SEPTEMBER 2021: Welcome!…back?

Hello friends, and welcome to autumn term 2021. Are we all seated comfortably, with our masks and seat belts comfortably adjusted?

Buckle up for another school year with the Activist Classroom!

And an adjustment it sure is. Both of us find it hard to believe that two years ago it was normal to head for campus, enter one’s office or one’s classroom, face other humans, and begin talking together.

Now, it it feels odd, disquieting, discombobulating: like we’ve lived an entire life between 12 March 2020 (that’s the day it all shut down for Kim, while she was riding the train home from her campus office in London, Ontario), and 4 September 2021 (that’s the day Kelsey marched into her brand-new office at Concordia University in Montreal, a school she had not even applied to work at back last March, and where she has been working entirely remotely since autumn term 2020 began).

Kelsey, the first time at her office (after being employed at the university for over a year).

That weird temporal drift you’re feeling? It’s real. It’s in our bodies, our brains; it’s in our cells, our neurons, our reflexes when we step off the sidewalk so someone can pass at social distance, when we turn away from other humans (even masked ones) on the subway.

And it’s going to take some time to unlearn.

You’ve probably been thinking a lot about this already, even if only indirectly – even if only through the twitches in your body. And if you’re like us, you’ve probably been inadvertently hoovering up media posts about coping with The Great Return – most likely while stuffing half a sandwich in your mouth between fielding student emails & administrative missives about vaccine and masking policies.

In this first post of the 2021-22 academic year, we’ve decided to share some of what we’ve been hoovering these last few weeks; then, we’ll each share one thing that we are hoping, and one thing each we’re fearing, as we take our first tentative steps forward/back/around in time.

Kim’s recommendations:

I get a lot of email newsletters from media orgs I trust, including the Guardian, the New York Times, and The Ink. I tend to go for letters that focus on gender, political and social equity, racial justice, and the climate emergency.

The Ink by Anand Giridharadas

This week, the NYT gender newsletter, In Her Words, published a piece on boundaries in the workplace: how people who identify as women in the US are fighting back against orders to return to the office full time, refusals to mandate masking up, and other practices that risk their own and their family’s/community’s health and wellbeing.

I recommend the piece highly for its practicalities, but also for its key take-away: in this unprecedented No-Longer-Before-Time, we get to say what we need, and we have the right to be heard and accommodated. (This is something disability activists have long known and told us, of course – may our voices lifted together continue their revolution!) We also have the right to expect that those up the chain will anticipate our needs and prepare accommodations so that we do not need to ask for them all the time.

Check the newsletter out here, and follow NYT gender on Insta here.

I’m also a regular reader of University Affairs (in fact, I have a piece coming out in UA shortly on editing as peer mentorship; I’ll share it when it’s out!). Recently, UA did a pair of very useful stock-takings: where are Canadian campuses on the fight against systemic anti-Black racism, and where are they in the long process of decolonization and reconciliation (which, to be very clear, is a VERY long road, one which most of us have only just begun walking)?

University Affairs: Ever useful.

While these pieces are not “about” COVID and The Great Return, they are very much about the urgent cultural shift that took place alongside the pandemic and shaped its wake: the need to, at last, look past the power of neoliberal capital and think about how our lifeways are failing huge swaths of our population, burying truths that need rising and acknowledging. One of the COVID silver linings, for me, is that these truths are in front of us now, and they will not go away without a fight.

For some of us who are enmeshed in decolonization and reconciliation processes on our home campuses, this stuff won’t be “news”, but it’s important I think to get a sense of how the larger conversations around these crucial topics are building in different places. In particular I find it valuable to hear from Black and Indigenous campus leaders on how it’s going for them and what else they need from us.

The pieces are here and here; I highly recommend them also to readers outside Canada, especially our UK readers who are working in their own contexts on decolonization initiatives.

Kelsey’s recommendations:

Neither of my recommendations are about university teaching specifically but I’ve found both helpful as we fall into another September.

The first recommendation is a piece in The Conversation by Daniel Heath Justice that offers an eloquent and clear set of steps for recognizing and addressing residential school denialism. The topic is specific to the territory now known as Canada but the article’s argument-counter argument structure offers an excellent model for refuting inaccurate and oppressive claims more broadly. I found it particularly helpful for thinking through potential applications in real world settings, which feels particularly pressing with a Canadian federal election on the horizon.

I need to give a disclaimer on the second recommendation: it is published by a magazine/blog that is owned and operated by a for-profit investing company (albeit a self described women-centered investing company). I have zero affiliation with the company, and beyond a quick website peruse, know little about them but ….

Ellevest’s post on practical steps for handling work overwhelm made its way to me, and I’ve included it here because 1. The start of semester can be, ahem, overwhelming and 2. I found the tips and advice realistic and useful.

Organization: One of Kelsey’s favourite ways to manage overwhelm.

Kelsey, what are you fearing?

Very practically: Classroom management in relation to Covid-19 protocols. My institution (and province) requires that masks be worn in class by students at all times. I’m not overly worried about students not wearing masks at all. But I am a nervous about how a behaviour such as a student repeatedly, not accidentally, having their mask below their nose might affect the classroom dynamic and put me in a rule-enforcer position.

More philosophically: That we will individually and collectively get worn down by the march of “the new normal” and that our compassion (for students, for colleagues, for ourselves) and our commitment to change and activism will become misplaced in the hubris of the everyday.

Kim, what are you fearing?

My two greatest fears at this point, in descending order, are:

1) that we will not learn and absorb the best lessons the last 18 months have offered us, especially what it means to have compassion for the whole human in the classroom and the academic workplace. (Snap, Kelsey!)

2) that we will not learn to live with this virus – because live with it we must, and we need to start now. That’s why vaccines are so, so crucial, and why scientists are heroes.

Back to school?: the question that has many of us re-examining, well, everything.

Kim, what are you hoping for?

I am on sabbatical this autumn; this feels a really lucky escape! That said, I’m on sabbatical for a specific reason: I have a book project and two teaching research projects that really need making headway on before January.

I’ve been thinking a lot about workload these days, precisely because mine is significant yet also incredibly flexible at the moment, and that’s a gift I struggle to accept. I’ve also been thinking about mental and physical wellness, because I’m at a moment in my life and in my body that demands such thinking.

I’m hoping that I may learn to accept the gift of flexibility in my sabbatical labour, along with the gifts of kindness and compassion when I don’t get it all done – in other words, that I’ll allow myself to make my own wellbeing project #1, with no guilt attached. (I’m going to write about this in an upcoming post; stay tuned for more.)

Kelsey, what are you hoping for?

Broadly, I hope that the waves of the covid ocean ebb and become part of a tide that doesn’t overwhelm our bodies, health care systems, and publics.

More specifically, after spending much of the last year in Montreal — which had strict health measures that kept me fairly isolated from the public — I feel like “back to school” stands in for “back to society.” I hope I bring the lessons and growth of the last year into my re-entry. I hope that I maintain my hard-fought enjoyment of downtime and my on-going relationship with balancing the different parts of my life.

What we’re taking with us: three term-end tips from Kelsey (#ACsurvivalguide)

Holy smokes, we made it through another bizarre, shaped-by-the-pandemic semester!

Image Library | CDC Online Newsroom | CDC
This is the organic shape of Covid-19. The specific shape of your pandemic experience may vary.

I haven’t yet had time to do full reflection and inventory from the teaching year (aka, I’m still marking!!). But, already, I know that the last eight months have drastically impacted how I approach teaching. Here are the first three things I’m “taking with me” beyond this topsy-turvey COVID-19 era.

1. Slow down.

For many, this has been a mantra for the pandemic as a whole. For me, it’s a lesson I’ve had to learn (and relearn) throughout the year in the classroom.

I have a lot of energy as a human and a teacher. On top of that, I value multimodal learning that offers students a range of entry points to engage with material. By extension, my lessons have traditionally incorporated lots activities: there’s a cluster lecture, a close read, then a scavenger hunt!

Slow Down - ELGL
Good advice from a turtle.

Online teaching looked me in the eye and said simply: it’s too much.

Because, here’s the thing about virtual teaching: simple tasks, like sharing documents for peer review, take longer. This extra time-taking has forced me to slow my lessons down and give more time to fewer activities. You know what? My classes are better for it. The simplified lessons give students more time to engage with one another and sink into tasks. Moving forward, I will definitely pare down my lesson plans to hone-in more, and offer more time and scope for settling into the task at hand.

2. Do the same work for myself that I’d do for others.

Anyone who knows me knows that I like, and am good at, planning, scheduling, and organizing. When I first started teaching, I used to schedule and organize administrative tasks like marking. As I’ve transitioned from part time to full time teaching, my workload has ballooned, and I’ve often forsaken this prep work for myself.

“Organize” is one of my favorite eight-letter words.

This year, I had two courses with TAs. To support my TAs, and their transition to online teaching and marking, I did a lot of extra scheduling and administration such as providing detailed instruction sheets for their assigned tasks.

In doing this work for my TAs, I also did it for myself. Clear workload breakdowns in advance of performing said work? Super useful. Pre-written explanations for common structural or grammar issues? Way faster. And who came up with these teaching hacks? I did.

This reminded me that I need to 1) remember the value of front-loading administrative and planning work and 2) use my own skillset to not only support others but also myself.

3. Leverage the online tools.

In the fall semester, I took attendance manually (with the backup of zoom) in my classes. (For those concerned with access, there were alternate options for those that couldn’t attend live sessions). At the end of that semester, collating and cross-referencing my messy notes with zoom’s weird output format took me an eon.

The title of this children’s book, Just a mess, accurately describes my attendance-taking process in the fall semester.

For the second semester I had time to learn the attendance tool on Moodle (my school’s online learning platform). It took me twenty minutes to set up, and it allowed students to record their own attendance and log it in the system. Not only was this quicker and easier for everyone, it also helped ease student anxiety because they had access to their own attendance record.

It’s easy to huff and puff about technology, and there is no question that zoom freezes suck, but this was a good reminder that the tools can be helpful too – if we take the time to explore them a bit, when we have that time and space.

As I continue to get distance from the semester, I’m sure I will uncover more reflections to share. But these feel like a meaningful start and a good reminder that even in the strangest of times, there can be improvement and learning.

Academic Mentorship in the Zoom Era: The AC Survival Guide Continues!

Dear Kim,

Happy belated International Women’s Day!

One year ago, I was sitting in a bar in Toronto, having beers with a friend. We were chatting waiting for food when my eye was drawn to a TV hoisted in the top corner of the room. The news ticker announced that the University of Toronto was temporarily shutting its doors due to COVID-19.

Like watching a wave roll onto the beach, I stared at the TV – intrigued, confused, a little nervous: one by one, the universities closed.

COVID-19 in Canada: Virtual Town Hall | CBC News special - YouTube
A television program that could not have existed on CBC a year ago.

That night was the last time I was in a bar.

Shifts in mentorship haven’t been a major talking point in pandemic-academic (pancademic, anyone?) circles. But the structures of mentoring have taken a major hit this year.

Mentors and mentees have been enveloped in a cloud of increased labour, affecting everything from availability and scheduling to emotional space. Virtual conferences curtail chatting between sessions or at events, making it hard to maintain or forge informal connections. One-on-one meetings are relegated to zoom or the phone, adding a formal and time-sensitive element to conversations, both official and casual.

All of this adds up to loss: of intellectual growth, of professional development opportunities, of community building, of human connections.

A lot of us are feeling the effects of this loss. I miss being able to meet with mentors in person. I miss forging connections at conferences. I miss humans that aren’t in my “bubble.”

But, when I reflect on the year, I am also struck by the mentorship opportunities that have emerged: an increase in free, widely available, online sessions with high profile speakers, hosted by artistic and academic communities; the generosity of colleagues who have noticed a new face on a zoom call and reached out via email to offer “zoom dates” or resources; friends who have slid in to co-mentorship roles, wherein parties of similar rank and experience discuss professional development and mentor each other in areas of strength.

Which brings me to my question for the week: As the dust of the pandemic starts to settle, where do you think scholarly mentorship is headed? Where would you like it to head? Is there anything we can take with us from this strange time? Anything we should leave behind?

– Kelsey

***

Dear Kelsey,

A year ago, I was on a VIA train, heading home from my Thursday teaching at Western (in London, ON) to my home in the Hamilton area. We were somewhere between Brantford and Aldershot, rocking along through the still-cold winter night, when a text came through on my phone. Western was going virtual for the remainder of the semester.

VIA Rail cancelling all Canadian trips until further notice | Urbanized
Train riding, a novelty of the past (and future?)

That was the last time I was on a train, the last time I performed my otherwise-routine commute.

The question you pose is one I’ve been thinking a lot about: what should we bring with us from the pandemic world to improve our academic labour in the future? (Assuming this pandemic ends anytime soon… and I’m a bit skeptical, to be honest.) What should we leave behind? I read a piece recently that argued we need to bring back in-person office hours (yes, agreed), and in-person department meetings (REALLY??). But that feels like the tip of the iceberg to me.

Let’s start with the mentorship piece you raise.

I’m more often than not a mentor, rather than a mentee, now that I’m mid-career and fairly senior at my school. I feel the many stressors of this time that you so aptly highlight: I don’t like Zoom meetings very much, and I find sitting and talking for a set period of time, through screens, with my ongoing bad-lighting-weird-shadows Zoom issues constantly distracting me, really agitating. (THANK YOU for the “hide self view” tip btw – SO GREAT!!)

So I’ve begun strategizing around how to make the experience better, less Zoom-y, and I’ve decided to implement a new strategy: NO VIDEO.

This is an extension of my already-popular “Zoom dog walks,” in which I take office hours while walking Emma the Dog, using my nice new noise-canceling headphones. I head for a local park, minimizing sidewalk distractions, and when the weather is nice we just sit on a bench for the chat.

Following the lead of Emma the dog, as ever.

No video is a requirement for these walks, more often than not, and I’ve found that my mental landscape opens when I’m talking and looking around me, at the world, rather than at a screen. (We already know Zoom is a deadening environment, on purpose – our affect is flattened and often digitally edited, making creativity, for me anyway, harder on Zoom.)

A couple of weeks ago I tested this IRL: I held a student meeting (part lesson, part mentoring session) in person, and we did social-distance walkies with Emma while discussing the relationship between theatre and history. We couldn’t look at each other (SOCIAL DISTANCING) and so we looked ahead, behind, around; again, I felt the warmth of the sun and the attention I was paying to my footfalls a helpful way to expand my thinking. My brain was wandering, in a good way.

COVID-19 pandemic: Tips to remain 'sane and safe' during social distancing  | 2020-03-18 | Safety+Health Magazine

Colleagues in other fields, who have to Zoom even more than we do (I KNOW CAN YOU IMAGINE AAGGHHH), tell me that no video is increasingly the norm for their work – nobody can tell if you’re stretching on a yoga mat, lying on the floor looking at the ceiling (or the sky), or multitasking (ok, so maybe I don’t advocate this, but… sometimes it’s a thing. #departmentmeetings). There’s freedom – including freedom to think, to be in the moment, to move in and out of the moment as needed.

So, back to your question.

What I want to take with me, from the mentoring landscape of COVID, is just this: voices in my ears, my attention wandering just enough to spark creativity, and my body moving, gently, to help light that spark. This can happen on the phone, on Skype, on Zoom, on WhatsApp… or in person. It can happen with colleagues around the world, or it can happen with students IRL, walking along the river valley apart-together.

Maybe this is why I yearn for the return of in-person-style office hours, and why I have no interest whatsoever in going back to sitting in a lecture hall for those monthly department meetings.

– Kim

End of Fall 2020 Roundtable with Amber Fatima Riaz

Well folks, it appears we have made it to end of 2020. WHEW!

We’re closing out the Fall semester with a roundtable conversation featuring Kim, Kelsey, and Amber Fatima Riaz. One of Kim’s former PhD students, Amber is a professional academic editor who works across scholarly genres, from conference papers and manuscripts to journal articles. She has also been a postsecondary instructor at a range of institutions, from universities to public and private colleges. During this past fateful March, she was working as an administrator at a private college in British Columbia.

In our chat, the three of us reflect on this strange year, and what we’ve learned about college and university teaching as a result of the pandemic. The short version of our reflections: systemic thinking and structural change required! For the longer version, read on …

Dr, Amber Fatima Riaz

KS: Amber, where were you teaching when COVID-19 first hit?

AFR: I was working as a campus education manager at a private college [with a largely adult student base]. What they did was try to utilize pre-existing curriculum and translate it for the new teaching medium (synchronous video conferencing). They kind of marketed it like, “We are going to continue teaching as if nothing has happened. You [the students] will just be at home, using technology to see and hear your instructor.” We were lucky in a way, because, right when the pandemic hit, we were on March break. So, we had a full week of training on the video conferencing platform and we were able to push the technology to instructors who did not have access to computers, webcams, headsets etc. We quickly took down the student computer lab, ordered new headsets and webcams, and set up our instructors for a teach-from-home setup.

What fell apart was accessibility for students. The assumption was that the students would have their own laptops or desktops. But our demographic is adult learners or people launching a second career, looking for jobs and careers as soon as they completed their certifications and diplomas with us. We were looking at parents with kids learning from home, you know, or people who had never touched a computer before, who suddenly had to learn all of this stuff about technology while also continuing with the courses, as if the pandemic hadn’t hit. At the administrative level, behind-the-scenes saw a lot of upheaval. A lot of the teaching time went towards providing tech support along the lines of “how to access emails” or “how to upload a document” —that sort of thing. During the monthly “Strategies for Student Success” course that I was teaching, my classes quickly switched to tech support and troubleshooting, because a lot of the students were trying to manage the online classes on a smartphone. They had to access exams, textbooks, quizzes, everything on just a smartphone. It created major problems for the students. Instructors meanwhile were facing issues of how to maintain academic integrity. I’m also seeing a lot of university students who started in the Fall having to make bigger investments in tech, which wasn’t necessarily something that they had budgeted for.

Budgeting for school in Fall 2020 was a whole new activity.

KB: Challenges with technology are something I’ve seen a lot of too. Just a couple of weeks ago, I did this really great activity that involved an online board game. It combined a lesson on representation in video games, with essay writing, and the board game itself. And it worked beautifully. Except that the toggling between different kinds of screen sharing — which required functional wifi and a decent computer — meant that it was technologically inaccessible for some students.  And so it was frustrating because pedagogically it actually worked. But, it wasn’t as accessible as it could have been in terms of technology.

AFR: At the college level, I found that the tech—the use of computers to deliver curriculum with videos turned on—is what created issues of accessibility and also opened up new pedagogical challenges. While videoconferencing looks like an equalizer with students and teachers all in the same virtual space, it created a space where teachers defaulted to instructor-centered teaching models, because we lost the ability to foster peer-to-peer learning and help students engage in group work.

KS: I tried to mitigate the technical problems to some extent in the hybrid model that I developed for my class this semester. But what the hybrid model has revealed to me about virtual pedagogies has been really interesting.

I was teaching in an active learning space. So it’s got lots of pods and every pod has a projector, a smart white board, and a central computer that can do a bunch of things. So it’s ideal for distance learning as two students sit at a good space apart from each other at the same table, while others are on Zoom on big screens. I gave the students the option to come in live in person, or to be on Zoom, and to switch each week or stay in one or another mode, whatever suits. There are very sensitive microphones in the ceiling of the room and they can pick up ambient sound from anywhere so students don’t have to speak too loudly, which is great. But I’ve realized that because the camera is centrally positioned, it doesn’t really give a good view of anybody except me when I’m staring straight into it, and that’s only part of the time, when I remember to! The camera also has the weird effect for the students on Zoom of recentering me as the person in charge — even though the whole setup of the room is designed to decenter me, to create the spatial reality of a flipped classroom.

This made me think of how funny it is that the most de-centered, the most student-oriented, pedagogical methods are actually the most complicated to render virtually. It requires a huge amount of instructor dexterity. It requires TA Support. It requires tech support we’re not being given. So, virtual and hybrid models have actually reinforced the “sage on the stage” teaching methods of old that we all agree have limited use.

A return to past “sage-centred” models of teaching?

AFR: It’s almost the default setting! At our institution, I tried to decenter the teacher by encouraging the instructors to predetermine breakout groups ahead of time, then make room during the class for each group to exchange contact information—be it Facetime, WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, whatever the group wanted. Then, the groups got to decide how they wanted to communicate. That helped remove the instructor from the group activity entirely. It allowed the instructor to simply monitor the fact that the groups were happening. And it allowed the students to meet on their own time. It worked beautifully because the groups got to decide how and when they were going to meet. The setup helped address the issue of accessibility, and decentered the instructor, but the onus was on setting up the activity properly in advance. Parents of young kids could look at the chat at 9:00 pm, that kind of thing, and the students reacted favourably to the setup, and to the freedom they were afforded.

KB: That’s fascinating. I tried to do that a bit too but got a different result. For example, I shortened class time with the explicit purpose that students could complete “homework” during that time but not be stuck on the Zoom while they do it. But, in the midterm feedback, students overwhelmingly reported being overwhelmed by the flexibility. Not just in my class, but across classes. So, I had to switch away from it. And something the students didn’t report but I think is implied is that they don’t quite have the time management skills yet for more flexible learning structures.

Teaching and learning in 2020, in one handy meme.

KS:  I’ve also had the same feedback, Kelsey. Students are getting lots and lots of extra work, or what they perceive to be extra work. I’ve tried to remind them: the thing is that it’s actually not extra. It’s just that you’re having to do more than you would if you were sitting in a class lecture half-listening. You’re having to be more active in preparing for class, and you have to take more responsibility for your own learning.

I don’t think there’s enough of a meta-conversation happening around that. It also reminds me that what we really need to do at university is to invite students to learn time management in a class about time management. We actually have one of those courses at Western (a class that reflects in a meta-critical way on the history and culture of university), which is very cool. But, it’s an elective. I wonder what it would mean to reconfigure first-year university around classes just like that? So students could be doing classes about learning styles and learning practices. Doing classes about time management, doing classes about accessing and utilizing resources, alongside other things, of course. But doing courses for credit that require you to actually actively investigate the reasons that you’re there, what you do and don’t know about taking care of yourself as a learner and a citizen.

In my classes I always try to create robust scaffolds so students don’t have to just encounter the meta stuff and then deal with it, but they can actually learn through it. I think that would be incredibly powerful if it could be facilitated more broadly in the early years of university.

Ideally, time management means not running away from clocks.

KB: I think one of the things implicit in all of the arguments regarding teaching in COVID-19 is that 18 to 25-year old students often don’t attend university for the education. Or at least not the education alone. They attend for the social aspect. They attend to experience the transition to being an adult. They attend to get a piece of paper they believe they need to get work in the future, have an adult life. So it makes sense that university gets incredibly hard when several of the reasons students are actually there get taken away.

AFR: We also need to be thinking about the demographies here. Because, if you look at the private college sector – where students are often immigrants, or people who are already in the workforce, or parents – it’s totally different. For these students, a useful education matters. They want their money’s worth. The classroom structure and course delivery structures are different. They’ll put in the time and effort, but only if it means they’ll get a good job at the end.

KB: So perhaps this is about openly acknowledging the different needs of a range students. It’s saying that learning information is one of the things that’s happening at university. But it’s not the only thing.

KS:  I often tell my students, the truth is, I remember very little of what I actually learned in my bachelor’s degree. I remember formative learning moments that were facilitated by excellent teachers using excellent tools. I remember all of the parallel learning experiences. I remember the honors English lounge on the third floor of the Humanities building at the University of Alberta. I remember the grounds. I remember being with friends. I remember discovering myself, but I don’t actually remember the core stuff.

AFR: And that’s so key. I think what I’ve admired a lot about the elementary and high school teachers right now with the pivot that they have had to do is that they understood that the contents of what they’re teaching right now doesn’t matter, right? None of them are focusing on the overall content, or the guidelines that say they have to complete X, Y, and Z by the end of the month. Each teacher is focusing on life skills, study skills, resilience, building up grit. This is going to be the “lost year.” At the university and college level, though, the focus seems to be so much more on the content, that we’re losing the larger connections and relationships.

KS: I think that speaks to the bigger meta of our conversation, which is that so many of the gatekeeping mechanisms at universities are driven by assumptions that we’re learning now are not true. Students don’t come to university just to learn stuff. Most students are actually not that tech savvy. They don’t have gadgets with all the bells and whistles. They don’t have the default study skills you might expect if you’re invested in the notion that your university only accepts the best minds, whatever that means. In fact, students are mostly young adults trying to figure themselves out. And for them, the experience of university is an embodied liminal journey from childhood to adulthood. And if that’s the case, we need to invest so much more time and energy into supporting tech access, creating a wide range of different learning experiences, and operating as a default with compassion, rather than worrying about just porting content online.

***

Amber Riaz Bio: Amber Riaz is a professional academic editor, and has edited academic manuscripts, journal articles and conference papers, working with academic presses as well as individual authors. Since earning her doctorate in English Literature, she has worked as a sessional instructor at both public universities and colleges in London, Ontario, and public colleges and private colleges in Vancouver, BC. Most recently, she worked as the Campus Education Manager at Sprott Shaw College’s Surrey campus in British Columbia, Canada, before being laid-off due to COVID-19 in Sept 2020. She has taught Academic Writing, Literature, and General Education courses, in addition to offering student support services and administrative and pedagogical support to the instructors teaching various courses at Sprott Shaw. She has presented conference papers on the representation of mothers in film, interstitiality in contemporary South Asian literature and on stereotypes of Muslims in various film industries. She has also published essays on the Partition of India, on the representation of the “burqa” in Pakistani novels, and on the mohajir identity in Pakistani novels. Her research interests include Postcolonial studies, Feminist literary theory and South Asian Studies, as well as the intersections of diaspora, religion, and migration in South Asian Literature in English.

To find out more about Amber, see:

School’s out for summer… (psst: please first leave us your feedback!)

It’s been just over seven years (SEVEN years!) since I began writing The Activist Classroom from my little office upstairs in my rented house in Balham, south London. After two semesters teaching at my new job at Queen Mary, University of London, I was fed up with a system that required me constantly to measure my productivity (and to attend meetings to talk about measuring productivity!) – so much so that I had no time to even think about teaching properly, let alone prep for it.

A lot has changed for me since then.

(One thing that will never change: my love for QM’s beautiful canal-side campus.)

Last June, the heroic Kelsey Blair approached me to ask about pivoting this site from a “blog” (soooo 2012!) to a community commons. I had actually been thinking about shutting the site down, but this was a golden opportunity to do something much better – to hand the space to a collective of shared voices, and create opportunities for different, hopefully much more diversely representative, content.

I found her some cash (not enough, but I’m grateful she accepted), and off we went.

Since then, Kelsey and I (TBH: mostly Kelsey!) have been working hard to change up our formats, to find ways to bring new voices on board without adding (too much) to everyone’s workload, and to gauge readers’ interest in participating in a range of ways in the discussions we curate.

We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished this year – I’m absolutely thrilled with all I’ve learned from the terrific interviews Kelsey has conducted, with the amazing insights (and fabulous visuals) of our first ever writer/teacher in residence, Julia Henderson, and with the contributions of many others who have shaped these past few months for us.

But yet: we want and need to do more, and to do better.

So, with an orientation toward next year (and beyond), we’ve set aside time this summer to reflect on the Activist Classroom.

We’re hoping you’ll help us.

We’ve put together a short survey to get a better sense of you, our readers: where you are in your careers, what you like and dislike about the work that appears in this space, what you’d like more of.

Our goal is to gather a stronger and more concrete sense of our readership and your needs, and to use this information to help shape the directions we go next.

The survey is going to be posted online until August 5th, 2020. You can access the form at the link HERE.

We know there are A LOT of surveys floating out there right now, and this doesn’t rank among the most important ones. It will take you 3-5 minutes, but if you’d prefer not to work on YET ANOTHER FORM, you’re welcome to email us directly.

Rest assured we will receive all feedback with gratitude, take it all seriously, and keep everyone posted in this space about the paths we are charting forward.

In the meantime: to all of you teaching right now, precariously or securely, overwhelmed or supported, or anywhere in between, we see you – and thank you as always for reading.

Kim + Kelsey