Critical Digital Pedagogy and Social Media in Puerto Rico from Hurricane María to COVID-19
While the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a new era in education for institutions across the globe, it arrived at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras (UPR-RP) as simply the latest crisis in a series of natural and human catastrophes. Hurricanes, earthquakes, and now the pandemic, which has shut down the UPR-RP campus for more than a year, have caused prolonged disruptions to the academic calendar that demand increasingly creative approaches to coursework and instruction. However, permanent damage to the local infrastructure, in conjunction with the lackluster federal response to these emergencies, means that instructors and students are expected to do more with fewer resources. Even before Hurricane María decimated the power grid in 2017, various government agencies were using the onerous debt Puerto Rico reportedly owes to US investors to slash the budget of an already beleaguered public institution, and these deep cuts and economic restructuring plans have continued after the storm. In this essay, I draw on specific examples from my experience at the UPR-RP to demonstrate how instructors can use critical digital pedagogy (CDP) to create learning opportunities in classes where some students have limited access to the internet and other technologies. When course materials and teaching practices account for the complex realities of their everyday lives, students address these challenges by finding ways to create and share digital spaces and online communities that enhance their education. At its best, CDP invites students to work collaboratively to cultivate skills, literacies, and support networks for the challenges of the early twenty-first century.
As the world continues to track the ebbs, flows, and mutations of the COVID-19 virus, many are also suffering the consequences of extreme weather events and brutal, unpredictable storms that affect a wide range of public services. In other words, many communities across the globe (including those in the United States), are becoming increasingly familiar with situations we have faced for some time at the UPR-RP. Educators in the twenty-first century have a responsibility to design teaching strategies that respond to these conditions amidst a constantly changing media landscape. For those willing to listen, students and instructors in Puerto Rico have valuable insights to share. Like other populations that face ongoing histories of colonization in the Caribbean, and throughout Americas, the people of Puerto Rico have learned to survive at the intersections of multiple, global structures of power and extraction. In some ways, they are like the canary in the coal mine, registering threats that range from climate change to unsustainable models of privatization that redistribute resources from the people who live, work, and study here to venture capital groups in the United States. In contrast to the doomed canary, Puerto Ricans innovate, survive, and challenge these hazards. CDP describes a range of teaching practices that account for the ways in which students live on and offline, and in the paragraphs that follow I show how these practices encourage students at the UPR-RP to become co-authors of both their course materials and the world they want to inhabit after graduation.
Critical Digital Pedagogy in Puerto Rico
Teaching effectively and equitably with online tools requires a special sensitivity to the digital divide. While some students share home computers with working parents, siblings, and children, others have no access to personal computers or tablets. Increasingly, students use mobile devices to complete their online coursework. If writing essays on smartphones seems neither easy nor ideal, it is better than having no options for completing assignments. During catastrophic events such as the current pandemic, everything seems to be in flux and many students are dealing with changes to their work schedules as well as their school calendars. In these difficult circumstances, some use their phones to participate in class activities from work in order to avoid losing income and steady employment. Others connect to classes from the homes of elderly relatives for whom they provide care and company. Some students attend classes in parked cars to escape the chaos and distractions of their living situations.
In Puerto Rico, mobile technologies have been essential not only as lifelines but also as instruments of social change during the tumultuous years since the most powerful hurricane in more than a century reduced much of the local infrastructure to rubble. In the weeks and months following Hurricane María in September 2017, groups of local volunteers used WhatsApp and Facebook to connect with people in the diaspora (and others) eager to send funds, flashlights, water filters, tarps, and building materials to help local relief efforts. When we returned to campus to complete the 2017-2018 school year, students literally used their phones to light up our classrooms during sporadic blackouts. In the summer of 2019, the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo used social media to leak text messages between former Governor Ricardo Rosselló and his inner circle, exposing numerous examples of the administration’s misogyny and homophobia, its misappropriation of public funds, and its gross indifference to the suffering caused by the hurricane. Weeks of marches became a massive popular uprising, organized mainly through Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp, and the governor finally announced his intention to leave office in a Facebook Live video that aired at midnight on July 25, 2019. Later, when earthquakes struck in early 2020, organizers used their phones to tap into existing online networks, speeding relief to communities in the south while aftershocks still rocked traumatized communities. Currently, social media can provide an escape from the grim isolation of quarantine. As students returned to online classes in the fall of 2020, after their spring semester was interrupted by the campus shutdown in March, many shared their anxieties, frustrations, and a few laughs through memes, text chats, and Tik Tok videos.
Like smart phones, our teaching strategies should be mobile, adaptable, and accessible during a crisis. Collaborative approaches to these strategies can improve upon (rather than simply replicating) our previous experiences in face-to-face classes. The best online teaching practices increase access to education, challenge traditional hierarchies of learning, and encourage students to participate in coursework as active learners and co-producers of knowledge rather than as passive receivers of information. Accessible digital technologies can also amplify students’ voices while creating instantaneous connections that reach beyond conventional classrooms. In a foundational essay published in 2014, Jesse Stommel describes CDP as a generous, polyvocal dialogue that:
- centers its practice on community and collaboration;
- must remain open to diverse, international voices, and thus requires invention to reimagine the ways that communication and collaboration happen across cultural and political boundaries
- will not, cannot, be defined by a single voice but must gather together a cacophony of voices;
- must have use and application outside traditional institutions of education.
The goals Stommel lists in these bullet points provide teachers with a useful set of aspirations to consider as we face an uncertain future of online instruction. In fact, since Hurricane María, students and I have been using a variety of online tools at the UPR-RP with similar goals in mind.
WhatsApp chats have helped to create a sense of community and continuity in the classes I teach through a variety of crises. After the hurricane, students and I created WhatsApp groups in order to stay in touch via cell signal, the most reliable technology for sharing information about further interruptions to the 2017-2018 school year. When classes resumed, students used these chats to discuss assignments and due dates, and when they had questions, everyone could see my responses on a platform that most students continue to check more often than email.
Unsurprisingly, the most dynamic moments in the WhatsApp chats were student-to-student interactions that added new texts and new insights to our course materials. After watching the video for Childish Gambino’s song “This is America” in the spring of 2018, students used WhatsApp to post and discuss Hurricane María-inspired interpretations of the video and its imagery. One student posted a screenshot from the video in which the singer repurposes a pose historically associated with the minstrel figure “Jim Crow” as an executioner. The student then juxtaposed this image with the work of local artist Sien Ide, who reimagines the scene in the colors of the Puerto Rican flag, adding the words “This is Puerto Rico.” In subsequent class discussions, students discussed how Ide’s work symbolizes the federal government’s lethal neglect and marginalization of Puerto Rico in the wake of the storm. Comparing and contrasting the two images also helped them to draw unexpected connections between their experience, represented by the drawing, and the history of racial segregation in the United States, represented by the screenshot. These insights were only possible because of students’ active participation on social media, where they did not need me to moderate their discussion. Students co-authored course content with each other and introduced materials I would have never found on my own, representing precisely the types of collaborations that CDP aspires to encourage.
Now that every class is online due to COVID-19, some of the novelty of our group WhatsApp chats has worn off. They are not quite as active as they were in previous years, and, frankly, many students (and teachers) are tired of being online. On the other hand, WhatsApp chats remain an important part of our class dynamic, and when inspiration strikes, students still share memes and other content. When a massive blackout interrupted most class activities during the second week of the spring semester in 2021, students posted images of children’s television icons Kermit the Frog and Spongebob Squarepants in a variety of compromising positions, expressing their frustrations while giving their classmates a laugh. Other posts are more directly related to course materials. One student used the chat to post a link to the song, “Ahora Seremos Felices,” which appeared in the short story we were reading for class that week, and others consistently post film and television series recommendations that resonate with the themes of our classes. WhatsApp chats remain significant to my CDP as course backchannels that students and I use to maintain a dialogue throughout the semester in the absence of a shared physical space. I use WhatsApp to check in with students at least twice a week (especially on days when we do not meet for synchronous classes), remind them of due dates, and offer words of encouragement. Sometimes students feel more comfortable messaging me privately to discuss questions or concerns about their assignments, and sometimes I use the group chat to widen the generation gap by posting YouTube clips of ancient songs or videos.
Periodically, I conduct class discussions through WhatsApp in sessions that last from forty-five minutes to an hour. This technology uses less data and is less dependent on WIFI than platforms like Google Meet and Microsoft Teams. Some students (especially those with quick thumbs) enjoy this format more than others, but this is true of any class activity. Furthermore, because every student is encouraged to post at least twice to the group chat, some may be more engaged than they would be in a physical classroom. Many quote their classmates’ comments and respond to them directly, increasing their opportunities for student-to-student interactions. Few students or instructors are pleased about being forced to move our classes online, but there can be hidden advantages within these formats. Teachers have long understood that we need to account for different learning strengths in the classroom, and we design lessons for face-to-face classes that appeal to visual, aural, and kinesthetic learners. Facing an uncertain future of online education, we should also be thinking about a similar range of interactive learning options for students with different learning strengths in our virtual classes.
Asynchronous Activities on Discussion Forums and YouTube
During COVID-19 lockdowns, asynchronous class activities are often the most accessible both in terms of students’ schedules and their technological resources. Part of my CDP, then, is to use online tools to facilitate collaborative, student-to-student interactions that are accessible to all students. These tools include the discussion forums on the university’s online platform.
In lieu of recorded lectures or synchronous classes, I sometimes post guided questions to these forums to draw students’ attention to key details within the readings. Students can choose one from a series of four to five different questions for their response, giving them a bit more control over the exercise. As always, though, the most instructive moments happen when students step off the beaten path of these assignments, especially when they post audio recordings to the discussion boards. These posts are less time-consuming than written assignments, and they demand fewer technological resources than video posts. Listening to each other’s voices (often accompanied by a nighttime chorus of coquí) can feel both more intimate and more immediate than other asynchronous activities. Rather than simply answering the guided questions I post as suggestions, some students use these opportunities to encourage one another, responding to each other’s posts with written comments such as “I agree,” “great post,” or “I hadn’t thought of that!” Students sometimes include details about their personal lives in their audio recordings. When women respond to course materials about gender and sexuality with personal accounts of their experiences with sexism and misogyny, their classmates invariably respond with messages of support and solidarity – often, in short, meaningful phrases such as, “I’m here for you sis.”
Additional asynchronous activities I use in online classes include lectures that I upload as unlisted videos to YouTube. I provide students with a link (which is the only way to view unlisted videos) and ask for their participation by posting to the comments section below the videos. I encourage students to respond not only to the content of the readings and lectures but also to each other’s posts, creating a dialogue that every student can join when their schedule permits. These videos are always low-tech affairs, and I use traditional whiteboards and even costume changes (often involving Halloween relics from the back of my son’s closet) to keep things interesting. I mention this to underscore an important point: I don’t have any special technological or video editing skills, and CDP does not require them. CDP is most effective when educators use whatever skills they possess to create cooperative, interactive learning environments that include as many voices as possible. Like teachers, students have varying levels of technological skills and knowledge, and the platforms described in the previous paragraphs provide them with crucial spaces in which to ask each other questions and share their expertise. When they encounter obstacles in their coursework, students know they can find answers by posting their questions to any of these platforms, where their classmates and I will respond with suggestions and links.
The Cacophony of Twitter and Active Subjectivity
Extending our use of social media beyond the closed, encrypted chats on WhatsApp, the safety of university platforms, and unlisted YouTube videos involves certain risks, as online spaces can be confusing, hostile battlefields. On platforms like Twitter, virtual armies of trolls, bots, and politicians create toxic echo chambers of incendiary soundbites and misinformation. Individuals from historically oppressed groups can be targeted by online bullies, creating real threats to mental health and physical safety. Consensus and collaboration on social media often feel elusive, if not impossible, which makes it worth asking: what can students learn about “communication and collaboration” from the often fractured landscape of sites like Twitter?
This fragmentation is what makes Stommel’s claim that critical digital pedagogy “must gather together a cacophony of voices” so useful for theorizing the work it can do with social media. I find teachable moments, for example, in the tweets posted by former president (and former Twitter user) @realDonaldTrump about Puerto Rico in the days after Hurricane María in 2017. Students remember waiting in 6-hour lines for gasoline for weeks after the storm. They also remember daily headaches from the sounds and smells of gas-powered generators and the loss of friends and relatives. As we stumbled in the dark with flashlights every night after sundown, @realDonaldTrump was targeting local politicians in tweets that many students still take personally. For example: “…Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They… …want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.” While recovery efforts continued, often in the absence of federal assistance or support, the former president continued to post misleading, mean-spirited tweets, which were quickly debunked by online fact checkers. More than three years after the hurricane, as students faced the reality of beginning another semester online with no relief in sight from COVID-19, they learned that the White House had looked into selling their homeland in exchange for Greenland because “Puerto Rico was dirty and the people were poor.”
I encourage students to use these tweets as primary sources in essay assignments about ongoing legacies of colonialism in the Caribbean. Twitter can be many things, including an admittedly chaotic, virtual archive of the thoughts of some of the most powerful people of the early twenty-first century. Responding to this archive in both online and offline assignments, students add their voices to a discourse from which they have been historically excluded. Interacting with diverse perspectives on Twitter creates opportunities for students to assert the value of their own insights within contemporary conversations that are shaping their future.
In online and offline coursework, I try to include a wide range of different, even contradictory, voices to facilitate communication, contestation, and collaboration across various borders and multiple forms of difference. Here, I take my cues from the late María Lugones and her work Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions. Recognizing that liberal notions of individual agency fail to explain her experiences as a scholar and activist, Lugones uses the term “active subjectivity” to emphasize the importance of knowing and acting in common. Like Stommel’s cacophony of voices, the concept of active subjectivity suggests that dialogue and collective action can unlock the potential of groups that are simultaneously multivocal, multidirectional, and messy. Building cooperative responses to “a variety of intermeshed and interlocking oppressions,” Lugones sees potential in these groups as an “aggregate that pulls in different ways, sometimes in unison, but more often in many different directions, dispersed but ‘intent,’ in a loose sense of intentionality, on overcoming” (6). As with critical digital pedagogy, the concept of active subjectivity refers to a strategic assemblage of diverse voices that seek common, if sometimes temporary, goals and insights for “overcoming” the complex structures of power they face in different but related ways. Finding common cause amongst these unwieldy collections of perspectives and experiences, Lugones suggests, “The liberatory possibilities of active subjectivity depend on both an alternative sociality and a tactical strategic stance” (211). While she never explicitly connects active subjectivity to social media, or to teaching with digital materials, I find this concept extremely useful for thinking about how students and I might better understand – and employ – the cacophony of voices we encounter in class activities that involve Twitter and other platforms.
Once again, UPR-RP students and I have unique insights into these types of collaborations both on and offline. After Hurricane María in 2017, I worked with a local group called the Brigada de Todxs, which shaped its “tactical strategic stance” by traveling in early morning caravans to affected communities. Asking community members about their most urgent needs, the Brigada centered their voices, concerns, and priorities. Through WhatsApp and Facebook, similar groups across the archipelago helped to create an “alternative sociality” of mutual aid networks that included church goers, anarchists, college students, professors, concerned Puerto Ricans, veterans, and those in active military service. Similarly multifaceted groups came together in the summer of 2019, following the lead of la Colectiva Feminista en Construcción, which organized the largest, most diverse demonstrations in the history of Puerto Rico to demand the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló. After the governor finally resigned his post, artist and journalist Molly Crabapple attended an outdoor gathering, where she saw groups “from Antifa punks to tiny abuelas” braving torrential rains in order to participate in earnest, community-led discussions about “how they would seize the moment and try to decolonize their country.” Elections in Puerto Rico in November of 2020 reflect the impact of these grassroots strategy sessions, recording a massive increase in votes for candidates who do not represent the two-party system that has dominated local politics for decades. The networks that delivered votes to these third- and fourth-party candidates emerged directly from the community organizations working together to address the challenges of recent years in the absence of a coherent response from federal or local governments.
Active subjectivity demonstrates not only that another world is possible but also that we begin to create this world by changing the ways we live and work together, finding common cause amongst a wide array of different voices and perspectives. Cacophonous voices often seem, simultaneously, to be the most plentiful and the least manageable resources on social media; however, platforms like Twitter are not always as chaotic as they appear. Algorithms reinforce ideological norms for many users by curating their content and minimizing their exposure to opposing perspectives. Twitter, especially, registers the pernicious obstacles (and some inadvertent hurdles) that historically marginalized voices face in their struggles to be heard. On the other hand, Twitter has become central to my CDP because it can also amplify and affirm these voices when students work together to analyze the interlocking structures attempting to silence them.
Live-tweeting and talking back to the screen
I conclude this essay with a description of a live-tweet activity I used at the UPR-RP in the fall semester of 2020. Live-tweets are some of my favorite assignments on social media because they encourage students to create alternative socialities across various technological and geographical borders through dialogue and cultural analysis. Like the previous examples of CDP in this essay, I find that live-tweets are most meaningful when they resonate with the local realities of students’ lives, assert the value of their voices, and create opportunities to broaden their networks of mutual assistance and support. Admittedly, options for posting goofy GIFs are also very compelling.
Most young people I know view media on multiple screens simultaneously. They watch films, film clips, or similar content on one screen while they check or update social media pages on another. Similarly, they read our course materials while reading and sending text messages, and, if we’re being honest, many of us do the same. As the technologies of the twenty-first century change our relationships to media, CDP helps me to incorporate diverse approaches to culture and media in various assignments. Live-tweet activities are about meeting students where they live while creating collaborative, virtual experiences that include diverse voices and disciplines to develop new types of critical and technological literacy.
When I presented a paper on the pedagogy of live-tweeting film screenings at the annual American Studies Association conference in 2015, Chicanx studies scholar George J. Sánchez remarked that live-tweeting reminded him of going to the movies as a youth at places like The Million Dollar Theater in downtown Los Angeles, where audiences talked back to the screen (and each other) with a steady stream of raucous, often hilarious, comments, conversations, and outbursts. One of my goals for live-tweet activities is to use contemporary technologies to create similar experiences in the (virtual) classroom. Like the audience participation in Sánchez’s example, students’ contributions to these activities are often simultaneously rigorous, critical, heartbreaking, and silly, and since the COVID-19 pandemic has closed many movie theaters and college campuses for the foreseeable future, live-tweet activities represent virtual breaks from the monotony and isolation of life under lockdown.
For the fall semester of 2020, I designed a live-tweet activity for a documentary film based on the collection Aftershocks of Disaster: Puerto Rico Before and After the Storm, a volume of essays, reflections, and poems edited by scholars Yarimar Bonilla and Marisol LeBrón and published in 2019. After the class read and discussed one of the essays from the volume, “Dismantling Public Education in Puerto Rico” by Rima Brusi and Isar Godreau, I assigned a live-tweet of Aftershocks of Disaster Film (2020). Shot and edited to compliment the book, this short documentary includes interviews with multiple contributors about their experiences both during and after Hurricane María. The film’s interviews, images, and testimonials evoked powerful memories for many students while introducing them to new information and new perspectives, creating profound personal connections between their lived experiences and the materials on the syllabus.
Nearly every student I taught that semester was available for this synchronous, live-tweet activity during regularly scheduled class hours, but a few had issues with work schedules, access to technology, and/or connectivity. As always, flexibility is essential to online activities, especially during a pandemic. I encouraged the few students who were unavailable to participate in our live-tweet during class hours to respond to their classmates’ tweets after watching the film, keeping the conversation going and providing a bridge between the live-tweet assignment and our subsequent debriefing during our next class meeting on WhatsApp.
It was possible to continue our discussion on Twitter outside of regularly scheduled class hours because of the hashtag students and I always create for live-tweet activities. For this assignment, we created a virtual classroom for our discussion by including the hashtag #aftershocksfilm in every tweet we posted while watching the film together. After starting the film at roughly the same time, students saw each other’s tweets (and mine) in real time by typing #aftershocksfilm into the search bar and clicking “Latest” every few minutes throughout the activity. Adding the hashtag to all of our tweets during the activity and refreshing the search page to keep up with the latest #aftershocksfilm tweets, we created a shared space on Twitter while watching the film in separate, quarantine-in-place, physical spaces. The hashtag also created asynchronous options for students to read their classmates’ tweets and post their own. Twitter archives all tweets instantaneously, and ours will remain accessible online long after the conclusion of our synchronous activity.
Hashtags are also a way to control how many Twitter users see our tweets. While the point of these activities is to widen the scope of our conversations, we do not want to make ourselves targets for trolls or bots, so we rarely use the titles of big-budget, Hollywood films for our hashtags. Instead, students and I generally choose a term or phrase related to class discussions, less likely to attract unwanted attention. Students who do not have a Twitter account, do not want an account, or are nervous about breaking their anonymity online can ask for help to create temporary accounts (with pseudonyms, if they prefer), which they can delete after the activity. In more than seven years of live-tweeting with classes at a variety of institutions, I have only had one experience with someone trolling a student during this activity. While the interaction was hostile, it was brief, and when I checked in with the student privately, she assured me that she was quite capable of ignoring her harassers until they went away. I continue to look for ways to make this assignment work for all students, and if I encounter a student uncomfortable about the risks of online harassment, I would certainly create a safer option for them to watch and discuss the film.
Mindful of these risks, I designed a live-tweet for Aftershocks of Disaster Film (using the relatively inconspicuous hashtag #aftershocksfilm), in part, because these activities include a diverse array of options for participation and student-to-student interactions. Even before starting the film, some students posted playful GIFs to prepare for the activity. During our screening, some tweeted screenshots of the film, offering visual analysis of provocative images. Responding to these tweets, their peers created short threads filled with additional insights. Students liked and retweeted each other’s tweets, and (similar to interactions on WhatsApp, discussion forums, and YouTube) some offered emotional support to classmates affected by the film’s stories of pain, heartbreak, and hope. A few added personal experiences and anecdotes to affirm the details we saw onscreen. Multiple students posted links to materials from other classes they found relevant to the film (and to our discussion), and many tweeted about connections they saw between the film and other materials on the syllabus. I collaborated with students on this activity by interacting with their tweets and posting my own thoughts about how moments from the documentary reflected the themes of our classes.
The community that students developed on Twitter during this activity also included diverse voices from outside of Puerto Rico, in part, because my preparation for this assignment included posting a short thread about the activity the day before our live-tweet. I included the hashtag #aftershocksfilm and tagged Twitter users whose work appears in the film, inviting them to participate in our activity. This list includes generous, engaged scholars and writers such as the editors of Aftershocks of Disaster, Yarimar Bonilla and Marisol Lebrón, contributors Rima Brusi and Rachel Salas Rivera, and others whose work I have followed and taught since arriving in Puerto Rico. While extremely busy with their own responsibilities, many took the time to contribute to our activity, responding to students’ tweets and adding their voices to our discussion. @yarimarbonilla even boosted my original tweet by quoting it and recommending our activity to her followers. When students and I discussed the activity on WhatsApp in the days following our live-tweet, many stated that interacting with the authors and editors of course readings was one of the highlights of the assignment. Part of our jobs as university professors is to make our professional networks and other scholarly resources available to undergraduates in order to broaden both their perspectives and their academic opportunities. Our live-tweet activity connected students with scholars and writers, for example, in Puerto Rico, New York City, Lincoln, Nebraska, Austin, Texas, and Los Angeles, California.
But these connections are about more than academic networking, and this is why they often generate my favorite moments of the live-tweet experience. In response to one of my tweets about the film’s interview with poet Rachel Salas Rivera, one student posted, “I liked the fact that they recognized that someone in the diaspora won’t necessarily fully understand the situations going on in the island.” This is not the first draft of the student’s tweet. The original tweet misgendered Salas Rivera, and when I read it in real time, I was torn between wanting to correct the error and not wanting to embarrass the student on a public platform. Almost immediately, I received a WhatsApp message. The student was mortified about her mistake and asked if she should delete her tweet. I suggested that she delete and then rewrite it with the appropriate pronoun (before using male pronouns, as he does today, Salas Rivera identified with plural pronouns). Within minutes, the new tweet was not only posted, but it had also received three likes: one from me, one from @yarimarbonilla, and one from the poet, @rugamarspr. I returned to WhatsApp to inform the student, but she had already seen the likes on her new tweet, responding “Oh my gosh!! I just saw it! This makes me so happy.” On Twitter, a platform with a reputation for harassment, abuse, and misinformation, this activity actually creates opportunities for generosity, growth, and solidarity.
In short, the success of this live-tweet activity reflects not only my CDP-related goals and aspirations but also UPR-RP students’ commitments to their own education and to each other. In this activity, students collaborated through supportive interactions in their analysis of the film, and the community they cultivated throughout the semester became wider and more diverse to accommodate new voices and perspectives. While the activity’s constellation of various disciplines, genres of representation, and sources might seem overwhelming, students and I were able to see how some of these materials fit together through rigorous, active discussion. In addition to highlighting the common threads within this messy aggregate of different voices, the concept of active subjectivity also helps me to identify how this assignment can extend its usefulness beyond both physical and virtual classrooms. Through our live-tweet of Aftershocks of Disaster Film, students and their online interlocutors formed a community that stood firm in opposition to structures of transphobic and colonial violence. They created an alternative sociality of people trying to do better and, through dialogue, to treat each other with the humanity they deserve.
I recognize the health risks of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I understand why our campuses are closed. I am also energized by the seemingly limitless potential of CDP for teachers and students, but I am desperate to return to campus. Digital, online tools can create dynamic learning opportunities, and many educators use them most effectively to supplement (rather than replace) the moments of connection, revelation, and community building that take place in the shared spaces of college classrooms. Other teachers use these tools to create valuable learning opportunities in asynchronous, online classes that can be more accessible for students with full-time employment, family commitments, and/or limited financial resources. I hope this essay provides readers with ideas for teaching and thinking with students online in ways that resonate with the specific circumstances in which they live, work, and study. Personally, I look forward to breathing a sigh of relief when I am back in the classroom, complaining about the weak WIFI and thanking students for using the lights on their phones to illuminate our dusty blackboards during the next blackout.
I am grateful to my English Department’s Academic Affairs Committee and the College of General Studies at the UPR-RP for approving the multiple course releases that allowed me to complete this essay.