As a scholar, I pursue the study of rights by examining what people mean by this term.
As an educator, I am most interested in how students engage with the concept of rights in their daily lives. Generally, they speak of rights in three categories. The desire to battle injustice in their personal lives and in their communities; the opportunities and access they need to pursue their career goals; and the support they need to understand the legal processes and structures they intend to study in their academic life.
In reflection, I began my pedagogical journey with a rather naive inquiry: whether immigrant students perceived the rule of law differently than multi-generational citizens (Leggett, 2016). I thought that any structural injustices students had experienced or were continuing to face would be best addressed through the formal legal system. Over the last decade 40–50% of enrolled students are foreign born. Kingsborough has a much larger share of foreign born students than the national average, 6 %. Many more students are second generation immigrants. I have found that most immigrant students are learning about a legal and political system that might be significantly different than the countries they migrated from. I believed that if immigrant students better understood the “rules of the game” (Galanter, 1974) they would be better equipped to use formal law in the face of injustice.
My previous organizing experience had occurred with social groups whose identities and narratives had been formed. For example, I had consulted for transit union workers based around their notions of the labor movement and their strategic plan of action to utilize the initiative process in Washington State. When I began teaching, I wondered if a rights consciousness might be co-constructed among a more diverse set of actors, before a plan of action and group identity had coalesced.
But I learned from students that the concept of the “rules of the game” was much more complicated than I previously assumed. In particular, many first-generation immigrants expressed two contradictory ideas: that rules should be absolute, universal, and fairly applied, but also that the rules were experienced differently based on unequal power relations. I had assumed a more or less equal playing field would emerge through a greater understanding of formal law and legal mechanisms. I had discounted the unequal power relations that exist in social relations more broadly. In particular I had failed to consider how economic class would affect this student population.
According to the 2016 CUNY Student Experience Survey, more than 70% of students have a household income of less than $30,000 per year and have a household size of three or more people. Put simply, $30,000 per year would not cover even modest living expenses in New York City. Thus, many students are also employed full-time and most report family responsibilities that draw them away from devoting their full attention and resources to schooling. What is more, economic class and immigrant status tend to coalesce into increased injustices. This has been referred to as structural injustice (McKeown, 2021). For Kingsborough immigrant, poor students these injustices cannot be separated from the classroom experience. They affect every aspect of their lives. As such, many educators have taken this reality into account when designing courses.
One strategy has been to greatly reduce the costs of educational materials or figure out how to offer them for free. Free materials can attain a label of Open Educational Resource (OER) but they come with some drawbacks. For one thing, the quality of educational materials can vary greatly. While it is true that primary sources, like the United States Constitution, is available for free through the public domain, other resources like academic scholarship is not. One outcome is that poor students do not get access to the same quality scholarly materials as wealthier ones. Another issue is that OERs may be biased. For example, Brandle (2018) found that of the political science open educational resource (OER) materials she reviewed, none of them directly focused on equitable or culturally responsive pedagogies directly.
In 2012, I had utilized an educational framework for culturally responsive teaching (Wlodkowsi & Ginsberg, 2009) to assess whether the integration
of digital tools (pre-OER) had an effect on critical participatory action research (Leggett, 2016). Through that research, I learned: 1) creative uses
of technology allow for individuals to see the world in a new way; 2) digital tools move the burden of teaching and learning from me to the collective as a
joint project; and 3) technology must be integrated into critical course work in the humanities so that students can engage with social, political, and legal
institutions and behavior.
In the fall of 2012, under a “Bridging Cultures to Form a Nation” grant and following an American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC & U) 3-day
professional development seminar, I sought to undertake a six-semester curriculum design process with students to focus on three generative themes in the humanities: difference, democratic thinking, and community. These efforts to bring a humanities perspective to democratic decision making encouraged me to expand my civic education aspirations to explicitly include my own research more concretely into the course through “structured learning opportunities” that I designed specifically to measure civic learning, along with so-called traditional course themes (Musil, 2006 ). As part of my long-term project of designing a problem-based course, where students would transfer their knowledge to incoming learners and the public at large, I reframed my existing American Legal System course around these themes and developed an inquiry question relevant to my scholarly research: Under a philosophy of right (Hegel & Knox, 1952 ), do immigrant communities perceive the rule of law differently, when they are denied access outright, or receive unequal access, to socio-legal services? The overarching teaching and learning theme guiding this on-going project was how could we document civic motivation and learning necessary for global citizenship at a moment when most of our learners are disenfranchised and underrepresented?
Over the course of six semesters I arrived at a model of course design that woulduse the knowledge gained by the previous cohort of student researchers in the subsequent semester redesign process to ensure students had the skills to be able to conduct D+CPAR. D+CPAR is an attempt to begin defi ning a strand of the still-nascent field of Digital Social Science, where digital media and social media are integrated into critical participatory action research (CPAR) (Mayorga, 2014 ). Digital humanities and digital social sciences are very wide open, emerging fields and the wide availability of powerful digital tools allow integration into critical participatory projects and make it easier for social scientists to collaborate on pressing complex research challenges (Mayorga). As a veritable laboratory of democratic thinking, our community of co-researchers would need to be able to utilize the same emerging technologies to truly analyze and learn from our action research projects in and out of the classroom.
I asked students to take their drawn community maps and begin to design a document that would include a Google Map replica of
their community including legal elements of jurisdiction, zoning, and economic development of resources. They then typed and integrated the socio-legal services identified through community interviews in the areas of immigration and citizenship services, free legal services, community health clinics and a service important to them. Finally, in the third hour students were asked to get in small groups to talk about how technological competence affected community development and research. Together these separate tasks scaffolded the necessary components of our CPAR using digital technology.
Alisha, a dual-citizen who travelled frequently back and forth from the Dominican Republic and New York to take care of family obligations, had helped start the club and was in the course during Hurricane Sandy. During that semester she had improved her GPA to qualify for college honors and had used digital technology to produce a workshop for students about her global human rights project from the course informing about the femicides in Juarez, Mexico. She graciously accepted to continue efforts to further our CPAR and translated into English my scholarly field research documents from Guatemala, including hours of videos, audios, and text almost entirely in Spanish. Using workfl ow productivity applications, like Dropbox and Evernote, we were able to collaborate on our research even when she was in the Dominican Republic. Finally, she inspired incoming students and transferred her
knowledge of using the digital art of video documentary on her smart phone to present student global and local socio-legal community research. In this way she was able to see herself as a thought leader among peers and in CPAR.
One of those thought-peers, Lara, an adult learner with two small children at home and initial technophobe, agreed to help integrate the community mapping
assignment using digital mapping features on Google Maps, by modeling how we might connect local and global issues of injustice to our community workshops and maps. Using screenshots on her computer she documented how to design a sleek community map that would include the contact information of socio-legal service providers she interviewed in her community. She also suggested we embed audio and video interviews directly onto the online maps since most students had recording applications on their smart phones. At last, we were able to collaboratively connect our creative uses of the digital arts with our scientifi c needs of quantitative community research. She also repositioned her more misinformed views to integrate other ways of making meaning through the mapping and interviewing process.
The following semester, Antoine, a low-income, first generation student from an under-represented neighborhood in East New York, Brooklyn, took ownership over the entire mapping project and began uploading the information collected by students in their non-digital mapping interviews so we could begin plotting sociolegal services on our online map. Shortly into this process, Antoine was motivated to volunteer at an after school Urban Farming program we were starting at an elementary school in the climate change vulnerable community of the Lower East Side, Manhattan. Through this semester long experience he took it upon himself to film our efforts and edit the film in order to help another educator present a performance piece in the completed garden and farm the following spring for the kids.
Though many educators desire to see technology as a panacea, I argue that technology can, for now, best serve CPAR by providing new lines of communication and capturing images of democratic teaching and learning in action. Technology can be further broken down into two categories: 1) classroom learning of course content; and 2) classroom learning of civic engagement in communities. It should not be taken for granted that there exists a dynamic process whereby students must engage with new information (content) and new ways of learning and applying that information in ways that are practically relevant to their lived experiences (engagement).
To provoke change toward more democratic and equitable educational opportunities, educators must discuss what technology they need to imagine, design, and create in order to navigate today’s global challenges, especially if they hope students will continue their work after they graduate. As a community of learners, educators must involve students in these conversations about deciding which devices and platforms might best achieve shared educational goals. It is not technology that creates communities; rather, communities of learners together create technology. Higher education must reinvent how educators think about collaborative learning (Leggett, 2019).
Our present reality in higher education includes two very different types of communities: those that enjoy access to the latest technologies, are engaged in problem solving, and have the resources to prepare for the future; and those that lack these resources, are unprepared and unaware of the challenges they
will face in even the near future, and are excluded from the kind of upward social mobility that supporters of liberal education believe in.
Too often when we in higher education discuss the formation of communities, we point to foundations such as common language, nationality, ethnicity, and religion. But on a campus, particularly one like Kingsborough, these elements are never homogenous. In our classrooms we must bridge the differences among the members of our community. Digital tools can help us do this. They allow us to capture and document our work and discoveries with increasingly
diverse students and share them across the globe.
For example, I have students think about immigration law and policy and we begin with some introductory questions about migration, citizenship, and the institutions within government that affect our ideas. In one class students in small groups gathered over a dozen video clips that focused on the law enforcement of immigration policy while another group gathered clips on media coverage of immigration policy. A third group conducted online and
person to person surveys asking about perceptions of the fairness of immigration law and policy and two students conducted in depth interviews of faculty and staff who identified as immigrants. I worked with two students to edit the collected work and we posted the final
project as a documentary on Youtube.
In an environmental politics course, I asked students how they would respond to a sudden unknown situation using the knowledge from class. They chose disaster response as their research topic, deciding to design an ecological-preparation video game based on what happened during 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. I did not have much knowledge about video games so I collaborated with a former student who had gone on to get a Master’s Degree in Criminal
Justice with a focus on investigation using technology. I also reached out to a community partner whom we had coordinated an after-school program with years’ before and who had an interest in designing environmental simulations and games.
If we agree that we must provide learners with the digital tools necessary to collaborate globally on pressing modern challenges like migration and climate change, I wonder why the integration of new technology has been so hard to implement equitably nearly two decades into the new millennium? I believe that those who maintain the status quo, who do not try to reinvent the wheel, are at least partially to blame. I have outlined how technology can be integrated even in an under-resourced institution and in a way that builds community across differences.
This is why, for those of us who want to see change in education more broadly and equitably, we need to move away from the metaphor of reinventing the wheel and replace it with something wholly new and innovative. We need to forget the wheel. We need to be inventing spaceships.
Today’s technologies are not the inventions of individuals or small groups but are reflective of larger social processes, that account for complex and diverse interests and needs. Truly innovative technology is the product of social construction and the ability of the community members to use their education to adapt and improve society’s material conditions through collective thinking and action.
Change in the educational status quo needs to employ technologies as central to the presentation, collection, documentation, record-keeping, communication, co-production, and distribution of new and old knowledge. Educators must facilitate structured learning opportunities that allow learners to co-produce civic knowledge using digital tools and resources. These technologies help hold students accountable and make it easier for them to creatively share knowledge face-to-face and in online communities. Digital resources also help educators better serve students’ individual needs and provide collective opportunities for reflection, revision, and sharing across generations and learning methods. With an institutional commitment, learning systems can change radically toward this kind of co-construction of knowledge.
We know where we have been, and that is the wheel of education. We must now decide where we will go next and what vehicle is best to get us there.
From 2012–2016 I developed an approach to co-design learning opportunities that utilized a broad array of digital materials including maps, videos, interactive forms, and e-portfolio plat-forms. I was satisfied that students were able to pro-vide course work through multiple platforms and could integrate a creative approach to evidencing their understanding. While this method was in-tensely differentiated and responsive to the needs of individual students, I wondered how to cross the individual learning and engagement thresh-old into a more dialogical and collaborative-based framework where students could work together on a common goal using digital tools. I began to envi-sion a classroom experience that engaged students in a collaborative effort to construct knowledge that could lead to emancipation, agency, and action. From 2016–2018, I participated in a CUNY-wide initiative to incorporate OERs and looked for digital tools and digital content that I could begin to work with to encourage collective learning and build on my previous CPAR work (Leggett, 2018).
Open educational resources and open pedagogy can carry many con-tested definitions but, in my view, pedagogy that is open provides an approach that focuses more on the process of co-creating knowledge for the pur-pose of sharing publicly and less on replacing con-tent, like an OER textbook.
Open educational resources and D+CPAR, when fused together, provide a clear framework for how to integrate digital tools into the learning experience in a way that can be labeled open pedagogy.
Still, there are those that argue that the rhet-oric of emancipation through open education “is way ahead of the reality” (Lane, 2016). In my view, this contention largely stems from a lack of imagi-nation of what education can do and begins with a point of view based in “emancipation” as a “fact or process of being set free from legal, social, or politi-cal restrictions” (Lane, 2016). Lane incorrectly con-cludes “prevailing social, cultural, and economic norms still place greater value on education arising through existing physical, political, and legal infra-structures” (Lane, 2016) as a reason for skepticism. It is precisely through these existing structures that education can and must empower individuals. We always operate within political conditions and rela-tionships based in power (Luke, 2005). Further, the very definition of who is legitimated to do intellec-tual work is also politically contested and knowl-edge claims must satisfy political and epistemo-logical criteria of the contexts in which they reside (Collins, 1990). Thus, education at large arises from existing structures that re-inforce powerlessness among learners, especially among disadvantaged populations. This is a problem of facilitating a legit-imated dialogue with learners, within the restrict-ed structure of a course, that must also continue, somehow, beyond the course term and must also foster a collective experience for the purpose of action. In this way, to study collective knowledge creation as an empirical research project, one needs to document the process of dialogue with students.
Using the principles laid out by Gee (2007) I began the process of creating a video game and sketched out how to work with students over multi-ple semesters as a type of in-class simulation. We then spent the first few weeks of the se-mester learning how to research together in ways that “reveal and challenge social injustice… to provoke action for a more just distribution of re-sources and dignity” (Fine, 2008). Once again, a student suggested a video game while pointing to an application on their mobile device and a cho-rus of students agreed that this platform would best meet our needs and be adaptable for future classes. I confessed I knew little about video games but had been thinking about how to incorporate this mode of learning into my classes. I had worked with two people previously who I knew had expertise and in-vited them into the design process in the third week of the semester. In the next section, I describe how this partnership came together and the subsequent steps we took to begin co-creating a video game.
I am a certified hybrid and online instructor and a digital native born among the so-called Millenial generation. I have enrolled in online-based cours-es, participated in the design of online-based teach-ing materials, and manage a variety of websites and social media platforms. From 2012–2016, I sam-pled many learning platforms that were promoted by various members of the college administration. A colleague told me about Scratch and I decided to move from institutional-based platforms toward an OER that gave me control over the content we produced. Scratch is a free program developed by MIT that allows users to create games, interactive stories, and animations. As the developers describe it, Scratch7 helps young people learn to think cre-atively, reason systematically, and work collabora-tively—essential skills for life in the 21st century. Students retain a copy of their work in the form of physical papers and documents before they are uploaded onto the Scratch website. These represen-tations are then placed within the application to be coded. The resulting game simulation is available by web link. The game is re-usable to play again, it can be remixed by creating a different version us-ing similar components of the existing game, or it can be revised by changing the existing structure of the game. It can be redistributed to share with oth-ers to view or play. The Commons website works with Scratch to share the process and project goals. This approach to open pedagogy allows everyone to participate, collaborate, and contribute to a topic or a project throughout the semester at their own pace. Video games present an active way of learn-ing through the mechanism of signal, choice, and consequence. Choices must be designed and char-acters can represent different points of view. This helps students experience the world in a new way from multiple points of view.
Educator James Gee observes, “games recruit smart tools, distributed knowledge, and cross-functional teams just like modern high-tech workplaces” (Gee, 2007). Gee’s work underlines the need to integrate new us-er-based technology into higher education and into collaborative social science research, “Many baby boomers think that being smart is moving as fast and efficiently to one’s goal as possible. Games encourage players to explore more thoroughly before moving on, to think laterally, not just linearly, and to use such ex-ploration and lateral thinking to reconceive one’s goals from time to time. Good ideas in a world full of high-risk complex systems” (Gee, p. 217).
Thus, while we read and critically examined narratives of change in civil rights history, we con-sidered how we might build a social environment where injustice was reduced or eliminated into the game. The end product, the video game, provided an abstract representation of our collaborative in-quiry. As a collective we could point to the work done in order to create the first scene of the video game as a social relations project and an example of group action. You can view our preliminary work on our academic commons website.
Our inquiry involved a need to consider under what conditions emancipatory learning was possi-ble using digital tools. Under any definition of the term “emancipatory,” the self-awareness of one’s agency to make change within a collective, must be included. Learners are always situated within a singular classroom and other course-by-course en-vironments. The disruption of other learning habits through the collective process leads to conditions that engender the competence needed to document the emancipatory process in dialogue with others. I knew that by changing the structure of the course using a collaborative approach to designing a video game workflow we would also need to learn the course material in a different way. Our co-creat-ed video game started from “scratch” and simply sought to create structured learning opportunities to co-create knowledge about social relations un-der a rule of law. However, this change also led to the conditions for emancipatory learning.
I use a definition of emancipatory learning that emphasizes that in order for the structured en-vironment necessary for emancipatory learning to exist, there must also be the structured opportunity for critical reflection of the material sought to be learned (Mezirow, 1981; Habermas, 1971). Digital tools allow for a capture of our work as collabo-rators for emancipatory learning that includes all learners in the process. In this case, the work neces-sary to complete our goal of creating the first scene of a simple video game together was more work than any one person could manage.
In response, students volunteered to work in one of three groups generated from our class dialogue. The three groups were: 1) students who had an interest in drawing and coloring character sketches and backgrounds; and 2) students who had an interest in writing the stories and dialogue for the video game level; 3) students who had an interest in writing the code and designing the scene using the computer and digital tools. Emancipatory learning also led to technical and practical forms of learning that were interrelated (Dewey, 2009).
To measure our progress toward a more col-laborative and participatory structured learning environment, we utilized transformative learning theory (Mezirow, 1978). This theory explicitly ex-amines emancipation as a process of learning (Tay-lor, 2007). I was also mindful to look closely at the process by which students re-entered the learning space when we presented a new tool to learning that was vastly different from their other classroom experiences in the criminal justice program. We also wanted to talk with students about how the surprises, puzzlements, and hunches that struc-tured self-reflection experiences enhanced their own motivation to make sense of things we might otherwise bury in classroom routine (Mezirow, 2000). In other words, we wanted students to par-ticipate in the process of ongoing course re-design with the understanding that this was intentionally different than other classes with the hope that we could solve these collaboration challenges togeth-er. It is in this sense that digital tools and D+CPAR allow for an OER, beyond the textbook, as an op-portunity to co-create the conditions necessary for emancipatory learning.
We appreciated the way this learning theory measures the effect of structural change in the way we see ourselves and our relationships (Mezirow, 1978). We hoped that this learning theory would help us better teach students that the legal system can alter the way we see ourselves and relationships and is subject to change. Ultimately, we hoped this method would increase students’ motivation to act and get more involved in the process of rights-based activism.
his approach to learning provided students with the choice of how they could participate and let them choose how to best evidence course learning. This theory also provided us with a framework to scaffold our three lessons into a sequence that fit within the broader goals of the course. We also appreciated that this theory emphasized the participatory, or sometimes called deliberative, nature of democratic engage-ment. In pertinent, Mezirow (1981) turned to the work of Jurgen Habermas to devise a critical the-ory of adult learning and adult education within a democracy (Kitchenham, 2008). Habermas (1971) had proposed three domains of learning: 1) the technical, 2) the practical, and 3) the emancipatory. Technical learning is learning that is rote, specif-ic to a task, and clearly governed by rules. Practi-cal learning involves social norms. Emancipatory learning is introspective as the learner is self-reflec-tive and experiences self-knowledge.
Our use of Transformative Learning Theory applied Habermas’s three domains of learning explicitly. Technical tasks took place within three self-selected groups (visual designers, computer coders, and script writers), with the understanding that each group would contribute these pieces to be used in the final video game design. Practical learning involved learners working in teams, and at times individually, on something they had a skill or interest in with our assurances that they would get guided support. At the end of the semester, when all the components of the video game were displayed, learners had an opportunity for a written self-re-flection and a final class discussion. When learn-ers saw their individual and group contributions along with the other contributions, they were able to see the process of emancipatory learning. The co-production of knowledge was facilitated by the video game design process, guided by Transforma-tive Learning Theory, and the final product of that collaboration was visible on the commons website. The D+CPAR in process also provides evidence of the challenges of cooperation which can be ana-lyzed during or after the semester. This approach allows for the group of learners to come together around common goals and then later analyze the work using digital tools.
Our end-of-the-semester discussion and re-flection letters showed a strong sense of satisfac-tion for the collaborative approach in a learning environment. More importantly it also provides evidence of learning itself. The learners were able to see the result of their collaboration — a draft of scene one for a learning video game. Students were highly supportive of one another and we par-ticipated with them in what educators call “flow” (Wlodkowski & Ginsberg, 2009), whereby students lose track of time and often were eager to continue working on the project outside of the prescribed three-class sessions. In this way, emancipatory learning engenders the learner’s ability to use their educational opportunity to define their inquiry. The participatory condition of this research process re-quires dialogue with other learners. The structured self-reflection helped learners integrate their learn-ing into their new understanding of social relations within the structured learning environment. We agreed that the dialogue and openness that fosters long-term relationships necessary for collaboration are necessarily foundational for truly revolutionary open pedagogy.
Digital + Critical Participatory Action Re-search provides a way to collect empirical data that can be analyzed to improve teaching. I want-ed to facilitate an environment for radical or rev-olutionary education whereby students confront-ed political-legal institutions as co-researchers of injustice with the goals of individual and group action. I think it is important that educators who try to engage with emancipation through open ed-ucation focus more on the constitutive relationship formed in the classroom using norms that promote participation and dialogue than on proving caus-al relationships between content and information processing. At the root this kind of open pedagogy is the objective to co-create knowledge, including what to dialogue about and research.
Like Maxine Greene, I agreed that “I wanted to release students to be personally present to what they see and hear and read” and to remind students and educators of the need to “develop a sense of agency and participation” (Greene, 1995, p. 104). In response, I moved away from the information delivery method — to students from educator — to a situation in which I had created an environment where institutional educator, community partners, and students could engage in dialogue to bring out our separate realities and understanding of our world around us through the video game design se-quence.
In reflection, I want to push the discussion about OERs and Open Pedagogy further to-ward the co-construction of knowledge. I believe D+CPAR allows this to happen, inside and out-side of the classroom, on two levels: 1) the ability to co-create structured learning opportunities with students and community partners is built-in to the framework itself, which engenders transfor-mational learning as a necessary process learning outcome; and 2) the digital aspect allows for a more objective measure of what is actually going on in the classroom and can be designed in such a way as to measure particular outcomes like civic engagement, better understanding of content, or specific interventions. This article does not seek to address whether the incorporation of OERs or open pedagogical practices leads to a deeper understanding of course material nor a measurement of test scores or overall comprehension of a particular discipline. In fact, the pedagogical goal of this paper is to shift the focus away from learners as objects to study and toward learners as the co-creators of what we want to study. In this way, I have provided both a theoretical framework to operate within Transforma-tive Learning Theory and a set of practices rooted in Culturally Responsive Teaching. Success is measured by our understanding of this process, how it pushed our project forward, and how we formed new ways of thinking about knowledge as a result.
I have been able to replicate this process and scale the experience using OERs and D+CPAR in ways I never imagined when I set out to re-design courses at Kingsborough Community College.
Moving toward a Pragmatic Approach toward Injustice & Collective Action: Understanding Pre-Existing Knowledge & Hegemonic Narratives
I have previously written about a curriculum redesign process that I participated in that helped students move away from the property-based legal mythology found in most freshman level textbooks (Leggett, 2016). I have also written about how students bring into the classroom unreliable forms of knowledge, and how culturally responsive pedagogies can help students engage in dialogue instead of a series of monologues (Leggett & King-Reilly, 2020). In a study with a community partner, I argued that the classroom could be transformed into a laboratory for democratic praxis through participatory ideals of practical and technical skill development on a common project (Leggett, Chatman, & Wen, 2018). A common thread that runs through my work is the desire to bring about the kind of rights consciousness, in the classroom, that co-constructs legal knowledge instead of simply accepting dominant narratives of formal . In the next section I will describe how I designed structured learning opportunities that were responsive to the needs and concepts students evidenced.