- (Re)Writing “Feminism in Canada”: Wikipedia in the Feminist Classroom
In the winter of 2012, the students in my fourth-year seminar, The Politics of the Canadian Women’s Movement, undertook the project of editing, updating, and expanding a number of Wikipedia articles, including the page on “Feminism in Canada.” Though it often serves as a first point of reference for research on Canadian feminism, this Wikipedia page had long been underdeveloped, overlooking significant historical events, recent contributions, and the work of feminists outside of the English-speaking, white, middle-class mainstream. Students collaborated over the course of the term with the intent to generate content for an improved page that would more accurately communicate historical and contemporary realities.
This article chronicles the theory behind and practice of doing this assignment with my students. It argues that although it is not perfect, using Wikipedia in the university classroom offers a useful site to employ feminist pedagogical principles by enabling students to collaboratively and meaningfully engage with one another and a broader public. To do so, the article begins by exploring the principles of feminist pedagogy, and how technologies like Wikipedia contest or support such principles. It then describes how my students and I undertook this project, followed by an assessment of the project’s benefits and the challenges it raised. The article concludes by extending an invitation to feminist activists and academics to employ Wikipedia in their own classrooms, both as a means to realize feminist pedagogical goals and to improve Wikipedia’s coverage of feminist issues.
On Feminist Pedagogy
Though scholars define feminist pedagogy in different ways and in different terms, there is a general consensus that it emerges out of the possibility that teaching and learning can work to contest hierarchies of power (of race, gender, class, and other markers of identity) that have conventionally shaped the academic experience (Crabtree, Sapp, and Licona). Whereas the university classroom typically relies on a division between the instructor as the holder of high-level academic knowledge and students who are then to [End Page 125] either reproduce or analyze this knowledge in papers and on tests, feminist pedagogy contests this model (Crabtree and Sapp 132; Brown 53–56; Shrewsbury 6–7).
The scholarly literature is rife with discussion about what ethics and principles feminist pedagogies entail. Feminist scholars have long reflected on how they bring feminist principles into their own practice of teaching, identifying the conceptual frameworks that they apply in their classrooms. For example, in the now-classic “What is Feminist Pedagogy?” Carolyn Shrewsbury defines feminist pedagogy in terms of three core concepts: enabling community, empowerment, and leadership among students (8–12). To these feminist pedagogical commitments others have added a more explicit focus on challenging the student/professor hierarchy, centering classroom learning on students’ voices and experiences (Allen, Walker, and Webb), and self-reflexivity (Crawley, Lewis, and Mayberry 3–5; Crabtree and Sapp 132; Chick and Hassel 198).
Building on the existing scholarship, and through a measure of reflection on my own experiences, I take feminist pedagogy to be an approach to teaching based on four key principles. Though these principles are certainly not exhaustive in terms of what might constitute a feminist approach, they are reflective of the broad understandings of feminist pedagogical theory that emerges in the existing scholarship. These principles are: challenging the instructor/student hierarchy, creating connections to the world outside of the classroom, recognizing collective discussion as knowledge-building, and attempting to make social change by focusing on gendered inequalities.
First, a feminist pedagogy is dedicated to challenging the instructor/student hierarchy; contesting the role of instructors as knowers meant to impart knowledge to their students (Crabtree and Sapp 132; Turpin 13–14; Chick and Hassel 198). This includes an understanding that experience constitutes a legitimate form of knowledge and that students’ own lives have a place in the classroom. When students’ experiences are “drawn on and validated,” instructors and their students come to teach one another, and the instructor-student hierarchy may start to come undone (Manicom 370). This does not mean that the power relations in the classroom disappear; indeed, certain experiences may come to be valued above...