This episode is the start of a four part mini-series focused on the NEH-funded project “Towards a Pedagogy from Crisis.” Jolie speaks with project directors Dr. Amílcar Challú, department chair and associate professor of history, and Dr. Chad Iwertz Duffy, an assistant professor in rhetoric and writing. They discuss the important role that interdisciplinary collaboration in the humanities can play in building just and equitable learning--whether online, remote, or in-person.

 

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From Bowling Green State University, and the Institute for the Study of Culture and Society, this is BG Ideas.

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Jolie:

Hello, and welcome back to the BG Ideas podcast, brought to you by the Institute for the Study of Culture and Society, and the School of Media and Communication at Bowling Green State University. I'm Dr. Jolie Sheffer. Due to the ongoing pandemic, we're not recording in the studio, but from home via phone and computer. As always, the opinions expressed on this podcast are those of the individuals involved, and do not necessarily represent those of BGSU or its employees.

Jolie:

Bowling Green State University is located in the Great Black Swamp, long a meeting place of the Wyandotte, Shawnee, Lenape, Ottawa, Kickapoo, Fox, Potawatomi, Erie, Miami, Peoria, Chippewa, and Seneca Indian tribes. We honor the rich history of this land and its indigenous inhabitants past and present.

Jolie:

Today's episode is one of a mini series focusing on a National Endowment for the Humanities sponsored project, Toward a Pedagogy from Crisis: Adaptive Teaching and Learning at Bowling Green State University During COVID-19. Today I'm joined by the project's directors, Dr. Chad Iwertz Duffy, and Dr. Amilcar Challu. Chad is an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Writing in the English department. Amilcar is Department Chair and Associate Professor of History at BGSU.

Jolie:

Thank you both for joining me today. I'd like to start with some backstory on the project. The project focuses on the current global pandemic, which has completely restructured our personal and professional lives. Can you describe how the project came together and evolved into what it is now, and especially what is the role of pedagogy in this project?

 Chad:

I think, speaking specifically to pedagogy, one of the reasons why it's so important is because everybody pretty much in the world at this point, has moved to online education. And, even though that's something that has a fairly rich tradition in my field, I don't believe there are very many fields that have been really seriously thinking about online education. So, pedagogy is kind of our entree into thinking about how, when we have to all learn virtually, how you do that, and how you do that well, and how you value your students, especially right now in this time of crisis.

Jolie:

And Amilcar, from a practical standpoint, how did you and Chad connect on this project, and how did you evolve its shape and what you were imagining you were seeking to study and do?

 Amilcar:

Well, it was connections that someone else said. You're both thinking about this at the same time, and so why don't you talk with each other, and that was it. I think it highlights the importance of those informal interactions in getting things done, and pushing things forward. It advanced really, really fast. We both started talking about what we have in mind. It was something different, what each of us have in mind, but we knew that there was a lot that we were trying to accomplish that have the same goals. And, it was a very quick, fast process, and I was surprised about that. And it was part of the one great joy, I think, of putting this together.

Jolie:

Chad, I'd like to talk a bit about your specific background, and how it shaped the project. Your work focuses on disability and accessibility in what you refer to as public environments. Can you talk about what that means, and how you think about disability and accessibility in ways that connected in this project?

 Chad:

Yeah, sure. I think when we talk about disability, we're usually thinking, and historically disability has been thought of as, it's kind of like a legal term. Somebody designated as disabled would be entitled to certain benefits under the law. But, that is really changing in scholarship, especially from scholarship. I'll just highlight from Disabled Women of Color, like Mia Mingus, Alice Wong, Sandy Hoe, and others who work on the Disability Visibility project. They really define access as "a form of love in order to help build a world where accessibility is understood as an act of love."

 Chad:

Another scholar, Tanya Titchkosky, who does work in Canada, in her book, The Question of Access, defines access as "an interpretive relation between bodies." These really informed the way that I have been thinking about access in this project as, not just a legal standard for who is entitled to certain forms of accommodation, but really involving the very specific students and teachers who are within a classroom, what that environment looks like, what technologies are being used, and how we might kind of explode how we think of access in order to meet students, instructors, anybody's guest speakers who are in these environments that we're hosting. Meeting them where they're at and making sure that we can create environments where everyone is welcomed into that, not just from a legal standpoint, but also just from a relational standpoint and social standpoint.

Jolie:

And with that in mind, what do you hope we're going to learn from the pandemic that will help us rethink issues of disability and accessibility?

 Chad:

Yeah, well, some of my specific work is in communication access. A lot of what I have done in the past is worked with speech-to-text writers, and speech-to-text readers, specifically disabled and deaf people who receive transcription and speech-to-text writing as a form of accommodation. And what's very interesting, is there's a lot of ongoing discussion about what creates appropriate or good quality communication access.

 Chad:

I think a lot of us are familiar with closed captions, for example, on a television screen. But, that's just one methodology and is actually not the reigning methodology that's used in educational environments. That's referred to as a meaning-for-meaning transcription.

 Chad:

My hope is that this ongoing work will help expose some of the cracks in that understanding of access as a checklist. If I just attach a transcript to my educational videos or my lectures, then it's accessible. I think I'd like to push back against that a little bit, and hear from people who may be in an online environment for the first time and not really sure about what they're doing. Meeting people where they're at, finding out what's going on, what's working well, what's not working well, where we can be directing our focus as we continue to think about access and educational environments.

Jolie:

Amilcar, you have a wide range of research interests, but all of it touches in some way about the concept of the environment, whether you're talking about environmental change in Mexico, or collaborating with students and community members to design and install interactive interpretive historical trails right here in Bowling Green. Can you talk about how your past work exploring environmental histories, as well as public engagement, influenced this project?

 Amilcar:

Yeah. From one point of view, one contribution, I think it's practical. This got me thinking into the ways in which we can put teams together and work to solve a particular problem. And in this case, the problem was the impact of COVID in our institutional environment, and intellectual environment. That's one contribution that I think we should not dismiss, is that it gets the synopsis going in a way. But yeah, I think environmental history got me thinking in two other ways. One was, when we were talking about this, I think I was wrapping up my classroom environment, American Environmental History. And at that point, it was an online class. It's a class that always was very hands on. We were always doing field trips, walking in the woods, doing nature journaling. And suddenly, you had to rethink completely what you are doing.

 Amilcar:

So that got me, I think, the mind to think from the point of view of pedagogy from crisis. But at the same time, how important it was for students and for me to have that connection, explicit connection to the environment. And environment as nature, potential marks, but also the virtual environment, that how all the environments intersect with each other in a common experience.

 Amilcar:

The way that students were reacting to the COVID pandemic via their comments on their nature journal, for instance, was something that got me thinking a lot.

 Amilcar:

The other way that I was thinking about this was, from an environmental perspective, was precisely through what is the environment, and how we create environments, natural environments, virtual environments, et cetera. And, to me, these look like the creation of the new environment, that we're all creating new environments to put it in a way.

Jolie:

That's great. We know that the pandemic has not only exposed, but deepened vast racial and socioeconomic inequalities. And we see this with infection rates, illness, and death by Black, Indigenous, and Latinx, and other communities of color. But, we also see economic impacts of the virus and in how it's affecting our students. In terms of our teaching, what are some ways that you think we can help address or mitigate some of those disparate impacts?

 Chad:

I think that's such a important question, and one that really, I think, we can be hopeful about an answer right now. But, I think it's going to take some time. I know today, for example, when we're recording this, right now we've got over 7,000 new cases in Ohio alone of coronavirus. I think that we're really not seeing all of the effects right now. But, with those that we know and that you've identified, Jolie, it kind of takes me back to what Amilcar's response just was, where we're in a situation right now where we can be actively contributing to new built environments.

 Chad:

Online education is not without its faults in terms of the ways that it can help support sexism, racism, ableism. But, we also are able, I think, to really combat those in new ways since now everybody is going to have to be thinking about these in their built environments. So, from the limited and ongoing things that we're seeing, I would suggest to acknowledge that this is going on. That's the first step, to acknowledge that coronavirus is not impacting educational environments in equal ways. It's disproportionate, just as you're saying, affecting communities of color.

 Chad:

We need to come together, I think, to address these. Participate in ongoing research, encourage students to be speaking out when they're experiencing food insecurities, housing, insecurities, technology insecurity. Connecting them with the resources that are available through the University. I think that, yeah, that's something that's on all of us as educators.

Jolie:

Anything you'd like to add, Amilcar?

 Amilcar:

Well, I want to echo in a way, both what Chad said, and also the way that you placed the question. I think the COVID pandemic is definitely multiplying the effects that inequality, of many different kinds, have in education. And, it's something that, as a faculty administrator and as a faculty member, I'm witnessing on a daily basis. That is, students who are now under greater financial stress, and they are saying, I cannot live in college right now. Students have that need to work more hours than before. I think this is compounding in itself the problems that the pandemic brings on its own. I think that our project is trying to learn from this, but also present responses to the students and faculty on how to better tackle.

Jolie:

Great. We have to take a quick break. You're listening to the BiG Ideas podcast.

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Question. Answer. Discussion.

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Jolie:

Hello, and welcome back to the BG Ideas podcast. Today, I'm talking to Dr. Chad Iwertz Duffy and Dr. Amilcar Challu about their NEH-sponsored project, Toward a Pedagogy From Crisis.

Jolie:

This question is for both of you, so either of you can take it first. Part of the project is about expanding and rethinking the public, which is obviously something that really matters to us at ICS. The humanities have an undeserved reputation for being disciplines that are more focused on theory than application. Castles in the air, rather than brass tacks. How do you see this project demonstrating and putting into action the values and disciplinary approaches of the humanities? Put another way, how can and do the humanities impact people in their everyday lives, that we can learn from in this moment?

 Amilcar:

Yeah. I think that it's a terrible reputation that we have for being hyper theoretical or disattached from everyday experience, because the way that I think about the humanities, it's actually about this everyday perspective of life and how it illuminates on the way that we conduct our everyday life. At the same time, some of us are discussing applied humanities, as a theory. And in a way, the fact that we have to say applied humanities, to me, it's not really signifying how much we have strayed from that perspective.

 Amilcar:

I think that we need to reassure that humanities have a lot to contribute to this discussion. It's practical and it's also subjective. It goes to how people are seeing the problems and acting upon the perceptions of the problems. So, I would put it exactly that way. Without these humanities, we really cannot tackle this. Without the humanities, we may be crunching some numbers, we may be dealing with models, but we are not dealing with people.

Jolie:

Oh, I like that. Let's underscore that. Without the humanities, we're talking about numbers, not people. What would you add, Chad, to this discussion about, what do you think is the value of the humanities, whether that's in terms of values, or particular disciplinary approaches to this research project?

 Chad:

Yeah. Thank you for that. I'm reminded of a saying, or an art installation I saw once that was a series of posters that said, "The sciences can work towards bringing the dinosaurs back to life, but the humanities can tell us why that's not such a great idea." I kind of feel like that is going to inform my answer, where I'm not going to say that the humanities have more to offer than the sciences. But, I think it's a false dichotomy that we live in our own silos, and it just becomes so easy to not really talk to each other.

 Chad:

But, one of the great things about this project has been the collaboration among a number of different departments, but especially English and History, both humanities departments. But even in so, seeing just the different methods and methodologies and ways that we understand this research, yeah, I think that it's just we have to be in this together. And so, as the sciences and economics are going to be able to give us information, I think what we can contribute as humanists, is the very real lived realities of what this pandemic is doing to us as people, what it's going to continue to do to our teaching beyond this as well, how we're going to interact with each other. All of these very big questions are ones that I think the humanities are especially well-suited to answer in conjunction with the sciences as well.

Jolie:

Well, and what you're saying there really connects to the previous questions, which is that the humanities are relevant here, not only in terms of pedagogy and the student experience, and analyzing the cultural and social impact of this moment, but also about those conversations about equity, accessibility, and diversity, those lived experiences. The data can tell us a lot, but they can't actually give us that kind of lived detail that is also so important.

 Chad:

Yeah. I think, too, that so I do some statistical work with my research, and I think what tends to happen, we're interested in averages. We're interested in sort of that forced mean in being able to understand a situation, but I think there's so much value in asking what are those outlier stories as well. And, I think something that we are coming to find as a community is, that when you take that mean, you're really understanding a very biased, white, male centric approach that doesn't fit in every circumstance. So, absolutely. Yes, I think that understanding the stories that can be collected from, not just the mean, but also all of those other areas, is more than valuable. It's necessary and needed. Yes.

Jolie:

One of the things we'll be talking about in subsequent episodes of the podcast are parts of the dimension of this project, which includes a summer camp for instructors, and faculty members, and graduate students, to help them learn to teach better. But, another piece of it that I think is relevant to what we're just talking about, is the research piece. Chad, would you talk a little bit about the research project that you're developing out of this grant that does do precisely what you're talking about, of trying to capture some of those perhaps outliers, as well as those more typical stories?

 Chad:

Yeah, absolutely. The one that I'm most directly involved with is a survey of the BGSU community. And we define that as all undergraduate, graduate level students, post doctorates, part-time faculty, full-time faculty, classified staff, administrative staff. Pretty much anybody employed or connected directly that way through the University. And what we're interested in, is a very quick statistical survey of people's satisfaction and experience with a number of different areas, such as their accommodation, use of technology, learning and teaching in different modalities.

 Chad:

But also, I would say one of the largest elements of this research study is collecting those narratives. There is definitely a qualitative element too, which is the humanities wheelhouse. I think one thing that I'm finding with this research is, that statistical analysis is going to give us a real quick snapshot of the community, but that qualitative analysis, which is going to take a lot longer, is going to tell us a lot more about actually how these different criteria that we've selected are operating in people's environments throughout last spring, this fall, and the summer is applicable too.

 Chad:

So, yeah, we really want to work towards building an archive that we can draw upon to be able to describe and share what the experience has been like, teaching and learning at BGSU through the pandemic.

 Amilcar:

The approach that we come into humanities, mythologically speaking, it's very much an all-of-the-above kind of approach, in that it's not that we are dismissing the quantitative information, the average, or the standard deviation. But instead, that we are populating that with storytelling. Retrieving the storytelling and building stories based on all-of-the-above approach. I think that Chad was saying, that's in the contribution of the humanities as an approach, that we can integrate. We can provide that integration through our storytelling.

Jolie:

Well then, one of the things I think you're both suggesting, too, is that the humanities allows, or it is well-suited, to get at the intersections of different experiences, too. That something that on a data point might look like it's an either or. Either you identify as this category or that. In those narratives, it's much easier to actually see that it's this, and this, and this often. And it's in those complexities where you can see some of the differences and think about possibilities for redress or mitigation.

 Chad:

Yes, yes. If I could tag someone to this, too. This sounds so much to me like a feminist contextualist methodology, which I learned about through Cindy Johanek. But, it's this idea, just like you're saying, Jolie, that we tend to call ourselves something and that comes with it a whole slew of ways that we understand how knowledge is made, or how it's possible. But it really, I think for this work, it's being driven by the research question, which is, what is happening right now at BGSU, and how are we teaching and learning through a pandemic? And that can be answered through qualitative and quantitative methods, and so that's why we're using both. So yes, absolutely, it depends on the questions that you want answered.

Jolie:

One of the other elements of the grant, particularly the summer camp, again, which we'll talk more about in future episodes, is this idea of play. And, that might seem like a contradiction. You're talking about a moment of crisis, and yet there's such an emphasis on play. Why was that important to you both in thinking about this grant?

 Amilcar:

I think I answered the same way before, and we're going through it again. I think as an artist who lived through one of our big national study about crisis, which was the dictatorship, as a child and adolescent, there was no way of experiencing that without a strong power of play and humor. In that, people need to love, and people need to see things from another perspective. And there's nothing better than humor and play to get there, even under the most critical circumstances.

 Amilcar:

There are lots of circumstantial evidence from all over my culture of origin, Argentina and Latin America in general, about the healing power of humor. So, I think that was one perspective that I was thinking when we started talking about the importance of play here. But, more generally, I think it makes you gain some distance with the problem that you are dealing with, even just to understand why the other person is having fun. It makes you just step aside, and then see things from a different way, and just shifts your perspective.

Jolie:

What about for you, Chad?

 Chad:

Yeah, I think play for me is also a way of learning, and specifically a way of learning that allows for failure, too. And I'm always really interested in my teaching in being able to find spaces where students can fail and that'd be okay, because I think so much of teaching and learning feels so high stakes. We're teaching so that we are able to demonstrate that we do it well on our student evaluations of instruction. Students want to demonstrate that they have learned something, so they get good grades at the end of the course. And, shifting to an entirely online education for people, during a pandemic no less, is pretty high stakes, I would say. At least probably the highest stakes that I've encountered as an instructor.

 Chad:

I think being able to incorporate play for all of the reasons Amilcar is saying, absolutely. And allowing for space where teachers can be failures, like that's okay, and we're moving beyond that and learning productively. And I think that play allows for that.

Jolie:

I love that, and I also love the idea of playfulness is also about imagination, about seeing beyond what currently exists, and trying to open oneself up to other possibilities. And I think that's part of what you're talking about with the pedagogy is, we don't have to, we shouldn't keep being bounded by what's been done before. We should think big, imagine big, and try and build that environment, to get back to Amilcar's language earlier. To create those more ideal conditions rather than being locked into where we were yesterday, or where we are today.

Jolie:

I want to conclude by asking each of you to reflect on this moment, and what lesson you hope we can take away from this. What would be one thing that you'd like to see transformed as a result of this crisis? Amilcar, you want to go first?

 Amilcar:

One thing I would like to see transformed, is this whole idea of morality of teaching, that we think, okay, this is online. This is not online. This is in the classroom. I think right now it's so fluid that, that's steering a lot of creativity and play within all the distress brought by this crisis as well.

 Amilcar:

One thing I would like to take away as the learning opportunities is that we start thinking beyond these buckets of how we teach, and try to be more integrity with how we do it. I also would like to see more imagination in the way that we organize teaching, even starting from the scales and grids. From the very fact that our point of view right now, we usually plan everything around the very strict grid, and right now the grid doesn't exist because it really doesn't matter that much when you are teaching something, if you are not competing, everybody competing for the same classroom or things like that.

 Amilcar:

I think for administrators that's a very interesting imagination exercise, because they couldn't see any alternative to the grid. And right now we're living outside of the grid. From a practical point of view, [that's] some take aways that I hope that we incorporate for. And of course, there's the hope that we grow stronger through all this. And, I have that strong proof that we are now well aware of what face to face contributes to an educational environment, and what online contributes to our educational environment. I think we are more aware than ever before about the inequality of the learning experience, and how that intersects with other forms of inequality. So I hope that, that experience takes us learning in the future, and that we need to think inclusion first and accessibility next.

Jolie:

Good. What about for you, Chad? What would you like us to take away from this time in history?

 Chad:

Yeah. Well, I'll say I completely agree with everything Amilcar has said. I think that the ability for us to move beyond the pandemic, and really valuing online education in a way that perhaps we haven't before, specifically online education that's accessible, that's anti-racist, that's feminist. These are all, I think, best case scenarios that we could move from where we are yesterday or today into the future of teaching.

 Chad:

I also, gosh, I think reflecting on the current moment, and I know you only asked for one, but I feel like there are so many things that could really go well beyond here. But, I think, ultimately if we can realize the ways that our teaching have participated in white supremacy, have participated in ableism, and have really been a call to action for us to think through how, when we return to face-to-face education, that we'll be able to break down a lot of those barriers and start fresh.

 Chad:

And yeah, just envisioning educational futures that were way more inclusive than they have been in the past. Starting new with students and with each other, that I think that would be such an amazing future to envision.

Jolie:

Thank you both so much for joining me today. Listeners can keep up with ICS by following us on Twitter at ICSBGSU, and on our Facebook page. You can listen to BG Ideas wherever you find your favorite podcasts. Please subscribe and rate us on your preferred platform. Our producers are Chris Cavera and Marco Mendoza, with sound editing by Marco Mendoza. Research assistance for this podcast was provided by Stevie Scheurich.

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