Post Written By: Dr. Lindsey Jaber, Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology (Faculty of Education), University of Windsor
Recently, I have been engaged in discourse around humanizing online learning through the Open Learning Digital Fluency Fellowship (#OLDFF #OnHumanLearn) project. Using different liberating structures (e.g., What? So What? Now What?), faculty, instructors, learning specialists, and others involved in teaching and learning in post-secondary education across Ontario come together online every Thursday at noon in October and November 2021 to unlearn, learn, and relearn about topics related to education and online pedagogy facilitated by educators from across Ontario and enriched by readings, podcasts, and videos on the various issues. So far, we have covered “unlearning and unsettling”, “failure, vulnerability, and student agency”, and “co-creating inclusive communities”. The last topic will cover “sustaining change”. Through one of these discussions, I learned of bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress (1994). Although aware of some of her other work, I was curious about this book and immediately bought the audiobook (and subsequently the physical book as I needed to re-read, highlight, and sticky note it!) and engulfed myself in it. I was intrigued, challenged, and inspired by her concept of engaged pedagogy in which educators “must be actively committed to the process of self-actualization that promotes their own wellbeing if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students” (p. 15).
While hook’s book challenged and unsettled me as a white woman assistant professor who had not been taught about feminism and who grew up in the era of patriarchal capitalism, colonialism, heteronormative hegemony and the racial, ethnic, and cultural melting pot, I felt that she put into words and context what I had been trying to create in my classrooms while greatly challenging values and beliefs instilled in me from a very young age. As hooks (1994) writes:
When education is the practice of freedom, students are not the only ones who are asked to share, to confess. Engaged pedagogy does not seek simply to empower students… also be a place where teachers grow, and are empowered by the process. That empowerment cannot happen if we refuse to be vulnerable while encouraging our students to take risks. Professors who expect students to share confessional narratives but who are themselves unwilling to share are exercising power in a manner that could be coercive (p. 21).
Following hook’s work and the weekly #OLDFF conversations, I feel it is essential to my journey as an educator to position me within the work; to be in it and vulnerable with others so that we may (un)learn and grow together. I have only recently become an educator, working as a psychologist in the school system and private practice for several years during and after my doctoral degree. It has always been my dream to be a professor in a university – to teach, research, and write. Words cannot fully capture the utter joy and excitement I felt when offered the assistant professor position with the Faculty of Education at the University of Windsor. I will not say that it has all been difficult since beginning this new journey, but much of it has not been easy. There were times, especially in my first year, that I felt like a complete failure, that I wanted to quit. I felt like a fraud, an imposter. Who was I to teach future educators when I had just begun my growth and development as an educator? I was fortunate enough, however, to have exceptionally supportive and encouraging colleagues, leadership, family, and friends. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit only ten months into my first year in the academy. My experiences during the pandemic, especially the lockdowns, were often bleak and miserable. As an outgoing and social person, I was stuck at home trying to manage two careers (I continue to provide therapy and assessment in private practice as a psychologist) and most days helping with at-home online learning for four children ranging from 4-17 with a partner also working from home. It wore on all of us, but it also helped us grow together as a family.
Although some may argue with me and have indeed had very different experiences, for me, perhaps one of the rare happy outcomes of the pandemic was the forced pivot to online teaching and learning. Having before the pandemic felt that I was miserably lacking in sound pedagogy and teaching skills, I took every opportunity that I could find at the start of the pandemic to learn and engage with workshops, webinars, and discussions about online teaching and learning. Thankfully, my institution provided many such opportunities and support. I was fortunate enough to work with two outstanding learning specialists (my eternal gratitude and utmost respect go out to Dr. Nobuko Fujita and Dave Cormier, Office of Open Learning, University of Windsor) on developing my online courses (one that was the same as the previous year and had, in my opinion, flopped horribly, one brand new to me B.Ed. course for fall 2020, and one M.Ed. course that had not been taught for decades for winter 2021). I ravenously read and experimented with new concepts and ideas and fervently sought student and other feedback. I think, or perhaps better said, I hope that from this, I have grown as an educator and come more openly and whole-heartedly into the role.
As we move into the final stretch of the #OLDFF project, I am both excited, and a bit saddened. I have enjoyed the Thursday conversations so immensely, met courageous people from across Ontario, and (un)learned so much. I will miss these times momentously. While I worry that this challenge and growth may get lost under all the roles and responsibilities without that scheduled Thursday at noon slot in my calendar, I hope to carry these conversations – these unlearnings and unsettlings and rebuildings – and remain ever reflective and engaged in my practice as an educator and across my life.