The What and the How of Critical Pedagogy

This blog post was a conjoined effort among group members. Table 2 consisted of:  Nicole, Kaisen, Alex, Sofia, Amy, Anurag, and Robert

What does Critical Pedagogy mean to you and your group?

Our table discussed the different approaches to critical pedagogy, and arrived on a series of terms that captured the essence of our articles. Each of these terms related to the significance of empowering students to “take ownership” over their learning process.


Empowerment is essential to critical pedagogy, given that the students are meant to play an engaged role in the learning process. A few of the articles mentioned the limits in top-down teaching, but the goal should be to facilitate student learning rather than merely teaching content. This space for student engagement enables students to personalize the learning experience and to connect the topics or themes in the course to their lived experience. This breaks down the boundaries between inside and outside of the classroom, and fosters student agency in the learning process.


The notion ofcomplexity was essential to the Kinchloe. He argued that complexity was often removed from the classroom, and therefore complexity was to be embraced as a productive tool for learning for each individual.


The classroom cannot be a one-way transfer of knowledge. The transmission model dehumanizes the students, limits creativity, and destroys their self-worth. Instead, we must engage with them as peers, fully capable of contributing to the classroom, and worthy of respect and empowerment.


Acknowledging that people have individual needs and that “one size fits all” is not always effective. Students may have different learning styles, backgrounds, previous schooling/experiences, etc.


Recognizing that the students are more than just receptacles and can’t be treated as such, One must recognize their agency, their need for creativity, their strengths and capacity for problem-solving, and their worth.


Seeing one’s position and others’ positions through multiples lenses, gaining new vantage points, acknowledging how something came to be. Reflexivity is essential to the classroom setting as learning and being cannot be separated from one another (ontology).

cooperative and decentralized

Where the teachers act as facilitators and relinquish their authoritative position to a more engaged and inclusive classroom. By decentralizing learning, the door is opened to learning from each other.

Have you ever think that it is impossible to apply critical pedagogical practices with your learners/students? Watch this video to get inspired:

And how may you apply it to your specific fields and educational settings?

Each of the table members hailed from different disciplines and will be teaching different types of courses. This section outlines the different ways critical pedagogy was or could be applied in each of our specific fields.

Robert: For someone teaching a political science or history course, the ambiguity of core terms can see frustrating, but are actually quite productive for critical pedagogical practice. One example of this productivity was in the international security course I taught last spring. In the first session, I gave students the space to define precisely what “security” meant for them and to explain how it was achieved. The diverse array of answers was particularly eye-opening. Some students explained that security related to the state and the role it plays in the security it provides for them to live a life free from encountering violence. For these students, security was about protection by a threat of violence. Other students explained that they defined security as something related to living in the that their family provided. That feeling of security came from other family members able to fulfill different functions essential to life. These different definitions demonstrated that students have very different interpretations of a foundational term, and it prompted reflections on the limits of dictionary definition of terms as space for a deeper student engagement. 

Pyrros:  In simplest terms, we can apply it by treating the students as humans, rather than automatons ready to receive their  programming. We cut them down, treating them as ignorant and worthless, dependant upon the professor, and force them to accept delivery of our knowledge deliveries. Instead, we recognize their prior skills and strengths, and empower them to solve their own problems. — In my specific field of spatial epidemiology, this would involve switching from lecture dominated classes to problem-based learning. Allowing the students to realize that they can critically solve their own problems. We can offer them tools, and a bit of guidance, but not dictate to them or guide them to specific solutions. It is a daunting prospect though, our existing “transmission system of education” has so much momentum, and most of us were trained in this system, breaking free of it will have to be done piecemeal. Still simply recognizing the students have their own agency and should be encouraged to embrace it, will go a long way.

Nicole: I am a student in the field of Food Science and Technology. I would facilitate a discussion about the scientific method. This could first begin with providing information/ a refreshing about what the scientific method is and its specific steps. Then, in a discussion-based format, I would ask students to reflect on who created this/how it came to be. Why is this the standard? Does the scientific method work for all types of scientific research? What are the requirements for journals students in our field would submit to? Who created these standards? Do they work for all types of research? These questions set up a platform to talk about the construction and deconstruction of knowledge, gatekeepers, and how it is healthy to question the “norm.”

Kaisen: I am a student in Environmental Engineering and would like to teach an Intro class in the future. In the syllabus I wrote couple weeks ago, I have a group project arranged, aiming to let the students apply the knowledge they learn from my class and help them think actively. After our discussion today, I think a good “tailored” approach is instead of assigning one same project to each group, I can let the students determine the topic of their projects. In this way, they are given freedom in learning the topics that they are interested in further by spending time on it and working together. As the instructor, I will have additional office hours for each group to help them on their group projects. I think that is something that I can do to make my class a little bit “customized” by students.

Amy: I am in Engineering Education, and my background is in Mechanical Engineering. I would love to engage students in thinking critically about engineering design. In engineering, we often talk a lot about the design process and incorporate design classes and design projects. However, at least in my own education, I rarely thought about the broader impact of engineering design. I didn’t really think about who was deciding what problems engineers solve and the implications of having a small group of people finding “solutions” to these problems. Therefore, in these engineering design contexts, I want to engage students in thinking critically about which problems are being focused on and the perspective from which these problems are being approached. I just want to end with this short clip:

Anurag: I am in Civil Engineering, and have not had any teaching experience until this point, but that hasn’t stopped me from thinking about the way my classes have been taught and what I would want to change. Engaging students starts on the first day and I completely agree with my reading that we should not assign anything that we are not prepared to do ourselves. Small exercises in the beginning of the class to help students get to know each other will go a long way in getting them engaged in class. It helps humanize us and develop respect for each other as we know something about them.

Sofi: I am a PhD student at the Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise department. For me equity in education is very important. I would try to design the lectures with different types of materials and sections (e.g. power point, video, discussion, reading and writing). These materials would help visual learners, auditory learners, reading/writing-preference learners, and kinesthetic learners. Specifically, in food policy is necessary to understand the different stakeholders and their role. Readings before the class are always very helpful to take the class discussion to the next level. A power point can be used to map the different stakeholders in order to visualize them. Then a video with  the stand position of policy makers regarding an initiative can be showed. Finally, writing a blog, tweet, commentary with the take away point of the class and final conclusion.

Negotiating Limits & Uncertainty Within & Beyond the Classroom

The twin notions of uncertainty and limits of knowledge can be difficult to negotiate in and outside of the classroom. Yet we are constantly doing so, regardless of whether we acknowledge it or not. While each of us deals with these on our own terms, some of the Week 8 authors prompted reflection on the ways I negotiate uncertainty and limits of knowledge. 

I can relate Shankar Vedantam’s humbleness after writing the text on the “hidden brain”. Yet whereas he seems to view this as somewhat of a negative realization – “much less certain about myself,” I relish opportunities that humble my thinking or situations that highlight the limits of my knowledge, because, in effect, these offer the richest opportunities to revisit and confront assumptions, as well as to embrace and manage – not necessarily to overcome – uncertainty.

One of my most recent examples of this in action was as a participant in an architectural history field school this past summer. I was the only member from the social sciences (with little to no technical expertise) on an 11-member team comprised of architects, architectural historians, an urban planner, a structural engineer, and preservationists. We learned about building preservation and restoration, and were tasked with building investigations and analyses in a few structures in central and southern Virginia. I developed a love-hate relationship with all of my colleagues, because I showered them with both “how” and “why” questions. I had them walk me through their processes with respect to specific preservation interventions, structural analysis, or how they thought of the wider contexts of their interventions. It was a kind of ethnographic engagement with their respective practices. Yet I also posed questions that challenged the very premises of their work: “How do you think about the wider implications of your interventions in urban space?” “What is your responsibility to structures and to inhabitants within and around it?” “Do you, as a preservationist or architect, have a part in gentrification?” We had plenty of lively debates and discussions – many of which continue via email today – that challenged each of us (myself included) to carefully consider our agency and role with surrounding environments and fellow inhabitants.

This example brings Phillips’ notion of “informational diversity” – convergence of divergent perspectives to tackle a problem – and Vedantam’s “hidden brain” into sharper focus. My role on the team and the limits of my knowledge was front and center in my engagements with the team. I came from a completely different angle on the work and a completely different way of thinking about structures and urban space (based on experience and through the role of human engagement), and introduced a degree of uncertainty into all of our efforts, but our shared willingness to leverage experience and knowledge proved invaluable. Moreover, this experience helped me to better grasp some of the economic, professional, and political pressures each negotiate in their work, while I like to think – and I believe many would agree – that my questions and contributions in casual discussions over coffee, in the field, or in the classroom recentered the uncertainty of complexity that all-too-often fell to the wayside due to the imperatives of their respective practices. In this way, the limits of our knowledge served as invitations to move beyond our assumptions.

These limits of knowledge correspond to the uncertainty that pervades facilitating what are cast as “uncomfortable” conversations in the Arao and Clemens and Labuski pieces. The “brave spaces” and “universal precaution” approaches set the frameworks and guidelines for discussion, but leave the specificity of the content open to student participation.

The combination of these pieces suggest that the recognition of “informational diversity” or “hidden brains” help us to admit the limits of our knowledge, whereas the “brave spaces” and “universal precautions” enable us to better manage the uncertainties that emerge from these very limits.

Doing Justice to Our Profession

Sarah Deel’s piece resonated with me. I am very much exploring my own voice and classroom management style this semester. I tended to keep the national security and international security courses I taught at arm’s length last year, yet this year my fingerprints are all over the syllabus, course content, assignments, approach to the content, and to the management of the classroom. While this makes me feel more comfortable teaching the Arab-Israeli Dispute course, it also opens me up to productive frustration and disbelief, as was the case with my session last Thursday.

The session last week was hands-down the most depressing experience I have had in front of a classroom. My students lacked the kind of engagement I sought, and mostly seemed apathetic to what I view as a very provocative topic: the Adolf Eichmann Trial. We covered the 1950s up to the 1960s, ending with the Adolf Eichmann Trial in Jerusalem in 1961. For me, this trial represents one of the ultimate provocations for reflecting on notions of justice, injustice, right, wrong, and relationships between individuals and wider systems. (to clarify, the Israelis learned Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi war criminal with a part in genocide, was living in Buenos Aires, so they capture him in 1959, then bring him to Israel to stand trial. His defense was basically, “I was a cog in a machine, I had no choice.”)

From my perspective, anyone with a pulse should have a view on some aspect of this case, whether it relates to justice, injustice, intersections of individuals with wider systems and structures, among others. Yet only about seven of thirty-seven students really felt compelled to contribute. I was in awe. I posed questions, such as “is his defense plausible?” “Did the Israelis have a right to breach international law to retrieve, then try him?” “Is his execution justice?” “How do you define justice or injustice?” “What is an example of injustice to you?”

Obviously, I did not pose all those questions at once, but after a few students chimed in. Yet it was the same handful of students who offered their thoughts. The rest of the class was silent. It is hard for me to fathom being in any room, where someone would not have a view worth sharing on this situation. While I did not break down or berate them, I told them that their task as individuals is to consider issues of justice, injustice, and consider their roles and views on issues, such as this.

I walked out of the class disoriented. I could not believe individuals could be so apathetic or indifferent to something of such import. For me, questions of justice and injustice – both in the immediate moment and the residue from the past – as well as the ways individuals connect to wider systems are the fundamental questions that frame my research and in many ways, inspire me to teach. “How could I fail to inspire students to recognize the importance or even get them to offer any reflections on such an issue?” In a way, this was both about what happened in the classroom and about so much more.

I’ve done a lot of reflection on that session with valuable assistance and input from several people. I’ve pondered those questions: “what went wrong?” and “what could I have done better?”

This leads me to the main reason for the above reflection: the more we as instructors situate our voices and ourselves in the courses we teach, the more those “hiccups”, shortcomings, or failures affect us. Those moments of silence are seared into my memory, but this simple fact also makes them incredible opportunities to retool my approach.

Yet in wrestling with the approach to the next session, I do not want the megachange Papert asserts as a remedy. I need to linger on those shortcomings (not throw everything out (although sometimes that may be necessary)), and continue to explore ways that may provide the meaningful engagement I seek. Occasional shortcomings and failures in the classroom are the natural order of things for instructors – not merely because we may be stretched extremely thin because we take four grad classes and sit in on a fifth – but the failures also represent the most powerful learning experiences. We cannot just discard those shortcomings, we need to dwell on them for a moment to recalibrate (and do so again and again) until we reach the desired results in the classroom. In this way, discovering our “authentic teaching voice” is (perhaps a never-ending) iterative process.

Transcending the Number: Foundational Incentives for Meaningful Engagement

I empathize with Kohn’s argument that grades are not necessary with the potential to distract from the larger questions of learning or deeper engagement. Of course some kind of reporting/assessment is required, but the positions against grades overlook their fundamental utility as springboards to larger questions, tasks, and education. For me, grades are merely a piece in my toolkit to foster reflection and meaningful engagement with questions beyond mere content.

Kohn’s position on the need to ditch grades on the surface seems compelling, but firsthand experience in my courses suggests otherwise. Rather, grades play an important role in shaping my pedagogy, namely less as a disciplinary tool (i.e., to impose a rationalized order), but as a starting point from which students are encouraged to move beyond. Students want – and need – to perform well in school (and this means assessment), but this is not the sole motivation. No, grades are one of the means to the end I seek – student investment in and reflection on wider questions and issues related to the readings, activities, and even assignments.

Grades are merely one incentive in many, but they are not what holds attention. The actual structure and/or content of the assignments, readings, papers, and tests are what sparks and maintains student interest, and thus offer avenues for deeper engagement. Per our discussion at the last session, I planned an “extra credit” film screening for students in my Arab-Israeli Dispute course this evening. I told students they would earn two (2) extra credit points (out of a total 200 points for the course), if they a) show up (and stay for two hours) and b) write a basic one-page response to the film: Jaffa, The Orange’s Clockwork (a critical analysis of the history, symbolism, advertisements, politics, and historiography of the storied Jaffa Orange).

Now, I underscored to them that the primary reason for the screening was student engagement – I emphasized that the bonus points were merely an added incentive, the real benefit they would gain from the screening was the post-screening discussion. Again, I told them they would need to stay for the entire 2 hours (the film is 1.5 hours), meaning we had thirty minutes for discussion. Several of the students expressed interest, but only twelve (out of 40) showed up. Nevertheless, those who did engaged in a lively discussion and reflection on the meaning of the film to their own interests, the course content, and their lives. In those moments I saw the student facade drop to give way to curiosity, self-reflection, teasing out patterns and connecting aspects of the film to their own lived experiences. One of the students said she would “never look at an orange or any fruit in an advertisement in the same way” after the screening. While this may be hyperbole, the main point was moving beyond course content for wider engagement.

OK, the symbolic two extra credit points brought them to the screening (or perhaps curiosity, I will never know and they may not, either (humans are complex)), but that premise was the foundation for a meaningful engagement. This helped me to realize that grades are not an exclusive incentive, but may be wielded as a salient entry point into wider explorations and deeper engagements that correspond to their lived experiences. While I sought to build this in to all of the assignments, I encountered this firsthand this evening.

I think our task, then, is less to teach “imagination” to our students, but rather to reimagine our own role as teachers who do not just wield grades as disciplinary tools (to impose an order on students), but as avenues to facilitate meaningful student engagements (or “imagination” as a reflexive tool), and to grade accordingly based on those engagements. I recognize this entails a bit more work (for instructors), but ask yourself: what was a meaningful class when you were an undergraduate? What kind of assignment would you like to complete? What are the lessons you hope your students take away from your course? While I fully realize using grades as a basic foundational incentive from which to build toward deeper engagements will not work all of the time or would be more successful in disciplines premised on subjective engagement, the use of grades provides a foundational incentive from which to inspire is an important consideration for student empowerment. To do so, we need less of the absolutist banishment of grades, and more reflection on the ways that grades – and other activities or class sessions – provide gateways to meaningful student engagement that goes beyond course content.

Modes of Being in the Classroom: What is meaningful in our classes?

What type of assignments and activities provide for meaningful engagement for students in a social sciences course? By meaningful, I mean the extent to which an activity, discussion, or assignment facilitates personal reflection, prompts thinking about one’s own role with respect to wider systems, developments within those systems, or the others that live within those systems, as well as instances that allow space for each student to make a decision and/or assert a claim related to the topic at hand.

My approach to meaningful engagement finds consonance with those advocated by Langer as well as Thomas and Seely Brown. I strive to use assignments and activities to create fora for students to produce meanings. For example, “what does ‘security’ mean to you?” was one of the first questions I posed to my international security course last spring. Security is best understood as what William Connolly refers to as an “essentially contested concept” insofar as it has a vague meaning, but is best thought of as relational to specific circumstances. Thus, students should be introduced to different analytical frameworks to better grapple with their own decision on which definition best relates to their own perspective. These efforts boil down to one term: participation.

Thomas and Seely Brown (2011) underscore the importance of participation in both shaping mediums, but individual learning. They claim “the more we interact with these informational spaces [participatory mediums], the more the environment changes, and the very act of finding information reshapes not only the context that gives that information meaning but also the meaning itself. (42). [emphasis added]” This idea relates to my current classroom (Arab-Israeli Dispute) in the sense that I seek to create “seams” that afford student opportunities to “read” themselves into the materials. For instance, I had my students read the first chapter in Bruno Latour’s Science in Action (1987) – in which he explores the “opening of the black box” of knowledge production – at the outset of the Arab-Israeli Dispute course. Many were understandably confused how this reading related to the topic. But the space between the reading and the topic (or within the context of the course) was productive in that the students needed to draw connections very much on their own terms. Of course, the idea of the black box provides a powerful tool to engage assumptions about established “facts” or historical narratives (I realize this seems horrible in our current reality of “alternative facts”, but Latour establishes a useful metaphor and framework for thinking about narratives as starting points for investigation into wider arrays of actors, practices, and systems which produce and validate historical narratives). Ultimately, the space between the reading and the focus of the course enabled students to make their own connections through reflection, speculation, and deductive reasoning. In other words, they became the participant drivers for making those connections.

This was very much an exploration (for me), but a bit of a breakthrough – very much in the same vein as Langer’s sideways learning, but with a bit of a distinction. Langer (1997) claims sideways learning encourages students to use objects or knowledge in creative ways (19), whereas my emphasis is less on the creativity, and more oriented toward the objective: individual ownership. Of course, the former somewhat precedes the latter, but I think of them as different. I seek to foster student ownership through a deeper engagement by facilitating fora for them to make connections between different perspectives, as this is the foundation for the Arab-Israeli Dispute course. Each reading or material is framed as a “provocation” to help students grapple with and create dialogue between the different perspectives on such developments as Israeli Independence Day or The Nakba (Palestinian catastrophe of displacement). I like to think this approach empowers decision-making and facilitates a deeper engagement with the learning process.

Yet this is not without challenges. First, the most difficult challenge is finding the right balance between giving too much information and just the right amount to enable the students to make connections. It seems like a very delicate balance. Second, one of my fears is to enable and give space to students with more extreme views in the classroom. My hope is students would intervene in response to such views – this happened in the International Security course I taught last semester. I find myself remaining extremely sensitive to such situations, and responding – in the event a student would not do so – by either asking the student to clarify, posing the question “why” (to challenge the student a bit), or by stating that this is merely “one perspective out of innumerable”. I’m still struggling with my role in such situations, but I hope this will develop over time. In any case, I’ve discovered through my own experiences in the Arab-Israeli Dispute and confirmed through these readings that my goal is to find ways to allow students to make connections between readings, materials, or perspectives. In this way, I firmly believe the students are learning more than about the Arab-Israeli Dispute, or the production of historical narratives, but most importantly, about the the innumerable perspectives that can be challenged or accepted, but always subject to meaningful engagement that remains with them moments, hours, days, or hopefully, years later.

Breaking the Box: Epistemological Thinking for the 21st Century

I’ve thought a lot about how to teach a history class in the past five months. My graduate training is in political science,  so I am used to different readings presenting arguments. While I did not realize at first, this training provided an interesting way to handle the Arab-Israeli Dispute course. It’s lead me to think about breaking what I refer to as the box, the narrow confines of a single narrative for wider epistemological thinking.

To do so I drew upon the widest set of tools possible: reliable friends, past experience, and discussions with students from past semesters. First, I reflected on my own experience learning history – through first-hand experience with ruins or places that were once depicted in history texts and through discussions with those who experienced historical developments or are living with the consequences of those historical developments. I also engaged in discussions on learning and teaching with reliable friends from a variety of backgrounds (we discussed everything from how I should position my own views in the classroom to how to frame readings). I also had discussions with a few past students to learn a bit more about what were the most powerful learning experiences for them and why.  All of this led me to model my course on breaking the box of singular narratives to foster thinking about the wider epistemological frameworks within which those perspectives operate.

It is obviously one thing to walk through the ordered, but narrow alleyways of a returnee camp in Juba and to listen to refugees tell their story, and another thing to read about it in a book. I thought long and hard about how to model this in a classroom. I decided to combine my political science training, visceral learning experiences, and experience learning about the wider historical developments for the course.

I modeled my course on a series of perspectives – or “provocations” – that were meant to spur reflection in the readings. The readings are meant to show divergence and convergence, but the students are always placed in situations within which they must create dialogue between the perspectives. In so doing, they are beginning to see the textures within historical narratives and can see beyond the fold of a simplistic universal explanation of events.

This approach to readings is carried through in our sessions. We have a combination of lecture, individual reflection, and group activities. These group activities and individual reflections confront students with the need to make decisions. In these decisions the students – I hope – wrestle with consequences and implications, and consider alternatives.

This is particularly true in role-playing activities. I’ve posed questions, such as: “what is it like to be a Palestinian farmer with a cousin who was killed in the neighboring village? What are your primary concerns? Would you stay or leave your land if you heard war broke out?” Students work through these questions in groups, and the hope is the discussions from their colleagues provide different views. These questions – like the games in Gee’s piece – relate to the notion of a “situated cognition” in that I seek to situate them within the social, material, and cultural world of those humans who were shaped by and, at the same time, shaped historical developments.

I also agree with Talbert that lectures have their place. I view lectures as useful for providing essential context for readings. I tend to seek to situate the readings and perspectives within wider frameworks of global or historical processes, but these are never one-way discussions, I try to engage the students in questions – I typically include a broader question every two slides – and seek to prompt and foster discussion about those questions.

Lastly, I also seek to promote this line of thinking within the assignments. For instance, one of my favorite assignments is the section paper. My course is distributed into four different sections (theoretical frameworks, chronological order, issue based, and Arab-Israeli Dispute and You), and one of the assignments is for the students to choose which section was most relevant to them. This challenges them to reflect on the topics, their own learning style, and the section that most appealed to them. They then need to argue why this was the most appropriate approach to studying this topic (I provide them with a series of questions meant to help structure the argument).

This approach to the readings, class sessions, activities, and assignments are meant to help students situate knowledge, to think about the wider frameworks within which the perspectives emerge, and my hope is that this relates to thinking about the wider epistemological questions that are often lost in the shuffle in classrooms and our daily lives. Too often all of us fall into the trap of living our lives in an insulated world that does not afford opportunities to reflect on how we know what we know, or why someone would make such claims. In short, if we simply analyze a single reading, then we fall into the trap of viewing a historical development through a soda straw.

It’s imperative that we not only think about these wider frameworks, but that we foster student engagement with them by breaking the box of conventional approaches to learning. While much of this is tentative and exploratory, this does not mean it is not worthwhile. On the contrary, this exploration is absolutely essential to learn more about effective teaching approaches as well as to accommodate different styles of learning. In so doing, we not only create a more inclusive and energetic classroom, but best prepare students to make sense of the massive information networks and structured environments that allows for their own agency in our changing world, as alluded to by Thomas and Brown.

Reflections on Publicness, Learning, and Teaching

Managing publicness of our roles as an instructor is a challenge. While this admittedly varies by discipline, those of us in the social sciences may use our own perspectives and publicness as opportunities to encourage more meaningful and personalized engagement with the materials. My first year of teaching I sought to restrain and tamp down my personality, but let my charisma, curiosity, and knowledge in the topics (national security and international security) shine through. Yet this year is a completely different scenario. I teach the Arab-Israeli Dispute. This topic has deep personal meaning forged from visceral firsthand experiences complemented by an array of connections to research on the politics of architecture, space, and aesthetics. As a result, I’ve refocused a bit to ensure my personality feeds into the charisma, curiosity, excitement, and knowledge of the topic.

I feel by injecting more of my personality and a heavier fingerprint on the syllabus I have created a more engaging, yet more personalized learning environment for the students in which they feel comfortable expressing themselves in their own voice. While this is apparent in the syllabus – I’ve framed the readings as “provocations” or “pieces of a mosaic that they are to assemble”, and this follows through into the classroom (we have brief reflection exercises and group discussions) and assignments (each of which they are tasked with reflecting on materials and their own position with regards to assembling the mosaic).

Yet the most important facet of this course is to connect their own agency to the creation of history. The last section – of four – is titled: “Israel, Palestine, and You”. This section is dedicated to reflecting on the ways more recent history has shaped their perspectives as well as to shore up the idea that they are participants in the writing of history. In other words, the goal is to shatter the notion that history is an abstract topic, but one in which they not only are shaped by, but simultaneously, have the capacity to shape. I will do this by bringing in (or skyping in) an Israeli and a Palestinian toward the end of the semester.

The hope is the students recognize that they are participants in history, and due to this – the hope is – it fuels their curiosity and confidence to think and engage with topics beyond the classroom not necessarily to become advocates for a cause, but as confident and knowledgeable advocates for themselves and their views.

This very much places students at the center of the learning experience similar to the “experiential learning” advocated by the likes of Kuh. This experiential learning is similar to “research”, but I think the research is more oriented toward their own reflections. It’s a two-way process – the more they encounter those different pieces of the mosaic, the more space they are given to reflect on and wrestle with questions and in so doing, they increasingly feel more comfortable with their own perspectives. This experiential learning approach is modeled on a trip or powerful experience in that the more impactful learning occurs afterward when the trip-goer reflects on their experience.

While I like the idea of introducing public writing, the topic of the course could lead to an unwillingness to be as assertive or comfortable with their posts as one may prefer. One of the common threads for all of the students in the course is that many claimed “they wanted to learn more to feel comfortable discussing the Arab-Israeli situation.” I think giving them some space – unimpeded both by their colleagues, and to a degree, me – is necessary for them to wrestle with the personal and wider ethical or theoretical questions.

This does not mean I do not believe in collaborative learning. Quite the opposite, I simply take the stance that collaborative and deeply personal learning share parts in the learning process, but – like different research methods – are more appropriate for difference scenarios and topics at different times.

In a similar vein, I agree that learning and education can be amplified by the reliance on technological instruments, I think the risk is that those devices become distractions in the learning experience. I can relate this to a personal experience.

While I think it is great to have a blog to share research, thoughts, or experiences, I think handing a paper to a colleague for review or having a chat over coffee – much like what Tim Hitchcock claims – are equally effective for developing and sharing research. The fear is that writing a blog entry can serve as a distraction – both in terms of news sites or other looming deadlines. I find that more often than not I do my best work, when I disconnect from the digital architecture within which our lives are embedded. I am not advocating a luddite position, I just think enough self-reflection helped me realize the importance of space, time, and attention in being the best scholar, teacher, and overall person I can be.