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Critical Pedagogy, no matter how we define it, has a central place in the discussion of how learning is changing in the 21st century, because Critical Pedagogy is primarily concerned with an equitable distribution of power. If students live in a culture that digitizes and educates them through a screen, they require an education that empowers them in that sphere, teaches them that language, and offers new opportunities of human connectivity.
—Pete Rorabaugh, “Occupy the Digital: Critical Pedagogy and New Media”, Hybrid Pedagogy

This section of the course aims to provide a more focused and practical view of how critical engagement and community-building may be effected in the context of an online course: how is it possible to bring online participants together as a community organized around the principles of mutual understanding and empathy? What tools and approaches may be used to ensure that course participants develop critical thinking skills by responding to and exploring material through multiple points of view? How may they be taught the constructedness of their values and understanding of themselves and of the world? Through which means would the instructor be able to guide participants to develop awareness of diverse and compounded manifestations of privilege as well as the ways in which they impact individual and collective instances of oppression? And how can an online course translate into and invite forms of community engagement?

The question of epistemology and critical theory are at the heart of this section and its outlined themes: 1) Positionality and Privilege; 2) Building Community, Assuming Voice; and 3) Community-Engaged Praxis.


Positionality and Privilege

An online course should not limit itself to teaching participants prescribed content;  it should also guide them into acquiring awareness of the ways in which privilege shapes attitudes, perceptions, and values. Moreover, it should encourage participants to reflect upon the ways in which their own individual position (social, economic, cultural, ideological) impacts the direction of their learning experience.

Activity #1: Participants write a short narrative on a place that they consider integral to their sense of themselves. In exploring the significance of a place, participants are invited to consider its history (as a site of individual and communal experience, and in terms of its multiple semantic layers, both spatial and temporal).

Activity #2: Participants are organized into small groups to share their writing and to consider the ways in which their narratives reveal the centrality of privilege and positionality, i.e. one’s location in time and space, in giving shape to their own values and perceptions.


Sinha, Shilpi and Shaireen Rasheed, “Introduction to DeconstructingPrivilege in the Classroom: Teaching as a Racialized Pedagogy”,Studies in Philosophy and Education37.3 (2018), pp. 211-214.

Walgenbach, Katharinaand Friedrike Reher, “Reflecting on Privileges:Defensive Strategies of Privileged Individuals in Anti-oppressive Education”, Review of Education, Pedagogy & Cultural Studies, 38.2 (2016), pp. 189-210. 

Building Community, Assuming Voice

To interrogate their own individual value systems and perspectives, as well as critically respond to those of other members of the course, participants need to feel that they belong in a community of learners; this is always challenging, but especially difficult in the case of an online course.

Community-building should happen in the early stages of the course, in order to generate motivation and momentum, as well as in order to enable participants to speak, thus allowing for fruitful exchange of ideas. Community-building should also generate their empathic receptivity to each other’s viewpoints and experiences, thus creating the potential for community organizing and activist initiatives.

Activity #1: Participants share ‘confessional’ narratives and/or artifacts, poems, images, videos, etc. that reflect key aspects of their identity, values, and historical experiences.

Activity #2: Participants are invited to contribute reading materials to the course, thus assuming a more active role as members of the learners community; the instructor organizes them in pairs and asks that they respond to each other’s contributions.

Activity #3: The instructor  fleshes out participant responses to identify certain themes/motifs that provide further opportunities for a more in-depth exchange on the constructed nature of individual perspectives and value systems.

Activity #4: Participants brainstorm on how to channel their new understandings and viewpoints into forms of community engagement.


Maha Bali, “Inner Voice, Criticality, and Empathy”, Hybrid Pedagogy

Robin Wharton, “Bend Until it Breaks: Digital Humanities and Resistance”, Hybrid Pedagogy

Community-Engaged Praxis

Praxis refers to social action informed by critical reflection and thought. It is at the core of critical pedagogy. Critical pedagogy focuses on humanization to empower people to critically examine the world and act to liberate it. The final movement of the course involves the participants in a culminating experience which aims to ‘talk back’ to society and its institutions (socioeconomic, cultural, ideological) by encouraging participants to engage in dialogue with a variety of constituents.

Final Project (Action and Reflection):

Action: Participants undertake a project that aims to translate critical pedagogy into some form of social action.  This could take various forms, for instance an online campaign, a virtual exhibit, a YouTube video, or a public statement.

Reflection: Participants produce a short narrative in which they reflect on the final project, focusing on the insights gained in the process and the implications of their community initiative in the context of their social and cultural experiences.

Potential Resources

A digital humanities course based on the principles of Critical Pedagogy is a course that foregrounds play and possibility. The MLA Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities workbook has a section on play, where the contributor Mark Sample cites the long history of play and pedagogy (starting with the individual works of Dutch cultural historian Johan Huizinga and French sociologist Roger Caillois), and looking at its evolving meaning in digital pedagogy and community-building work.

Course participants can engage with Twine, a free, open-source, and interactive storytelling platform, to raise the consciousness of readers on issues within the academy and off-campus communities. Twine’s visual interface is clean, versatile, and accessible. Participants and community partners can collaboratively create this interactive online experience without knowing how to code. Twine 2.x (the latest version) runs within a web browser, allowing easy access to participants and accessible on mobile devices.

As a form of dissent, academics often use Twitter to extend classroom conversations into wider and relevant audiences. As a classroom activity, participants can study the academic and activist use of Twitter, and within the protocols of the course, participate in direct conversations with each other as well. However, and most importantly, the classroom participants must be introduced to Twitter ethics and risks, particularly around issues that involve direct engagement and social action with marginalized and vulnerable communities.

Additionally, Twitter can also be used to build community with individuals and groups beyond the classroom. Participants can be guided to create Twitter-bots. Twitter-bots have been used in History classrooms to post primary source materials.


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