Wiki Writing as Cyberfeminist Pedagogical Practice
Presenter: Rebecca S. Richards
School Affiliation: St. Olaf College
Email: Rebecca S. Richards
This wiki page addresses the issue of how to incorporate feminist pedagogies in technologized classrooms (online, hybrid, or face to face [f2f]) while engaging in cyberfeminist critiques and politics of technology usage. In sum, I argue that cyberfeminist pedagogy has been under-theorized, which leads to the displacement of embodied hierarchies from real life (RL) to the digital realm. By engaging in teaching praxes that use technology playfully, ironically, and reflectively, students and instructors can co-create spaces and practices that adhere to the philosophical and political tenets of feminist pedagogy. I find that using wiki writing in the classroom provides one of the most accessible, easy to incorporate cyberfeminist pedagogical platforms.
Feminist Pedagogy Defined
Feminist pedagogy includes a wide variety of teaching practices, meaning that it can look different in each institutional, regional, and content-based context. Looking at one recent anthology (Crabtree, Sapp, and Licona 2009), five major principles often reoccur under the umbrella term of "feminist pedagogy:
- Ethics of care,
- Decentered authority and collectively-constructed practices,
- Acknowledgement of the bodies and previous knowledges in the classroom,
- Community-based or participant-based writing/research, and
- Critique of power, identity, and hierarchy.
While there are many ways of achieving each of the above principles, feminist teachers all strive to make power transparent and connect classroom learning to real-world, embodied issues.
Cyberfeminisms are political, aesthetic, and cultural movements that rely on playful ambiguities, contradictions, and technological interventions to subvert gendered hierarchies and sexist oppression. Cyberfeminisms rely on pluralities, which means that there is no singular definition. Instead, the concept is best understood through the different iterations of cyberfeminisms. For example, the Old Boys Network (OBN) put together 100 Anti-Theses, which playfully bounces around what cyberfeminism is not. Additionally, there are several active cyberfeminist projects at the time of this presentation (2013):
If you look through the above links, you will find a wide range of cyberfeminist praxes from artistic to scholarly, avant-garde to mainstream, activist to reflective, and humorous to serious. While cyberfeminists use different strategies, they rely on ironic, partial, playful, and/or blasphemous use of technology and technologized practices to critique the status quo in terms of gender, sexuality, race, class, ability, and/or other identity markers. The scholarly layer of cyberfeminisms builds upon the work of Donna Haraway (1991), Sadie Plant (1997, 2008), Rosi Braidoitti (1996), Sherry Turkle (1984, 1995, 2011), Chela Sandoval (2000), Lisa Nakamura (2002), Anne Balsamo (1996), Jessie Daniels (2009), and N. Katherine Hayles (2005), though this list is far from exhaustive.
Cyberfeminists are not just creating "apps for that": creating a app for rape victims does not challenge the status quo. Instead, such apps merely allow gendered bodies to navigate the violent and oppressive status quo a bit faster.
Cyberfeminist Pedagogy Outlined
Based on my research and engagement with both cyberfeminisms and feminist pedagogy, I argue that a cyberfeminist pedagogy would:
- Give students and instructors the time and space to playfully consider and construct virtual online identities.
- Continually reflect upon how consciously-constructed virtual identities are aligning with and/or subverting their technology-based interactions.
- Model how to "keep it (virtually) real" (see Nakamura's (2002) idea of how to treat others as real, embodied subjects in digital space).
- Reflect continually and recursively on classroom interactions and practices.
- Encourage playful and ironic use of technology.
- Allow students and instructors to co-create guidelines, expectations, and support for one another.
Examples of Cyberfeminist Wiki Writing
While I have employed a variety of activities and teaching praxes to engage in a cyberfeminist pedagogy (Richards, 2013), the most accessible and easily transferable mechanism for engaging in cyberfeminist pedagogies in a wide range of teaching contexts is wiki writing. I have taught two courses that use a wiki for a major assignment. The classes had very little in common outside of three structural elements:
- Both courses were writing-intensive courses, much like a writing across the curriculum (WAC) model.
- Both courses were held during my institution's "January term" (classes meet every day for two hours for the month of January, and students take only one class).
- Both courses used Wikia to host the class wiki.
One class, Cybercultures, was in the Media Studies program; the other class, Gender and Literature, was in the English Department. Gender and Literature had 40 students and was a team-taught course, while Cybercultures had 20 students and was not team taught. Gender and Literature was constrained by Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) for the English major, which included teaching literary analysis and a wide range of genres; Cybercultures did not have specific ILOs.
However, I used similar versions of an assignment for both of these courses. After reading about collective intelligence, crowdsourcing, and web-based writing, I introduced the wiki assignment. I explained that the major writing assignments would be posted on the wiki for the entire class and public to review. Additionally, I challenged students to think of how they could make the wiki representative of their thinking, discussing, working, and playing over the course of the class. To further encourage students in this endeavor, I explained that they would be allowed to use the wiki resources on their final exam. In both classes, we discussed how the wiki could serve as a final performance of their work during the term, much like a play, a dance, or a conference presentation. Students then brainstormed what they wanted to demonstrate to readers through the wiki. To encourage their play, I gave little how-to advice about the wiki. Instead, I reassured the students that most anything they might do to the wiki could be undone. We discussed strategies for developing digital workarounds, and we also discussed how to use the human resources of the class—e.g., tech savvy students and tech support on campus—to improve the wiki.
Finally, I presented students with a rough outline of a rubric for assessing the wiki project. As the term continued in each course, we revisited the rubrics to add and alter the benchmarks based on what the community valued about the wiki.
In sum, while there are similarities between what the two classes produced, the style, form, and content of their wiki writing differed. The wiki assignment was messy in that it continually evolved for each class. Students' writing and work was recursive, so each wiki changed based on class discussions (f2f, Skype, and IM) about the wiki's evolution. For several examples of wiki writing from the two classes, see the Cyberfeminist Screenshots page.
Both Cybercultures and Gender and Literature students successfully completed the wiki assignment by the final exam deadline. The average grade on the final exam was a B- for both courses, which is the case for my other classes that do not create a wiki for the exam, meaning that the wiki did not function like a "cheat sheet" for students. Both classes needed extensive discussion and reassuring that they actually could transform the wiki in playful, significant ways. In both classes, it was not until I laughingly used the expression "make me pay for it" to encourage their playful and ironic use of the wiki that students really became co-owners of their wiki space. Additionally, neither class seemed terribly interested in playing with their online identities. Even when guided to do so, only a a few students in each class filled out their online profiles. Most student preferred to create a username and move forward.
However, there were significant differences among the courses. In Cybercultures, students were more prolific in their writing and took early ownership of the structure and content of the wiki. For example, Cybercultures students took the 4-page wiki that I created and turned it into a 177-page space. Compare that with the Gender and Literature students, who created only 116 pages. The Cybercultures class also engaged in more confrontational editorial styles, which prompted students to create "Brainstorm Central"—a place where they could write about and deliberate on the changes they would like to see before they enacted them. Finally, students in Cybercultures used a lot of humor and multimedia sources to engage the topics of the class.
Students in the Gender and Literature class were less animated in their contributions to the wiki. While they used some multimedia sources and were sometimes playful in their language use, they tended to write in traditional essay forms. However, they were much better at linking up concepts and pages, and their wiki used much stronger linking patterns. The Gender and Literature class was reticent to change the overall wiki structure, but the deadline of the final exam encouraged them to be more creative and thoughtful during the last 2-3 days of the wiki assignment.
Students reported high levels of writing efficacy for the wiki assignment on course evaluations. Qualitative comments included:
- "The wiki assignment demanded a lot from us, but I lost track of time working on it."
- "I loved the wiki assignment. I felt like it was ours."
- "I've never worked so hard on a writing assignment and had so much fun."
- "Professor Richards really inspired me to push back against grading tools, and it was the first time a teacher encouraged [this] resistance."
Additionally, every student who completed a course evaluation noted that s/he would recommend this course to other students.
My own assessment of the pedagogical efficacy of assignments varied between the two classes. For the Gender and Literature course, I was disappointed by the lack of playful engagement with the wiki, which I attributed to the Intended Learning Outcomess for the course. If I were to teach that course again, I would consider disaggregating the literary analysis assignment from the class wiki. Both classes subverted my sense of organization and wiki writing style, which was the goal of the assignment. However, not all instructors would be comfortable with the messiness of such subversions. I stressed to my students that I was not their wiki handmaid who would clean up their wiki for standardization and organization. This made the wiki difficult to assess, but it helped students learn why and how to structure a wiki for ease of use.
Overall, I find the wiki assignment useful in getting students to write for real audiences and a real context (the final exam). Furthermore, it allows me to adapt my feminist pedagogy to a cyberfeminist pedagogical model, which is more in line with my research and ethos as a teacher-scholar.
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