Teaching Black Internationalism, Part 1: Preliminary Considerations

That’s right! The Teaching series is back. I’ve been asked to teach a course, any course I want, for African and African American Studies. So like my Teaching K-pop series, I’m going to take you all along for the course design ride!

I had to make two decisions right away: what to teach and how.

What to Teach

I opted to teach a course on Black Internationalism, with a focus on popular music and visual culture. In the course, students will explore black culture through a transnational lens, examining how black culture cites and is cited by global cultures. I chose this topic for a couple of reasons. First, while a lot of my work in Afro-Asian cultural studies falls within the field of Black Internationalism, I’ve never taught a course on it.

Second, I ran across a Twitter thread that suggested that students may benefit from seeing black culture in a global context. In this thread, a user suggested that black people really do not have anything to do with other cultures. This echoes another tendency I see on social media that flattens black culture, talks about it as a monolith and ignores the hybridity embedded in its various manifestations. It was clear that many do not know about this complex tapestry of influence, so starting in the early 20th century with the emergence of writing on what we will come to call Black Internationalism will provide some needed context. Given that this kind of transnational thinking informs visual culture as well as popular music going forward, introducing students to black internationalism as an interpretative lens will help shed light on black engagement with the world.

How to Teach

Before the pandemic, we probably would not have considered that we would be offering courses in any format other than the traditional in-person modality. However, times have changed, and I choose to offer this 300-level elective course in a hybrid format. At my institution, that means the course will meet between 2% and 49% of the time face-to-face. This shouldn’t be confused with hyflex, which is a kind of hybrid teaching that simultaneously involves some students in the classroom and other students attending class via web conferencing during live class sessions. (No, just no.)

Rather than believing that face-to-face teaching is “better” than online, I think that both have their advantages and that hybrid teaching will allow me to take advantage of them all. One of the benefits that hybrid teaching affords is that it gives me the opportunity to help students structure their out-of-class, or asynchronous, instruction time, when I believe a lot of learning happens. I mean, we only have students for three hours a week, so it is important to help them use out-of-class time to develop independent learning skills and use valuable synchronous or face-to-face time for more important tasks. We can use technology web-based platforms to help students become more independent learners. Students are already using those platforms to learn, and to be honest, so are we. If you’ve ever looked something up on YouTube to learn how to do it, you have experienced some of the affordances of online learning. I’m just planning to leverage those same strategies in my class to better prepare students to engage with the material and with each other during our time together. Many of our students are involved in vibrant online communities, so my challenge is to harness some of that for hybrid instruction.

Whether we like it or not, the pandemic remains an unpredictable reality and hybrid teaching gives the flexibility to move the course online if circumstances require. The pandemic has shown us that greater flexibility is something we didn’t know we wanted and some do not want to give it up (me, I’m the one). I’ve always wanted to teach a hybrid class, and given my use of technology in my courses, I’ve been working towards that. At the same time, my online teaching experience last fall showed me that many undergraduates really need some face-to-face time to provide an anchor for their learning experience. The hybrid modality allows me to structure some of that time in one-on-one and small group meetings virtually and in-person if circumstances permit. This means they will occur more frequently, and have a greater chance of benefitting students.

Next post will be on the most important thing when designing a course: student learning outcomes!

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Teaching Black Internationalism, Part 1: Preliminary Considerations by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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