Teaching Chicana/o Studies Online


Image from Flickr: Daniel Orth

This semester has a lot of firsts, a lot of new work. First, as I mentioned, I’m working full time at CSU Dominguez Hills as coordinator of the humanities program and instructor in Interdisciplinary Studies and Chicana/o Studies. I am not teaching anywhere else, so rather than having multiple bags for three different campuses I’m spending my days at Dominguez Hills. I have an office (pictures when it gets set up) of my own and am responsible for making sure other instructors have what they need. I’m trying to get to know the how administration works at CSUDH, learn how to make good administrative choices and understand the history behind the program I’m responsible for leading.

A lot of changes, but that’s not what this post is about.

Because the other new thing I’m doing is teaching a Chicana/o Studies course on the family and gender issues online. This is something different. It’s the first Chicana/o studies class I’ve taught online and the first time the Chicana/o Studies department at CSUDH has offered an all online class.

I confess, after I said I’d do it, I had a bit of a freakout.

Here’s why: first, on a pedagogical level, I wondered how to move Chicana/o studies pedagogy online. How to, within the LMS Blackboard (which I found out I have to use at CSUDH), create an environment where learning could come from the students to each other. So much of how Blackboard works seems to rely on the idea of the transactional classroom where the knowledge and assignments all come from the instructor. I struggled to find writing discussing the teaching of ethnic studies online.

Which leads me to the next and larger source of my freakout. Until I realized I wasn’t going to have it anymore, I hadn’t realized how much I count on my body — that is on being a large Chicana professor — in the room as an instructor in a Chicana/o studies course. How to navigate that? Will my students identify with me as Chicana/o? Will they identify with being Chicana/o themselves? Will we be able to see each other?

As I was obsessing about this, I had a conversation with my mentor Tiffany Ana Lopez about the idea of embodiment in the classroom and online. Tiffany pointed out that online I could do with possibly different results the classic move in Chicana/o studies discourse, to start a discussion saying “within and for the sake of this discussion, we’re all Chicana/o. I’m so grateful for this conversation because I began to see the online space as one not of deficit, but of possibility.


Syllabus: Large credit for the basic construction of the course, especially the readings and recordings being used, goes to Marisela Chavez who was originally going to teach this course.

Blackboard: I’m using the class Blackboard site for grading and to distribute materials. I confess, I don’t like Blackboard mostly because I think it’s ugly but a friend / colleuge made some good points about it being what the students are familiar with and giving them a base where they’re comforting.

Blog: we’re constructing a course blog using part of this site’s domain space. The writing students do for this will make up a significant part of their writing for the class — both in looking at the course texts, finding new ones and constructing content. The content they make is going be surrounding their creation of Dia de los Muertos alters as digital objects.

Slack: I used Slack for the first time this past year and really liked it — especially in the way it was used by different tracks at DPLI. But it seemed like too much to create a Slack team for a class of 20 online students. So I created a team as my own classroom and then a channel for the class. If I choose to keep using Slack, each class will have its own.  The Slack space is a space for asking questions, making comments and basically getting to know each other.

The major project for this course is going to be the construction of some sort of Día de Muertos alter for the blog.

Update: an index of their final projects

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