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On Burnout, On Rest: Pandemic Pedagogy

This entry was originaly posted in "Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab" on April 7, 2021

As a sick and disabled disability justice scholar, I have spent all year asking everyone to slow down. Luckily, many folks I work with understand the importance of what I am asking, even as we still have deadlines and timelines to hit. Others feel the pressure even more intensely: my Black and brown and Asian colleagues, more precarious workers at CUNY, colleagues on a tight tenure clock, scholars unable to find full-time work or any work at all. It feels like there is no time, not enough time.

It’s been a whole year since I last saw any of my colleagues in-person. People have had babies, gotten ill and become disabled, articulated their gender in new ways, graduated and defended dissertations, and moved away. All of this has happened without fanfare or celebration or gathering.

What hasn’t happened: collective mourning, solidarity with sick and disabled people, or ethical leadership in higher education.

2020 was tough on everyone. Even those of us privileged enough to be able to work from home without disrupting our finances too much, we have witnessed a lot of loss. Every day, friends of friends post about the passing of beloved parents, grandparents, disabled pals, frontline and essential workers. My own chronic illnesses have worsened dramatically during a year without medical care, and I have to spend a huge portion of my time resting and recovering, storing up energy for a few synchronous events a week. In between, I am lying down. I have learned the hard way that to ignore the rest my bodymind demands is to betray myself and my work; rest—challenging the voices that berate me for taking a break—is an essential piece of my access-focused pedagogies and methodologies. 

My closest friends and family are almost all fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Most of us are white, financially stable, employed, and hold at least Bachelor’s degrees. The story is not the same for CUNY students. Early figures don’t give a lot of information, but knowing that 85% of CUNY undergraduates are students of color paints a grim picture for their vaccination access. Many CUNY students work service jobs in retail, food service, and healthcare, and some are eligible through their jobs. And many Black and brown CUNY students have rightful hesitations about receiving brand-new medical procedures without a fuller picture of how the Covid vaccines may affect them long-term.

All of this is to say: this year has hardened a lot of us who work to educate and support student success. If before, faculty stringently enforced attendance policies, now we want proof of a positive Covid test to excuse an absence. Pictures of funeral programs, or a death certificate. More medical documentation for new disabilities emerging from post-Covid infection or medical neglect. The lack of care and compassion here is alarming. We absolutely must do better: learn to trust students and each other.

For me, working on my dissertation has been an elusive project. After four years of steady work on my dissertation, I have ground to a halt. My emotional capacity, necessary for my work in autoethnography, is near zero. I fill my time with applications for awards that I will never receive in an academic climate that fetishizes machine-like production that I can never even hope to emulate. I had *7* interviews in 2 weeks for 5th-year fellowships for my graduate program. I submit documentation to account for my slow timeline, while pre-Covid, I burned through doctoral coursework and exams with lightning speed. I am so tired, and I want nothing but a break.

As our patience wears thin, I invite all of us—but especially faculty—to slow down. Our breakneck pace to keep up with an invisible, always-moving goalpost will not protect us from pain, loss, and trauma. It definitely is not protecting our students, who have experienced incalculable devastation: economic crashes resulting in homelessness, food insecurity, mourning for a world they were promised that no longer exists.

From the former captain of Team Doing-Too-Much, I am asking you to please slow down. Rates of psychiatric illness (anxiety, depression, agoraphobia, panic) for higher education students and workers are spiking from previously record-setting highs, and we’re losing community members to suicide. Many folks who contracted Covid are now disabled by post-viral illness, and parents (mostly mothers) are profoundly burdened by lack of safe childcare. In disability justice communities, flexible deadlines, communicating openly about access needs, and extending gracious trust are central practices to building community and solidarity. I invite all of us to learn from the radical disabled people who center care and compassion in every relationship. Try to rest: sit and chat with a loved one without checking emails in the background; try out a video game you’re curious about and just be terrible at it for a while; share a meal over video call with your best friend.  Your bodymind, your spirit, will thank you.

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Open Pedagogy Event (11/11): Ungrading

This entry was originaly posted in "Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab" on November 1, 2021

Ungrading

Thursday, November 11, 2021, 4:00-5:30pm (Zoom)

OpenLab at City Tech is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Register here: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUsdOytpjoiEtdygwZQMPp4fFWIRlHDafcz

Topic: Open Pedagogy: Ungrading
Time: Nov 11, 2021 04:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81135581883?pwd=eUR3cTBudXMvZ0FtZ2d3ZkVXZXNaZz09

*Please RSVP by commenting on this post. Please share this invitation with your colleagues!

As higher education continues to demand rigor and productivity from its workers and students, we’re concerned with the damage of institutional policies that ignore the material realities of many in the CUNY community. The harm of the classroom is compounded by ongoing investment in a “back-to-normal” paradigm without providing any material support to ease the burdens of grief, poverty, illness, and endless demands for productivity. There are no easy answers, especially as individuals working inside institutions over which we have little control. 

Ungrading and its accompanying strategies offer one way to mitigate harm. Ungrading is essentially student-centered and student-led, demanding that we engage critically with the power dynamics of the classroom. By incorporating grading policies that center students’ goals, hold space for critical self-reflection, and value the process of learning over a product, we can practice equity in our evaluation criteria, even if our institutional contexts strip agency and justice at every opportunity.

In this event we will consider the following questions:

Questions

  1. Borrowed from Kathleen Alves: Why do teachers grade? How does it feel to be graded? What do you want grading to do for you? Consider as a student and as an instructor.
  2. Grading rewards performance of knowledge over the process of developing knowledge. What strategies can we use to redirect the focus?
  3. Grades often reward students who have educational, class, racial/ethnic, and language privilege and penalize students without these resources. How do we as faculty challenge our own racist, ableist beliefs about how students *should* behave and perform?

Recommended Readings:

Goldberg, Jesse, Jane Guskin, Vani Kannan, Marianne Madoré, Conor Tomás Reed, and Dhipinder Walia. “A for All (Yes, All!): Transforming Grading during COVID-19.” Medium, 3 May 2020.

Inoue, Asao. “PROBLEMATIZING  GRADING AND THE WHITE HABITUS OF THE WRITING  CLASSROOM.” Labor-Based Grading Contracts: Building Equity and Inclusion in the Compassionate Writing Classroom, 2019.

Kryger, Kathleen and Griffin X. Zimmerman. Neurodivergence and Intersectionality in Labor-Based Grading Contracts. The Journal of Writing Assessment 13.2 2020.

Stommel, Jesse. Ungrading: An FAQ. 6 Feb 2020.

Photo “Abstract Backgrounds” by NichoDesign CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr

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Pedagogy Profile: Jesse Rice-Evans

This entry was originaly posted in "Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab" on November 11, 2019
This post was originally posted in the Pedagogy Profiles series featuring the OpenLab Community Team.

Curious about the OpenLab team behind our 24/7 e-mail support, office hours, and workshops? Right now we’re featuring OpenLab Digital Pedagogy Fellows who do these on-the-ground projects as part of our ongoing Retrospective series. Many thanks to past team members who’ve helped the OpenLab thrive, and to current members who keep everything running smoothly!

What is your role on the OpenLab team?

An art deco-style portrait of a white femme with purple hair and dark lipstick wearing a t-shirt with the text "Femmes Against Fascism" and holding a purple cane
Portrait by Michaela Oteri

Since 2018, I’ve been with the team as a Digital Pedagogy Fellow. I do Pedagogy Profiles, organize and facilitate workshops, and work with the Community Team to devise new programming, features for the site, and other ways to reach out to and support the City Tech community! You can usually tell it’s me writing because I use a lot of exclamation points!

Describe your experience using the OpenLab to support your pedagogy.

Since I don’t teach courses here at City Tech, I don’t get to use the OpenLab for my classroom teaching (fingers crossed that will change in the future!), but I’m responsible for a lot of the workshop and event content we offer during the academic year. This means that I’m constantly flipping through new sites for Pedagogy Profile candidates and examples for workshops, and through back-end work like testing plugins, I get to experiment with brand-new functionality and features.

This means that even though some of our workshop topics may sound familiar to long-time users of the OpenLab, we do try our best to provide updated examples of tools we like, assignment ideas, and best practices for using the OpenLab to teach, learn, and connect.

Can you describe the ways you have integrated the OpenLab into your pedagogical practices here at City Tech or elsewhere?

I’m in my third year working on my Ph.D. in English Composition and Rhetoric at the CUNY Graduate Center, and my pedagogy shows up in my academic and poetic writing. I have actually been able to bring a lot of my silly teaching metaphors and informal pedagogy into workshops that I co-facilitate with other OpenLab Fellows! I make a lot of bad jokes about computers, try to include some interactivity into lecture-heavy workshop agendas, and ask attendees to collaborate and share knowledge, much as I do in my writing classrooms.

Student collage of magazine and printed images that focus on the theme of self and other, including an image of Sansa Stark, a makeup ad, and empowering text from glossy publications

Spending time on the OpenLab as a non-teaching community member means I get to build on other folks’ work in my own teaching on the CUNY Academic Commons: using categories to organize student writing on my course sites, setting up my class schedule with Mammoth .docx, or even getting overexcited and activating a bunch of features that I don’t know how to use well can provide a useful space for my students and me to share our difficulties all underscore my pedagogical values: appreciating failure, embracing human error with humor, and staying flexible.

How have the OpenLab and other open digital pedagogy tools transformed or expanded your pedagogy, and the pedagogical values you’re able to realize in your courses and educational practice? 

I’ve actually written about this a bit over at the Graduate Center Teaching and Learning Center blog Visible Pedagogy and on my personal site where I showcase some of my digital projects.

Meme by @hot.crip of block text on an abstract background, reading "how to accommodate people with disabilities: NO ask them whats wrong with them (oops try again) YASSS ask them how you can make an experience safer for them"
Meme by @hot.crip

As we use more and more digital tools in my classrooms, we are inevitably going to face network errors, broken links, and ugly formatting. Through coping with my chronic illnesses, I’ve learned to feel confident sharing my own needs, including technological ones. Remaining a motivated and curious learner is a huge part of why I love working with students especially, as they have so much to teach.

A student response to the film "Her" in the form of a meme and an accompanying textual explanation

One of my favorite OpenLab things is our Open Pedagogy series where staff and faculty come together over snacks to chat informally about a specific topic in teaching and learning, and I’ve found that the ethos of these spaces is comfortable and generative for me as a learner, and I feel confident sharing even things I’ve found difficult in balancing my positionalities as PhD student, fellow, adjunct, and scholar. Inevitably, other folks can relate to some of what I share, while others provide an alternate framing for the topic that helps me reimagine a way to engage with a challenging experience.

Aside from courses, how does the OpenLab support your pedagogical practices and ambitions? (Note: Think broadly about public education initiatives, course coordination, non-academic student support, clubs, and projects, etc.)

Well, I’ve gotten really good at responding to workshop participants’ in-the-moment needs, which builds on my previous career as a waitress. The informal setting of our twice-per-semester Open Pedagogy events is both enriching and comfortable for my style of learning, and I was able to center one of my primary research interests (accessibility) as our OP theme for this year!

I’m also hoping to use Portfolios to showcase some of my CUNY-specific digital and writing projects, though my own exam deadlines inevitably bump this project down!