faster feminism

Faster Feminism Spotlight: Dr. Tasia Alexopoulos

Dr. Tasia Alexopoulos is a teacher of gender studies and history and a reproductive justice educator. Her research interests vary from polygamy laws in Canada and the United States to horror films and she has published in Somatechnics, MAI: Feminism and Visual Culture, and Feminist Foreign Policy.

The Dalhousie Feminist Seminar Series had the honour of hosting Dr. Alexopoulos as the final speaker of the 2020 – 2021 year. It was especially wonderful to have Dr. Alexopoulos as she was scheduled to give a talk in…March of 2020 and we decided to postpone for a few weeks “to see how the covid-thing would go.” Her talk is entitled “Scorpionflies, Bed bugs, and Ducks: Exploring Polygamy and Sexual Violence in Canadian Legal Policy ,” and she has given us permission to share it with you here. Thank you to everyone who has supported the series this year. We look forward to returning in the fall of 2021!

Dr. Tasia Alexopoulos gave her talk on March 26, 2021.

Keeping Company

This is a companion piece to Lily Cho’s Still Grieving: Atlanta. It is written in consultation with her. All italicized lines are from Lily’s post.

I have been grieving in private, scared alone, but I know that my grief is not my own and I am not the only one who is afraid. 

Lily Cho—Associate Dean, respected scholar, brilliant writer, sartorial witch, colleague, mother, friend—wrote these words. She wrote them a week after a white man shot and killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women. She wrote these words a few days after an Atlanta police officer referred to this deliberate act of racism and misogyny, this hate crime, as the result of “a bad day.” My friend wrote these words, and in so doing made her grief public. In writing, in making public her grief, which is both fresh and historied, she put into focus what, for some of us may fall outside our immediate fields of vision.

If, like me, you are a white reader, a white woman reading this, a white woman working in the academy, you might recognize some of these griefs. Like me, though, you will not recognize them all. My fear and Lily’s fear keep one another company, but they are not the same creatures. Our fears are not fed and hunted in the same ways.

After reading Lily’s words, I found myself wondering once again with fresh urgency how to keep company with grief that is not my own. 

If you are in a room, virtual or otherwise, with AAPI folks, know that our hearts are still breaking. We are still grieving. Our grief is deep and old. We are still scared for ourselves, our elders, and our children.

I recently attended a virtual lecture by Dr. Sara Ahmed entitled Complaint! According to the host and moderator, Dr. Malinda Smith, over a thousand other people were tuning in as well. Ahmed’s talk focused on gathering the complaints of racialized women in academic institutions, giving them airtime, and thinking through the theoretical, affective, and material labours of making complaints. Complaints about oppressive systems and institutions come from within oppressive systems and institutions, Ahmed explained. Complaints happen behind the closed doors of these oppressive systems and situations. When we start to understand complaint as feminist pedagogy—and especially as feminist pedagogy that comes from a long lineage of Black feminist, feminist of colour, and Indigenous feminist critiques of systems of oppression—we begin to help open the door. We begin to keep company in the rooms of others. We begin to bear intentional witness. 

It keeps happening and then the white world around me keeps trying to make me forget, to make me minimize it, or question the fact of it happening at all

With her permission, I am weaving Lily’s words into my thinking here. Citation is part of academic practice, and citational praxis is a key part of an intersectional feminist practice. When I turn to Lily’s words, I read them affectively and I read them as a literary critic trained in close-reading. I read these words to keep their aliveness and their feeling close to me. Lily’s words remind me what a privilege it is to attend to the experiences and stories of another. What a responsibility this attending-to is, as well. As I do this weaving work, it occurs to me that in my institution making an official complaint is referred to as making a grievance. Grieving. That’s the verb.

I am grieving and I am scared.

This week, students and I are reading Anthesis: A Memoir by Sue GoyetteThe long poem is an act of reclamation through poeisis. It is, she writes, a public response to private questions. I found myself thinking about grief, and then, this: in the introduction, Sue writes about her methodology. The company she keeps and the pedagogy she receives come from an unlikely agave plant, blooming in the Halifax Public Gardens after its crate was badly damaged, and it comes from the J pod Northwest orcas, specifically J35. You might remember J35. In 2018, after her calf died, she carried it for seventeen days over more than a thousand miles. When she was tired her pod took turns carrying the calf to relieve her. 

Here is what Goyette writes:

“I am still intrigued by this for many reasons: by how J35’s grief was shared, supported; by how the whale was relieved, communally, from grieving in solitude; by how her pod participated in her grieving…. I wondered what I could learn from this. What would navigating by my emotional intelligence of this experience look like? What meaning-making would this process create? …. And how might learning with the orca shape a private and then a feminist collective response to (public) grieving?” (11)

What can happen when and if we work–or in some cases, continue to work–to keep company with grief and grievance as a feminist collective response? There is so much grief work to do. To keep company with. To loft into public view and give time, space, respect, and dignity to. To bear withness.

But for now, please let us grieve. Let us stay in it. Don’t move too fast through it. Do not look away. 

As I read Lily’s words, the words and griefs of people who are not me, whose griefs are not specific to my own lived experience, I am learning that keeping these griefs and grievances company, keeping them aloft with my attention and my time, is part of a feminist collective response to public grieving. It is also, I think, a way to stay with the griefs and grievances. For, as Lily writes, moving too fast blurs the details and decades and centuries of grievances that lead to violences and rupture events. And, as she writes and I write with her, there’s been enough of that

broken heart

Still Grieving: Atlanta

Content warning: this post contains descriptions of racist and sexualized violence.

I have been grieving in private, scared alone, but I know that my grief is not my own and I am not the only one who is afraid.

It’s been a week since I woke up to the news that Asian women had been killed, targeted and killed, by a man who hated women who looked like me so much that he could not even say out loud that he hated Asian women. A week since the first police reports and news conference statements refused to say that a hatred of Asian women cannot but be a part of what happened. A week where I have cried every day for those who have been targeted and murdered, and for all of us who have suffered the major and not-so-minor violences of what it means to be Asian, and especially an Asian woman, in North America today.

I am grieving and I am scared. Scared for my elderly mother who goes to Chinatown in Edmonton once a week to pick up the Chinese-language newspapers that are part of the very thin line of defense that has kept my father from slipping too far into dementia. Scared for my super-smart daughter. I love that she looks a little (or sometimes a lot) like me and I am terrified that she looks anything like me. Because I know that being smart won’t be enough to protect her or spare her.

I am smart. And I have not been protected or spared.

It’s been a week where I am filled with rage about the harassment — and sometimes worse — that I have survived. The driver in the car I hailed to take me to the hospital for a procedure who told me about how he hadn’t seen his girlfriend in China for months and then looked at me, letting the silence fill the car so that I would feel the weight of his expectation. The guy who says ni hao to me and then goes into an expletive-laden rage when I do not respond. Always a version of, “Smile [insert an expletive that always feels like being slapped in the face when it lands in my ears], I’m talking to you.” The guy before him who did that too. And the one before that. And before that, and before that, and before that, and before that, and before that, and before that, and, and, and. The one who stared and stared at me at a train station while my daughter sat reading her book on a pile of luggage at my feet, and then suddenly walked up to me and squeezed my left nipple so hard it bruised, and then walked away. The time when I was in a new city for an academic conference and tried to walk to a bookstore to buy the Sunday paper and was stopped by the police who told me that I Iooked like a prostitute because I was wearing a skirt and walking on the street. I loved that skirt. I never wore it again. The times when I am propositioned locking up my bike on my way to have lunch with my husband, and realize that I’ve chosen a bike stand that happens to be in front of one of the many second-story massage parlours that are dot the office-towered neighbourhoods in my city.

And so much more.

Of course, a variation of this happens to so many of us. I am not unique. Like so many of us, I have spent the week remembering all of these moments of minor and major terror. Remembering how I try to joke about them in the aftermath. And if it’s too awful for me to laugh it off, how I bury it deep, and try to forget it ever happened.

Except that it keeps happening.

It keeps happening and then the white world around me keeps trying to make me forget, to make me minimize it, or question the fact of it happening at all.

The denial runs so deep. The day after the shootings, I have to go to a meeting in my capacity as an Associate Dean and I am supposed to talk about international students and their access to our virtual classrooms. I am asked if we can expect students from China to be in our classrooms again this fall. I look into this virtual room of colleagues who mean well and I say that covid aside, we have a lot of work to do to assure our students that Canada is not a place where anti-Asian hate thrives. My voice wavers. Immediately, someone posts in the chat that it is not so bad in Canada. This on the same day that anybody who cared or bothered to look would have seen reports that “Canadians have reported more anti-Asian racist incidents per capita than the U.S. since the start of the pandemic.” Anti-Asian racism has been a part of my normal and its intensification during covid is something that every Asian person I knew braced themselves for when the pandemic unfurled more than a year ago.

We knew this would happen but that doesn’t stop our hearts from breaking.

If you are in a room, virtual or otherwise, with AAPI folks, know that our hearts are still breaking. We are still grieving. Our grief is deep and old. We are still scared for ourselves, our elders, and our children.

There is a lot to do and a lot to say and a lot of care to give and yes yes yes all that.

But for now, please, let us grieve. Let us stay in it. Don’t move too fast through it. Do not look away. There’s been enough of that.


Faster Feminism Spotlight: Dr. Stephanie Fearon

Dr. Stephanie Fearon is an arts-based and arts-informed narrative researcher. Dr. Fearon uses storytelling methodologies to guide effective decision making in educational policy. She relies on literary, graphic and visual arts to communicate, in a structured, creative, and accessible form, insights gleaned from stories shared by communities. 

In addition to being a researcher, Dr. Fearon is a program coordinator at the Toronto District School Board. She works with system leaders, school-based educators, community partners and families to implement policies and initiatives in support of student success and well-being. 

The Dalhousie Feminist Seminar Series had the great honour of hosting Dr. Fearon on February 19th, and she gave a talk entitled “Let Me Tell You a Story: Black Women’s Motherwork as Educational Leadership.” 

A video recording of Dr. Fearon’s talk is below, and we thank her for her permission to post it here; thank you Dr. Fearon! You can follow Dr. Fearon’s work online here

Dr. Stephanie Fearon’s talk for the Dalhousie Feminist Seminar Series


As I write this, the last bits of light are fading from the sky. From where I sit at the kitchen table the trees outside my window are that darker shade of black backlit by the deepening blue of the sky. The sky itself is starless; there is a storm coming. Our daughter is watching a movie, there is dinner on the stove. I’m making collards.

We had thought about making the trip to North Carolina this past spring–I haven’t been back to where I mostly grew up and where I did my undergraduate work in a long while. More than a decade, for the part of the state I lived in. I’ve got friends there, still. My closest friends are in their eighties. I worry about them and, while I didn’t grow up with food like collards in my own house I did get them at theirs. They taste like vitamins and memories and velvet to me, even though I don’t cook them right. We’ve been cooking them more lately.

Tomorrow, school will almost surely be cancelled. I know we’re lucky here in Nova Scotia. Public schools have been open. My daughter started grade primary in September and hasn’t yet had to do zoom school. Nonetheless, I will admit that I have to talk myself into the beauty of a winter storm shutting things down for a day. Funny, in a way, to have to pause to get excited about sledding. Even without the kinds of lockdowns some of you are living–have lived–I feel the pressure of time winding itself around my ankles like a complicated cat. In the spring that pressure was more claustrophobic than cat. It was walls closing in. It was guilt at feeling closed in. It was a feeling of never-enoughness. It was a familiar feeling too. The rush, the stolen hours of work squeezed in between taking care of each other, students, kiddo. The initial shutdown felt both disorienting (my first pandemic!) and uncanny. The uncanniness, I think, had something to do with gender.

A cursory search with terms “pandemic” “academia” and
“women” will come up with articles such as these: “Pandemic Imperils Tenure and Promotion for Women,” and “Pandemic will take women 10 years back.” If you widen the search beyond academia the titles are more inclusive, and more dire. After all, not all homes are safe. Not all places are homes.

I oscillate a good deal in my feelings about my own relationship to my work, to my responsibilities at home, and to expectations–that I’ve learned, that are explicit, and that are implicit. Not all expectations are unreasonable or oppressive, though some are. All of them take time. And time has a strange way of moving in these days, as I discuss often with students in our twice weekly discussions. They talk a bit about how time is both expansive and a bit of a trick. Gone in a flash, but how? I talk about how behind I am on my academic research, but how I have become more adept at taking breaks from my computer. What things will we keep in the after times, and what things will work their way into our stories? Sometimes I wonder with excitement. Other times I wonder and worry.

Any seasoned blog writer will tell you that blog post needs to be pithy, clear, and with a point. And yet, though I admire that kind of writing–aspire to it even–and though I am a seasoned blogger, I find I wander more. Reaching for the point, when the point might in fact be the reach. the point of this post was to tell you, readers, that while we’re not exactly on hiatus we are taking the time we need to post, and that time is taking longer than any of us expected. That’s what I was supposed to write, but instead I’ve told you about collards. I’ve done a small google search about gender, mothering, academic work, and the pandemic. About a few of my own companion worries. About time, and how student and I talk about it slipping through our fingers. All this time my daughter has been watching a movie, and while that’s good and fine I have also been thinking about screen time.

And just now, a small notification: schools are closed tomorrow.

The point of this post, reader, is this: we’re going to take the time we need here. We’ll post as we are able, and as we feel. I’ll keep posting the Dalhousie Feminist Seminar Series talks. We’ll take guest posts (email me!) if they come, though we’ve not had many in the last year and that doesn’t surprise me or even worry me a bit. And when we’re ready, if it makes sense, we’ll make a new schedule. Maybe. But for now, we’re taking the time we need, and we are reminding you that you can put a few things down too.


Faster Feminism Spotlight: Dr. Lisa Binkley

Welcome to 2021! Sure, it is a bit late in January to welcome you, dear readers, to this new calendar year, but hey. We’re doing what we can and I wager you are too. So, happy new year, we’ve got something really special for you.

Last Friday Dr. Lisa Binkley gave a talk at the Dalhousie Feminist Seminar Series. The Dalhousie Feminist Seminar Series is a series of informal discussions about feminist scholarship being conducted by faculty and students at Dalhousie University, our colleagues at other universities, and community members. Founded in 2015, the seminar series provides opportunities for socializing and conversation among those interested in gender and women’s studies. Until this year we were a committee of two. Dr. Catherine Bryan and I are delighted to be joined by Dr. Asha Jeffers, Dr. Eli Manning, and supported and in formal collaboration with Dr. Liesl Gambold and the GWST programme here at Dalhousie. 

Given the, ahem, constraints of this particular year, we feel fortunate to be able to move the series online. We’re especially grateful, because when the speaker’s grant us permission, I will be archiving the talks here so that more people can access them. Let me introduce you to Dr. Binkley.

Dr. Lisa Binkley is Anishinaabeg-Algonquin and settler, and an Assistant Professor in the History Dept. Her work focuses on Indigenous and settler textiles as material culture, and repatriation. She has published on settler and Indigenous quilts, Haudenosaunee quilts and public exhibitions, Star blankets and critical Indigenous heritage. She is currently part of three SSHRC-funded projects that explore a disruption of the Western literary and art historical canons through Indigenous perspectives, Climate Grief, and the examination of textiles and architecture through augmented reality. She is working on two new projects. A research project that aims to decolonize and remap the fur trade route through an interrogation of handmade footwear. A partnership with the Mi’kmawey Debert Centre that aims to repatriate, digitize, and share community histories and knowledges.

Dr. Binkley’s talk is entitled “Re-viewing a 1960s Mi’kmaq Ribbon Skirt: Reclamation, Resilience, Resistance.”


Resilient Pedagogy for Fragile Times

Teaching is a practice, not a perfect. This is a lesson that nearly all of us are currently working through, as near-universal campus shutdowns mid-semester pushed everyone suddenly and completely out of the classrooms we knew and into emergency remote teaching. Spring semester for many has been some hybrid of emergency and intention, a steep learning curve managing curricular expectations with the fallout of a near-total economic shutdown, waves of illness and displacement, the collapse of our support systems for everything from personal care to child care.

I don’t know about you, but as empowered and fortunate as I am in my life, my personal resilience has been sorely challenged by our Current Situation. It’s hard to transform my teaching when I can hardly manage to answer an email some days–and many of my students are in the same boat, that’s got a leak, and their bailing bucket is a thimble. I have to find a way to make it work, flexibly and compassionately and nimbly.

A discussion of resilient pedagogy is flowering online this week, like some kind of strawberry plant whose dormant rhizomes invisible under the soil all spouted up into the light at once, distinct and individual but still connected.

Like here:

And here:

And here:

And here:

I think I might be a strawberry plant, too–I recognize in some of the blind underground grasping I’ve been doing to transform my own teaching over the past several years might in fact be part of a larger, coherent set of practices we could collect under the resilient pedagogy umbrella. Spurred by my own mid-career ADHD and ASD diagnoses into a re-evaluation of my work practices and beliefs, and a growing attention to the necessity of a teaching praxis rooted in universal design–a teaching focused on a much broader kind of accessibility and inclusion for all rather than accommodations for individuals–I have been rebuilding my courses from the ground up. And it turns out that I have been building resilient courses.

There are some things I’ve never been good at: answering a bunch of specific emails; writing lectures; getting everything completely arranged in advance; having “lecture notes” to share with students; tracking daily details; remembering thing; managing my out-of-class time to produce things for class. There are some things I’ve always been very good at: lively in-class interactive activities; responding to current events in real time and producing lesson plans incredibly quickly; motivating students. And so, I started rearranging my teaching to mitigate my weaknesses and play to my strengths. At the same time, this offered a lot more flexibility and utility to students. Then I won a big fellowship that necessitated a lot of mid-semester travel, which reduced my ability to be physically present, often. And then my mom’s terminal cancer entered its end stages, which greatly impacted my emotional and cognitive availability, and also sometimes required trips with no notice.

What I came to, in the most general sense, was that the goal of my relationship with students was to empower them to become literate in a given domain of knowledge so that they could eventually direct their own learning, as curious critical thinkers. It struck me that creating a new course and then teaching it was the main way that I learn new material: I decided that course prep is probably the highest value learning activity of a given course, and that I would stop hogging it to myself and start downloading it onto students. So I would have way less prep to, could be a lot more available for interactions, and would empower students to come into their own critical literacy. As it turns out, I turned a highly bottlenecked and teacher-dependent classroom into a mesh network of massive parallel processing where the burdens of teaching and learning were distributed much more diffusely across participants, across the span of the semester, and across modalities. I built resilient teaching.

Here are some things that I do, that give a lot more flexibility for everyone to do their best and learn the most, even when disaster or absence or illness might knock one or some or all of us of course, more or less severely. Forthwith, one post on each topic, because I HAVE A LOT TO SAY ABOUT THIS STUFF.

  • Stable, semester long groups
  • Collaborative class notes
  • One-page reading summaries
  • Short assignments, different modalities
  • Short assignments, not sequence
  • Flipped classroom: pedagogy of gentle provocation
  • Meta-cognitive classroom: teaching the teaching

Today I’ll write about the stable, semester long groups

At the beginning of the semester, I put students in groups of 3-5 people, depending on the class size, so that I wind up with 5-8 groups of students. These groups are stable over the term. They are crucial to everything that follows. Groups chunk grading; groups become a small network of accountability and support for students in them; if one member of a group cannot participate in a given activity, others can cover; groups allow students to focus on their own strengths as they negotiate roles with group members; groups help shy students feel safe in discussions because they’re smaller than The Entire Class; groups make learning social and peer-driven; groups are easier in all ways for me to manage than atomized students.

This is where it gets exciting, though: the kinds of work I assign to groups. Yes! It brings out my strengths and theirs, covers my weaknesses and theirs, and is both decentralized, redundant, and robust. WINNING!

I’m bad at planning detailed lessons in advance, but I’m good at producing frameworks. At the beginning of the term, the main topic and readings of each week are laid out. I teach social media, so that means I assign the scholarly readings for the whole term in advance, but explicitly leave space for me to chuck in all the primary texts week by week, based on What The Hell Is Happening On The Internet Today. I am also good at producing lesson structures. I know that each week in my selfies class, for example, each of the secondary readings will need a one page summary (produced by a group), each topic will need some relevant primary texts (found and shared by a group), each class meeting will require a detailed set of lecture notes (captured, organized, and edited by a group). Each group rotates through each activity at least twice, and the dates are set on day 1, so they can all mark them in their planners. And then we spend half a class discussing how they might organize and apportion the work, how they can publish their documents to the course CMS in the proper lesson, and how they can get help from me.

For example, group 1 might have four students in it. In week 2, they might be taking class notes. In week 3, they might produce a structured one-page summary of a critical reading. In week 7, they might be responsible to find three examples of Instagram influencers who suffered backlash over undisclosed #sponcon. At the end of the term, each group member reports on their own participation and role in the group, and assesses their group mates.

We explicitly learn how to work in groups, how to assess the strengths and challenges of each group member, and how to negotiate communication modalities, communication styles, work flow, and roles. We discuss how to accommodate one another and how to build each other up into a group that is greater than the sum of its parts. We discuss the power of both diversity and inclusion in group work, how many hands make light work but many brains make better ideas.

I am always going to do this forever. First of all, these are writing assignments that have actual real world value: these documents the groups produce are useful to and used by everyone in the class, including me. The materials they produce are embedded in the actual content pages of the CMS, not dropped into the black hole of a dropbox to be read and graded by me. This is living writing. Second, this has greatly increased the course accessibility, for all of us, because it reduces the responsibility of any given individual to need to perform in any class, and spreads the work around. Thirdly, it means any or many of us can flame out of any given day, lesson, or assignment, and the course rolls on, fully functional, even if, as happened this winter, the instructor leaves the class for six weeks, mid-semester, on a short-term disability leave.

How? Well, tune in for my next post, on the collaborative class notes assignment that groups complete.


Faster Feminism Spotlight: Dr. Lynn Jones & Archiving as a Means of Liberation

If you’re not familiar with the incredible life and work of Dr. Lynn Jones, then hold on to your seat. Or your hat. Or just let go and listen.

Last Friday Dr. Jones was the guest speaker for the Dalhousie Feminist Seminar Series. The Dalhousie Feminist Seminar Series is a series of informal discussions about feminist scholarship being conducted by faculty and students at Dalhousie University, our colleagues at other universities, and community members. Founded in 2015, the seminar series provides opportunities for socializing and conversation among those interested in gender and women’s studies. Until this year we were a committee of two. Dr. Catherine Bryan and I are delighted to be joined by Dr. Asha Jeffers, Dr. Eli Manning, and supported and in formal collaboration with Dr. Liesl Gambold and the GWST programme here at Dalhousie. 

Given the, ahem, constraints of this particular year, we feel fortunate to be able to move the series online. We’re especially grateful, because when the speaker’s grant us permission, I will be archiving the talks here so that more people can access them. Let me introduce you to Dr. Lynn Jones.

Dr Lynn Jones is a community and labour activist who grew up in Truro, Nova Scotia. 

From the time she was a child, she struggled against racism and segregation. She protested against the Vietnam and Nigerian Biafra War in university, and advocated for better access to post-secondary education for Black and Aboriginal students. 

Jones became a strong labour activist with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, and then became the first woman of colour and African Canadian to be elected Vice President of the Canadian Labour Congress.  

Throughout her life, Lynn has been active in the pursuit of justice, working tireless for many causes and organizations that seek to eradicate racism, secure human rights, and achieve fair labour practices. She has been active in the environmental racism and justice movement and helped craft the first environmental racism bill in Canada. 

In 2016, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Acadia University. On Friday Dr. Jones revealed that she’s recently been granted another Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Mount Saint Vincent University.

Currently, she is working to obtain reparations for Afrikan People & highlighting the crimes that occurred during and post Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. She has created the Lynn Jones African Canadian & Diaspora Heritage Collection (LJACDHC) at Saint Mary’s University, which is available to the public including researchers, community members tracing a family tree, educators and students, and community organizers.

The title of her talk is “Archiving as a Means of Liberation

Dr. Lynn Jones gave this talk on Friday November 27th as part of the 2020-2021 Dalhousie Feminist Seminar Series.


Faster Feminism Spotlight: Dr. Marquita Smith

One of the great joys of my work-life has been (& is) co-organizing the Dalhousie Feminist Seminar Series.

The Dalhousie Feminist Seminar Series is a series of informal discussions about feminist scholarship being conducted by faculty and students at Dalhousie University, our colleagues at other universities, and community members. Founded in 2015, the seminar series provides opportunities for socializing and conversation among those interested in gender and women’s studies. 

Until this year we were a committee of two. Dr. Catherine Bryan and I are delighted to be joined by Dr. Asha Jeffers, Dr. Eli Manning, and supported and in formal collaboration with Dr. Liesl Gambold and the GWST programme here at Dalhousie. 

A silver lining of our current covid-context is that we get to extend invitations to thinkers who are beyond the geographical proximity of Halifax–and this brings me with delight to the point of this post. Each time one of our speakers gives us permission, I will post their talks here to share with you all!

On Friday November 13, 2020 our speaker was Dr. Marquita Smith. Dr. Smith graduated from Rutgers University, Newark with a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in English, and she received her Ph.D. from McMaster University in 2015. Her book project, Through the Glass: African American Literature and Carceral Feeling, offers an exploration of how contemporary African American narratives represent the impact of carcerality on the intimate, interior lives of vicarious carceral subjects—those not imprisoned yet deeply affected by its power. Her published and forthcoming work on the intersections of sexuality, race, and gender in African American and Black diasporic literature and culture appears in venues such as Postcolonial TextJames Baldwin ReviewPopular Music and SocietyThe Routledge Research Companion to Popular Music and GenderPopular Music and the Politics of Hope: Queer and Feminist InterventionsThe Puritan Magazine, and The Black Scholar. Her teaching and research interests include African American literature and culture, hip-hop studies, gender and sexuality, and critical race studies. She was awarded a Career Enhancement Fellowship by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation in 2018. ​

Her talk for the series is entitled “[Black] Bodies Remember: Black Women Writers and Strategies of Survival.” You can watch it here! Thank you, Dr. Smith!

advice · pedagogy · teaching

How to Succeed at Online Teaching and Virtual Education

–Rebecca Anderson and Lai-Tze Fan (who are we?)













If you are reading this “how to” guide, it can be assumed that you are have also looked at the resources provided by your own institution or by other educational resources that you’ve found online. What makes this one different?

We prioritize self-care for the teacher. Things are tough enough with finding childcare, lack of personal space, lack of daily structure, mental and physical health scares, and added responsibilities. We are university teachers, but hope that our suggestions may apply to educators in several other areas and age groups.

We prioritize self-care for the student. One of the best things about going to school is a student’s ability to build a community and support network of friends, which comes from informal and spontaneous ways to meet each other and to reach out when things get confusing or lonely. We include in our considerations how teachers can better support students’ mental health—including by believing them when they say they are not feeling well or are overwhelmed, by giving extensions, and by creating opportunities for them to build a community while they #stayathome .

We offer best practices, not perfect answers. We are open to feedback and suggestions, because pedagogy is not an island. We are rooting for you!

Please note that select pieces of information may be repeated below to answer questions in other categories.



Where do I start?

When designing an online course, where do I start?

There’s no shortage of design frameworks for online course delivery. And given ample time, choice, and resources, you might decide to redesign and build your course with one of these frameworks. Right now, however, consider assessing what you can keep from the F2F (face-to-face) iteration of the course, what you need to modify, and what you need to remove with respect to learning outcomes, instructional strategies, and summative assessments. And once you’ve determined what outcomes, strategies and assessments to import, consider how they will translate: what infrastructures do you need to effectively implement these elements in a virtual learning environment? What tools do you need to structure course content? What tools do you need to deliver grade assessments?

There are also lots of contexts that require consideration when designing an online course: learner context (i.e. Who are your learners? Why are they taking this course? What do they already know? How do your learners learn? Where are they learning from? etc.); instructor context (i.e. How do you teach? And how can you adapt your approach to teaching in online learning environments? What else is on your plate this term? etc.); course context (i.e. What do you want your learners to learn? What instructional materials and technologies will you use to facilitate this learning? What instructional methods will you use to support this learning? What summative assessments will you design to assess this learning? etc.). This is to say there are many different things to consider, and all the questions, and it is overwhelming. So when designing or adapting your course for remote teaching, keep it simple, make it flexible, design for “good enough.”

A note on flexibility. Flexibility is everything: give your learners the opportunity to choose, whether it’s a choice of which summative assessments to complete (i.e. they must complete four out of 10 assignments); when they’d like to submit the assignment and the corresponding amount of feedback they’ll receive (i.e. submit sooner, rubric comments and written feedback; later, rubric feedback); which assignments to revise and resubmit, etc. They know their schedule and their commitments. Build choice into the course framework and let them direct their own learning. And! Flexibility can also help mitigate your workload.


Should I teach asynchronously or synchronously? Both?

Whether it’s your choice, or your institution has instructed you on which instructional design model you will be using this term/year, we acknowledge that asynchronous and synchronous teaching have pros and cons. Neither can replace the experience of F2F, but we do advise some of the following considerations:

Perhaps we don’t have to say this, but virtual classrooms are not F2F classrooms and can’t be treated as such. We will elaborate, but for now, let’s just say that the factors of eye contact, body language, and “eyes front” attention do not hold. Nor do long speeches, hand raising, and students who prefer to blend into the back of the room.

Even if teaching is asynchronous, holding at least one synchronous meeting at the beginning of the term can help students meet each other. If students are in different time zones, consider whether you could hold a meet-and-greet at a time that works for them. If you enjoy meeting with students, you can also try casual biweekly meetings for which attendance isn’t required. When setting up such a meeting, use a time-based poll such as Doodle.

If you have a choice: classes that are heavy in conversation lend themselves to the synchronous style, including graduate seminars, workshops, and topics that lead students to ask a lot of questions.

If you can choose what times your classes or office hours are held, be mindful of the fact that students may be in different time zones and that there are less than ideal times for them to be trying to learn (3am, for instance).


What changes in the approach to building community in asynchronous environments?

There are lots of cool ways to encourage interaction and build community with course content via apps separate from the learning management system. You’ll want to consider the purpose of the interactions (i.e. is it linked to a course or assignment outcome?), your learners’ familiarity with additional applications, and your capacity to teach, troubleshoot, and support them with unfamiliar applications.

There’s also a lot of existing ways to encourage interaction and build community within the LMS (learning management systems). For instance:

    • If they meet in groups at the beginning of the term, please arrange this!

    • Create a presence and maintain it: pre-record a welcome message that’s a bit of “here’s an introduction to the course”, and a bit of “here’s an introduction to me as a person/your instructor/your professor.” Invite your learners to respond and introduce themselves so you get to know them too.

    • And/or, pre-record short, weekly messages, so your learners get the opportunity to see and hear you throughout the term. Doing any sort of group work that’s shared across the class? This pre-recorded message would be a great opportunity to recognize thoughtful group work! Do you have results to share from a formative assessment? This is also a great space to discuss them.

    • Connect regularly with your learners so you can identify what’s working for them or where they might require further support, and communicate what you’re able to change or revisit. There are lots of formative assessments that lend themselves well to online contexts, like anonymous polls, Q/As, Start/Stop/Continue, 1-Minute Papers, Muddiest Point/Crystal Clear. The more targeted the formative assessments, the more tailored the feedback will be. And framing these formative assessments with open-ended questions creates space for learners to feel comfortable asking for clarification, and ensures they have an opportunity to think about what they already know, what they might want to pay attention to, and what they might want to reflect on and or revisit and how that might impact their overall grasp of the material. For example, “What more do we need to know about [theory] or [tool]” or “What’s crystal clear about [theory] or [tool]? What’s the muddiest thing about [theory] or [tool]” or “What can I start/stop/continue with respect to [weekly lectures] or [check-in videos] or [discussion boards]”.

    • Consider creating spaces for informal [but still professional and respectful] student-student interactions, like a discussion board that’s for non-course related conversations.

    • If your students don’t mind signing up for a(nother) new platform, try Slack or Discord, which are community platforms in which people can have group and private conversations, break off into groups (for group work!), post relevant content, and share files. For cohort building in particular, participants in Discord can see when others are “online,” so even during non-class hours, they can write to each other to talk or hang out virtually.


What if I’m not tech savvy? What if I’m working with others who aren’t tech savvy?

Ok, first of all: no shame here. We both know that age is not a factor when it comes to being averse to technology. But now that we’re all in this together, let’s try to help each other out.

The best tactic is to avoid signing up for or downloading new programs, and to avoid asking others to do the same. We realize that that is not always going to be possible, in which case: the next easiest thing to do is to seek out or offer video guides to using technology. Step-by-step instructions recorded on videos are much easier to follow than text-based instructions (“click which button? Where is it?”) and screenshots (“wait, how did they get to that page?”). YouTube is your friend here, as there are many introductory and step-by-step tutorials on computer programs, and even more have been made since COVID-19 forced us all to stay connected via technology.

If you’re instructing others on technology, turn on your computer’s screen recorder and record the process of what you are trying to explain, whether it’s how to download a browser, how to sign up for Zoom, or where to find this week’s readings.

To turn on your computer’s screen recorder, try these keyboard commands:

    • Mac: shift + command (⌘) + “5”
    • Windows: Windows key (⊞) + alt + “R”
    • Linux/Ubuntu: ctrl + alt + shift + “R”


What about institutional support?

If you’re wondering what institutional licences are available for particular apps, programs, software; who to contact to purchase institutional licences; what to do when your request is denied; if your department has funding for teaching and learning aids; if your request to purchase an institutional license is denied, what other app, program, software can you use; if there is an open-source option …

Consider connecting with the formal support offered by academic partners at your institution to develop the course. For example, a teaching centre, extended/distance/online learning centre, accessibility services, the library, IT services, media services, etc. might offer self-paced learning, workshops, and or 1-on-1 support resources to help you design and deliver your online course.


What if I’m being asked to do extra unpaid labour? What if my colleagues or students are being asked to do extra unpaid labour?

While much of the labour that goes into online teaching (and, let’s face it, teaching in general) is unseen, those of us in contingent positions, or who are juggling teaching with other responsibilities in graduate school, may really get the short end of the stick. And often you will not even be asked to do this extra labour, it’s just assumed or implied you will do it because you accepted the assignment. Read your contract, particularly if you’re paid for a set number of hours per week, and track how many hours you spend on course-related activities, including training, course prep, answering emails, facilitating, grading, etc. If you’re exceeding what’s outlined in your contract, connect with your union or association to identify your options, reflect on how you might streamline and minimize your workload, and know you might already be doing everything you can to streamline and minimize your workload and it’s still too much.

If you have job security, consider how you might highlight the exploitation of contingent instructors and leverage whatever power you possess in your position to dismantle this exploitation. Employers should inquire how they can better support their contingent faculty in particular. What kinds of support would be helpful, including collecting and sharing resources, having a chat group, arranging formal training in a timely fashion, giving as much notice as possible to contingent faculty for teaching assignments, and even looking to compensate for extra unpaid labour? The best scenario is to pay people for extra work that they do, period.



Student Communication & Transparency

What kinds of things should I be transparent with my students about?

With assignments and exams, be very clear about deadlines as well as your expectations. More detail about expectations is needed than usual (they can’t ask you on the spot, so some anticipation must occur), put the expectations somewhere that students can return to over and over).

State the submission times and submission methods for assignments. Tell students to include their names or some other kind of identification in the name of the submitted document

If grades will be docked, tell them how much and give them examples. If you are open to extensions (oh, please be open to them during this time), be transparent about how much notice you need and when it’s too late to ask (e.g. the day before).

If there is an option to take pass/fail instead of a numerical or letter grade, let them know as soon as possible.


What if different students are e-mailing me with the same questions?

Once a term or more, gather all of their questions and make an FAQ document or video to share with the class, especially since students often have the same question.


How do I address class concerns? How do I know whether they are enjoying or struggling with the class?

Create an anonymous questionnaire midway through the term to allow them to ask for things to start/stop/continue: what would they like the instructor to start doing more of? What kind of requests and exercises would they prefer to stop? What should the instructor continue to do that is working well?



Internet Accessibility, Safety, and Privacy

What if I’m concerned about Internet privacy and safety, including hacking or personal information theft?

Use a VPN (virtual private network), which allows you to mask your device’s IP address with a fake IP address in another location (including other countries!), to protect your computer’s privacy and security. VPNs work like a P.O. box: you can receive the content but hide your home address.

The browser Opera includes a free VPN that can be turned on and off. Here is a video made by Lai-Tze, showing you how to turn on Opera’s VPN.


How can I support learners who can’t access common educational resources because of their geographical location?

Please be sensitive and sympathetic to the learning environment of international students as well as to the content laws of the countries in which they are living. Some of these countries may enforce firewalls and content regulations, and you should not make any classwork obligatory that may get them into any kind of legal trouble. Remember: a lot of students use shared devices with family members, or access the Internet in public spaces where their screens can be seen. But to answer that question more specifically …


What if my students can’t access specific websites?

Consider using some software alternatives, including open-source options for students worldwide who can’t access certain parts of the Internet websites, or who just don’t want to support monopoly company programs. is a website that offers alternatives to many popular online resources.
    Jitsi is a free and open-source video conferencing site. It is open-source, free, and global Internet-accessible. Jitsi has screen sharing, chat, and recording functions. There is no time limit. Make a Jitsi “room” with a unique name and send the link to your students. Nothing to download; all they have to do is click.
    Github (higher learning curve) allows for open-source software sharing and development



Alternatives to F2F (face to face) Classroom Methods

What should I keep of F2F classroom methods?

Some things should be ok to maintain, including the natural time it takes to move around a classroom. It always takes time to set up presentations, shuffle through notes, take a sip of water, sneeze, and so forth. It’s ok. Take your time and let others take theirs.

You can still engage with your students, including by asking them questions and starting conversations. Maybe one of the better parts of virtual learning is that users’ names are included in many video conferencing platforms, so use their names when you are talking to them.


What alternatives are there to F2F classroom tools?

See the University Design for Learning guidelines on how to adapt for both F2F and virtual best practices. However and wherever you’re teaching, provide your learners with multiple modes of representation, engagement, action, and expression.

Are you used to writing or drawing on a board while you teach? Virtual whiteboards may be a great option for you. Try AWWApp or Miro>.


What about group work?

Arrange students into smaller groups (if they know each other, you could also let them arrange themselves). If they are comfortable with it and if the group work allows it, consider asking them to change groups each time so that they can meet new people.


How about class presentations?

With class presentations, students will have to learn some of the same tricks as the teachers to adapt to virtual teaching and learning. One suggestion that may be helpful to them is to be transparent about sections of talks and lectures: ask them to start the presentation with a visual + verbal table of contents (Part 1, Part 2 of talk). Whether they want to keep things as a conversation or read straight off of a paper (which is very difficult to pay attention to even F2F), suggest that they offer visual aids: images, videos, slides, and so forth.


How about interactive or hands-on activities and exercises?

Integrating learner-centred, interactive instructional activities into online teaching spaces is possible, it just requires a bit more time. Learners require clear directions for the activity, clear expectations, and clear links to course objectives. Collaboration is amazing and learners need to know how collaborating with their colleagues is going to prepare them for a summative assessment, or help them meet the intended learning outcome for this particular unit in the course.

Seek out accessible and affordable ways to do hands-on activities at home, even if the project has to change slightly. Usually, Lai-Tze teaches her graduate classes out of a technological lab with lots of equipment for “critical making.” In March 2020, when the COVID-19 lockdown began, her “Critical Media Infrastructures” class turned to making face masks. Instead of using lab supplies and machines, they used spare cloth, vacuum cleaner bags (non-HEPA/fibreglass), old shoe laces, elastics from the dollar store–whatever they had at home. To put their masks together, they used sewing machines, needle and thread, or hot glue guns!


How do I assign grades for things like participation, group work, etc.?

Find ways for them to participate in their own time. For example, ask a weekly question in a forum (either through your home institution or use an accessible chat group like Slack), which can give them the chance to respond in text + via links (many of them are already used to sharing content).

Consider using a rubric so learners have something concrete to reference regarding what’s expecting of them, and so you have something concrete to consult when grading more nebulous course elements like participation. Rubrics take time to draft, revise, and tweak, but once you have them, you have them!

For group work, consider implementing a rubric and/or group contract. Provide all groups with a template they can discuss and modify according to their group’s dynamics. Again, both of these documents give learners something concrete to reference re: expectations, and you something concrete to consult re: grading, and all parties a pathway to recourse should there be any sort of implosion because of group work (it happens.)

Reflective exercises can come in handy too for both participation and group work! For example, “What did you learn through X? How might you apply this to future Y?” Learners often feel comfortable communicating in this mode because it’s metacognitive, they can be honest, and they don’t have to verbalize face to face.



Learning & Accessibility

How can I save my notes for captions, slides, and future lectures?

If you’re recording video lectures and talks, try turning on a dictation program to capture the text while you ramble! While the text isn’t always perfect, you can copy + paste the final product into presentation slides and documents for current and future lectures!

The dictated notes can be used for captions and accessibility. Captions are helpful for students who are hard of hearing, who don’t retain information as strongly over verbal communication, and/or who aren’t fluent in the language of instruction.

To turn on dictation …

    • Mac: “fn” two times (to dictate in any program) OR turn on Speech Recognition (System Preferences -> Accessibility -> Voice Control -> Enable Voice Control). If your computer runs slowly with Voice Control on, be sure to turn it off when you’re done dictating
    • PCs: Windows key (⊞) + “H”
    • Linux: see here


Should audio be kept on or off?

Individual participants should be able to choose what makes them comfortable–as long as they are not distracting others. If select speakers are talking, it’s a good idea for everyone who is not speaking to keep audio off. This is useful if a participant’s mic is producing a lot of background noise or feedback/echo. If there is no extra noise and an open conversation amongst all participants is happening, audio can be kept on so that participants aren’t muting and unmuting constantly.


Should video be kept on or off?

Individual participants should be able to choose what makes them comfortable–as long as they are not distracting others. Students should not be punished if they look like they are not paying attention. Even in F2F lectures, they don’t have their eyes at the front the whole time. Also, students should not be forced to keep their videos on. Their homes are private spaces, just like your home, and they may not want to show everyone their bedrooms, their family members, their roommates, and/or their pets.


How long should my recorded talks and lectures be?

We have been given all kinds of advice when it comes to how long/short recorded videos should be, and the answer to this question is that it depends on how long you expect them to either look at the screen or to listen. We strongly suggest breaking up long videos into smaller videos, with the consideration that watching a two-hour lecture can equate to watching a two-hour movie. Longer videos should also be avoided, as they take more time to load and can be difficult to navigate if a student has to refresh the video or if they try to look for “that one part where the Professor defined osmosis.” Have you spent a long time trying to find “that one part” in a movie? Be kind!

If you need more information (about tools as well), look no further than this amazing Tweet on video lectures by Hook & Eye’s Editrix Aimée Morrison:

Individual videos should be approximately ten minutes if there is a lot to look at on the screen, and 20-30 minutes if there is not much to look at. Students are used to intently watching five- to ten-minute YouTube videos, but they are also used to listening to hour-long podcasts so long as they can cook, clean, drive, or do other activities while listening. It also helps with their navigation if videos are titled in the same way as a table of contents. So, not “Week 4, Part 3.” Instead, try “4.3: The Principles of New Media.” You can also try including time stamps so that the videos are easier to navigate.

Apply the principles of universal design to your instructional materials and assessments, so learners have a few different formats to engage with course content. Bonus! Many learning platforms now feature built-in accessibility checkers, so you can double-check the way you’ve designed course elements is accessible (i.e. text size and type; alt text for images; page hierarchy etc.).



Virtual Communication

How do I get students to stop talking over each other or to stop talking too much?

Without resorting to enforcing Robert’s Rules of Order, there still needs to be a little structure. In classrooms, some students like to raise their hands, so is there an equivalent? Hand-raising is a built-in option for many video conferencing tools, but the order of who gets to speak next is sometimes up for debate. We recommend having students put an emoji (a hand or perhaps a rainbow, but not a conch!) in the text-based group chat, which denotes that they would like to speak next and in a first come, first served order. For those who have thoughts and questions but would not like to speak, they may type into the chat alongside the conversation.

If a few students are in fact talking too much, remind them to put their emoji in the chat. You can also start to respond to or read out some of the typed comments in the chat, asking if students who haven’t spoken yet would like to elaborate or give an example. If the conversation is clearly dominated by a select few students, it’s time to try getting the rest to speak up more. In which case …


How do I get students to start talking in class?
Try out a class exercise called “free writing,” recommended to us by creative writer Sean Braune. In this method, the instructor poses a question (usually open-ended) and gives the students a few minutes to jot down responses, preferably on paper. When the time is up, no one has to speak and none of the responses are collected or marked. Students can either read aloud, say anything that has come to their minds, or type their feedback and thoughts in the text-based group chat. The “free write” method had been very effective at getting quiet students to participate in class because their notes serve as a safety net.


What are some alternatives for is to communicate via text or video?

If your students don’t mind signing up for a(nother) new platform, try Slack or Discord, which are community platforms in which people can have group and private conversations, break off into groups (for group work!), post relevant content, and share files. For cohort building in particular, participants in Discord can see when others are “online,” so even during non-class hours, they can write to each other to talk or hang out virtually.

If you don’t have to use your institution’s video conferencing platform, consider switching to the open-source, free, and global Internet-accessible Jitsi. Jitsi has screen sharing, chat, and recording functions. There is no time limit. Make a Jitsi “room” with a unique name and send the link to your students. Nothing to download; all they have to do is click.


What if they are abusing the text-based chat function?

Unfortunately, as with F2F classes, students can abuse their devices and class time by messaging each other. But as teachers would also do in class, if they are distracting you and other students, you have the right to ask them to stop. If they don’t stop, you have the right to ask them to leave. If they are extremely disruptive and also won’t leave, you have the right to end the class and end the online session. Students have the right to feel safe in their classroom, whether virtual or F2F.


Author Biographies

Lai-Tze Fan is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Waterloo in Canada, as well as a Faculty Researcher of the Critical Media Lab and Games Institute. She researches digital storytelling and communication, media theory and infrastructure, research-creation or critical making, and gendered tech/AI/labour. Fan has written for Hook & Eye before, including a guide on “How to Write an Academic Cover Letter.” Learn more at

Becky Anderson is a Career Advisor in the Centre for Career Action at the University of Waterloo. She supports the career development of individuals in the undergraduate community pursuing further education. She’s also a doctoral candidate with the Department of English Language and Literature, concurrently pursuing a Graduate Diploma in Cognitive Science. Her research considers methods of immersion across storytelling media.