ABSTRACT

In this article, we consider how a pedagogical approach that allows for failure can be at once valuable and fraught with consequences for marginalized students and faculty in general education classes. As feminist scholars and teachers, we embrace bell hooks’s pedagogical ambition to “restore the spirit of risk—to be fast, wild, to be able to . . . transform.” In seeking the transformative possibilities of risk, we turned to digital pedagogy as a practice promoting what Katherine D. Harris calls “productive failure.” Experimental digital projects are often avoided in large general education classes due to the messiness of these projects and the demands on students and faculty to manageably navigate course requirements. Nevertheless, the experimental possibilities of the digital humanities appealed to us as a means of reconstructing the general education literature classroom as the egalitarian, conversational, and transformative space we hope to foster as feminist educators. We thus collaborated on developing an online critical edition of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing in two large, introductory core literature classes—one taught at Adelphi University in the fall and the other at Rider University in the spring. This project created the atmosphere of community we were seeking, but it failed to be as inclusive as we intended or to make student learning as visible as it needed to be. Our experience leads us to question how to use digital humanities approaches to feminist ends. It further sheds light on the institutional inequalities that shape our successes and failures.

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