September 9, 2013

Reflection on Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction (book)

image from
I just finished reading Maria T. Accardi's Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction (Library Juice Press, edited by Emily Drabinski). Aside from it resonating with me because I do try to employ critical library instruction and feminist pedagogy when I can, a lot of what Accardi discusses in the book also relates to what I'm doing with digital badges and also student retention.

First, for some background, Accardi explains that feminist pedagogy resides within critical pedagogy. Feminist pedagogy might carry the misconception of being instruction about women and feminism. Although it can often be related to that and employed in women's studies courses, it can be integrated in any form of curriculum. It typically exposes students to issues hidden in society, particularly injustices based on race, class, ability, sexual orientation, etc., and of course gender. Accardi quotes bell hooks (1994) for a concise description: "Feminist teaching techniques are anti-hierarchical, student-centered, promote community and collaboration, validate experiential knowledge, discourage passivity, and emphasize well being and self-actualization" (hooks in Accardi, p.31). To explain this further, it's to help students develop a critical consciousness and be able to take action on their learning.

So I wanted to look at some of the work I'm doing through this lens after this book made me think more clearly about what I am trying to accomplish.

Digital Badges: one of the issues I'm really struggling with for our badges are in scalability. There is a conflict between reaching many with limited FTE (meaning having automatic assessments that don't require intervention) versus reaching fewer, but retaining the ability to provide meaningful feedback and interact with students. One thing about badges is that typically they are awarded for rigid criteria. In a sense they need to be because a badge means something specific and ascribes value to a particular skill. So, if you have no concrete way of measuring this skill to determine if a badge was "rightfully earned" or not, what does it even mean if anyone or no one can actually obtain it? On the other hand, I believe students need to create their own learning and be proactive (feminist pedagogy), and I don't believe there should necessarily be an authority figure telling them what is right or wrong in absolute terms. Obviously, I know more about information literacy than they do, so I would need to develop content, etc., but as Accardi explains, feminist pedagogy is about being a guide and a facilitator rather than an all-knowing "sage-on-the-stage." A lot of the badges I have created focus on affective outcomes, students developing their own meaning of content, and opportunities for reflection and relating material to students' own lived experience. It's difficult enough to measure this as it is, let alone within the more rigid confines of a badge rubric. Not all badges need to be this way, but when attempting to design a suite of badges for campus, making as many automatic as possible without intervention on a 40k campus with 10 FTE instruction librarians tends to be more desirable. Using an automatic multiple choice quiz to determine skill acquisition is an easy, yet banking-model-esque method to award badges at scale. So something here I am trying to figure out is how to use feminist pedagogy but be simultaneously efficient? I'm working on some ideas for this, but it's certainly a point for discussion. How do you reconcile this in your teaching, particularly when instruction is for high numbers of students?

Student Retention: another area that I focus on. How conflicting that student retention is measured in rigid, big data and explained ROI, but it turns out some of the most effective methods to retain students include providing opportunities for personalization, social involvement, and affective learning outcomes. A lot of the instruction I do, and particularly for student success courses and "at-risk" groups includes promoting greater awareness and comfort in the library, rather than an explicit focus on content. I think student retention work would benefit greatly from feminist pedagogy, as would library instruction in general based on the high anxiety many students feel when using the library (and as Accardi does touch on).
This is my brief rundown of my most current thoughts from reading this book. I thought it was a great introduction to understanding feminist pedagogy and how it can be applied to library instruction. Accardi talked about her experience with the ACRL Immersion Program and also talked about issues with ACRL Standards, which I'd like to address in another post.