Enacting Critical Pedagogy Online

by Erin Mikulec (Volume editor) Tania Ramalho (Volume editor)
©2022 Textbook XIV, 340 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 533


Critical pedagogy is the foundation of contemporary teacher education. Circumstances and changes in the educational landscape within recent years have resulted in a sharp increase in programs offering online classes and entire programs in teacher education. Using critical perspectives, such courses often address difficult topics, for example, the impact of poverty, racism/white supremacism, sexism, heterosexism, and ableism on students and on schools. These issues require careful planning and development of a classroom environment that fosters honest conversations and multiple perspectives, and a level of rapport that can be especially difficult to achieve and negotiate in online asynchronous environments where students may hesitate to be open to discuss matters perceived as sensitive. Nonetheless, engaging students with and through critical pedagogy online can also provide an environment that challenges traditional ways of knowing and creates spaces for meaningful dialogue and change. This book examines course design, student engagement, research, theory, and practices of teaching with and for critical pedagogy in online environments.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Advance Praise
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Introduction (Erin Mikulec and Tania Ramalho)
  • Chapter One What Would Paulo Freire Think of Blackboard™: Critical Pedagogy in an Age of Online Learning (Drick Boyd)
  • Chapter Two Teaching Critical Pedagogy Online: What Would Paulo Freire Say? (Tania Ramalho)
  • Chapter Three Online Engagement with Critical Pedagogy (Tina Wagle)
  • Chapter Four (Digital) Media as Critical Pedagogy (Maximillian Alvarez)
  • Chapter Five Teaching and Learning in Hybrid Environments: Professor and Student Perspectives (Delores D. Liston and Heather M. Huling)
  • Chapter Six Promoting Transformative Learning Using Critical Pedagogy and Moore’s Theory of Transactional Distance (Sara Donaldson, Heather Yuhaniak, Carey Borkoski, & Yolanda Abel)
  • Chapter Seven Creating Community Through Meaningful Interactions: A Framework to Support Critical Pedagogy and Social Justice (Brianne Morettini)
  • Chapter Eight Covid-19 and the Exacerbation of Educational Inequalities in New Zealand (Carol A. Mutch)
  • Chapter Nine Teaching for Social Justice: Online Classes at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (John Bannister, Anita Bledsoe-Gardner, & Mary Holiman)
  • Chapter Ten Knowledge Production and Power in an Online Critical Multicultural Teacher Education Course (Ramona Maile Cutri, Erin Feinauer Whiting, & Eric Ruiz Bybee)
  • Chapter Eleven Critical Pedagogy and Online Discussions in a Multicultural Education Teacher Preparation Course (Jessamay T. Pesek)
  • Chapter Twelve Evolving Toward Critical Social Justice Online: A Rogerian-Based Theoretical Model (Jennifer L. Martin and Denise K. Bockmier-Sommers)
  • Chapter Thirteen Ignatian Pedagogy Online (Margaret Debelius, Kimberly Huisman Lubreski, Mindy McWilliams, James Olsen, Lee Skallerup Bessette, & Yianna Vovides)
  • Chapter Fourteen Educating Awareness in an Online Reflective Practice Course: Becoming Aware of Implicit Biases and Leaps to Judgment (Robyn Ruttenberg-Rozen, Sahana Mahendirarajah, & Brianne Brady)
  • Chapter Fifteen Reaching Critical Depths: Engaging Teacher Candidates in Critical Pedagogy Online (Vicki A. Hosek and Jay C. Percell)
  • Chapter Sixteen Converting Research Efforts to Improve Equitable Student Achievement from Professional Development Program to Online Course: GESA (Still) Works! (Dolores A. Grayson)
  • Chapter Seventeen Adjunct Online Instruction in Higher Education: Are Piece-Work Professors Able to Teach Critically Under Virtual Panopticism? (Batya Weinbaum)
  • About the Authors
  • Series Index

←xii | 1→


The spark for this project ignited in Bilbao, Spain, capital of the historically resistant Basque region. The idea came to fruition at a bench outside of the architecturally exquisite Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, where a group of Critical Pedagogy and Transformative Leadership Congress had just visited an exhibit of the monumental works of Portuguese feminist artist, Joana Vasconcelos. Earlier that day we had delivered a presentation on the work we were doing with our own online courses, the challenges we faced and the successes we enjoyed, teaching controversial content online. Congress founder and leader, Shirley Steinberg, approached us with the suggestion, “Why don’t you work on a book on teaching Critical Pedagogy online?”

We had met at the previous gathering of the Congress in Turin, Italy. There we committed to present our work on online teaching at the upcoming International Conference Paulo Freire: The Global Legacy in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. We were in support of the efforts of the Federal University of Minas Gerais’ conference organizers to keep alive the tenets of the Pedagogy of the Oppressed in face of the political pendulum moving dangerously to the right. The conference turned out to be the perfect setting to discuss the emergence of critical pedagogy-inspired teaching online, as our presentation took place in a room full of engaged students and scholars, Brazilian and from other countries, including Colombia, Israel, and Norway. Our session yielded a rich conversation, mediated through several ←1 | 2→languages and translations, that led to the same conclusions. While online learning provided access to more students, the distance created by virtual walls did not always facilitate genuine engagement. Furthermore, the challenge to establish an environment in which difficult conversations could be had with mindful intention was all the greater. In an online setting, our students either felt emboldened by the ability to remain shielded by the lack of humanity that asynchronous environments create, or the opposite, they were in fact too timid to express any thoughts or ideas out of fear of being perceived a certain way by others. As all our students were pre-service or practicing teachers in an online environment, they were aware of what they themselves had told their own students: once you write something on the internet, it is there to stay. Although this was something that was never discussed, we came to understand the effect it had on the climate in our online courses.

Curious to understand and share the experiences of others, the call for proposals went out. We received many responses, with proposals falling both close to and far from our vision for the book, and some surprising. The global pandemic hit, disrupting work routines and all lives, adding some delays to the process. Nonetheless, the project proceeded. The final product, which we highlight in this introduction, attests to the diversity of scholars engaging with critical pedagogy online in various forms, their practices, and narratives, in the United States, Canada, and New Zealand. Before Covid-19, teaching online from a critical pedagogical perspective seemed to be pioneering experiences needing to be documented. Since, online teaching in general has become commonplace not only in higher education but at all levels of schooling, even kindergarten. Therefore, although the pandemic has at times brought about frustration with the process of bringing this project to a close, it has also proven to emphasize the timeliness of its completion.

In Enacting Critical Pedagogy Online, seventeen chapters span theory and practice of critical pedagogy in online spaces. Each author brings a unique online teaching experience of courses about or related to critical pedagogy. The community of scholars in this book share practices, theories, resources, as well as challenges they face in online teaching enacting critical pedagogical principles.

The book opens with activist professor Drick Boyd (Eastern University), whose 2016 paper, What Would Paulo Freire Think of Blakboard TM: Critical Pedagogy in an Age of Online Learning, is reprinted here from the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy. He writes,

While Paulo Freire formulated his ideas about teaching in a pre-Internet era, he did not object to the use of technology in the teaching-learning process. He urged educators to think critically about the use of technology and to find new ways of seeking and creating knowledge with the aid of technology (p. 14).←2 | 3→

Is it possible to follow critical pedagogical principles in online teaching? Boyd did it, as others in this book, in trial-and-error fashion. He called particular attention to Freire’s deeply interpersonal “situated pedagogy,” intuitively resembling Vygotsky’s, requiring the teacher to know and to work with the students’ very languages and cultures. He also examined Feenberg’s critical theory of technology, contending that much like schooling, technology is not politically neutral as it affects our understanding of self and the world. Computer-mediated education represents an “all-encompassing environment managing and controlling access to information, structuring relationships, and redefining individual identities” (p. ;171). Boyd identifies conditions that facilitate and constrains Freirean concepts in online teaching, concluding with five problem-posing questions and pointing to future research and practice of online educators: avoiding the banking model of education (content transmission), creating community, leading students to understand the contexts of cyberculture and of neoliberal culture; and providing opportunity for action.

Boyd’s initial question also informs Chapter Two, by Tania Ramalho (SUNY Oswego), Teaching Critical Pedagogy Online--What would Paulo Freire say? She acknowledges writing it without the knowledge advanced in his pioneer paper, and indicates the happenstance circumstances by which she came to teach online the master’s level course, Critical Pedagogy. Freire’s standpoint informs the course’s main goal: “to empower the development of students as subjects through understanding and enacting critical consciousness in their concrete existential conditions, in interconnect personal and occupational everyday life” (p. 32). She expects students to undergo conscientization, becoming critically aware of contextual “specs”—the historical social, political, economic and cultural systems shaping lives—while also entertaining the possibility of becoming critical pedagogy-informed teachers.

The “critical” is also a political perspective that developed modernly, more so following Marx’s posing of historical materialism. Marxist scholars, including from the Frankfurt School, have continued to put it forth as a basis for understanding and guiding human evolution through revolutionary praxis. Ramalho’s students compare and contrast conservative, liberal and critical political traditions, and examine the platforms of main American political parties and their views on education and schooling. They study critical pedagogical principles and practices and are urged to consider them in their own teaching and relationships with their students, parents and school communities.

Tina Wagle (SUNY Empire) writes about her Introduction to Critical Pedagogy course in Chapter Three, Online Engagement with Critical Pedagogy, ←3 | 4→departing from the premise, “an instructor should be able to deliver the content s/he wants to convey regardless of mode of instruction” (p. 54). Given that most social justice-oriented courses have been, until recently, taught face-to-face, she understands the uniqueness of this new technology-infused critical pedagogical teaching. As one of the core courses of a master of education program, Wagle’s Introduction to Critical Pedagogy is “designed to create a discourse community that questions hegemonic social practices and contributes to a larger collective conversation” (p. 56). The course content includes a module on educational ethnography. She showcases a program and course unique online model of virtual residency bridging university and communities, which undergraduate, graduate and international education students attend. In 2018, the theme for this three-week virtual residency was Indian Education and Indigenous Knowledge. Students were immersed in related reading, watching and responding to documentaries, and attending a lecture by an activist and cultural expert. For the course’s final project, following a framework for community activism, students are asked to develop a plan for change that also engages school and community partnerships.

In Chapter Four, (Digital) Media as Critical Pedagogy, Maximilian Alvarez explores the paradox that technology presents in the context of teaching and learning. Alvarez argues that in contrast to the promise of creativity and expression that technology-enhanced learning purports, ultimately, teachers and students alike “perform what the programmers of said technology have determined learning to be” (p. 79). Through this lens, technology only offers the illusion of choice and agency, and by encouraging multimodal demonstrations of learning, students and teachers are still at the mercy of what the original designers intended but now believe they are somehow empowered with the very opposite. Alvarez further examines these concepts through the work of Freire, Giroux, Kincheloe, and others and call for a critical evaluation of ready acceptance of technology as positive progress in education.

Delores D. Liston (Georgia Southern University) pairs with doctoral student Heather M. Huling to reflect about two second-year hybrid courses in a Curriculum Studies E.D. program: a critical pedagogy introductory course, Inquiry and Development into Educational Practice; and a second one, Advanced Critical Pedagogy. In Chapter Five, Teaching and learning in hybrid environments: Professor and student perspectives, Liston explains the courses’ objectives and assignments. In the first course, students reflect and write autobiographically about gender, social class and race. Other projects, which receive feedback from instructors, are a grant proposal and a bibliographical review. The second course addresses the perspectives of diverse critical pedagogy scholars in greater depth.←4 | 5→

Huling, Liston’s doctoral student, writes about the benefits of the hybrid format of the courses and the constructive feedback on assignments she received. Testifying about the prevailing social dynamics, she writes:

The acts of writing about our personal experiences, reading about the family experiences of our classmates, and then, engaging in in-person conversations about our different experiences pushed us into uncomfortable dialogues with one another. These rich conversations about our autobiographies sparked personalized discussions about critical pedagogy and how we acknowledge our biases as educators (p .107).

Huling witnesses the student-focused, transmission-avoiding nature of these critical pedagogy courses at the doctoral level.

Jack Mezirow’s adult learning and development theory; Paulo Freire’s concept of critical consciousness and critical pedagogy; and Michael G. Moore’s transactional distance theory are connected in Chapter Six, Promoting transformative learning using critical pedagogy and Moore’s Theory of Transactional Distance. The research team, Sara Donaldson and Heather Yuhaniak (Wheaton College), and Carey Borkoski and Yolanda Abel (John Hopkins University), investigates how online instructional design affects doctoral students’ critical reflection.

A multicultural teacher education doctoral course’ structure was redesigned to decrease transactional distance (TD) by offering more opportunities for synchronous dialogues, hypothesized to increase opportunity for critical reflection. The authors describe the changes made to the course and the emerging patterns of transformation in student experiences, ranging from simply informative, intensifying, to transformative, noting that the latter was different for student members of dominant and non-dominant groups. They found that the “relationship between TD and critical reflection may be more nuanced” and that “conditions leading to transformative learning differ based on individuals’ backgrounds” (pp. 133–134).

Brianne Morettini (Rowan University) presents Creating community through meaningful interactions: A framework to support critical pedagogy and social justice in Chapter Seven. She reflects on the first-year undergraduate online course, Foundations and Philosophies of Education, part of an inclusive education program. She starts by situating herself as instructor: “I view myself as a critical mentor and facilitator of learning and growth” (p. 143). She explicitly models vulnerability and trust, and the sense of importance of the work with young diverse learners that requires cultural competence. Vygotsky’s sociocultural approach, Wenger’s communities of practice, and Freire’s praxis principle inform her views on teaching and learning. She writes, “My felt obligations, then, as an instructor in an asynchronous online learning space are to foster meaningful interactions with students ←5 | 6→and among students so they can begin to cultivate meaning and participate in a community of practice” (p. 145).

The model Morettini uses to create an online community of practice that structures student access comprises course assignments, virtual office hours, learner autobiographies, integrated feedback and student voice. A sense of belonging and community is necessary for participants’ calling on each other’s biases, in order for understandings of social justice issues develop. The author is available for individual communication and uses autobiographical video for introductions. She creates many opportunities for student interaction through three main course assignments—critical friend, community engagement, personal teaching philosophy. “Critical friend” requires pairs of students to follow each other’s posts, and at the end of the course they write about what they learned from the other.

Carol A. Mutch explores how the Covid-19 pandemic laid bare the lack of access to educational resources and deepened the socio-economic divide in Covid-19 and the exacerbation of educational inequalities in New Zealand in Chapter Eight. Providing a detailed timeline of events following the arrival of Covid-19 and responses from the Ministry of Education, along with a review of studies conducted during this time, Mutch identifies the many challenges faced by teachers and parents in having to navigate digital platforms seemingly overnight while maintaining regular work and family life. Mutch also discusses the social, emotional, and educational effects on students. The piece is further substantiated by the student voices showcased within from Mutch’s own study. The chapter concludes with an optimistic outlook for the future based on the lessons learned and the Māori proverb: kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawaui –– be strong, be brave, be steadfast (p. 175).


XIV, 340
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (August)
Critical pedagogy online teaching critical studies online learning teacher education social justice digital literacy online environment preservice teacher education Erin Mikulec Tania Ramalho Enacting Critical Pedagogy Online
New York, Berlin, Bruxelles, Lausanne, Oxford, 2022. XIV, 340 pp., 8 b/w ill., 9 tables.

Biographical notes

Erin Mikulec (Volume editor) Tania Ramalho (Volume editor)

Erin Mikulec, Ph.D. is Professor of Secondary Education and the Associate Director of the School of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University. She received her doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Purdue University. Her research interests include critical studies in teacher education. Tania Ramalho is Professor of Foundations of Education at SUNY Oswego. She received her Ph.D. in education policy and leadership from the Ohio State University. Her research interests are in critical literacy and pedagogy as well as issues in teacher education for progressive social justice.


Title: Enacting Critical Pedagogy Online
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