Blog Post

Digital Pedagogy; or, How to Engage Your Students to #StayWoke

Digital Pedagogy; or, How to Engage Your Students to #StayWoke

[EDIT: Thanks, HASTAC, for making my post the #ScholarsMustRead of the week!]

#staywoke might be a hashtag you’re seen on social media ever since Ferguson 2014. #staywoke is the imperative to keep conscious and engaged with the ongoing realities of systemic injustices with a focus on anti-black racism and police brutality. As an ally, following this hashtag and injunction is one of the ways I try to listen and learn from the #BlackLivesMatter movement in order to keep my scholarly and personal commitment to social justice active and responsive to current events and the power of grassroots organization. For Fall 2015, I was about to teach a course of my own design entitled “Black Power, Yellow Peril,” an advanced writing seminar on the comparative racialization of African Americans and Asian Americans from the nineteenth-century through to the present-day. I wanted to figure out how to develop a participation component of my syllabus to help my students also #staywoke – to take our class as a starting point for their exploration of these issues and other intersecting conversations and to view the course as one of many sites of the ongoing complex politics that happen all around them every day.

Talking about racial differences in an undergraduate setting is never easy; I always try to be sensitive to the varying levels of knowledge and comfort my students may bring into the classroom. To me, good participation, like writing itself, is a skill to be developed. Too often, quantity of student participation can take precedence over quality when we get nervous about those agonizing silences during discussion. I wanted to prepare all of my students to have a basic level of understanding about key topics and events and to help them actively engage with these ideas outside of the classroom in order to enrich our communal discourse. While I have given guidelines to my students in the past about participation, this time I wanted to use social media and Tumblr to enhance their participation experience.

First, here were the guidelines I gave to my students about what qualifies as good engagement:

What Qualifies as Good Engagement? (not a comprehensive list!)

Come prepared with the readings done and your tumblr post completed for your respective day
Know each other’s names and speak to each other; encourage each other to elaborate on comments and ask questions not just of me, but of each other
Speak to the specifics of the materials we are reading that day; please refer to page numbers and exact wording when appropriate
Connect what you are saying to the keywords for the unit, your tumblr posts, current events, and previous readings to bring new perspectives and information to our learning
Make a comment that builds off a previous point; acknowledge that person’s contribution
Be generous and kind to each other

Second, I wanted to immerse them in social media. I gave the following instructions and recommended websites/Facebook pages/publications/Twitter accounts:

You are encouraged to use your Twitter and/or Facebook account to follow these people and publications in order to track grassroots conversations about race, gender, and politics as they are happening.

Twitter Accounts                                Facebook Pages (websites, blogs, magazines)

@arthur_affect                                               Son of Baldwin

@tanehisicoates                                              The Atlantic

@reappropriate_                                             The Root

@angryasianman                                             Racialicious

@BlackGirlDanger                                         Colorlines

@BlkAmazon                                                 NPR Code Switch

@deray                                                           Reappropriate

@blklivesmatter                                              Angry Asian Man

@audrelorde                                                   For Harriet

@rgay                                                             Everyday Feminism

@Nettaaaaaaaa                                        Asian Pacific Americans for Action at Cornell


Third, in lieu of the usual response or discussion posts we often assign to our students to make sure they’re engaged with readings and to prepare them for discussion, I have my students use Tumblr to curate a diverse range of items related to our class and write responses relating them to readings and terms.

Tumblr Project

You will make a tumblr where you curate items related to the class on a weekly basis with no less than a paragraph discussing the item in reference to the week’s readings and Keywords. Posts to your tumblr must be done by no later than 2 PM of the day you’ve been assigned, either Tuesday or Thursday. As a class we will follow each other’s tumblr posts. This curated archive of your engagement will act as the drafts of your thinking toward the final two assignments of the course: one creative, the other research. You should also be prepared to integrate your item into that week’s discussion.


Your Weekly Tumblr Post:

Will have a link or image/photo or a description as appropriate
Will have a discussion of at least a paragraph in length of your curated item in reference to the week’s readings and engagement with at least one Keyword
Your paragraph should be thoughtful and concise, but can incorporate your personal reflections and use “I”
Will be posted by no later than 2PM of either Tuesday or Thursday

You will post at least one item in each of the following categories:

News (local, national, or international)
Historical (20th century, 19th century, 18th century)
Campus event (cultural, political, protest, artistic or literary performance)
Peer-reviewed article or lecture by an academic on campus
Artistic/Literary/Musical/Cultural item of interest (pop culture, “high” culture)
Item from the Johnson Museum
Item from the Kroch Rare Books Library


You will follow your peers’ Tumblr posts
You will reblog each other’s posts at least once every two weeks and provide brief feedback or encouragement or your own thoughts on the item

We’re about halfway through the semester now, so how has this experiment turned out? Well, I am very fortunate to have amazing students who do amazing work. At the beginning of every class, I project the course Tumblr and have people briefly discuss their posts as a way of framing our conversation for the day so we can all #staywoke.

You can check out our course Tumblr for ENGL2880: Black Power, Yellow Peril here. I hope this might be helpful to other instructors interested in using digital pedagogy to foster participation or those also working on issues of social justice in the academy. Please feel free to contact me!



pecozzar (not verified)

Christine, this is a really fantastic post! I really appreciate the thoughtful, thorough instructions and resources that you've provided your students (and now us). This is so important when discussing race (or other identity categories) in undergraduate classes - things can get heated REAL fast. Strong facilitaton is really important here - and part of being a good facilitator is preparing the group so that they can engage in respectful dialogue.Your students are lucky! :-)


Christine, I love this! I was planning to implement something similar in my writing course next semester. It is important to have students engage with real world issues inside and outside of the classroom. Discussions of race are often difficult in undergraduate classrooms, but allowing students to explore and develop a vocabulary to navigate these sensitive issues is truly doing the work of the humanities. The specific requirements for the materials students use in their Tumblr posts is very useful. I think it allows students to see the ways that traditional scholarly work (journal articles, library and museum items) can be in conversation with pop culture and other out of school cultural productions. Thank you for such a valuable post!


This is amazing, Christine! Thank you so much for this example. I am going to try adapting this for my "Arts of Dissent" class at Queens College next semester.