by Agatha Beins

Shamethia Webb asks “What would it take for us to teach with tenderness and teach for survival?” in her introduction to “When Class Time Is Screen Time,” the special feature published in Films for the Feminist Classroom in spring 2021. Building on the wisdom of Octavia Butler and Becky Thompson, this question pushes educators to think about the affective and political dimensions of teaching and learning in conjunction with the rise in screen time for many of us over the past decades, albeit much more palpably during the coronavirus pandemic. Interested in its impact on higher education, we invited students explain what they found helpful and discouraging during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic. Their candid and insightful observations highlighted their deep desires to be engaged in their own learning—to know and feel how a course is relevant to their lives and that their participation matters.

These desires create big expectations. And when distance learning tools can both expand and constrain student participation, how are educators to structure their courses and lesson plans? The array of apps and digital platforms can become daunting, both in their variety and also in the time it can take teachers and students to learn how to use them. “Audio-Visual at a Distance in Pedagogy and Practice” thinks through these moments of decision-making with the wisdom of teachers who, like many of us, have taken these pandemic-times to reconsider the strengths and limitations of online spaces and virtual tools. We are delighted that educators have been willing to share their experiences and insights gained, guiding us through the tangle of technology, politics, and affect in a course experience.

Paramount to teaching is access, and contributions to this special feature consider student engagement with course content in complex ways, illustrating how technology—or its absence—can be invitational. Veronica Popp, Jeremy Jimenez, and Letizia Guglielmo, for example, consider the types of sources and resources we offer students as core and peripheral texts: a library guide with many open-access resources (Popp); an instructors’ own personal library and neighborhood landmarks (Jimenez); and YouTube videos (Guglielmo) offer course content that isn’t sequestered behind electronic paywalls or bookstore purchases. They also provide innovative means to fulfill what may be clichĂ© but nonetheless remains central, namely how to meet students where they are, which, during the past year could involve people joining a class from multiple time zones. This isn’t an argument simply to exclude books or other items that cost money, since free resources are also not equally available to all students. Nor are they advocating to avoid texts that may be challenging or abstract. Rather, contributors foreground awareness regarding the conditions that can encourage access to and full participation in all parts of a class.

Questions about howstudents are present in and utilizing the different classroom spaces leads us to other dimensions of accessibility. Several lesson plans draw attention to the materiality of technology to consider the ways in which students bring their social, embodied, and emotional selves when completing activities. Louis Maraj integrates shared viewing experience and real-time chat conversations, Rachel Friedman encourages learners to seek out sensory experiences, and Jamie Palmer-Asemota asks students to creatively—and critically—“complain” about an injustice of their choice. These contributions activate engaged learning by materially and affectively reducing the space between students, course content and skills, and their peers and instructors. In dialogue with other special feature contributions, these educators expand the potential of a holistic approach to pedagogy, recognizing that students are multidimensional selves in a class and that each specific course is imbricated in socio-political webs within a university and beyond (Rudge 2016).

Louis Maraj, Letizia Guglielmo, and Jamie Palmer-Asemota explicitly frame their lesson plans within a feminist pedagogical framework. Through viewing-party pedagogies based on black feminist theories, Maraj synchronously screens and curates chat-conversations with students when viewing episodes of Last Chance U (Whitely 2019). This dialogical structure allows students to partake in a “generative, meaning-making disruption” when examining the metanarratives about race, gender, class, and sexuality in this reality series about a community college football program. Guglielmo’s Keywords Project builds on the “liberatory, decentered, and activist potential” of a feminist ethic to encourage active learning and deeper reflection on course topics. This activity spans the entire course and gives students agency to choose the keywords they write about for their midsemester and final assignments; it also offers a diverse collection of texts as resources, decentering the conventional voices of authority in an academic setting. And inspired by the art-activist collective the Guerrilla Girls, Palmer-Asemota develops a feminist protest art assignment in which students develop a an informed “complaint” to raise awareness about an inequity they select. The virtual “exhibit” of student complaints not only positions them as experts but also allowed them to perceive connections between different complaints in surprising ways. With a strategic student-centered approach, these contributions join others in inviting learners to take an active role in their coursework: assignments with options, recognizing the value of student experiences and knowledge, and focusing on social justice issues relevant to students’ lives.

Several contributors encourage active learning by inviting students to analyze broader discursive and socio-political structures that mold our social identities and sense of place. Rachel Friedman uses a portfolio in which students reflect on their (virtual) experiences with lived spaces of Arabic languages—such as through YouTube cooking videos or recorded outdoor market tours—to deepen their language skills and develop a more personal connection with course content. This activity makes culture palpable in sensory-affective ways and reflects the understanding that language and culture “are inextricably bound up in one another.” Veronica Popp turns toward US history to examine dominant discourses about women’s suffrage activism, which tend to center white women and to mark the movement’s success with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. Her lesson plan foregrounds black, indigenous, and women of color activists based on the film Citizens at Last! (Schiesari 2021) and a Library Guide, both of which focus on suffrage in Texas and link students to a number of primary sources on this topic.

With a critical lens on the presumptions that electronic technology must and should be central to teaching, Jeremy JimĂ©nez explores the pedagogical and ecological impact of our reliance on screens. The environmental resources and labor practices that fuel these technologies rely heavily on exploitation and logics of extractivism—compelling reasons to reconnect with analog modes of teaching and learning. While not advocating technological asceticism, his essay instead suggests technology not be the default interface for teaching and offers a number of practical ideas for thinking away from computers and smartphones, including outdoor walks, booksharing, and creative writing.1

The wealth of specific activities and texts included in “Audio-Visual at a Distance in Pedagogy and Practice,” reminds us that there are many exciting methods for enlivening and enriching teaching. Yet there is complexity and variability in the relationship between materials and ideas, course content and the world beyond the class, individuals and structures, knowledge and emotion—that also must account for our unique institutional locations—so we resist definitive prescriptions for successful or feminist pedagogies. Electronic technologies, while not neutral or wholly open-ended in their affordances, offer tools that we can use toward feminist, intersectional, empowering, transformational, and engaging educational experiences (Lewis 2011; Coffee and Kanai 2020). Cognizant of the benefits and pitfalls of these technologies, the essays and lesson plans here analyze teaching practices in relation to social-justice-oriented pedagogical philosophies and their entanglement with the body we each bring to a class, whether in-person, virtual-synchronous, or virtual-asynchronous. Thus we hope the special feature is generative—creating many pedagogical openings—and inspires your own teaching and learning praxis with resources you can adapt for almost any type of course or area of study.

Works Cited

Coffey, Julia, and Akane Kanai. 2021. “Feminist Fire: Embodiment and Affect in Managing Conflict in Feminist Spaces.” Feminist Media Studies (October).

Lewis, Mel Michelle. 2011. “Body of Knowledge: Black Queer Feminist Pedagogy, Praxis, and Embodied Text.” Journal of Lesbian Studies 15, no. 1 (January): 49-57.

Mueller, Gavin. 2021. Breaking Things at Work: The Luddites Are Right About Why You Hate Your Job. Brooklyn: Verso.

Rudge, Lucilia T. 2016. “Holistic Pedagogy in Public Schools: A Case Study of Three Alternative Schools.” Other Education: The Journal of Educational Alternatives 5, no. 2 (Winter): 169-95.

Schiesari, Nancy, dir. and Nancy Schiesari and Ellen Temple, prod. 2021. Citizens at Last! Austin: ET Films/Mo-Ti Productions. 57 and 87 minutes.

Webb, Shamethia. 2021. “’Zoomed Out’”: Teaching & Learning During a Pandemic.” Films for the Feminist Classroom 10, no. 2.

Whiteley, Greg, dir. 2016. Last Chance U. Season 1. Los Gatos, CA: Netflix.

1 For further reading about being mindful and intentional about the limits of technology, see Mueller (2021).