Transformative Spaces: Feminist Pedagogy in Academic Conferencing

By: Charity Anderson, Ph.D., Staci Gilpin, Ph.D., Marta Pulley, MS-IDT, and Courtney Plotts, Ph.D.

January 17, 2024

A Case Study in Innovation

In our collective journey as women deeply immersed in the world of online higher education, we have steadfastly embraced the tenets of feminist pedagogy. Our approach is grounded in the ethos of collaboration and communal contribution, underpinned by a strong commitment to authenticity, inclusivity, and the acknowledgment of diverse lived experiences. This dedication to feminist principles recently culminated in a transformative experience at Courtney’s “Culture Think” conference, held in October 2023.

The conference emerged as a beacon of innovation within academic circles. It wasn’t just an event; it was a renaissance of sorts, challenging and reshaping our vision of what academic conferencing could be. Centering on cultural responsiveness and instructional design, the conference boldly stepped away from the hierarchical norms that often overshadow larger conferences. Instead, it fostered an environment where dialogues were not just encouraged but thrived.

Interestingly, our connections prior to the conference were tenuous at best. Courtney and Staci, Courtney and Marta, Staci and Charity – our interactions were limited to the peripheries of professional spaces. This detail underscores a critical critique often leveled at feminist approaches within socially driven communities and learning networks: the inherent challenge of building in-depth relationships without substantial social capital.

However, it was precisely in this environment – one marked by intimacy and safety – that we discovered an ideal setting for fostering meaningful professional interactions. The conference became a haven where those with limited connections could engage, interact, and contribute. It was a place where barriers were dismantled and new bridges were built, enabling access and fostering a sense of belonging among all participants.

As we reflect on this experience, we realize that it wasn’t just about attending another conference. It was about being part of a movement that champions a more equitable and collaborative approach to learning and professional development. It was a reaffirmation of our commitment to principles that not only guide our work but also shape our vision for a more inclusive and responsive future in higher education.

The sessions, conducted in a hotel suite, provided a blend of intellectual stimulation and comfort, complete with food, drinks, and cozy couches. This relaxed setting facilitated a transition from structured scholarly talks to more engaging, interactive formats, like Staci’s session, which evolved into a writer’s workshop and inspired this collaborative blog post. Such experiences underscored the critical roles of empathy and mindfulness in our professional lives, setting the groundwork for deep and impactful learning.

Our reflections on this unique conference, which includes dynamic engagement, collaboration, and empowerment, draw inspiration from Niya Bond’s concept of “feminist facilitation” in “The Future of Faculty Development Is Feminist.” As we present this novel conference framework, echoing the transformative educational ideologies that guide our work, we aim to guide future organizers and participants toward a more inclusive and engaging professional development model. This article delves into our reflections on these experiences, showcasing how the “Culture Think” conference served as a case study in innovation and perfectly encapsulates our envisioned structure for academic conferencing.

Photo: “Collaboration in Action: Participants at Staci’s session engaging in a dynamic writer’s workshop.”

Collaboration and Communal Contribution

The “Culture Think” conference format deviated from traditional academic practices by fostering a culture of collaboration over competition, deeply rooted in feminist pedagogical principles that prioritize inclusive participation (Hesse-Biber, 2011). The “Culture Think” conference format draws inspiration from feminist theorists (hooks 1994; Kamler 2001) and is in harmony with contemporary educational theories that recognize learners as co-creators (Romero-Hall 2021) and critical figures in shared leadership models (Chick & Hassel 2009). Courtney, the conference founder and organizer, made a conscious effort in her planning to reflect the feminist view of knowledge as a communal, cooperative process. The conference structure is intentionally designed to promote collective learning adaptability and meaningful connections as sessions are scheduled but also provides ample downtime and meals together or apart so that we can recharge in our own unique ways.

Participants are more than just attendees; we are integral to co-creating knowledge. This approach built lasting supportive networks and a sense of community. Charity aptly summarized the essence of the conference, stating, “I thought there was no reason not to be a part of this… it was definitely not what I did not want to be a part of—a typical conference.” This sentiment highlighted the uniqueness of our conference, which favored authentic connections over conventional formats, crucial for impactful learning experiences.

Our reimagined format also sheds light on the traditional mechanisms of academic knowledge production. Typically, a standing presenter faces a seated audience, creating a hierarchical dynamic and sometimes leading to acts of humiliation and feelings of inferiority and insecurity in academic conferences (Meriläinen et al., 2021). These traditional means and modes of doing and knowing are isolating, exclusive, and transactional, and this is a more radical and communal approach. Our conference, in contrast, champions a space for intimate relational knowing, challenging traditional conference norms and valuing vulnerability and emotional engagement, thus marking a significant shift from the typical detached, non-emotional academic discourse. This dynamic was notably apparent as attendees were encouraged to freely ask questions and offer comments in real-time, fostering unique emotional connections by sharing personal challenges and successes.

Photo: “Unity in Diversity: Charity, Marta, Staci, & Courtney at the closing dinner, immersed in shared stories and laughter.”

Promotion of Authenticity and Inclusivity

The conference format epitomizes the idea of “free spaces,” as defined by Evans and Boyte (1979), serving as a melting pot for uninhibited idea exchange and innovation beyond traditional cultural norms. The notion of “free spaces” is deeply rooted in feminist pedagogical principles that emphasize the value of diverse thoughts and experiences (Neimand et al., 2021). In these free spaces, participants are encouraged to express themselves spontaneously, fostering an environment where divergent thinking is accepted and celebrated.

This atmosphere of openness at ‘Culture Think’ was vividly captured by Courtney’s observation: “Like artists, their [attendees’] creative moments don’t happen in this very well-structured conference… It kind of happens when having lunch or sitting on the sofa.” Her words paint a picture of an academic conference transformed into a dynamic space, where exchanging ideas resembles casual yet invigorating coffee chats more than formal presentations. The informal interactions that flourished in these settings were instrumental in nurturing authentic connections and fostering innovative thoughts.

The transformative power of authenticity in academic discourse was evident throughout our four days together. Informal discussions and exchanges often happening in the peripheries of structured programs became the breeding grounds for true connection and groundbreaking ideas, showcasing the immense potential of embracing authenticity in academic environments. To illustrate, Staci shared with the group early on that she was in the early stages of planning a non-profit. From that moment forward, Courtney, Charity, and Marta, embraced her planning as if it was their own, often stopping what they were doing (e.g. whether it be enjoying a meal, a quiet walk, or facilitating a session) to share ideas that popped up with her. Needless to say, this would not have happened in a large conference venue.

Recognition of Lived Experiences

Central to the ethos of the conference format was the recognition and validation of personal narratives, a cornerstone of feminist pedagogy (Hesse-Biber, 2007). We cultivated an atmosphere where we felt safe and supported in sharing our stories, ensuring everyone could be authentic. This approach not only fostered a sense of community, belonging, and, ultimately, friendship but also enriched the overall learning experience.

Staci’s reflection on the conference atmosphere highlights this ethos: “It seemed like we were all able to be our full selves and tell our stories. It was safe to do this.” The diverse range of stories shared, from Marta’s insights into Ethiopian traditions to Staci’s anecdotes about her dog’s Instagram page, exemplified the rich, multifaceted nature of our professional dialogues. These stories went beyond mere anecdotes, weaving personal experiences into the fabric of professional learning and development.

By integrating these lived experiences into our conference framework, we acknowledge the varied human stories behind the academic professionals. This approach emphasizes that professional development is not solely about academic knowledge but also about understanding and appreciating the diverse human experiences that inform and shape our perspectives, approaches, and contributions to knowledge.

Photo: “Intimacy in Learning: Marta leading a session in a cozy, close-knit setting, facilitating heartfelt sharing.”

Charting a New Course in Academic Conferencing

In redefining the academic conference format, our ambitions extend far beyond merely introducing a new model. Our goal is to spark a movement, a fundamental shift in the way academic gatherings are perceived and conducted. We envision transforming these events into vibrant, inclusive, and empowering spaces, deeply rooted in the principles of feminist pedagogy. Our conference serves as a tangible example of this vision, demonstrating how the application of these principles can weave a rich tapestry of collaboration, authenticity, and shared experience. This echoes the insights of Eduard Lindeman’s seminal work on adult education from 1926, emphasizing that adult learning flourishes in environments where experiences and knowledge are co-created in a community setting.

Our intention is not to supplant traditional conferences but to provide an enriching alternative. This alternative, steeped in feminist pedagogy and practice, caters to those in higher education who yearn for a professional development experience that is not just informative but transformative. We imagine a future where academic conferences are dynamic experiences, brimming with the energy of shared learning and mutual growth, resonating with Lindeman’s concept of adult education as a collaborative and transformative journey.

As we continue to shape the future of academic conferences, we are mindful of the lessons and values gleaned from this pioneering experience. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that such transformative experiences may not be universally accessible. While some of our institutions provided full or partial funding for attending the conference, we must consider those who lack such financial support. Our challenge is to ensure that this innovative approach to professional development is accessible to all, regardless of their financial circumstances.

We extend an invitation to the academic community to join us in creating spaces that are not only equitable and participatory but also exhilaratingly transformative. These spaces could take various forms – from online versions of conferences like “Culture Think” to small, local gatherings in community spaces. In these environments, every voice is heard, every story is valued, and each participant becomes an integral part of our collective journey towards a more inclusive and diverse world of knowledge and learning. Lindeman’s perspective on adult education serves as a guiding light, reminding us that the journey is as significant as the destination, highlighting the process of learning and growth as much as the outcomes.


Chick, N. & Hassell, H. (2009). Don’t hate me because I’m virtual: Feminist pedagogy in the online classroom. Feminist Teacher: A Journal of the Practices, Theories, and Scholarship of Feminist Teaching, 19(3), 195-215.

Evans, S. M., & Boyte, H. C. (1992). Free spaces: The sources of democratic change in America. University of Chicago Press.

Hesse-Biber, S. N. (Ed.). (2011). Handbook of feminist research: Theory and praxis. SAGE publications.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. Routledge.

Kamler, B. (2001). Relocating the personal: A critical writing pedagogy. SUNY Press.

Lindeman, E. (1926). The meaning of adult education. New Republic, Incorporated.

Meriläinen, S., Salmela, T., & Valtonen, A. (2022). Vulnerable relational knowing that matters. Gender, Work & Organization, 29(1), 79-91.

Neimand, A., Asorey, N., Christiano, A., & Wallace, Z. (2021). Why Intersectional Stories Are Key to Helping the Communities We Serve. Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Romero-Hall, E. (2021). How to embrace feminist pedagogies in your courses. Association for Educational Communication & Technology.

Supporting Online Student Persistence:

Dismantling the Patriarchy One Online Discussion at a Time

By: Staci Gilpin, PhD

The University of North Dakota

The University of Wisconsin-Superior

November 1, 2023

I’m an avid podcast listener, and I cherish those moments when I can relax and enjoy some downtime with my miniature schnauzer, Heiter, who lives up to his name by always being a cheerful presence. As I was recently engrossed in a podcast episode about the subtle presence of patriarchy in our relationships with dogs, it got me thinking about how our interactions with our furry companions can serve as a mirror reflecting our societal norms. It’s fascinating how deeply ingrained the patriarchy is in every aspect of our lives, even in something seemingly innocent as our bond with our dogs. We use terms like “masters” or “owners,” and we expect our dogs to be “good” by obediently following our “commands” without questioning or hesitation. We demand quick learning, flawless compliance, quiet and polite interactions with others, and no barking or biting. All these words and expectations revolve around human needs, putting us at the center of the equation.

Heiter out on a hike – always a big smile”

As an online instructor at two midwestern public institutions, this newfound perspective opened my eyes to how I might unintentionally perpetuate patriarchal norms in my teaching methods. In this piece, I’m excited to share my exploration and experimentation with pedagogical approaches that break free from the conventional patriarchal-influenced mold. While the concepts themselves aren’t entirely new to me, the perspective I’m adopting in this context is a fresh and eye-opening one. I hope that, as you read this, your own perspective on the patriarchy and its presence in various aspects of our lives, including education, will also broaden.

What is the patriarchy?

The concept of patriarchy is a deeply ingrained system that perpetuates gender inequality by favoring masculine attributes and positioning men as the societal default while relegating women, feminine perspectives, and marginalized groups to supporting roles. When we use terms like “female” and “male” or “feminine” and “masculine,” we’re not talking about someone’s gender identity but rather the qualities and traits typically associated with each end of the gender spectrum. For instance, hierarchy, control, and order are often linked to the “male/masculine” side. In contrast, collaboration, flexibility, and relationships are often considered “female/feminine.” 

In an ideal world, a balance between masculine and feminine principles would be valued. In reality, this hierarchical mindset extends across various facets of life, including education. While traditional learning theories may not intentionally center the masculine perspective, they often unintentionally do so, reflecting the experiences of middle-class white males (Flannery & Hayes, 2001), leading to a hierarchical power dynamic where instructors assume superiority, leading to punitive actions for non-conformity. This authoritarian approach undermines empathy and the instructor-student rapport, prioritizing instructors’ preferences over students’ needs and individuality. 

How does the patriarchy appear in online discussions?

Patriarchal norms and attitudes like these are evident in online learning spaces as they constrain the quality of instructor-student and student-student relationships, significantly affecting student persistence and success. This issue is particularly concerning for online learners, who tend to exhibit lower persistence rates, characterized by completing a course with a passing grade, compared to peers in on-site courses (Jaggars & Xu, 2016; Hart, 2012; Xu & Jaggars, 2011). To provide space for interactions in online courses, instructors often use asynchronous text-based discussion boards criticized by students for their isolating and transactional nature, likely contributing, in part, to low student persistence rates. These online discussions often lack the elements of organic conversation, peer learning, and relationship-building that foster a sense of community and support. This absence aligns with patriarchal norms emphasizing individualism and self-centeredness.

How can we [instructors] push back?

 As educators, to bolster student persistence and foster a transformative learning environment, we have opportunities to challenge and deconstruct the entrenched patriarchal norms that persist in our online courses through the design of online discussions. I advocate for implementing small (3-5 students), flexible learning communities, echoing the work of other scholars (Gay, 2018; Gilpin, et al., 2022; Gilpin, et al., 2023; Woodley et al., 2017). Influenced by feminist theory, the design of online discussions also revolves around collective learning, flexibility, and meaningful relationships (hooks, 1994; Kamler, 2001). I view students not as passive recipients but as co-educators (Romero-Hall, 2021) and sharing leadership (Chick & Hassle, 2009). This means shifting away from teacher-centered, patriarchal-influenced, transactional approaches to pedagogy that nurtures a community-oriented, collaborative atmosphere. Online discussions can become more student-centered when they serve as a platform where students can exchange ideas, challenge each other’s perspectives, and collectively construct knowledge. Such an approach aims to create a more inclusive and supportive educational environment, challenging the traditional, patriarchal model. 

Within my courses, I have played around with two such discussion formats – asynchronous and synchronous. Students choose the type of discussion that works best for them. Sometimes small groups go back and forth between doing an asynchronous discussion one week and another week a synchronous discussion; I provide space for students to sort this out, and I rarely have any issues. However, I survey students before the start of the course to learn more about their discussion preferences (e.g., times they are available, the types of discussions they prefer, etc.), and I use that information to create small groups. Below is an example of how I share information with students about the discussions in my courses and how they can choose which type works best for them. In the remainder of this section, I share information about implementing these discussions along with insights from my students

In synchronous formats, I harness the potential of video conferencing, enabling students to engage in real-time discussions aligned with their schedules. This flexibility promotes active participation and inclusivity, while my active involvement, through individual feedback and group summaries, cultivates critical thinking and a sense of belonging. In these synchronous sessions, students take on leadership roles, scheduling meetings, facilitating discussions, sharing experiences, and guiding their peers through course content. For more information, check out this recent publication.

In asynchronous formats, I utilize the Learning Management System (LMS) discussion boards to facilitate interactions through text, audio, and video. Students take on the role of discussion leaders, fostering meaningful discourse by sharing content and posing questions. These leaders kickstart discussions by sharing relevant materials like peer-reviewed articles, Tweets, videos, or blogs, along with their reflections, connections to course materials, and discussion questions. Initially, I required group members to make at least three posts on two days to promote ongoing dialogue. However, I realized this schedule didn’t work for some students with busy schedules, so I now highly recommend posting on two separate days without making it a strict requirement. The discussion leader’s role is crucial in guiding and maintaining discussion focus while acknowledging peers’ contributions. My role involves monitoring and providing timely feedback; I rarely post on the forum. Instead, I may message individual students or make group announcements, all aimed at emphasizing students as knowledge creators. For more details, refer to this article.

These student-led small group online discussions not only empower students but also nurture a sense of shared responsibility and mutual respect within the learning community. Notably, research shows both synchronous and asynchronous small group discussions have been shown to contribute to the development of community and connection (Gilpin, 2022; Gilpin et al., 2023), and both types are equally valued (Gilpin, 2022). One of the participants in the earlier study, referred to as Charity (a pseudonym), summed things up like this: “Both discussion boards and Zoom discussions have their advantages and disadvantages. Discussion boards offer ample time for posting and replying without scheduling meetings. Zoom discussions enable us to share ideas, providing a clearer understanding of course materials and reducing the workload.” I say let students choose the type of discussion (asynchronous or synchronous) that best aligns with their learning preferences and busy lives.

A way forward 

To dismantle the patriarchal stronghold in online education, I argue for a feminist lens as the pivotal driver. By doing so, instructors actively contribute to forging inclusive and empowering learning environments that nurture the persistence of all online students. In the quest for equity, I share, rather than dominate, the responsibility, striving to create a harmonious intersection with my students that paves the way for a more just and inclusive online education landscape. No more “boring discussion boards” is the first step.


Chick, N. & Hassell, H. (2009). Don’t hate me because I’m virtual: Feminist pedagogy in the online classroom. Feminist Teacher: A Journal of the Practices, Theories, and Scholarship of Feminist Teaching, 19(3), 195-215.

Flannery, D., & Hayes, E. (2001). Challenging adult learning: A feminist perspective. In: Sheared, V. & Sissel, P. (Eds.), Making Space: Merging Theory and Practice in Adult Education. Bergen & Garvey.

Gay, G. (2018). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice. Teachers College Press.

Gilpin S., Clinton-Lisell V., Legerski E., Rhodes B. (2022) Designing and Using Online Discussions to Promote Social Justice and Equity. In: Parson L., Ozaki C.C. (Eds) Teaching and Learning for Social Justice and Equity in Higher Education. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Gilpin, Staci Ann, “Fostering Emerging Online Learner Persistence In Teacher Candidates: The Role Of Online Discussions” (2022). Theses and Dissertations. 4261.

Gilpin, S., Rollag Yoon, S., & Miller, J. L. (2023). Building community online: Moving toward humanization through relationship-focused technology use. Online Learning, 27(3), 133-154. DOI: 10.24059/olj.v27i3.3583

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. Routledge.

Hart, C. (2012). Factors associated with student persistence in an online program of study: A review of the literature. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 11(1).

Jaggars, S. S., & Xu, D. (2016). How do online course design features influence student performance?. Computers & Education, 95, 270-284.

Kamler, B. (2001). Relocating the personal: A critical writing pedagogy. SUNY Press.

Romero-Hall, E. (2021). How to embrace feminist pedagogies in your courses. Association for Educational Communication & Technology.

Xu, D., & Jaggars, S. (2011). Online and hybrid course enrollment and performance in Washington State community and technical colleges. Columbia Academic Commons, Columbia University Library.

Woodley, X., Hernandez, C., Parra, J., & Negash, B. (2017). Celebrating difference: Best practices in culturally responsive teaching online. TechTrends, 61(5), 470-478.

You can follow Staci Gilpin on Instagram!

Harnessing Generative AI to Support Feminist Pedagogy

By: Julia Lang

October 3, 2023

As I welcomed my first-year students to class this semester, I posed a simple question: Who had used ChatGPT before? To my surprise, not a single hand went up. It became evident that many students had been discouraged or even barred from using ChatGPT in their previous educational experiences. Only one student in the class even had an account. This observation is not unique to my class; it reflects a broader trend on our campus. Many of my colleagues are either intimidated by Generative AI or actively banning its use in their classrooms.

I believe that resisting this evolving technology is a disservice to our students. As educators preparing students for the future of work, we have a duty to familiarize them with AI tools, which are likely to be a part of their workplace landscape (to facilitate this, I made a ChatGPT prompting guide for career educators).

In my life design classes, I support students in shaping their college experiences and preparing for life after graduation. Aligned with feminist pedagogy, my courses prioritize building community, respecting diverse experiences, and developing an understanding of identity. Instead of traditional lectures, my classroom is a series of mini discussions, with instructors serving as facilitators and co-learners instead of experts. Instead of a traditional competitive academic environment, our classroom has a culture of care, reciprocity, and support: students become “personal board members” to their peers, getting to know their classmates on a deep personal level, thereby equipped to help coach and guide their classmates in their evolving life design.

A core tenet of feminist pedagogy is to use technology to intentionally build communities and enhance learning. In my experience, using AI tools like ChatGPT does just this: these tools can supplement students’ imaginations as they design their futures while simultaneously teaching them how to ethically leverage the technology at their disposal. I say this while acknowledging the numerous concerns and limitations of AI, such as privacy issues, bias, and the potential for misinformation. Still, I believe that Generative AI can be a powerful tool to support feminist pedagogy, which seeks to create inclusive, reflective, and equitable learning spaces.

So, as you might imagine, on that first day of class, I welcomed my students into a different kind of learning environment, an environment built on respect, trust, and radical collaboration where students would continuously learn about and support each other’s life design while being given explicit permission to use the technology at their disposal to explore life’s numerous possibilities (see my AI syllabus statement for more information on AI parameters in my class).

Below are just some of the ways I think educators can leverage AI, particularly ChatGPT, to further the values and goals of feminist pedagogy in our work with students. Links in italics in purple are examples of ChatGPT prompts and responses I generated as examples for this post.

  • Inclusivity: Generative AI can be a significant step toward equity, democratizing learning for all. It provides equitable access to knowledge and personalized coaching that used to only be available to more wealthy and privileged students while also potentially revolutionizing learning for students with disabilities by making information more accessible: it can summarize information, convert text into alternative formats, and be programmed to follow any provided accessibility guidelines. Information is available 24/7, allowing individuals to access information when it’s convenient for them, regardless of their personal circumstances.
  • Critical Thinking: Feminist pedagogy places a strong emphasis on cultivating critical thinking skills, and AI serves as a potent instrument for nurturing this intellectual capability. While ChatGPT responses tend to be articulate and persuasive, they frequently contain inaccuracies. What better method exists for cultivating critical thinking than instructing students to scrutinize the biases and veracity of AI-generated content? Through this process, students acquire the invaluable skill of approaching all forms of technology with a discerning and critical mindset. This ability extends far beyond AI-generated content, empowering them to question the authenticity of information in a broader context, including instances of fake news. ChatGPT can also foster critical thinking by acting as a critic for any inputted work (full article I had it critique here). Students can also debate the platform on any given topic, fostering their own understanding while considering both sides of an argument.

The integration of AI into feminist pedagogy represents an exciting frontier in education, holding promise for enhancing the educational journey of all students and preparing students for the future and the future of work.

As we navigate the evolving landscape of education, I hope more educators will embrace technology as a partner in our commitment to feminist pedagogy, recognizing its capacity to amplify our efforts to create equitable, inclusive, and transformative learning environments.

Addendum: When I was invited to write a post for this blog, I had never overtly identified my work in the domain of feminist pedagogy, and this framework was new to me. I inserted a recent article I wrote making the case for ChatGPT as the ultimate educator’s toolkit and then asked ChatGPT how my article/argument aligned with feminist pedagogy. The response I received helped me see how my teaching philosophy actually is quite aligned with feminist pedagogy, and some of that language became the basis of this post. Once I drafted this article, I again inserted it into ChatGPT and asked how it could be improved/what angles might be missing, and was provided with some key additional points I would not have considered on my own. I encourage all educators to explore how AI can support your own work, starting with Teaching with AI, which includes a prompting guide for educators, while also exploring how custom instructions can better meet your needs as an educator. You are also welcome to view my ChatGPT Prompting Guide for Life Design and Career Educators.

Related Content: See Julia Lang’s annotated assignment titled, “Building an Authentic Introduction (using AI),” for her course, Taylor Your Life at Tulane University.

Time Equity for Mothers through Labor-Based Grading

By: Rachel Blume

August 28, 2023

In 2022, I left Texas and made a ten-day journey to Fairbanks, Alaska for graduate school. When I arrived, I came as a single mother with a three-year-old son and a list of worries I was intent to leave at the door. In fact, I arrived at my Teaching Assistant Orientation with a stroller and a sleeping preschooler. However, as my cohort spent extra hours on lesson plans and getting ahead on work, I found myself uploading documents to Google Classroom while making toddler snacks and filling my office with toys. The learning curve was steep, and I had little room for error as the consequences of missteps felt severe. One mother on the faculty took time to tell me that I needed to find reliable childcare or else the other faculty might “talk” about me. Suddenly, motherhood felt like an insurmountable barrier to my education. In time, I found reliable childcare, a preschool, and began learning pedagogical theories to utilize in the classroom. As a mother facing inequity in academia, labor-based grading is what inspired me as a teacher.

Labor-based grading focuses on the process of learning through the completion of a set, contracted amount of labor agreed upon between the instructor and the student. If the labor agreed upon is completed, then the student passes the assignment and moves on. As a composition instructor, I can attest to writing often being subjective. The flow of language and the way a writer organizes thoughts on a page are more than enough to inspire critics everywhere. Yet, I would argue that this subjectivity does not always fit into the classroom for beginning writers, who exist in various, oftentimes demanding, stages of life.

The beginning composition classroom is not just for freshmen; it’s for beginning writing skills. This allows for teen parents, student athletes, grandparents, future scientists, and current novelists to all be seated beside each other. As instructors, we must remember to meet our students where they are and not where we wish they were.

Labor-based grading makes the grading rubric easier for students; they know what to expect. If they complete the checklist requirements for their assignment, then the student completes the assignment without penalty. If the student did not master a skill, then all that is required is for the student to resubmit a corrected version. This erases the resubmit from their grade and they move on. It is up to the student to decide whether to complete a resubmit or not. This gives the student the power to manage their time and their grade.

As a working mother, often on my own, I understand the impact of labor-based grading for women with children, especially working, single mothers. A 2017 study by Welch’s showed that being a mother was equivalent to having 2.5 full-time jobs. With an average of 14-hour days (98 hours a week), mothers could also be full-time college students, which adds another 9-12 hours, minimum, to their schedules. In my own classroom alone, I had a teenage mother who sheepishly admitted to writing her literacy journal while breastfeeding. The assignment was a few hours late, as she had fallen asleep while nursing. Labor-based grading (which is inherently feminist in nature, since labor-based grading takes traditionally unseen and undervalued labor into account, offering more time to complete an assignment without penalty, so long as the required labor on the assignment is ultimately met) ensured that this student wasn’t penalized for her role as a nursing mother (Inoue, 2019, p. 3).

The difference in potential free time is what makes labor-based grading a maker of equity. Where a traditional student may have hours of alone time each day to work on assignments, the average mother has only 1.7 hours of free time each day. If one traditional student and a non-traditional mother-student are working on the same assignment (let us say this assignment takes an average of three hours to complete) and both students must complete it by the due date, then the mother is already facing a disadvantage. She must be more efficient with her time and create a passing assignment with less time available to her on average. By having a resubmit policy, where an assignment is returned to her for a chance to improve what wasn’t working without penalty to her grade, she gets more time to do the assignment.

In my fall 2022 classroom, I’ve seen the largest gains toward time equity with my students who are mothers. Labor-based grading supports the idea that instructors have a duty to accept the change their students bring to the classroom (Ruecker et al., 2017, p. 147). By accepting that students are multi-faceted (they can be motherscholars, employed full-time, live in poverty, etc.), instructors let the archaic Ivory Tower go, embrace students where they are, and open academia to more diverse voices and experiences. However, while labor-based grading offers more time for students to complete assignments without penalty, it’s worth noting that students MUST complete the labor in their contract. There have been concerns noted about labor-based grading in that students who feel the pressure of jobs, families, and non-academic responsibilities cannot ultimately leave an assignment unfinished and move on. Labor-based grading requires that the student complete the work in their contract for their class; there is no ability to simply move forward from unfinished assignments and still pass the class. So, while students have the advantage of more time to complete tasks overall, the disadvantage is in the requirement of labor completion in order to pass the class.

Ultimately, parents are strapped for time, particularly motherscholars. Labor-based grading is a system benefiting all students in need of more time to complete assignments, and who are still completing the work to satisfaction. In my classes, I see no reason not to implement labor-based grading when I can and dismantle systems of grading that are less inclusive, especially toward mothers.

Online Moms: Distance Education and Women Nontraditional Students

By: Adriana Alba

May 10, 2023

Online education can provide a range of advantages for women, particularly those who face barriers to accessing traditional education due to family responsibilities, financial constraints, or social norms. These programs attract women students because of their flexibility and the possibility of managing existing family commitments while obtaining a degree-level education. Although there is an extensive research literature focused on the demands of working students (for reviews, see Creed et al., 2015; Giancola et al., 2008; Park & Sprung, 2013), there are comparably fewer studies on the challenges women face when pursuing degrees in higher education as nontraditional students (for reviews see Lin, 2016; Osam et al., 2016; Remenick, 2019). Perhaps the most significant factors that lead to student attrition are paid employment and family commitments as reasons for students’ dropouts (Moore & Greenland, 2017; Perry et al., 2018; Stoessel et al., 2015), the latter of which is consistent with studies that show family and community obligations as constraints for women pursuing post-secondary degrees (Ekstrom,1972). 

Online education has the potential to create a safe and supportive environment for women who are looking to further their education, while traditional classroom settings can be intimidating for women. As an example of why traditional classrooms can present challenges for women students, a research study conducted by Rocca (2010) found that female students are more likely than their male counterparts to experience incivility and disrespectful behavior from their instructors and peers. This type of discrimination or harassment can have a negative impact on women’s academic performance and overall well-being. The online setting can offer a solution to this problem by providing a virtual space where women can learn without fear of mistreatment, as well as receiving personalized support and resources to help them succeed. In a 2006 study Price found that online education can provide access to a variety of support services, including online tutors and mentors, that can help women overcome academic challenges and build confidence as independent learners. Other types of resources, such as multimedia learning materials and interactive simulations, can enhance women’s learning experiences and help them achieve their educational goals. Similarly, Sullivan (2002) found that online education can provide opportunities for women to connect with other learners and instructors in a more personalized and supportive way than in traditional classroom settings. For example, online discussion forums and chat rooms can offer a space for women to ask questions, share ideas, and receive feedback that can help them improve their understanding of course material and develop critical thinking skills. In this sense, online education has the potential to help women become confident, independent learners who are better equipped to achieve their educational and career goals.

Institutional Support 

Tait (2000) defines support in the distance learning context as ‘the range of services both for individuals and for students in groups which complement the course materials or learning resources that are uniform for all learners’ (p.289). When considering the functions these support services provide, he identifies three types: cognitive support (i.e. supporting learning), affective support (i.e. ensuring a supportive environment) and systemic support (i.e. effective administrative systems). His ideas for student support emphasize the importance of creating a supportive and engaging learning environment for distance learners by considering: (1) Providing comprehensive orientation and induction that includes clear instructions on how to access and use course materials, as well as introducing students to the academic support services available to them; (2) Offering flexible learning opportunities that allow students to fit their studies around other commitments, this includes offering asynchronous learning materials and allowing students to work at their own pace; (3) Providing personalized support by offering one-on-one support through virtual office hours or tutoring, as well as using data analytics to identify students who may be struggling and offering targeted support; (4) Fostering a sense of community, Tait believes that distance learners need to feel connected to their peers and instructors in order to succeed. In that sense, virtual discussion forums, group projects, and other collaborative activities can help students connect with one another.

Related to the topic of student support, Vincent Tinto (2003) examines two types of support higher education institutions should provide: academic and social. He emphasizes the importance of creating a holistic, supportive environment that is welcoming to all students, regardless of their background or prior academic experience. To do so, he suggests institutions should foster a sense of community among students, providing opportunities for engagement and collaboration, and offering resources to help students succeed. 

In terms of academic support, Tinto mentions services like tutoring, advising, and study skills workshops; while social support can come from peer mentoring, counseling services, and other programs that help students feel connected to their campus community. Regarding the importance of faculty engagement in supporting student success, Tinto points out that creating opportunities for faculty to connect with students can be done through office hours, mentoring programs, or extracurricular activities. 

In sum, when institutions take into account considerations to support women as nontraditional students they can also create resources that benefit the student body as a whole and promote a more inclusive and supportive learning environment (Andrysiak et al., 2022).


Andrysiak, C., Mizock, L., Webber, L., & Kranzberg, M. (2022). “It takes a village:” Reentry women’s perseverance in completing a clinical or counseling psychology doctorate. Journal of Women and Gender in Higher Education, 15(4), 351-374. doi:10.1080/26379112.2022.2134142

Creed, Peter & French, Jessica & Hood, Michelle. (2015). Working while studying at university: The relationship between work benefits and demands and engagement and well-being. Journal of Vocational Behavior. 86. 48-57. 10.1016/j.jvb.2014.11.002. 

Ekstrom, R. B. (1972). The study of dropouts: Empirical findings and theoretical implications. Child Development, 43(1), 51-70.

Giancola, Jennifer & Munz, David & Trares, Shawn. (2009). First Versus Continuing-Generation Adult Students On College Perceptions: Are Differences Actually Because of Demographic Variance?. Adult Education Quarterly – ADULT EDUC QUART. 58. 214-228. 10.1177/0741713608314088. 

Lin, X. (2016). Barriers and Challenges of Female Adult Students Enrolled in Higher Education: A Literature Review. Higher Education Studies, 6, 119-126.

Moore, J. C., & Greenland, A. (2017). Who drops out of college and why? Findings from a national survey of college students. The Journal of Continuing Higher Education, 65(2), 105-117.

Osam, E. K., Bergman, M., & Cumberland, D. M. (2017). An Integrative Literature Review on the Barriers Impacting Adult Learners’ Return to College. Adult Learning, 28(2), 54–60.

Park, Y., & Sprung, J. M. (2013). Work–school conflict and health outcomes: Beneficial resources for working college students. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 18(4), 384–394.

Perry, M. A., Ott, H., & Guptill, S. T. (2018). The effect of employment on student persistence and academic achievement in college. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 20(3), 218-234.

Remenick, L. (2019). Services and support for nontraditional students in higher education: A historical literature review. Journal of Adult and Continuing Education, 25(1), 113–130.

Rocca, K.A. (2010). Student Participation in the College Classroom: An Extended Multidisciplinary Literature Review. Communication Education, 59, 185 – 213.

Stoessel, K., McFarland, M., Lemaire, P., & Stricker, L. J. (2015). Women’s college persistence: The role of social and academic integration. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 16(4), 517-536.

Sullivan, P. (2002). “It’s Easier to Be Yourself When You Are Invisible”: Female College Students Discuss Their Online Classroom Experiences. Innovative Higher Education, 27, 129-144.

Tait, A. (2000). Planning student support for open and distance learning. Open Learning, 15(3), 287 – 99.

Tinto, V. (2003). Establishing conditions for student success, In L. Thomas, M. Cooper, & J. Quinn (Eds.), Improving completion rates among disadvantaged students (1-9). Britain: Cromwell Press Ltd.

About the Author

Adriana is a graduate student, studying Instructional Psychology & Technology, and an instructional designer for Brigham Young University – Idaho.

Allowing for Silence in the Asynchronous Online Classroom

By: Nora McIntyre, Graduate TA
First Year Composition

April 3, 2023

A pedagogy of listening in a first year composition class necessitates allowing for silence. But what does silence look like in a course taught asynchronously and online?

This past semester I taught first year college composition alongside a team of two fellow graduate teaching assistants. Our class was a hybrid online/in person model, which was a new experience for all three of us. Once we figured out the technological platforms, we were excited to use them to foster an online classroom community. 

Our team used Slack as a base of communications with our online and in person students. We formed channels where students could post memes, cute pet pictures, questions, etc. We also had a main channel, and each weekly assignment included participation in this Slack channel. Students were asked to reflect on a particular week’s reading and/or writing assignments, and to respond to their fellow peers. Every few weeks, students were asked to post a “digital postcard” as a check-in. 

Initially, we believed that assigning participation on Slack to all students, in person and online, would give online students an equal opportunity to participate in a classroom community. Our expectation was that students would share in our excitement, and tailor the space to meet their own wants/needs. *Cue crickets*

While at first participation on Slack was high, it quickly dropped, along with the creativity of responses. It became clear that students saw Slack participation as just one more obligation. Assigned participation in an online classroom community was not enriching. Furthermore, it went against the idea of community in and of itself. Can an online forum be considered a classroom community if its formation and use is not in the hands of students? As instructors, we knew we had to listen to what students really wanted/needed out of an online platform. 

This is the first step in adopting a pedagogy of listening into our online classroom. Patrick Sullivan’s It is the Privilege of Wisdom to Listen was a helpful read to conceptualize this idea and then discuss and reflect upon as a team. Discussing amongst the team is also always good practice for listening and reflection. Listening requires being open to feedback. It was clear that assigned Slack participation was not working for students. This was confirmed when we held individual conferences, and students told us that they did not see the value in Slack participation, or found it stressful to open up to their peers in that space. 

Based on student feedback, we shifted our ideas about what an online community could/should look like. We decided to stop requiring/grading Slack participation. This meant that weekly Slack participation no longer factored into the grading of each assignment. All the chats remained up, and some students continued to post, but without the reminders to post, participation gradually decreased from a buzz to low hum. 

This brings me to the idea of silence. Silence is something that we as instructors can be very afraid of. We can misconstrue it as an absence of participation, or an absence of active learning. In fact, active listening, and active silence are important activities, especially in the composition classroom. Patrick Sullivan expands on this idea in one chapter of his book entitled, “It is the Privilege of Wisdom to Listen.” He writes, “‘silence (inhabited by meditation, reflection, contemplation, metacognition, and thoughtfulness) provides one lens through which to see the interlace of literacy; action (response, conversation) provides another lens, but both lenses are pointed at exactly the same object, which continuously turns on itself with no discernible beginning or ending’ (Belanoff 2001, 422)” (Sullivan 40). As Sullivan describes, active listening and active silence are equally as important as response and conversation, and there needs to be space for both in the classroom. In our asynchronous online classroom, this meant allowing for silence in our online forums. 

We came to understand that not only would forced participation stifle a true classroom community, but that silence within that community was not a sign that it had died. Just because our students were not constantly sharing their reflections, that did not mean they were not reflecting at all. Furthermore, when students did post, we knew it came from a genuine desire to share with their peers. Listening and silence therein “help develop a “judicious respect not just for the power of silence and listening but also for the spoken word’”(Sullivan 39). Getting comfortable with silence and allotting space for it in an asynchronous online classroom involves rethinking what is meant by participation, and imagining different ways that participation and reflection can look. Students may be more comfortable sharing in private journal responses in conferences, or in smaller groups of their peers. 

In celebrating silence in our online forums, we hoped to foster a space of reflection, empathy, and understanding. Looking forward to future iterations of this course, we hope to present the online forum as completely student-driven, allowing them to use it in ways that suit their needs. 


Sullivan, P. (2014). “It is the privilege of wisdom to listen.” In A New Writing Classroom: Listening, Motivation, and Habits of Mind (pp. 37–54). University Press of Colorado.

About the Author

Nora is a graduate student and teaching assistant at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing.

Power to the People! Vernaculars are Revolutionary

By: MFC Feeley

March 15, 2023

The day after I first read about “other Englishes” in my pedagogy class, an old friend remarked that I never speak anything but “the Queen’s English.” I was sad to admit he was right. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m an English teacher—I love English! That’s why I love “other Englishes.” Other Englishes arise and flourish when cultures and languages mix (think Hinglish, Spanglish, or Swenglish) and represent language at its liveliest. One has to wonder if Latin “died” because its grammar ceased to change with the times. By encouraging students to focus on Standard English, are we asking them to look backwards rather than forwards?

Despite finding the term “Other Englishes” othering, I wish I’d grown up speaking Gaelic (sometimes called “Irish”) or an “other English” of my own. The story of why I don’t illustrates the oppression and violence inherent in dominant languages. Years ago, a small Irish boy ran up to an English soldier because he wanted to see his horse. The boy greeted the soldier in Gaelic, his native language. Because Gaelic (or Irish) was outlawed, the soldier killed him on the spot. The next day the boy’s family—my family—moved to America (for a fictionalized account, watch James Price read my story

The murderous soldier won. Today, no one in my family speaks a word of Gaelic (or Irish) — we’re not even sure what to call it! 

Many tout proper English as a gateway to institutions of power, but the term dominant language is telling. English did not come to dominate the former British Empire because the conquered hoped to attend elite universities and find high paying jobs. English was forced upon them. That’s why the demand to “speak English!” sounds brutal in street confrontations and not much better in the classroom. In Moving Students Toward Acceptance of “Other” Englishes, Brandie Bohney argues that “‘Other Englishes’ are “Not Wrong, Just Different.” (66) I would go further. “Other Englishes” are a sign that our language is alive and flourishing. They represent the wave of the future and are potentially the most powerful tool in any writer’s skillset. 

Vernacular writing changes the course of history.

When Dante broke with tradition and wrote his Divine Comedy in the vernacular, he reached an audience exponentially larger than any readership his contemporaries could claim. Eschewing classical Latin, Dante drove the first nail into the coffin of history’s most famous dead language. When Cervantes wrote Don Quixote in his Castilian vernacular, he reconfigured the literary landscape and ensured that his marginalized language would be forever revered. When Martin Luther delivered the Catholic Mass in the vernacular, he not only let the masses understand their church services, he created Protestantism and ultimately toppled the Holy Roman Empire. These authors succeed by writing in “other Languages” than the standard ones taught in their day. 

I always advise my students to write for a specific audience, and frequently ask them to think about whom they’d like to address once they leave college and write beyond the ivory tower. While Standard English suits many audiences, vernacular writing reaches—and empowers—populations that Standard English excludes. This is why more than one pundit attributed President Barack Obama’s political success to his facility with multiple vernaculars. Similarly, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez galvanized voters when she “spoke their language.” On a different note, and although I am no fan of the last president, I can’t help noticing that when people lampooned his grammar, many of the criticisms leveled at his speech echoed derisions classically aimed at “other Englishes.” He can’t even speak! He’s butchering the language! One might argue that, while Trump sought to disenfranchise Americans who speak languages outside his own, he came to power by wielding the vernacular of his disaffected admirers.

Throughout history, employing the language of previously ignored audiences has upset the status quo, altered the political landscape, incited revolution, and spurred literary progress. Students who can write in a vibrant vernacular should be ecstatic. Far from needing defense, we must teach our students that non-traditional dialects rank among the most powerful tools writers have.

Students who write blog posts, reviews, or actively engage with websites in their English connect the lessons of the classroom to the world at large.

Works Cited

Bohney, Brandie. Moving Students Toward Acceptance of “Other” Englishes.The English Journal. July, 2016

Feeley, MFC. The Last Real Thing. read by James Price. YouTube. (2018, April 18). McWhorter, J. (2019, April 9). AOC isn’t using ’verbal blackface’—she’s code-switching. Atlantic Monthly (Boston, Mass.: 1993).

Moyer, J. W. (2021, October 25). Trump’s grammar in speeches ‘just below 6th grade level,’ study finds. The Washington Post.

Trump: We speak English here, not Spanish – youtube. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2022, from

Vargas, Y. (2016, November 4). Talk D.C. to me: Presidential code-switching. USC Center on Public Diplomacy. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from

About the Author

MFC Feeley wrote a series of ten stories inspired by the Bill of Rights for Ghost Parachute and has published in Best Micro-Fictions, SmokeLong, Jellyfish Review, Pulp Literature, and others.Her one-minute memoir was featured on Brevity Blog. Feeley was a Fellow at the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. She has been nominated for Best Small Fictions, The Pushcart Prize, was an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Quarterfinalist, and has judged for Scholastic. She is currently pursuing an MFA in fiction at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. More at MFC Feeley/Facebook.

Feminist Pedagogy after Roe

By: Clare Daniel and Karissa Haugeberg

May 10, 2022

The recently leaked SCOTUS draft decision on Dobbs v. Jackson has generated turmoil in the lives of many feminist educators and their students. Although the final decision will not be released until this summer, experts agree that it is unlikely to change much from the leaked draft. Long-time activists, advocates, and scholars of reproductive rights, health, and justice are preparing for the impending social, political, and health crisis that will ensue.

As practitioners of feminist pedagogy, we must ask ourselves what this means for our classrooms, both onground and online. Given women aged 20-24 received 27.6% of abortions performed in 2019 and that woman-identified students made up 59.5% of college students in the 2020-2021 school year, the loss of abortion as a constitutional right will surely affect our students. Trans and gender-nonconforming students capable of gestating, already stigmatized and marginalized in many healthcare settings, will also be affected by this change. All students and instructors who are capable of gestating and those who love them will encounter new challenges. These difficulties will be experienced differently by those who use prescription birth control and those who require or desire abortion services while studying or working in states like Louisiana, where we teach. In other words, the criminalization of abortion–and possibly birth control, too–will exacerbate gender-, race-, and class-based inequalities.

Without the federal protections offered by Roe, Americans’ access to abortion care will vary by state. Students, faculty, and university personnel who live in states that criminalize abortion will be forced to travel long distances, draw upon vacation or employers’ goodwill to miss class and work, and spend large sums of money in order to obtain safe, legal abortions. Others might turn to the illegal, unregulated marketplace to end their pregnancies. 

When abortion was a crime, those who turned to the unregulated marketplace encountered a range of providers. Some found brave physicians, nurses, and midwives who risked prosecution for providing safe, yet illegal abortions. Others lost their lives to charlatans. Unlike in the past, states now appear to be more willing to prosecute those who seek abortions in addition to those who perform them. For instance, despite the overall safety of self-managed medication abortion early in pregnancy, legislators in Louisiana and other states are seeking to make it a crime. The risks, hardships, and stigma of criminal abortion laws will not be experienced equally: those capable of carrying a pregnancy, those who cannot afford to travel, and those who do not have the social connections to navigate the new abortion landscape will suffer the most.

States that severely restrict or criminalize abortion altogether will likely see higher rates of poverty, maternal and infant mortality, and other negative outcomes that will affect our ability to teach and students’ ability to learn.

The editors of Feminist Pedagogy for Teaching Online have initiated a new section of the guide devoted to social justice issues. They will collect resources useful for implementing feminist pedagogy to teach about abortion as part of a larger subsection on reproductive justice. The social justice guide will also include resources for teaching racial justice, environmental justice, and other social justice topics.

Keep your eye out for this new section and please help make it robust by contributing any resources you are aware of via

For now, though, here are a few items to get started thinking about feminist pedagogy and abortion:

About the Authors: 

Clare Daniel is an American Studies scholar and an administrative associate professor at Tulane University’s Newcomb Institute, where she conducts research, teaches, and creates student programming related to reproductive rights, health, and justice. Her book, Mediating Morality: The Politics of Teen Pregnancy in the Post-Welfare Era (University of Massachusetts, 2017) examines political and popular discourses about adolescent pregnancy at the turn of the twenty-first century. She is a founding co-editor of Feminist Pedagogy for Teaching Online. You can find her on Twitter at @ClareMDaniel.

Karissa Haugeberg is an associate professor of history at Tulane University, where she teaches courses on US women’s history, legal history, and the history of medicine. Her first book, Women against Abortion: Inside the Largest Moral Reform Movement of the Twentieth Century (University of Illinois Press, 2017), examined women’s participation in antiabortion activism since the 1960s. Haugeberg co-edits the textbook Women’s America: Refocusing the Past (Oxford University Press) and is completing a book on the history of nursing in the United States since 1964. You can find her on Twitter at @shesareader1.

Invitational rhetoric is powerful, but it needs a collective!

By: Aspen Grove Collective: Liz Bolton, Audrey Coble, Delcenia Cosman, Tara Knight, Diana Saverin, and Sarah Stanley

April 15, 2022

In the fall semester of 2021, four first-year graduate students, and one adjunct instructor and academic advisor, were connected to team-teach an asynchronous, first-year composition course. Our approach to team teaching used invitational rhetoric as a strategy to help students feel more comfortable sharing their ideas and writing since it deemphasizes argument and emphasizes the sharing of multiple perspectives (Kirtley, 2014, p. 340). Invitational rhetoric, at its core, is a style of writing largely rooted in feminism that encourages experimentation (even fun!), reader-audience connection, and empathy over values of “traditional” (and often patriarchal) academic writing like authority, persuasion, and argumentation.

We embraced invitational rhetoric as a style of writing, but we also expanded it to inform our entire pedagogical approach—with the explicit goals of fostering a sense of community, belonging, and safety among our first-year students. We tried to make these values clear at the start of our course by discussing them openly and encouraging our students to practice these values in their engagements with one another, as well.

We chose Slack to incorporate invitational rhetoric into our large, online class; students were invited to post weekly memes and digital postcards through designated Slack channels. Slack was also used as a private, instructor-only space to hash out ways of respoanding to student concerns.

A few weeks into the semester, an instructor noticed that a student had posted several memes about suicide, suggesting the student was struggling. The below example was taken from the private Slack channel the instructors used to discuss the situation. We include timestamps and profile pictures alongside the discussion to highlight responsiveness; students’ names have been changed, and we have IRB permission to use the private Slack channel for scholarship. 

Liz  10:13 AM

Morning all! Is anyone seeing the memes that Christina has been posting? I think there were 7 this morning, all relating to depression, not wanting to get out of bed, and one even talking about “the one non-suicidal brain cell trying to keep you alive…” I am happy to reach out, unless one of you knows them from your small Aspen group and wants to do it/knows they’re joking?? I haven’t engaged with this person so it’s hard for me to tell what’s happening. Kevin reached out to say, “I get it, things will get easier, not every day is like this,” which I thought was awesome. Just thinking one of us should step in too.

Sarah  10:14 AM

yes private message her Liz


I think ..hey saw your memes…you ok? can I connect you to some resources


Tara  10:15 AM

Hey Liz!


Christina is in my aspen channel, and I’ve DM’d her before.


I can reach out. Thanks for letting me know!


Diana  10:16 AM

Thanks, all. Appreciate you spotting that, Liz!

Tara  10:16 AM

@Liz Does that work or have you already reached out

Liz  10:34 AM

“Hi Christina! I saw your memes this morning and just wanted to check in… you doing okay? Beginning of the school year can be tough. If you’re struggling, I can connect you with resources at UAF, people to talk you through big feelings you may be having. Please reach out to me or to Tara, who runs your small Aspen group, if you’re wanting some help or support. We’re very happy to have you in class and want to make sure you’re alright. :heart:


Tara  10:35 AM

Looks great, Liz.


Audrey  10:41 AM

I suspect this is niche humor, but still support reaching out! If Christina confirms she’s okay, this could also raise a question about writing for contexts/audiences. Students growing up posting/writing to algorithms that show you only to other people who have similar identities/experiences to you may lead to an assumption that your writing is always for an audience that understands your context


Liz  10:45 AM

ONE HUNDRED PERCENT! She’s a high school student, so it’s actually kind of important information for her before she heads out into the wider world.


Liz  11:06 AM

Here’s the response I got from Christina: Oh wow! Thank you for checking in on me and I am sorry for causing a fuss! I am just having a little trouble with grades and I decided to send my meme arsenal. Thank you for caring though!


Supporting each other through tiered networks of care

Because the asynchronous delivery method of the course made it difficult to know whether students had a “niche sense of humor” or whether they were really struggling, the emotional labor required to keep tabs on students was sometimes taxing. Like many instructors who taught through the pandemic, we found that our students were often grappling with a host of even more difficult circumstances than usual, including illness, loss, and enormous life changes. We, as a group of (mostly) new instructors who were also dealing with pandemic circumstances, sometimes had difficulty determining how best to show up and care for our students.

However, having a team of other teachers created tiered networks of care, allowing instructors to support and care for each other, granting us additional capacity to care for our students. Additional support helped us be more intentional about our follow-up with students, as we held each other accountable and shared the labor of outreach. Invitational rhetoric also supported the community emerging in the course, which can be seen in the way another student in the course, Kevin, responded to Christina’s memes. Overall, students seemed to embrace the tenets of invitational rhetoric throughout the semester by helping us build a safe, inclusive, and caring online writing community. 

Based on the success of this course, we find invitational rhetoric to be an effective method for building community and care into first-year writing courses, and team-teaching helps make the invisible labor that it requires manageable.


Kirtley, S. (2014). Considering the alternative in composition pedagogy: Teaching invitational rhetoric with Lynda Barry’s What It Is. Women’s Studies in Communication, 37(3), 339-359.

About the Authors

Liz Bolton, Delcenia Cosman, and Diana Saverin are all first year MFA graduate students in Creative Writing. Each was supported by a teaching assistantship their first year in the program and willing to learn through team teaching as peer mentors.

Audrey Coble is a first year MFA graduate student in Creative Writing who also works full-time for the University of Alaska. Audrey enrolled in the graduate seminar and was willing to learn through team teaching as a peer mentor.

Tara Knight is an academic advisor and adjunct instructor of writing, who co-taught with the graduate instructors during the first semester of their teaching assistantship and served as a mentor and resource to one teaching team.

Sarah Stanley is an Associate Professor of English who taught the graduate teaching seminar. This class provided weekly curricular scaffolds for teaching teams to apply in their own classrooms.

Considering the Consequences of Continuing on as Normal

By: Anthony Lince

April 1, 2022

As students reviewed the prompt for their second essay of the semester, I started to get nervous. I could sense, almost tangibly, an overwhelming feeling of burnout from everyone. In my first-year writing courses, some version of this happens right around the fourth paper of the semester. To try and ameliorate those issues, I typically end up cutting one small assignment—like a reading response or short writing task—which usually helps students push through. 

But, of course, in the fall of 2021, things were anything but usual. We were enduring a second year of the COVID-19 pandemic (with no clear end in sight). Many students had dealt with—and, to this day, continue to deal with—loss, trauma, anxiety, and depression (again, with no clear end in sight). This wasn’t a typical semester at all. With the heavy weight of all that students had endured, it was no wonder that they felt the way they did. 

And yet, foolish as it might sound, I tried to move those thoughts away. “This will probably clear up the next class session. We just need to keep on pushing through,” I thought to myself. This essay assignment is important. 

Next class session. Things weren’t better; in fact, they were much worse. That feeling I had gotten only two days before now seemed to permeate through everyone more intensely. 

At this point, I was faced with a difficult decision: should I continue with this major essay or cancel it? As an educator, I’ve always tried to adhere to the feminist pedagogical tenet of building equity, trust, mutual respect, and support. Continuing with the essay, it seemed, would be going against this tenet, especially in providing support for students to succeed in the class. Canceling the paper appeared like the right thing to do, but what about upholding rigorous standards? What about helping students learn as much as they could? Although I considered myself to be flexible, outright getting rid of a major essay is something I hadn’t ever really considered before. That felt like a step too far, because the content and outcomes were important. I wasn’t sure what to do. 

Nevertheless, about an hour after much deliberation with myself, I sent a Slack message to my class, letting students know the second essay was canceled because of the current circumstances of the pandemic and issues it engendered. Even though I had a great deal of guilt after sending that message, it only lasted about a minute. The student responses that quickly followed absolved me of my worries and let me know that I made the right decision. 

Some students said that this helped with their mental health more than I could understand. Others said that they were able to focus on homework and tests for other classes. One comment, in particular, really stood out to me. A student noted that I was the first instructor to ever really care about what students were going through. 

I share that last comment not to brag, but to reflect on its implications. Currently, the mantra in educational spaces—and, more broadly, in the US as well—seems to be to “continue on as normal, to do as we have always done.” In my eyes, this means continuing to focus on the content, course outcomes, and the learning objectives. But doing so—attempting to move forward as if everything is fine (much like I was thinking of doing)—is likely to create major issues. Not accounting for the very real concerns that students are dealing with, for me, seems like the most pressing. In effect, continuing on as normal keeps the focus on education, but not on the people getting that education. 

In canceling the second paper of the semester, I quickly realized I wasn’t letting students off the hook or being less rigorous. Instead, I believe my action demonstrates that I was trying to be in tune with student struggles—that I was paying attention to their current realities. Really, as part of my feminist pedagogy, I could see that I was ultimatley attempting to create a culture of support and care, one that listened to the troubling circumstances many students were enduring. The student comments I shared earlier demonstrate that they were happy to have an educator that created an environment of support, that this idea would be upheld over all else. 

I’m not going to write and say I’ve completely reckoned with the aftermath (if I can even really call it that considering we aren’t in the after part yet) of the COVID-19 pandemic. But I feel as if I’ve at least started to grapple with some of its consequences. Moving forward, as an educator, I’m going to intensely consider the assignments I have students do. “Is this amount of work necessary, given our current reality?” I might ask myself. The answer, I presume, will most likely be no. I think that the same amount of quality learning can happen with less. In fact, I actually think I might see an improvement in engagement with the course material because there will be less work. Always rushing from assignment to assignment, doing as much as possible, and getting burned out along the way is never a recipe for success, so doing less seems like a step in the right direction. 

I’m not suggesting that our work isn’t important, or that it doesn’t matter (or, even, that it’s always possible to cancel major assignments, especially when considering institutional requirements), but continuing on as normal is surely a difficult argument when it could cause burnout and mental health issues for students. If students get to that point, our work will be the least of importance to them. Instead of trying to do things as we typically have, what might be more important is to slow down, to consider what students are going through, and to make the necessary adjustments so students can thrive—with their academics, yes, but also with their mental health. 

About the Author

Anthony Lince is a Latinx scholar, a student-centered teacher/instructor of English and first-year writing courses, and a qualitative teacher-researcher. His current research centers around equitable assessment practices. He can be found on twitter @linceanthony and on his website at