Research as a Conversation and Feminist Pedagogy

A couple weeks ago, I taught an instruction session for a gender and women studies and Latin American/Latin@ class that was focused on Chicana feminists and testimonios. I found the structure and topic of the class fascinating because instead of doing a traditional research paper, the students were going to be interviewing Chicago Chicanas and recording their testimonios. Recently, I’ve become interested in feminist and critical pedagogy and saw a lot of opportunity to try to incorporate some of those practices in a class that is already employing these pedagogies.

To prep for the class, the professor had her class read “‘Testimonio’: Origins, Terms, and Resources” by Kathryn Blackmer Reyes & Julia E. Curry Rodríguez which is an excellent read. The article addresses the difficulties in researching background information for testimonios, and how Library of Congress subject headings fall short of indexing materials for marginalized communities. I knew going into this session that researching via traditional library methods would not yield many results for the students. For example, searching for testimonios vs. oral history gave varying results. In this case, searching far and wide using as many synonyms as they could would begin to get them some information on their topics. One thing that I stressed was the importance of their research projects because it would contribute to the scholarship in their field. That is really empowering for students to understand–their work is not just a one-off thing for a class, they are contributing to a larger body of work, and will be helping other people in the future who are looking for testimonios of Chicana feminists. The professor is planning on having them donate their testimonios to our special collections and to the Chicana por mi Raza Digital Archive Project.  

The other challenge to this class was that there were students with varying levels of experience with library research. I also was thinking about the concept as students as “knowledge creators” and “scholarship as a conversation.” ACRL is revamping their information literacy standards for higher education, and I attended both their ALA MW session, as well as some webinars with updates about it. They’re focusing on threshold concepts (which I need to read up on) and the biggest theme from the MW session that I walked away with was “scholarship as a conversation.” So what does that look like when you are trying to employ feminist pedagogy in library instruction? For this session, I gave students plenty of time to search for information, stressing that they needed to be critical of library subject headings. I also created a subversive handout for this session. I wanted to give the students something to walk away with from the session. On the handout, I put some searching tips, my contact information, information on how to donate their work to the university archives (since they’d be creating original material), and a brief class exercise. I went with creating a handout as opposed to a course-specific LibGuide because I suspect that students forget the link or don’t know how to navigate back to the LibGuide. For assessment, and also to help them facilitate a conversation on their research, I  had them contribute to a padlet wall as the brief class exercise.

This is a screenshot of the Padlet wall that the students contributed to.

This is a screenshot of the Padlet wall that the students contributed to.

If you haven’t used Padlet before, it’s an online blank wall that allows you to pin text, image, links, and attach files. Part of feminist pedagogy is fostering a sense of community in the classroom, and conversations are a very big part of that dynamic. I asked the students to post one research tip to the padlet that helped them in their research. They could post search terms that were useful, articles they found, pictures, basically anything that helped them find information for their projects. That way they would be helping each other out through this research process, have something to refer back to, and it also helped me understand what they found while they were searching. Overall, I thought this session was fun and this session created another opportunity to work with the same professor in a different class. If anyone has any other neat web-tools that they use in library instruction to foster conversations I’d be interested to hear about it.

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