On January 30th, 2020 we began our class “Introduction to Engaged Teaching and Transformative Learning in the Humanities and Social Science” ready to embark on a rigorous semester— just like the other 271,242 CUNY students. Our class was made up of undergraduate, masters, and doctoral students across several universities and from distinct programs: educational psychology, biography & memoir, social welfare, English, urban education, international relations, sociology, and liberal/interdisciplinary studies. Some students were long time professionals working in education, others doctoral students newly teaching or preparing to teach, still others aspiring teachers. However all of us shared a commitment to and experience with thinking critically about pedagogy.
Our interests and proficiencies spanned K-12 education, language & literacy education, social work & counseling, and undergraduate education.
With thirteen students, one teaching assistant, and two professors, we began our semester with hungry minds and a willingness to embrace the experimental nature of the class— a twelve week romp in all things pedagogy with few disciplinary boundaries and sixteen experts in their respective fields and life experience in the same room.
The course itself was designed to embrace this varied expertise. Our first five classes were team-led by professors Cathy N. Davidson and Eduardo Vianna. Professor Davidson shared her expertise in histories of U.S. education and technology from a humanistic perspective. Professor Vianna brought his expertise on psychologist Lev Vygotsky and Vygotskian theory from his background in psychology and social science. The sixth class, exactly half-way through the semester, shifted the course to be democratically facilitated between the students.
Class time was distributed between discussions and activities around our topic of the week and our student group projects. From day one of class— students formed groups around their topics of interest and areas of expertise, this way they could team-teach the second half of the semester. Thirteen students broke up into three groups based on interests and expertise. Students team taught three classes the second half of the semester.
All of our original class plans needed to be rethought when COVID-19 hit New York City and we entered a shelter in place, with CUNY classes moving to emergency remote instruction. Exciting participatory learning activities needed to be adapted to our synchronous video call or semi-synchronous collaborative Google Document. Yet, plans for our open and public class benefited from our virtual delivery because participants could join us from anywhere and were not required to commute into Manhattan. Our guest presenter, Dr. Jay Polish, was able to facilitate our discussion and activity on universal and accessible class design from California.
Adjustments and accommodations became the norm as the COVID-19 pandemic reached terrifying heights in New York City, disproportionately harming Black, Brown, and multiply marginalized low income communities. As our class rapidly shifted to emergency remote learning, all of us hurried to make sense and respond to the emergency shifts in our personal lives. Students whose family or domicile homes were outside the city needed to make emergency plans to leave temporarily or move. Many of us were thrust into new care-taking roles or had our care-taking and child-raising responsibilities exponentially increased as we became teachers and guardians of confused and frightened little ones. Loss was all around us.
Confronted with the enormous challenges, we each redefined our relationship to the class based on our individual capacities, changing life demands, and the stability of our internet connection.
What we imagined our class would be on day one in January 2020 became something unimaginably different— our lives had changed and the world had changed. We continued to meet or check-in each week as we were able. The urgency of our class accelerated as debates about online learning took the national stage. As we adapted our analysis sharpened, we felt first hand our needs for clearer classroom intention and practice, expansive accessibility, and an education system with social justice at its center.
This book is meant to serve as a model for our “collaborative learning community project” and an archive of the knowledge we made, shared, and dreamed together. We have included our agendas, lists of readings, activities, and brief descriptions of our classes. We welcome you to reproduce or re-interpret any of our activities for your needs. This text is copyrighted under Creative Commons meaning you are welcome to “distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon” this work as long as you give credit to this source.
You are invited to visit chapters chronologically or as they fit your needs. Chapters are loosely organized by class and topic. If you adapt any lessons or assignments, please let us know and write about it on HASTAC.org. HASTAC, or the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory, is a “network of over 17, 500 students, professors, authors, activists, technology developers, and educators committed to ‘changing the way we teach and learn.’ Another motto, ‘Difference is our operating system.’ When one posts on HASTAC, the goal is to present information in a way that will be useful and meaningful to students and educators beyond our classroom. HASTAC is known as the ‘ethical Facebook’ because it never misuses or sells user data. HASTAC is a dynamic social network to which any HASTAC member can post, as long as their post stays roughly within topic, is not commercial, and is never insulting to other members. To join HASTAC and collaborate with educators around the world visit https://www.hastac.org/user/register.” In “Introduction to Engaged Teaching and Transformative Learning,” each final project required a public facing component. You can read through these posts and others in our online HASTAC group.
Our intention for this open educational resource is to support teacher-scholars in their own experiments in active learning, remotely and otherwise. We hope this collection can provide a model and inspire more experiments in dynamic, accessible learning with social justice at its center.
 Estimate of undergraduate and graduate students at the City University of New York, approximate by the CUNY Office of Institutional Research and Assessment. “Total Enrollment by Undergraduate and Graduate Level, Full-Time/Part-Time Attendance, and College Fall 2019.”