Portland State is releasing $3 million for a project they are calling “reThink PSU” (rethink.pdx.edu). My colleagues and I are submitting a project that builds technology into the Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies curriculum. Here is our proposal!
The Praxis Project: Building Technological Skills for Gender Equity
Vicki Reitenauer, Instructor, WGSS and Sarah Dougher, Adjunct Professor, WGSS
Sally McWilliams, Director
WGSS – Liberal Arts & Sciences
Ann Mussey, Assistant Professor
WGSS – Liberal Arts & Sciences
Lisa Weasel, Associate Professor
Biology – Liberal Arts & Sciences
Maura Kelly, Assistant Professor
Sociology – Liberal Arts & Sciences
Sarah Beasley, Education/Social Science Librarian
Dr. Susan Shaw, Professor of Women Studies and Transitional Director of The School of Language, Culture, and Society at Oregon State University
Karen Alexander, Founding Editor, Films for the Feminist Classroom and former editor of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society (2005-2012)
Beth Hutchison, Assistant Professor, WGSS/CLAS
Hannah Harrod Casper, graduate student, GSE/LSE
Ryan Thomas, undergraduate student, CLAS
This project integrates technology into the learning and teaching practices of students and faculty in the Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. It is well known that women are underrepresented in disciplines where technology is central (STEM). Less obvious is how students, particularly women, lack basic elements of technological literacy and proficiency in their liberal arts studies. The Praxis Project proposes to integrate proficiencies in digital technologies with the goals of feminist pedagogy, impacting both majors and non-majors. The current plan bookends the WGSS student experience by proposing a technology component to WS 101 (Introduction to Women’s Studies) and the formation of a Praxis Cohort for students in their final year of study, with the focus on publishing an on-line undergraduate research journal for the field. This project engages faculty and students to develop proficiencies by learning and utilizing digital tools for research, analysis, and presentation projects/assignments. Additionally, we will engage with the use of technology in order to explore the theoretical implications of our own use of, and participation in, digital culture.
Students who major in Women’s Studies (as well as most students who take Introduction to Women’s Studies or the Gender & Sexuality Studies SINQ, according to course evaluations) have transformational learning experiences. They begin to think critically about the world around them through the lens of feminist analysis for the first time, and many are inspired to take action about issues they feel strongly about in ways they have never thought possible. They take their ideas into their relationships, their families, their workplaces and into the larger tri-county communities of Portland.
The Praxis Project will further the intellectual and community-based engagement of Women’s Studies students at PSU by:
1) Training our faculty to utilize and engage technology at every level.
2) Challenging students in our introductory courses (most of whom are women) to gain skills, confidence, and critical analytical abilities in employing technology in conjunction with their intellectual growth in the interdisciplinary field. They will do this through active engagement with faculty and upper-division WGSS students serving as mentors in lower-division courses.3) Offering a holistic approach to senior-level coursework which transforms the current stand-alone course model into an integrated, multi-faceted learning dynamic; and
4) Creating ongoing opportunities for our students and faculty, as well as the wider university, to engage with scholars and activists both inside and outside the academy on issues of gender, sexuality, and technology.
In its first phase, the Praxis Project engages students at the beginning and end of their time at PSU. At the introductory level, the Praxis Project presents students with both practical and theoretical approaches to technology in their interdisciplinary study of women and gender. At the senior level, the project provides senior-level coursework (exploring feminist research methods, staking out research agendas, and conducting original research in support of a culminating project) explicitly as praxis, or theory-in- practice, a vital element of feminist pedagogy. At the senior level, students will design, develop, edit, and publish an online journal, as well as actively teach, advise, and mentor lower-division students about technology acquisition and feminist analysis of technology. As they learn from PSU-based and external scholar-activists, including feminist academics, public intellectuals, publishers, popular writers, and experts in digital technology use, students will form their own intellectual questions and the processes they choose to engage those questions collegially, with each other and with the instructors who will accompany them throughout the year. The e-journal that will be created and housed at PSU will seek to publish work from undergraduate students across institutions—a first in the field of women/feminist/gender studies.
The Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies currently enrolls over 100 majors and an additional 80 students in two minors. Most of these students (est. 80+%) are women and fit the profile of those typically underrepresented in STEM disciplines. Although our students graduate with critical thinking skills which position them to contribute in a variety of fields, as well as to pursue professional degrees (such as medicine, law, public health, sociology, education or social work), their exposure to and proficiency with digital technologies is fragmentary and self-taught at best. In order to succeed in the rapidly changing business community and professional contexts, they need to understand and use databases, advanced digital search and retrieval techniques, digital presentation methods, writing effectively for blogs and websites, and using social media for communication in a feminist context.
The Praxis Project will challenge the students in our introductory courses (most of whom are women) to gain skills, confidence, and critical analytical skills in employing technology in conjunction with their intellectual growth in this interdisciplinary field. Students who bring significant technological prowess will be able to share skills with colleagues while gaining proficiency and insight in using technology in feminist and social justice settings. Having become familiar and comfortable with the basics of using digital technology for research, analysis, and presentation of findings in the introductory course, students will go on to use and cite these methods throughout their college coursework, creating a ripple effect of influence with other students/faculty. In addition, we expect that students will not only hone existing skills but be more receptive to learning and adopting developing technologies.
The WGSS department has required our students to complete their undergraduate coursework with Senior Seminar, in which students pursue a research question of their choosing into a thesis-like paper or complex project. While significant work has been done to develop meaningful and solid courses at the senior level, it is clear that the pressure of the 10-week term prevents most students from engaging in their own research in the ways that they would like. For example, many students hope to conduct interviews or focus groups as part of their qualitative methodologies in the Senior Seminar, but the reality of the short term precludes their receiving human subjects approval itself in that timeframe, let alone conducting their research, completing data analysis, and writing up their results. With the Praxis Project, a pilot group of senior-level students will engage in the identification of their research questions and the development of their research methodologies in a collaborative, year-long learning community. Students’ classroom engagement will be interwoven with their experiential learning on the e-journal, as well as in their mentoring and guest-speaking in lower-division courses. The needs of the individual student and of the cohort will be managed by faculty who collaborate not only with the students, but also with each other. A series of pre-post evaluations will document the project’s impact over the course of the students’ tenure at PSU.
Approach and Strategy
To begin, faculty will both develop their own skills and collaborate on teaching modules to build and apply students’ digital literacy skills in our Women’s Studies WS101 which reaches 260+ students/year. This phase could expand to include instructors who teach in the Gender & Sexuality SINQ (UNST231) (300+ students/year). WS101 will pilot the new modules, with students building skills and using digital technologies including social media, digital presentation tools, digital video, blogging, web design, and on-line learning modes and styles. As WS101 is often the first course majors take, students will bring technological skills to future courses; we will use and build these and related skills in advanced courses.
As seniors, students in the Praxis Cohort will engage with a team of faculty throughout the year as they develop their own research questions, conduct original research, and prepare final theses/projects. Students and faculty will deepen their engagement with digital skills for research, analysis, publication, and presentation, and students will engage in practicums related to their research efforts, including the following:
- Active mentoring of students in lower-division courses in 1:1 relationship, including majors (100+ students), minors (80+ students in two minors) and certificate students; students in the Gender and Sexuality Studies SINQ (300+ students) and students across campus with no formal degree-pursuing relationship with WGSS;
- Guiding connections between feminist theory and technological literacy/proficiency through classroom visits and guest lectures in lower-division courses;
- Playing key roles in the annual WGSS Student Colloquium;
- Designing and editing a new international online journal of student research in thefield, to be published through PSU, and partnering with the National Women’s Studies Association and other pertinent institutions.Lower-division students, both those majoring/minoring in WGSS and those hundreds of students who take WGSS courses each year for elective and general education credit, will have unprecedented opportunities both to acquire critical technology skills and to develop critical analyses of technology use and its implications, as facilitated both by instructors and upper-division mentors. The Praxis Project will transform both Women’s Studies majors’ experiences of their senior-level coursework and lower division students’ experiences of critical technology use in their courses as well, as the Project makes available to students in lower-division courses (both WS majors and those majoring in other disciplines) the developing expertise of Project students through classroom visits, guest lectures, and active mentoring. This impact will extend beyond the campus, as WGSS pursues partnerships with area community colleges (Portland Community College, Mount Hood Community College, and Chemeketa Community College, in particular) and with other institutional partners (Oregon State University, especially).
We will work with instructional designers from the library, including our department liaison, Sarah Beasley; CAE/COL; OIT; Extended Studies; colleagues from OSU (particularly Women’s Studies Department Chair, Susan Shaw); feminist scholars and publishers multiple institutions; and students and faculty from other colleges/universities who have successfully incorporated and adapted digital technologies and online digital databases and other resources suitable to WGS materials/courses/concepts.
- Project leads attend “Developing an Online Women’s Studies Course” (funded by WGSS/CLAS)
- Survey of majors and WS101 students about digital educational needs.
- Develop structure/curriculum for senior-level coursework, and identify cohort of students.
- Develop infrastructure for e-journal and connect with project partners.
- Work with WGSS faculty to identify technology goals for WS101.
- Roundtable discussions/workshops about feminist incorporation/adaptation of online technologies in WGSS materials/courses/concepts.
- Invite colleagues from PSU and OSU, among other institutions, to share expertise around methods for enhancing WGSS curriculum with digital resources.
- Finalize curriculum for senior-level coursework.
- Finalize technology praxis module for WS101.
- Engage senior-level learning community and WS101 modules.
- Infrastructure and process development for e-journal continues.
- Convene discussions and feedback sessions for both faculty and students involved in the new tech modules in WS101.
- Create opportunities for WGSS majors to model digital practices for students in WS101.
- Convene discussions/workshops with colleagues who teach the Gender and Sexuality Studies SINQ.
- Senior-level students continue individual research and e-journal work and begin mentoring in lower-division classes.
- Roll-out of technology intensives in lower-division courses continues, facilitated by both faculty and upper-division student mentors.
- Upper-division students complete theses/projects and present them at the WGSS Student Colloquium and the University-wide Student Colloquium.
- E-journal first edition edits completed.
- Editorial and design work on the e-journal completed.
- Publication of the e-journal in August 2014
- Analysis of student evaluations and pre/post surveys, informing ongoing programmatic improvement.
The WGSS department employs 5 tenure-track, 4.33 fixed term, and 8-11 adjunct faculty. Currently we offer 7 online classes each AY, which will increase to 18 once Extended Studies faculty join the department.. We are working to develop departmental goals around technology and utilizing online and hybrid classes. We have approximately 100 majors and 80 minors. More than 260 students, most of them non-majors, take WS 101 each year. 300+ students enroll in the Gender and Sexuality Studies SINQ. The work of this project will reach all of these students over the course of the project roll-out, both directly (as enrolled students engaging in enhanced digital learning methods in WS101 or as students in the senior-level praxis cohort, for example), and indirectly (as recipients of mentoring in WS101 by upper-division students). The cohort for the Senior element of the Praxis Project will be approximately (15), and will reach dozens of regional and national undergraduate departments through the first-of-its kind peer-reviewed undergraduate research journal in the field. WGSS is committed to publishing this journal beyond initial funding through reTHINK, ensuring a continuation of benefit long into the future.
Additionally, WGSS faculty serve in faculty development roles across the University (including one of the project co-leads, who has formal faculty development relationships within University Studies and with SBA’s Capstone faculty), as well as work intensively within the School of Gender, Race, and Nation Initiative. This project will reach broadly and deeply into PSU, across departments and disciplines.
The consequences of not implementing this proposal will be that WGSS majors, minors, and those hundreds of students across campus who enroll in WS101 and the Gender and Sexuality Studies SINQ will continue their technological educations in a haphazard manner, and their progress towards equity in these processes will be protracted and less- than-coherent. As a vital contributor to the life of this institution, our department is committed to catalyzing changes that will increase faculty and student engagement with technology as both teachers and learners, and we seek to undertake this work in a way that retains our commitment to progressive pedagogy, community engagement, and social transformation. We know our students are activated by the material that they learn in our courses and take that motivation for action into their jobs, activism, and other endeavors in the wider community of Portland and beyond. Without the understanding of and practical application of digital tools in their educations, they fall behind their peers, and the inequity they experience regarding technology is exacerbated.
Additionally, the consequences of not funding this proposal include our missing a tremendous opportunity to make a scholarly mark on the national scene through the proposed e-journal. The contribution of this journal to our interdisciplinary field will have deep and lasting impacts not only for the students and faculty who work directly on the journal, but also on students and faculty nationwide who will become both contributors to the journal and its readership.