A New Guide Focuses on Online Feminist Pedagogy

Written by
Mary Lou Santovec

Mar 1, 2021

Mar 1, 2021 • by Mary Lou Santovec

Necessity is often the mother of a creative invention. When COVID‐19 hit college classrooms in March 2020, faculty, administrators and students scrambled to salvage what would end up being the entire year.

Dr. Clare Daniel and Dr. Jacquelyne Thoni Howard, at the Newcomb Institute of Tulane University LA sought to turn the crisis into something positive. They were later joined by Niya Bond, a Ph.D. student and academic advisor in the college of engineering at the University of Maine.

The trio developed a spur‐of‐the‐moment guide to integrating feminist pedagogy and technology into online, hybrid and traditional undergraduate courses. The guide has since become a resource for faculty across the nation.

An Unexpected Pivot

Many faculty admittedly is more comfortable teaching in the classroom than online. But when institutions made the decision to close in‐person classes because of the pandemic, the race was on to turn lectures and discussions into virtual experiences.

Some faculty quickly adapted Zoom as a teaching platform but that had the potential to continue the traditional sage‐on‐the‐stage approach. The sudden pivot to online teaching risked preserving a top‐down approach and alienating women students and their ways of learning.

Using Adobe Spark, Daniel and Thoni Howard, who, in her job prepares faculty for teaching online, created a guide, “Feminist Pedagogy for Teaching Online.” It was intended as a “one‐stop shop for people in our department to solve one problem,” said Thoni Howard.

Daniel, the administrative assistant professor of women's leadership, teaches in a variety of areas including the department of communication and the gender and sexuality studies program. Earning her Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of New Mexico, her scholarly interest was the politics surrounding adolescent pregnancy during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Thoni Howard, who serves as an administrative assistant professor of technology and women's history, oversees the technology infrastructure and provides technology consultation to institute faculty and staff. Earning her Ph.D. in American history from Fordham University NY, her scholarly interest was family development in 18th century Louisiana.

In addition to her Ph.D. studies, Bond also has a full‐time position as an academic advisor and coordinator of internships in the college of engineering at the University of Maine. She also has “sideline hustles” working with online development and pedagogy to help faculty teach online.

A Collaborative Spirit

Prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Newcomb Institute was the coordinate women's college to Tulane University. Discussing its future following the natural disaster that nearly decimated the Gulf Coast, Newcomb decided to dissolve, and its programs became part of Tulane University.

Under former President Trump's Department of Education, the endowment, which was reserved for educating women undergraduates, was required to change its focus. The school was told it could use the funds only to support a center for gender equity.

As administrative faculty, Daniel and Thoni Howard prepare their faculty peers to teach online. “Feminist Pedagogy for Teaching Online” was intended to be an internal resource solely for their department.

That is until one of the department's post‐doc students decided to share the guide on Twitter, and the tweet caught Bond's attention. Bond reached out to Daniel and Thoni Howard to offer her resources, and the duo brought her on as “co‐curator.”

“It had never occurred to us that people elsewhere might be interested in it,” said Daniel. “That whole guide was created in the spirit of collaboration,” said Thoni Howard.

Casting a Wide Net

The common definition of feminist pedagogy is active, student‐centered learning that values collaboration and personal experiences. Employing feminist pedagogy in the classroom, faculty both acknowledge and value women's lives and their contributions.

The Newcomb guide is developed around feminist pedagogical tenets. These tenets include connecting to the personal and to communities outside of academia; promoting reflexivity; concern with materiality (bodies, labor, not just virtual and discursive); treating students as agentic co‐educators; building equity, trust, mutual respect and support; promoting cooperative learning; and presenting knowledge as constructed.

Other tenets include examining how gender—intersecting with other social categories—structures our lives, learning and knowledge production; access to resources and information; and uncovers the causes of inequality and leverages resources toward undoing power structures. The tenets also address honoring diversity and lived experiences through intersectional approaches, considering alternative histories and narratives, examining the “why” in addition to the “what” and cultivating self‐care and boundaries.

The guide addresses feminist pedagogy in the online environment through “humanizing online teaching and learning as well as creating cultures of care in online classrooms.” It also examines “(dis)embodiment in virtual teaching/learning and uses technology intentionally to build communities and enhance learning.”

“We're trying to be broad as to what we include,” said Thoni Howard. Listings are categorized under feminist pedagogy, online teaching and learning, assignments, Canvas and technology tutorials and guide information. Other links provide tips and skill building for new and established online teachers.

A Twitter Phenomenon

Once it became a Twitter phenomenon, the trio sought to “create a collaborative process and organize the information in a useful way,” making it available to a wider audience. Since its launch last spring, the guide has registered some 10,000 views.

Adobe Spark allows for quick updates and minimal gatekeeping. But unlike a website, it can't measure clicks. Currently, there are some 100 listings in resources and 15 links to tools. The trio is happy to entertain suggestions for additional entries; contact information with links can be found at the bottom of the last page.

There are discussions about creating a book out of the submissions. A proposal is in the works. A published book wouldn't mean the end of the online tool. Ideally, the information could be shared in multiple formats to communicate feminist pedagogy to more people.

If you want to learn more about “Feminist Pedagogy for Teaching Online,” this guide is available here.