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Collaborative learning as an anti-ableist and inclusive teaching practice

This semester I teach two sections of Social Psychology, which is a capstone for Psychology Program. Teaching this course allows me to continue working with both of my research questions. Specifically, I am exploring how collaborative learning can increase accessibility to learning and students’ engagement and experimenting with integrating disability into curriculum and teaching.

I designed this course as an interactive and collaborative space in which students can actively engage in exploration of social psychology from critical perspective. Specifically, the class examines and challenges traditional cognitive-experimental approaches in social psychology from a critical social psychology perspective, including disability that is frequently left out even within critical perspectives. Therefore, I expanded the traditional curriculum of social psychology and disability became integrated in various topics of social psychology (e.g. research methods, self and identity, etc.) as well as it became a topic covered along the other social categories, such as race, gender, and class. So far, students have been always very interested in any topic related to disability and particularly its intersection with other aspects of identity. The students are quite fascinated to explore the parallels between disability, ableism and disableism as well as other types of societal oppressions that constitute self and identity, but have been traditionally explained as a composite of innate and individual characteristics. Being able to assist students in this process of discovering social nature of our subjectivities is extremely exciting and rewarding.

The high stake assignment that I am implementing in this class is a staged paper on ‘Social Self’. In this project students have an opportunity to develop un understanding of self and identity as socially constructed through and by social discourses and other social practices. Students start with a personal experience of a struggle or oppression of their own or somebody close to them. Gradually, they learn to apply discussed theoretical concepts to analyze a described experience and understand the dynamic, fluid, and social nature of our selves and subjectivities. This project consists of several short papers and collaborative class activities that support and prepare students for developing their final papers. Before submitting the papers, students have an opportunity to present their work in the form of presentations. (Oral presentation is a requirement of the course). The whole class provide each student with feedback and further suggestions that the students have chance to incorporate in their final drafts.

(I experimented with this approach to presentations and final papers in the Fall II semester. Having an opportunity to present the work in progress rather than a final product seemed to significantly decrease students’ anxiety around presenting in front of the whole class. This format created a learning space in which students not only presented their work but also practiced their expertise and applied their knowledge to provide further support to their peers in accepting, collegial and collaborative manner.)

In terms of timing, students are submitting their first part of the project after the Spring break, and we will throughout the semester toward the presentations scheduled at the end of the semester. Students will submit their final papers during the week of finals.

I am looking forward to the feedback and support of DfA faculty group throughout this project.

Dusana


2 Comments

  1. Dusana,

    This looks awesome — my favorite part of your assignment is the way the students present works in progress rather than “finished” versions. You noted that it seems to significantly decrease students’ anxiety about presenting, and I think that’s spot on. I wonder how the learning space is fundamentally different in situations where students are required to present “final” products with no expected expansion or discussion or group feel.

    I also, though, always grapple with having students focus on their own experiences of oppression in formal assignments, because I worry about being the white instructor forcing students to grapple with forms of oppression that often deeply impact mental health. This feels to me very different than students bringing their experiences into their assignments and into the classroom of their own volition; the power dynamics involved feel different to me. I like, then, that you allow students to focus on someone other than themself while still keeping the assignment specific!

    I’m interested to see how all this pans out!

    Jay

  2. Thank you Jay!
    Yes, it worked really well last semester and the students were amazing.
    The presentation on work in progress happened out of necessity but I think I will do it that way every time I can.
    Many of the students choose to discuss their own case of oppression and despite knowing they will have to share their findings publicly they were very honest and open. I was really impressed how open the students were and at the same time how supportive the class was. I felt that students’ stories were great addition to our textbook on Critical social psychology.
    I am curious to see how it will work out this semester with my other two classes.
    Thanks,
    Dusana

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