Blog post on “ODP: Towards a Pedagogy of Prefiguration” for the ‘Walking in my Shoes’ project

For 8 of the 9 semesters that I’ve taught, I have taught the 101 course in the Urban Studies Department at Queens College. Entitled ‘Poverty and Affluence’, this class introduces students to the history and various manifestations of inequality (economic, social, political, material, experiential and more) as they intertwine with urban development. Because we live, work and/or learn in (or in close proximity to) New York City, and because NYC is such a well-researched and unequal place, much of the course material and our conversations about inequality focus specifically on the development of NYC. This is both useful and challenging.

The proximity of course material to the everyday lives of my students helps them take it in, connect with it and think critically about it. However, this proximity can be intimidating as well – because the world can seem like a very dark and threatening place when you’re wrapping your head around how inequality has and is taking place in the context of your everyday life. When things are intimidating, we develop coping mechanisms – and students in my class developed a myriad of them: from wanting to learn more or get more involved in social justice and community building activities, to distancing themselves from or denying or struggling to accept course material (and relatedly, our socio-political reality).

The need for coping quickly became apparent, and I attempted to find ways of encouraging students to go down the path of more engagement rather than less. This took many forms: from analytically reflective essay assignments, to field trips and class outings, to modeling the ways I understand and cope and struggle with the course-related realities that define my own life, to sharing information on intellectual and activist events around the city. Most recently, I have been experimenting with using a variety of digital tools in the classroom (i.e WordPress, Googe Drive, StoryMaps, JSTimeline and more). As a whole, these efforts aim(ed) to encourage students to engage course material in and beyond the classroom; to both understand material in the context of the class, but also in the context of their lives, and to (re)imagine their positionality in and disposition to our city/world. My ambition with using a select set of digital tools in the classroom went farther; it was undergirded by a desire to move students beyond engaging and (re)imagining, and into the realm of enacting (or actively experimenting with) alternative ways of being and seeing and knowing and sharing.

I have documented my experimentation with digital technologies in the classroom at length elsewhere, but in short, over the course of three semesters I involved students in a community-based research project, asked them to engage in and lead public online discussions and asked them to create digital public education tools on a topic related to course material. We also started cooperatively making other resources including an urban dictionary and a library of NYC-based social justice organizations. In general, these assignments and activities often called on students to coordinate with and support one another, and otherwise co-learn course material. Moreover, I hosted the majority of course information, readings, some class discussions and the resources we created on a public WordPress site. Thus when taken as a whole, someone could feasibly, ‘take’ our Urban Studies 101 course by going through the readings, assignments and lecture slides and following along with our online class discussion.

This semester I’ve started transitioning away from teaching, and so while I’ve continued experimenting with these tools and aims in the one class I am teaching this semester, I’ve also been trying to unpack (and document, hence this post) my pedagogical praxis so that when I return to teaching in the future I know where I’m starting from.

Continue reading: ODP: Towards a Pedagogy of Prefiguration – ‘Walking in my Shoes’

Posted on: October 10, 2017