University of Central Florida Undergraduate Research Journal - Teaching Like a Girl: Student Reflection of the Benefits and Challenges of Feminist Pedagogy
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Teaching "Like a Girl": Student Reflection of
the Benefits and Challenges of Feminist Pedagogy

By: Ashley Torres | Faculty Mentor: Dr. Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés

Online Discussions

Alternatively, there was another method of class polling online that featured one of the best opportunities for student participation. Online, students were separated into numbered groups. In these small groups, discussions were assigned weekly. The discussion topics were based on the readings of the week and allowed for free-flowing conversations. At the very beginning of the course, Dr. Rodríguez Milanés explained that there were specific slots open on the course schedule that class members would fill with the authors we desired to be included in the class lessons. In these online groups, we composed a Top Ten list of favorite authors. Dr. Rodríguez Milanés compiled all the top favorite female authors and an open in-class discussion was held (so that students could express why they chose certain authors) before a final voting session via i>clicker displayed the classroom's decisions. This activity involved i>clicker, face-to-face discussion, and online discussion, and it was highly effective in managing to get the most out of student participation. Re-iterating the main purposes of feminist pedagogy, "participatory learning, social construction of knowledge, and the legitimation of personal experience" (Markowitz 42), all three of these goals are met in this method.

As per online discussion requirements, in a week's time we had to discuss and reply to fellow group members about the week's current readings. Having the convenience of replying via Webcourses@UCF, the university's Learning Management System's (LMS) messaging tool, there was more time to gather my thoughts on how I wanted to express myself. I felt that, within that time, I was usually able to post my individual reply to the topic. The discussions sometimes asked us to choose a favorite poem by an author and deconstruct it and then respond to a classmate's post. The replies to other students' postings required us to add to their thoughts and expand on a dialogue in which ideas were exchanged. If the group members were engaged in the discussions, they usually went very well and I finished the assignment learning even more outside of the classroom.

There were many times, though, that students did not post until the very last minute before the discussion was due and the dialogue fell flat. I feel that this happened more often than not. Personal responsibility is important – students seemed unmotivated to constantly check back on Webcourses@UCF for replies. This method usually required that students check back quite frequently, and if we were all posting at different times, it became difficult to have an ongoing, engaging conversation, especially in the small discussion groups.

We also had a Teaching Assistant (TA) who was extremely helpful in reaching all the students – whether that was about help on a future essay or grading discussions on Webcourses@UCF. The TA was the person who sent out brief responses to our weekly discussion postings. Even though these discussions were meant to provide students with a place to discuss freely, they were still graded for content and the TA's responses to them were not meant to include her thoughts in the discussions themselves. The online discussion postings were thus designed to increase student responsibility and decentralize the class hierarchy, following feminist pedagogy.

Student feedback on online discussion postings varied from the positive – "the discussion postings are a great way to keep the students active in the class and it's always nice to receive a response from either my peers or the TA. All the responses I've gotten have been insightful and have been able to give me a new perspective on a text that I might not have noticed prior" – to the negative: "the discussion postings are kind of hard because not everyone in the group participates so it's hard to get a collective response to the topic. I think it would be easier if we didn't have groups and just discussed the topic with the whole class." For my part, although students seem to prefer face-to-face or online discussions, they were more likely to bring an i>clicker to class than to have read the material necessary for discussion (see Figure 3).

Most students felt that the discussions helped them rather than hurt them. Still, several students preferred feedback from the professor. In relation to this issue, Dr. Rodríguez Milanés says in her forthcoming essay "Ms/ Use of Technology":

Students resist destabilizing classroom hierarchies because they don't understand that a course that values their perspective is more about the development of personal interpretations and encouragement to further explore than it is about reiterating an instructor's views. (deNoyelles, Rodríguez Milanés, and Dunlap 24)

Radical pedagogies such as feminist pedagogy are revolutionary in that they attempt to explore and cross boundaries in our daily lives. In Teaching to Transgress, for example, bell hooks states that "personal testimony, personal experience, is such a fertile ground for the production of liberatory feminist theory because it usually forms the base of our theory making" (70). It may seem unorthodox to students to have their voices and personal responsibilities held in equal value to their instructor's. Yet hearing students' perceptions are not only beneficial to the class/learning environment; students' voices are especially important for the professor to hear and value how her class understands and feels about certain topics. Our voices help shape the way the class is conducted to promote personal responsibility for our learning. Although this method requires a lot of student engagement, online discussions are effective in having students exchange views and experiences that help shape the way they view each other. It also helps guide the way discussion is held in class. The literature classroom (face-to-face or online) is one of the best places to have students learn about each other in a way that is not completely dependent on the instructor's interpretation of the material. It also shows a certain level of understanding and skill once a student is able to analyze, relate, and empathize with others because of the content they learned through reading. In short, it is imperative that students take personal responsibility to engage with each other in all components of the class in order to maintain a participatory and egalitarian environment.

In-Class Discussions >>