Rebooting Engaged Pedagogy: Strategies for Making Online Classrooms Dynamic, Inclusive and Holistic During The COVID-19 Era and Beyond

Proceedings of ‏The 2nd World Conference on Teaching and Education

Year: 2021


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Rebooting Engaged Pedagogy: Strategies for Making Online Classrooms Dynamic, Inclusive and Holistic During The COVID-19 Era and Beyond

Dr. Juli Hinds



The global health crisis of COVID 19 came at a time when most American universities and colleges were well into their 2020 spring semesters and quarters. As the United States struggled to control the spread of coronavirus through social distancing, higher education adapted by switching to various forms of online learning. As infection rates grew, the public health and economic crisis became clear. Within this period, data emerged suggesting that racial and ethnic minorities — the most marginalized individuals in the U.S. — were most at risk in terms of significant health effects and financial devastation from the economic shut-down. Additionally, many marginalized students returned to homes without wifi, as well as other tools, such as computers, which are necessary for success with online schooling.[1]  By the academic year’s end across the nation, powerful protests arose demanding racial justice and police reform after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. But the unrest did not stop with the police. As summer descended, political talk shows and newspaper editorial pages filled with conversations about systemic racism and reckoning in American institutions, including our colleges and universities.

Abruptly, within this social, economic and public health upheaval, educators, many who had not taught remotely, grappled with transitioning to online learning, while, at the same time, fearing that their on-the-ground approach to teaching might be lost. How might instructors craft a remote learning space that could replicate, and perhaps even deepen, the connectivity and vigor of the in-person experience?  As an instructor in a communications department, at a small liberal arts college, I sought answers to these questions by looking at online best practices, such as concepts of social presence, and connectivity.[2]   I asked myself, how might instructors reimagine our online classroom within the broader cultural reckoning on issues of race, class, gender and power?  In pursuit of answers, I turned to an educational scholar whose work continuously inspires me: educator and thinker bell hooks. hooks’ Engaged Pedagogy, an educational approach that combines critical race, feminist and multicultural theory, argues for a learning space that at its core is ‘engaging’ for the students and the teachers, while also serving as ‘a site of resistance’ against hierarchical rote learning.  Social presence and connectivity, core themes in online learning were driven, as by online scholars, much like hooks, that were inspired to create classrooms that feel authentic, engaging and dynamic.  Yet, there is a difference.  Critical engaged pedagogy is nourished by an agenda, to disrupt teaching hierarchies, actually confront the inequities, and political claims within society.   An engaged classroom is not just a place to create community but a space for liberation.  For educators who recognize the need to engage with their students, and the social cultural issues surrounding and underpinning our current moment, moving engaged pedagogy online is a place to start. Therefore, while hooks’ engaged pedagogy is a powerful framework for higher education practitioners in normal times, I argue that her work is especially pertinent to pandemic-imposed online teaching[3]        hooks inspired me to create online classes that were socially connective, and dynamic. Through close engagement with her ideas, I developed a series of online activities based on three of hooks’ engaged pedagogical paradigms: 1.) learning as transformative, 2.) learning as rooted in passion and joy, and 3.) learning as situated in a holistic classroom built upon reciprocity. In this article, I explore these three principles within hooks’ scholarship.  Then, I provide five activities for online teaching that align with the rigor and liberatory purposes of engaged pedagogy. These strategies are intended to help educators rethink, reframe and revitalize their online classrooms now and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

[1] Within this re-evaluation is a recognition that even prior to COVID-19, higher education reflected the abysmal inequalities that existed within American culture–inequalities such as school funding, achievement gaps, graduation rates and other barriers.

[2] Oh, CS, Bailenson JN & Welch GF (2018) A Systematic Review of Social Presence: Definition, Antecedents, and Implications.

[3] Hooks B (1994) Teaching to Transgress: Education as the practice of freedom Routledge, New York

Keywords: Engaged Pedagogy, Online learning, Holistic Learning, Critical Race Theory, Gender Theory.