7. Respect diverse talents and ways of learning.

Teaching Presence

  • This is achieved through a new way of approaching and offering teaching and learning
  • It requires a rethinking of the role of teacher and the role of student.
  • The classroom becomes a collaborative learning space with different levels of responsibility, social and emotional presence for all participants.



Vaughan, N.D., Cleveland-Innes, M. and Garrison, D. R. (2013) Teaching in blended learning environments: Creating and sustaining communities of inquiry. Edmonton: AU Press.

Cleveland-Innes, M. (2019) “Emotion and learning – emotional presence in the Community of Inquiry framework (CoI).






Learning through friendship

This entry is part of the course ONL192 (topic 3 Learning in Communities)

Online teaching and learning can be a very distanced, detached experience – high drop out rates and incomplete assignments haunt the online learning environments in many conventional distance courses. Taking this course, the ONL 192, helped me to understand why this happens and how to avoid this problem. The online learning environment, even more than the face-to-face classroom, needs to be guided by emotional presence in the teaching practice and the learning activities of the participants. Online small-group work, similar to PBL groups, guided by a tutor or the course facilitator, can help to avoid this and create better learning and a stronger commitment in the students.

According to the article by Bindley/Blaschke/Walti article (2009), small group learning experiences are a vital tool for creating a lively and engaging online learning environment. It increases the sense of community and deepens the learning and the achieved skill sets.  

I want to add here seven points highlighted in the article which help me as a teacher to consider the importance of online learning groups for my own courses. How can these groups be assembled and structured so that they are a productive experience for the course participants and students? The article emphasises seven important aspects:

 1.     Facilitate learners’ readiness for group work and help with scaffolding, e.g via instructional design (sequencing activities within the course that build towards a final assignment).

2.     Establish a good balance between structure and learning autonomy – (instructions need to be clear – but also allow a certain amount of autonomy of the learner to adapt it flexibly to their interest and direction of discussion).

3.     Nurture a sense of community (create informality, honesty, familiarity, openness, heat, passions, empathy, trust, humor; Chapman, Ramondt, and Smiley 2005) if facilitators help introduce and model these items – the students can learn better and have a better learning experience.

4.     Monitor group activities actively and closely (not via formal assessment but through continuous feedback for instance, that helps students to develop specific skills).

5.     Make the group tasks relevant for the learner (authentic real-world environment and relevant content).

6.     Chose tasks that are best performed by a group.

7.     Provide sufficient time.


Small online-learning groups help to :

·      develoment of critical thinking skills

·      co-create  knowledge and meaning

·      provide a reflection space

·      help to experience transformative learning


I would add to this list also the vital element of friendship, responsibility, and care as aspects of supporting and deepening the learning in online classrooms. In my own experience of online learning, feelings of commitment are created through sympathy, of slowly knowing the other, getting to know them, feeling interested and respect for them as a person. This is a significant element in the learning and is particularly vital when considering a norm-critical and transfeminist learner space. Community and collectivity are significant for many gender-nonconforming students who otherwise often experience resistances, violence, and stigma on campus and in different classrooms. The importance of friendship and the support and respect gained from this, are a vital instrument of establishing oneself as a subject in the academic environment and build a reality in an environment that is usually not prioritizing “minority students”.



Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M. and Walti, C. (2009).“Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment”. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 10 (3). Available online.

Chapman, C., Ramondt, L., and Smiley, G. (2005). “Strong community, deep learning: Exploring the link”. Innovations in Education and Teaching International 47 (3): 217- 230.

Further reading:

Brookfield, S.D. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.



Between DIY edupunks and big data extraction

I just read through a review of the book DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education by Anya Kamenetz (2010). The title was intriguing. And her message seems to be too. She explains the revolution of open online education and how technology and social media are changing how we think of education, how accessible it is independent from expensive university fees, student loans and other limitations compared to classroom and campus-based education. She calls the participants in these spaces “edupunks” and “edupreneurs” as they learn self-directed through MOOCs and set up peer-to-peer education.

And I really don’t want to be a killjoy when it comes to social media and teaching. But I am skeptic here.

Taking this course on open pedagogy and open educational resources, I have to say I have some hesitation when it comes to social media and its usage for assignments in particular. As much as I recently started to enjoy Twitter and Instagram, eager to find out how these things might be useful for my teaching practice, I also see massive downsides in them. I don’t mean social media anxiety here, more the question of a political climate and vulnerability connected to social media.

Writing tweets or blogging, makes one more public than giving academic talks at expert conferences or participating in a few activists’ panels. I started tweeting last week, after the course had its second tweet chat. This chat took place just an hour before the first keynote speaker at the Finnish national gender studies conference opened the event with her talk. As  I am currently a visiting scholar at Helsinki University I was part of the conference. And I felt brave after the course chat. Right after closing our ONL tweet I continued tweeting on the conference hashtag about the keynote and the following panels and plenary sessions. Honestly, I had a few sleepless hours over some of my tweets later that day, especially about my clumsy illiteracy in how to write a good tweet, the @ and the # were all over the place…

Public caution

But on another topic, while tweeting I linked my posts with other relevant hashtags besides the conference hashtag. I thought this might be good to get more attention for the speaker and her keynote for instance. But I also realised that at this moment I am becoming a public figure. No longer a researcher and teacher anonymous in my office, but actually highly visible, openly making statements that are feminist, anti-racist, pro-trans, and queer-friendly, speaking to a community of listeners without any idea of their reactions.

In a world in which feminism is increasingly targeted by a growing alt-right and populist movement, becoming vocal in social media can be a dangerous move. It’s a question, when the next neo-Nazi decides to target my house (this is public information in Sweden) or writes hateful letters? It has happened to my colleagues in Sweden many times (the letters mostly). But this is fairly harmless considering more difficult national contexts where public feminist opinions are criminalised. I wonder, when considering using tweeting, and blogging as teaching tools for “shared” assignments, in the name of open pedagogy, I really wonder if social media is a safe place to send my students to?

As you can see, my formerly discussed social media anxiety, is now taking shape as a full fledged crisis.

It’s the crisis of the publicness of one’s political opinion – it comes partly from caution but mainly from responsibility for my students. Being a teacher in Gender Studies means that all my teaching content is far from neutral. So are the student assignments and interactions. Mostly Gender Studies as a discipline is seen as politically charged, even as ideological. From the point of populist critics, it is harming conservative family values, questioning white supremacy and privilege, as well as provoking feelings of transsexuality in perfectly normal people (Gilloz et al. 2017).

Openness as a continuum

Listening to Kay Oddone discussing openness is a continuum, I wish I would live in a world where I could be fully open with my opinion, where my colleagues and students wouldn’t be exposed to murder and other threats and were I could safely send my students into the public sphere of open educational sharing without negative consequences for their potential opinions on trans rights, homosexuality, refugee support, and intersectional feminist politics. Yet, this is not the case.

Open education, fully grounded in the wish to accommodate largest possible forms of accessibility, student-centered, anti-hierarchical structures of learning and knowledge exchange, transparency and its ethos of sharing and accountability (Oddone/Creelman) would be a good place to create a feminist, norm-critical classroom of inclusiveness, accessibility and non-hierarchical learning collectively (hooks 1994). In this sense, the two philosophies of feminist pedagogy and open pedagogy have a lot in common. It meets for instance also in Catherine Denial’s concept of “pedagogy of kindness” – a learner-centered idea of pedagogy (Denial 2019). This is something that has been inherent to feminist and critical pedagogy throughout all decades of its existence.

Open pedagogy has become strongly identified through the creating, use and sharing of open educational resources (OER) (Whiley/Hilton 2018). While open pedagogy can mean many things, e.g. a trusting pedagogical context, its increased link with open educational resources and the “open movement” (Oddone/Creelman). “Open pedagogy” has in the 21st century become increasingly associated with the creation, use, and sharing of open educational resources (OER). Open pedagogy and open education resource-based pedgagoies mark a particular moment in time when social media and internet-based sharing entered the field of education (Wiley/Hilton 2018). A significant element in open pedagogy is the non-disposable, or “renewable” assignment in opposition to the “disposable assignment.” (Wiley/Hilton 2018). Another significant marker, according to more conservative peagogues, is the imperative of the five Rs: retain, reuse, revise, remix and redistribute. These five elements mark what one can do with classroom lectures, reading material, assignments and syllabi. It is strongly connected to the anti-copyright movement and free licensing ideas.

A less narrow and less tech-based definition of open pedagogy is put forth by Robin DeRose and Rajiv Jhangiani who offer a more processual notion by contending, that open pedagogy “is a site of praxis, a place where theories about learning, teaching, technology, and social justice enter into a conversation with each other and inform the development of educational practices and structures.” In their understanding it’s a shifting definition that is under constant renegotiation.

Coming back to ideas of safety and caution when teaching open online courses, I have to account for not benign the one who knows all. Literally. I have to account for not being the one who knows for instance the national context, the political conventions, the limits of what is speakable, and the unsafety into which my students wander off when leave their Telegram chats and start blogging their course essays as “blog entries” in the name of the “useful assignment”.

On the shoulders of giants

The useful assignment, I love this term – and I love the idea of assignments that are not read by only one person but by many -that become useful in the information that is shared and given. It’s fantastic if students want to blog, tweet, Facebook feed and share their opinions widely. But this can’t be a compulsory classroom assignment since I don’t know my students’ contexts, their levels of vulnerability to threats and to social exposure, or the easiness one’s opinion can lead to criminalisation. It’s such a small step to overstep the narrow parameters when opening Pandora’s box of discussing one’s opinion on same-sex marriage, abortion and reproductive rights, forced sterilisations of indigenous and queer people, or human rights in general.  Apart from this, a critique in exploitative social structures are always linked to colonial contingencies and capitalism. Not an easy diet for many political situations when considering an international classroom.

I am also here thinking of Harvard Professor Shoshana Zuboff’s work on surveillance capitalism (Zuboff 2019; 2014). Her work adds another dimension to my caution towards public assignments. It’s the question of data extraction from social media, which is especially relevant here, when linked to educational technologies. She critiques the tech-centered move to learning as detrimental to democracy as it is strongly embedded in a surveillance regime and a new form of capitalising on personal data. It creates a surveillance capitalism that is ultimately oppressive and harmful and this surveillance technologies generate new forms of political, economic and social power.

Hard to belief after all these negative arguments…

But I am really excited about open pedagogy!

I am fond of its commitment to social justice and accessibility, and, despite of my critique of sharing and open assignments via social media, I am tremendously enjoying this course on Open Online Learning and its participants from different parts of the world – and the sychronous experience of snow outside my window in Finland and spring in South Africa.

This post is more a matter of reflection, of awareness, and possibly a request of sensitivity towards my fellow learners in this course in regards to constructing social media-based assignments. Now, I end this entry with a quote, Kay Oddone shared with us during her talk on sharing and openness, “If we stand on the shoulders of giants, what heights might there be?” Let’s just make sure it’s a friendly giant we select for our outlook into the future!



Denial, Catherine. 2019. “A Pedagogy of Kindness”. Hybrid Pedagogy. Blog. https://hybridpedagogy.org/pedagogy-of-kindness/

DeRosa, Robin and Rajiv Jhangiani, Open Pedagogy Notebook. Sharing Practices, Building Community. Blog. http://openpedagogy.org/open-pedagogy/

Gilloz, Oriane, Nima Hairy, Matilda Flemming. 2017. “Getting to know you: mapping the anti-feminist face of right-wing populism in Europe” Open Democracy Net. Blog. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/can-europe-make-it/mapping-anti-feminist-face-of-right-wing-populism-in-europe/

hooks, bell. 1994. Teaching to Transgress. Education as the practice of freedom. London: Routledge.

Jhangiani, Rajiv and Robin DeRosa, “Open Pedagogy and Social Justice,” Digital Pedagogy Lab, June 2, 2017, http://www.digitalpedagogylab.com/open-pedagogy-social-justice/.

Kamenetz, Anya. 2010. DIY U: edupunks, edupreneurs, and the coming transformation of higher education. Chelsea Green Publishing.

Oddone, Kay and Alaistair Creelman, “Openness and sharing in education”. Course lecture. https://play.lnu.se/media/t/0_o3kepcds

Wiley, David and John Hilton. 2018. “Defining OER-Enabled Pedagogy.” International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning 19 (4): 133 – 14

Wiley, David. 2013. “What is open pedagogy?” https://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2975

Zuboff, Shoshana. 2014. “Safetys in Numbers?” Frieze, issue 161, March 2014. https://frieze.com/article/safety-numbers

Zuboff, Shoshana. 2019. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power.

Digital literacy and social media phobia

Blog entries with the category “ONL 192” will be a place where I post reflections that are part of my participation in the Open Network Learning course (ONL 192), October – December 2019.

Topic 1: Digital literacy

Starting this course, I am intrigued by the usage of social media for teaching, really intersted in learning exciting tools that I can then utilise for creating great examination forms and inspiring learning environments for my students (e.g. instagram, twitter, blogs, padlet, prezzi, etc.).

Yet, the new way of teaching online is also guided by a seemingly self evident understanding of social media literacy as the new normal. For me, personally and professionally as a lecturer in Gender Studies, this is not the case. Personally, I have a lot of anxieties when it comes to participating in social media spaces, facebook or even twitter. I stopped commenting on my facebook shares all together. This mostly just leaves me sleepless the night after, pondering whether or not I should have formulated my comment differently. Now, thinking that this is what I will be exposing my students to, as a requirment in my future online courses, makes me doubtful whether it will live up to my idea of feminist and norm-critical pedagogy. Included in this pedagoy is a strong sense of ethics, of accounting for student vulnerability, of different social challenges and it is driven by the aim to make the learning environment as inviting as possible to different students. A social media driven classroom, that, e.g. requires students to write blogs or tweets, might not be appropriate for everyone.

Looking briefly through the web with the search word “social media angst” I came across this post. Despite its slightly confusing and patronising reference to “girls” it is informative on how little is know regarding the fear of social media and how rarely it is accounted for. I wonder how we, as teachers and online facilitators can accommodate these fears in our prospective students (if not in ourselves as well 🙂

Image by David Clode, Unsplash

It’s just a chair…. Learning environments and how they matter…


Teaching is an art form, according to educational studies scholar Diane Laurillard; it is entertainment and also – in order to be “teaching” it needs to be more than just entertainment. It is based on a “formally defined goal” (Laurillard 2013:1) with the aim to create a space of reflection, to create learning and knowledge, and in a feminist sense, to create alternate knowledge that undermines and subverts hegemonic knowledge.

In which way does the online and offline learning environment contribute to education and knowledge production? Teaching both in online and offline spaces, I witness often a lack of interest in creating a specific environment that fosters values that are important in a a feminist classroom, e.g. collaboration and interaction.

In response to bell hooks’ idea of transgressive pedagogy, teaching and learning become acts of interdependence, reflexivity, and vulnerability (hooks 1996, 2003). By leaning on Elena Pulcini’s idea of applying philosopher Judith Butler’s idea of vulnerability (2005) to the classroom, I think of it as a space for interdependence, openness, and relationality (Pulcini 2009).

In order for the classroom to be mobilised as such a space it requests attention to the learning environment – the position of the teacher in the room, the places for the participants/students, the table set-up, the light, temperature, acustics, or the form and kind of furniture, the accessibility of toilets near by and for all genders, the accessbility of the room itself, etc. All these elements contribute to the learning environment and have significant impact on the pedagogical impact of a course. To further underline this, educational studies and design studies scholar Marie Leijon argues that the pedagogical space needs to be understood as a conceptual design “for learning” as well as a design “in learning” (2016: 94). She stresses here the importance of considering the classroom and design of the learning environment for the meaning-making process within the space.

Her arguments can be applied easily to thinking the classroom through the lens of feminist pedgagogy – and consider the classroom “in relation to negotiation and transformation” (Lejon 2016: 94). Keeping this in mind, does it matter if the classroom has a nice few of forests and lakes all the way to the horizone? Or if it’s a crammed basement room with bad airconditioning? Does it matter if the tables can be flexibly rearranged? Ultimately, a chair, a window view and quiet space matter and have deep impact on the learning capacities and motivation of the course participants as much as the teacher (Lejon 2016: 94). Then, a chair isn’t just a random item anymore but needs to be seen as a place where a person’s brain and back can work well for sometimes 60 – 90 min at a time.

I wrote this small post in order to reflect a bit more on the importance of the design and the aesthetics of the learning environment. It is motivated by the problem that I often encounter teaching rooms that don’t look inviting to the students nor to me as the teacher. I try to create the room according to my understanding of a good classroom, clean, good light, nice view, accessibility as well as comfortable tables and chairs. Its not always possible to accommodate this depending on room availability. I prefer teaching in the rooms that don’t face an opposite wall with a construction site going on below. There are a few classrooms in which I sometimes teach, face-to-face, where the group can look over the forest’s tree tops all the way to the horizone. A luxury the empty and vast nothern Swedish landscape offers in this university.

A completely different question is, how to create a similarly inviting space when teaching ONLINE, e.g. in a 5 – 10 weeks courses we offer on the advanced level in different areas in Gender Studies. What are the important elements to work with when I cannot rearrange the chairs or book a room with a better view and nice wooden floor panelling? I will investigate this in an upcoming post….

Bates, Anthony William. 2015. “Appendix 1: Building an effective learning environment.” Teaching in a Digital Age. https://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/chapter/5-2-what-is-a-learning-environment/
Butler, Judith. 2005. Giving an account of oneself. New York: Fordham UP.
hooks, bell. 1994. Teaching to transgress. Education as the practice of freedom. London: Routledge.
hooks, bell. 2003. Teaching community. A üedagogy of hope. New York: Routledge.
Laurillard, Diana. 2012. Teaching as a design science. Building pedagogical patterns for learning and technology. New York: Routledge.
Leijon, Marie. 2016. “Space as designs for and in learning: investigating the interplay between space, interaction and learning sequences in higher education.” Visual Communication 15 (1): 93-124.
Pulcini, Elena. 2009. “Contamination and vulnerability: The self in the global age.” In: Teaching Subjectivity. Travelling Selves for Feminist Pedagogy, Silvia Caporale Bizzini and Melita Richter Malabott (eds.). Athena 3 Advances Thematic Network in Women’s Studies in Europe, pp. 15-29.

Virtual Learning Environments

How does a virutual learning environment differ from a campus-based classroom and what new and different learning environments does this require? This is another entry I write in the frame of a course at the university called Teaching in Higher Education. Its a course with a strong focus on online teaching and blended learning.

I am dealing with these questions currently while preparing the MA-level course “Gender and Society” which we teach for the first time in the fall 2019.

This is not my first online course. I have taught online before, via pre-recorded lectures and weekly video-conference seminars on the platform called Zoom. The disadvantage of teaching online is the dicreased amount of affective connection with the students. Or a different one possibly. But it is much harder to “feel” how students are doing apart from when they verbally contribute. I find this one of the most challenging aspects of online teaching – the more extended difficuly to be able to reach out and ask if the student is feeling fine and what might be going on that is distracting them from focussing.

Generally, I also observed, that it takes longer in zoom to engage students into a discussion… The current format in which I have taught so far online seminars were 1,5 hours. I am considering extending this so that there is more time to actually get used to the interface and the group interaction in it.

Interesting in zoom is the non-hierarchical layout through the “gallery view” which puts all participants, including me as the teacher, onto the same level. I also appreciate the possibilities for small-group work, called “breakout rooms” in Zoom. This is really a nice way to work with larger groups and keep people interactively engaged.

I am mostly glad that I have the opportunity to teach Gender Studies courses online. The classroom is international, students from all over the world can participat and join temporarily in the same space for shared discussions and knowledge exchange. I experience this as a unique possibility to get insights into a range of discussions from different places in the world. It also constitutes an exceptional possibility for students to learn about activism and knowledge in a global context. Additionally, teaching in Gender Studies, and in the emerging field of Transgender Studies, teaching online while being located in a small/medium sized university is the only way to maintain and actually offer such classes.

The pre-recorded lectures are a format which I find most challenging. I really don’t know why pre-recording a lecture is such a different experience. But it requires enormous amounts of concentration and energy to talk without an audience into a void, only seeing myself reflected on the screen while speaking and running the powerpoint. It’s difficult to keep the emotional moments of teaching alive which are immensely important for learning and motivation, for following a lecture and for maintaining the concentration as a listener. I am still struggling with this. But also have a few ideas, e.g. pauses, reflection time, writing exercises, etc. build into the lecture. This will happen in the future.

Teaching online… in the field of Gender Studies and Transgender Studies.

I am currently wondering how to create an online classroom (without face-to-face time due to distances and financial restrictions of the students) that is exciting and can convey a similar excitement than a face-to-face learning environment often does.

Blended learning is a way for Gender Studies in Karlstad to create a good classroom atmosphere, interesting discussions that can happen both in the online seminars as well as in the discussion forum, and also keep the group together without high drop-out numbers. This is a common problem in online teaching.

In the literature overview “Critical Factors for Implementing Blended Learning in Higher Education”, the two authors Peter Mozelius (based in Sweden) and Enosha Hettiarachchi (based in Sri Lanka) have collected 15 publications that discuss different forms of blended learning. Blended learning is a term that defines classrooms anywhere on the spectrum between a face-to-face classroom and a pure online classroom (Watson, 2008). The term “blended” refers to online communication between students and teacher or students and students, e.g. facebook group chats, online supervision, asychronous blog posts of students, etc. (Garrison and Kanuka, 2004).

The article “Critical Factors for Implementing Blended Learning in Higher Education” (Mozelius and Hettiarachchi, 2017) presents a concise analysis of critical factors of blended learning as well as potential perspectives. Among other aspects, they emphasise that blended learning can only be successful if it finds a balance between three vital aspects: the cognitive aspect, the social aspect and the teaching presence. All three elements need to be addressed jointly and in balance with each other in order to create a lively and sustained learning environment (Holland, 2016). This is especially important when considering the high drop-out rates in online courses (5% is considered high in MOOCs for instance) (p. 45). Such a low rate would be inacceptable for traditional higher education and would also make it impossible to create courses that are particularly edgy or marginalised, as for instance courses in queer studies or transgender studies.

While planning our first MA-level course in Transgende Studies “Introduction to Transgender Studies and Activism”, which is planned as an online course at Karlstad University for spring 2020 I ask myself, how I can create a good learning environment for both trans, non-binary, intersex, queer and cis students, and avoid the often problematised high drop-out rates of students from online courses?

A really imporant aspect when it comes to creating an engaged and committed classroom atmosphere is created by content that is up-dated on current debates and theoretical developments, shows the committment of the teacher as well as creates a culture of care.

Care is a political as much ethical question for me as a teacher. In neoliberal discussions on online classrooms and low drop-out rates, this aspect becomes unfortunately a “strategy” to create student happiness and committment. Independent of this, care is an important component in my engagement with students, in supporting them to learn, to submit theis assignments and feel welcome at the university which is often an extremely inaccessible space for trans and no-binary students (as well as to anybody else who is not conforming to the white, male, middle-/upper-class norms of the university as such). But in respect to nb and trans students, the first hurdle starts when submitting the application via the university admissions system. This system is highly flawed and based on binary parameters. It creates exclusions on the first level of access.

I will soon write a longer entry on this problem of gender binarism and genderism in the admissions system.

Returning to questions of care for those students who made it through the horrific admissions system, I am dedicated to creating an inviting and inclusive classroom. I find in my own classrooms, online and f2f the aspect of care extremely important for both the creation of trust between all participants in the course, including me as a teacher, as well as for the students themselves in order to feel “seen” and heard. Its an essential part of an ethical social environment. It is an amibalent terms, care – it seems to be both a term of resistance in the technologised and commodified structures of modern academia – and yet, it is also a term that is exactly helping the capitalisation of academia to be increasingly successful in including larger student numbers and thus generating profit.

However, having these critical thoughts in the back of my mind, I am committed to the valued of feminist pedagogy which is a pedagogy of care, of inclusiveness and collectivity against the prevalence of hiearchies and profit orientation in academia.

Below a few points from the article on blended learning that are more notes for myself rather than relevant to the discussion above.

10 critical aspects of blended learning:

1. Technology – is the “basic ingredient that is blended with traditional learning” (43).
2. Didactics (“attitude, teaching style, control and responsiveness are important”, (43).
3. Course outcomes – presents an essential aspect in order to achieve high learning outcomes are “[a]ctive engagement, collaboration and social presence”, discussed by Parker, Maor and Herrington 2013 as well as Garner and Rouse 2016 (44).
4. Collaboration and social presence – e-learning alone is considered non-effective due to the described importance of teacher-student and student-student interaction in the learning process (Chen and Yao, 2016). Important is also to create a learning environment that is not purely structural or functionalist but also has space for emotional and affective elements of care and support for the students (So and Brush 2008). Furthermore, it is highly important to enable interaction and social presence in blended learning environment, e.g. group work or reflective activities (Picciano, 2009) and (Garner and Rouser, 2016), (44)
5. Course design – in a blended learning environment this means a course that includes relevant multimodal didactics technologically that facilitate good collaboration and active learning for the students. The contemporary recommendation for achieving this is to create the course so that consists of a combination of “sychronous and asychnronous activities” that are enacted in steps, alternatingly (44).
6. Sychronicity and asychronicity – according to the Mozelius and Hettiarachchi, this means a blance btweeen face-to-face activities for the students (which are supposed to allow “the richness of human interaction” as well as online activities (45).
7. Learning from technology enhanced classrooms – in this part of the study the conclusion is that purely online taught courses seem to create problems, e.g. confusions for the students in the course, loneliness or boredom through the distance. Blended learning must thus aim to address this in order to avoid students’ estrangement from the course, low motivation and also high drop out rates (Keller and Suzuki, 2004).
8. Multimodal overloading – the literature overview discusses that students in general don’t seem to be so easily overloaded when the learning is dynamic and based in interative media formats. This might mean asychronous discussions, facilitated interaction, and other uploads of uselful information, e.g. graphics, audio or video files (Kim, Kwon and Cho, 2011). Due to the diversity of students and their different interests and needs also for different and individual learning formats, this is important in order to include and address as many students as possible (45).
9. Trends and hypes – two hypes are highlighted here in particular, teachign with MOOCS (massive open online courses) and secondly, the concept of “The Flipped Classroom” (Thai, De Wever and Valcke, 2017). Both are interesting but need to be further investigated, the authors conclude.
10. Economy – the problem of high drop-out rates makes blended learning courses sometimes cost ineffective. What is important and seems to have been successful is that an initial investment in the careful and timeconsuming work of a good course design pays off (46).

In the section “Global perspective” (48) the authors discuss a few aspects such as the important of locally adjusted content, etc… which stands in opposition to online teaching and the often diverse student body this creates. I would disagree here strongly as I find it firstly, important to have online courses in order to create a joint, transnational platform for discussion, secondly, in order to enable students from all over the world to take courses they couldn’t access otherwise, and thirdly, the diverse group in a transnational course is a positive aspect of teaching not a negative one.

Photo by Paco S on Unsplash

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