Multivocal and Decentered Expertise: Audio and Visual Texts in the Online Gender and Women’s Studies Course

by Letizia Guglielmo

Since 2004 I have been teaching online asynchronous courses guided by feminist pedagogy in gender and women’s studies and, broadly, within rhetoric and writing studies. Consistently, from my earliest forays into online distance learning, I have designed these courses within my institution’s learning management system (LMS) du jour and have remained relatively low-tech in my pedagogy, directing students to external resources through links and building content outside of the LMS as PDFs to be easily (ex)portable when systems are suddenly updated or platforms become obsolete. Instead of investing significant time learning additional digital tools to foster student interaction with course content, I have allowed feminist pedagogical values to shape the teaching and learning environment and, in turn, the ways that students engage with the course. In this essay, I explore strategies for deliberately integrating audio and video resources into online undergraduate gender and women’s studies courses to align with these pedagogical goals. Texts like podcasts, documentary films, public lectures via YouTube, and interviews help decenter the dominant voice of the “expert” and offer students multivocal explorations of course content from a range of lived experiences. Profiling one major assignment—a Keywords Project—I also provide strategies for including audio and video resources not merely as supplementary texts in course design, or as secondary to more traditional textbooks or journal articles, but as essential content that contributes to student learning in support of course outcomes. These strategies can be useful in a range of online asynchronous courses and the assignment modified to align with a variety of disciplinary content and expertise.

In her article, “What is Feminist Pedagogy?” Carolyn M. Shrewsbury identifies feminist pedagogy as “a crucial component of a feminist revolution” (1987, 13). According to Shrewsbury,

Feminist pedagogy is engaged teaching/learning—engaged with self in a continuing reflective process; engaged actively with the material being studied; engaged with others in a struggle to get beyond our sexism and racism and classism and homophobia and other destructive hatreds and to work together to enhance our knowledge; engaged with the community, with traditional organizations, and with movements for social change. (6)

In the last three decades, this type of engagement has shaped the way women’s studies teacher-scholars and those outside the discipline have continued to expand and apply in a growing number of contexts the liberatory, decentered, and activist potential of feminist pedagogical strategies and theories (see Crabtree, Sapp, and Licona 2009; Byrne 2000). In these environments, students take more active roles in and responsibility for their own and their peers’ learning, guided by reflective engagement with each other and with course content, and they identify opportunities for applying that learning in meaningful ways outside of classroom settings. With foundations in consciousness-raising groups associated with the women’s liberation movement, feminist pedagogy also may include rhetorical strategies like intervention and interruption that highlight and amplify marginalized voices and perspectives and that increase the range of lived experiences from which students may identify expertise, co-construct knowledge, and make meaning (Reynolds 1998; Rinehart 2002; Ryan 2006; Chick and Hassel 2009; Guglielmo 2012).

In my courses, I aim to decenter not only my own voice as the course instructor but also the potentially dominant voices of authors of assigned books. This decentering works on multiple levels: first, in allowing lived experiences to inform student learning alongside theoretical foundations and scholarly expertise and, second, in disrupting a potentially dominant or singular narrative through a diversity of voices and experiences. Describing the role of film in an introductory women’s and gender studies course, Audrey Lundahl (2016) explains, “Visual media allows us to view other or multiple perspectives—sometimes intimately—and find ways to connect across difference with different subjects.” She continues, “When I show visual media, I feel as if I’m team-teaching with the speakers, subjects, and filmmakers. Together, my team and I can offer new ways of seeing the world and show students how to question dominant thinking.” With similar goals in mind, Erika M. Behrmann (2016), for example, incorporates Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s TED Talks into women’s studies courses to “decenter White, Western feminism” and expand engagement with and complicate students’ understanding of keywords like “transnational” and “gender roles.”

In my own women’s studies courses, both 2000-level introductory courses and a 3000-level gender and pop culture course, I have integrated a variety of media texts with varied purposes, including

  1. full-length films and documentaries that elaborate a major facet of the course: masculinity, for example, through Tough Guise (Jhally 1999) or Tough Guise 2 (Earp 2013) and second wave feminism through She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (Dore 2014).
  2. short videos or video clips within online module overviews and introductions: YouTube videos such as “What Is White Feminism” or Mona Haydar’s video for “Hijabi (Wrap My Hijab)”; Jean Kilbourne’s TED Talk on body image and advertisements (“The Dangerous Ways Ads See Women”); and Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency video on body diversity in video games (“All the Slender Ladies”)
  3. audio and video resources that bring the voices and bodies of the authors we’re reading into the online space in ways that disrupt our sense of how we might expect to engage with a writer and her words in a classroom: recorded interviews with Roxane Gay (“Roxane Gay with Santilla Chingaipe” and “Roxane Gay, Feminism and Difficult Women”); a This American Life episode featuring Lindy West (“Ask Not for Whom the Bell Trolls”); and a reading by multiple contributors to the collection Colonize This! (“AAWWTV: Colonize This! Book Launch”; Hernández and Rehman 2019)
  4. other media texts through which students hear and see lived experience that extends, complicates, or disrupts the theoretical or historical overviews they may encounter in other course texts and that expands conventional definitions of “author” or “expert”: a YouTube video exploring white feminism and intersectionality (“Opinion: ‘Feminism Looks Very Different to Different People’”) and the full-length films Intersexion (Lahood 2012) and Miss Representation (Newsom 2011), as three examples.

In addition to making these voices and perspectives available, validating them as essential to the course means avoiding marking them as extra materials or resources, or as “ancillary tools” (Behrmann 2016), and instead deliberately integrating them in online course modules and major course assignments. I explicitly recognize that they are central to major assignments and the course learning outcomes, and the Keywords Project is one significant way that I have done this.

I originally created the Keywords Project as an alternative to traditional midterm and final exams in the online asynchronous course. Because I wanted students to become fluent in and comfortable with defining and applying major course concepts outside of the course, timed, one-time exams that did not allow for extended reflection did not seem to align with my pedagogical goals. As the description below explains, the Keywords Project facilitates sustained engagement with major course concepts and content, allowing students to work on the assignment over many weeks and to develop and revise their thinking as they encounter a variety of course texts. It facilitates active and sustained engagement with texts because students cannot always easily pull an isolated quotation from a media source in ways that may be possible for some print texts. And, finally, the expectation that students not only define but also apply the keyword in a way that addresses the significance of the concept to the course gives them ample opportunity to draw from the variety of media texts, again reinforcing an expanded and decentered definition of expert and expertise.

In addition to these epistemological course objectives, enacting my feminist pedagogy also involves more material and structural considerations. For example, to signal the centrality of media like YouTube videos, I suggest that educators use the same formatting when listing all course texts on a syllabus, regardless of the medium, author, or creator. Moreover, following universal design standards and best practices for accessibility, I ensure that all multimedia texts include captioning and/or transcripts. Although these transcripts certainly are searchable or scannable for keywords, potentially facilitating less engagement with the media sources, I observe that students more often want to see and hear content within multimedia sources as an alternative to the extensive written text that comes with online asynchronous learning.

Keywords Project Overview

Assignment: For this assignment, you will define, apply, and analyze fifteen keywords (from the list provided) connected to our study of gender and women’s studies over the course of the semester. Each online module will include opportunities for identifying these keywords, and you’ll want to remain actively engaged with this assignment long before the due dates, so you can start making progress from the first day of this course.

Purpose: Your larger purpose for this assignment is to demonstrate both comprehension of and engagement with foundational concepts in gender and women’s studies and also your ability to apply those concepts with examples and developed explanations. You are encouraged to explore connections to other major course assignments when applicable.

Audience: Your primary audience for this assignment includes me (as your instructor) as well as students entering and engaged in ongoing conversations in gender and women’s studies.

Specific Requirements and Evaluation Criteria

Works Cited

Behrmann, Erika M. 2016. “Challenging Singular Narratives: Teaching Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Work in the Classroom.” Films for the Feminist Classroom 6, no. 2 (Spring).

Byrne, Kelli Zaytoun. 2000. “The Roles of Campus-Based Women's Centers.” Feminist Teacher 13, no. 1: 48-60.

Chick, Nancy, and Holly Hassel. 2009. “‘Don't Hate Me Because I'm Virtual’: Feminist Pedagogy in the Online Classroom.” Feminist Teacher 19, no. 3: 195-215.

Crabtree, Robbin D., David Alan Sapp, and Adela C. Licona. 2009. Feminist Pedagogy: Looking Back to Move Forward. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Dore, Mary, dir. 2014. She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry. Brooklyn: Cinema Guild. 92 minutes.

Earp, Jeremy, dir. 2013. Tough Guise 2. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation. 78 and 52 minutes.

Guglielmo, Letizia. 2012. “Classroom Interventions: Feminist Pedagogy and Interruption.” In Who Speaks for Writing: Stewardship in Writing Studies in the 21st Century, edited by Jennifer Rich and Ethna D. Lay, 102-11. New York: Peter Lang.

Hernández, Daisy, and Bushra Rehman, eds. 2019. Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism. New York: Seal Press.

Jhally, Sut, dir. 1999. Tough Guise. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation. 82 and 57 minutes.

Lahood, Grant, dir. 2012. Intersexion. Wellington, New Zealand: Ponsonby Productions. 68 minutes.

Lundahl, Audrey. 2016. “A Little Goes a Long Way: Using Short Films in the Classroom.” Films for the Feminist Classroom 6, no. 2 (Spring).

Newsom, Jennifer Siebel, dir. 2011. Miss Representation. Sausalito, CA: ro*co films. 90 minutes.

Reynolds, Nedra. 1998. "Interrupting Our Way to Agency: Feminist Cultural Studies and Composition." Feminism and Composition Studies: In Other Words, edited by Susan C. Jarratt and Lynn Worsham, 58-73. New York: MLA.

Rinehart, Jane A. 2002. “Collaborative Learning, Subversive Teaching, and Activism.” In Teaching Feminist Activism: Strategies from the Field, edited by Nancy A. Naples and Karen Bojar, 22-35. New York: Routledge.

Ryan, Jennifer D. 2006. “Writing the World: The Role of Advocacy in Implementing a Feminist Pedagogy.” Feminist Teacher 17, no. 1: 15-35.

Shrewsbury, Carolyn M. 1987. “What Is Feminist Pedagogy?” Women's Studies Quarterly 15, no. 3/4 (Fall-Winter): 6-14.

Letizia Guglielmo is professor of English and interdisciplinary studies at Kennesaw State University and a Faculty Success Fellow with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL). Her writing and research explore feminist rhetoric and pedagogy, gender and pop culture, and professional development for students and faculty. Publications include Immigrant Scholars in Rhetoric, Composition, and Communication: Memoirs of a First Generation; Misogyny in American Culture: Causes, Trends, Solutions; Scholarly Publication in a Changing Academic Landscape: Models for Success (with Lynée Lewis Galliet); Contingent Faculty Publishing in Community: Case Studies for Successful Collaborations; and MTV and Teen Pregnancy: Critical Essays on 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom.