Social Justice Through Socratic Seminars: Promoting Critical Engagement in a Virtual Learning Environment

Social Justice Through Socratic Seminars: Promoting Critical Engagement in a Virtual Learning Environment

Copyright: © 2023 |Pages: 27
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-4055-1.ch003
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The need to critically engage learners whether the classroom space is traditional, hybrid, or virtual is one of the most pressing educational issues teachers face today. Engaging learners specifically in an online environment requires the examination of both the content being taught as well as the methods or pedagogical models used to deliver the content. This chapter highlights how both the content, and the delivery can be filtered in ways that are relevant to the learners, that value their home and community assets, and that provide them with tangible touch points to transfer classroom information into the real world to maximize student engagement. The core of this chapter focuses on the use of Socratic Seminars as a means of engaging learning through targeted and purposeful conversations around social justice issues. This chapter demonstrates how the original tenets of Socratic Seminar can be used to present content in a manner that leverages students' cultural and linguistic wealth, develops personal and social identities, and builds critical competencies and global awareness in all learners. Specific connections between justice oriented Socratic Seminar, anti-bias teaching frameworks, and online learning environments are made.
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The Need to Critically Engage

Education in the 21st Century calls for students to engage – to think critically, to problem-solve, and to become contributing members of society that can adapt to a changing and globalized set of norms. The need to critically engage and to transfer learning from one situation to another has never been more apparent. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent quarantine has extended the need for remote learning to the equivalent (in many cases) to multiple school years and has forever altered the way that students engage in the classroom. “Nearly everything about teaching has changed for teachers over the last few months” (Lemov & Woolway, 2020, p. 2). The image of the “ideal classroom” that teachers had in their minds no longer exists. Their walls, painstakingly designed with bulletin boards, flexible seating arrangements constructed to promote conversation and collegiality, and carefully curated classroom libraries have been replaced with Zoom rooms, Web-Ex sessions, and Google Meetings. But that does not mean that the ideals of classroom teaching that educators value have been abandoned. Ideal classrooms are ones where people are engaged, where they share ideas, where they are valued, and where they are encouraged to contribute in ways that reflect their community and culture (Ladson-Billings, 2014). The question then becomes: How can we take the ideals of traditional classrooms and translate them into relevant and engaging virtual learning experiences?

One of the major struggles teachers faced (and continue to face) in the transition from in-person to remote learning is the building and sustaining of student engagement in an online environment (Ali & Herrera, 2020; Kurt, Atay, & Ozturk, 2021). According to Wu (2016), how educators structure a virtual learning environment impacts the degree to which students engage in the learning experience. Any framework or pedagogical model for remote learning should take into account the intersection between content delivery, assessment, and engagement (Green, 2020). Content focuses on the subject matter and the resources provided to meet both the needs of the learners and the objectives of the learning experience (Green, 2020). Assessment addresses the formative and summative opportunities students have to demonstrate knowledge. Finally, engagement is defined as the amount of energy students devote to the learning experience and to their overall sense of joy as a learner (Beymer & Thomson, 2015; Shan & Cheng, 2019). This chapter highlights how the inquiry pedagogy of Socratic Seminar, traditionally presented in-person in Humanities classrooms, can be effectively implemented in a virtual learning environment to generate student interest and sustain critical engagement.

According to Driggs and Brillante (2020), building a culture of engagement in an online classroom relies on employing instructional methods that are hands-on, active, and of value to the learners. Socratic Seminar has always been a pedagogical model of teaching focused on critical thinking and active engagement (Adler, 1982; Helterbran & Strahler, 2013). In the original work on Socratic Seminar conducted by Mortimer Alder in the Paideia Proposal (1982), he argued that any educational experience of value should expand one's understanding of critical ideas, values, and issues. Through questioning and active discussion, students evaluate concepts of substance, challenge previously held misconceptions, and generate interdisciplinary connections between topics and themes (Griswold, Shaw, & Munn, 2017). This chapter takes the original intent and outcomes of Socratic Seminar and reorients them to specifically examine issues and themes of social justice. When justice oriented themes serve as the nexus of a Socratic Seminar, they raise students’ awareness of the intolerance and prejudice that continues to exist, and create the empathetic citizens necessary to address these issues. Social justice can be explored through Socratic Seminar in virtual classrooms through a lens of developing one’s personal and social identities. The strategic integration of Social Justice Standards: The Teaching Tolerance Anti-Bias Framework (Teaching Tolerance, 2016) into Socratic Seminar is a critical step in promoting social justice in a virtual classroom. This chapter will describe how the original steps of Socratic Seminar intersect with the Anti-Bias Framework to create experiences that build critical engagement through social justice and action.

This chapter is written for faculty in the Humanities disciplines at any grade level or institution. Organized into three parts, the chapter (a) defines the original tenets of the Socratic Seminar model, (b) reorients the original model to view content through a lens of social justice and action, and (c) provides concrete recommendations for how teachers can implement justice oriented Socratic Seminars in a virtual learning environment. The author hopes this chapter stimulates teachers' creativity and confidence in translating a seminal inquiry pedagogy of the Humanities disciplines to an online classroom. The remainder of the chapter will explore how justice oriented Socratic Seminars:

  • Can be used as a means of discussing issues of social justice

  • Can be used as a means of building empathy and a culture of understanding among students in a virtual classroom

  • Can leverage digital technologies to create equitable means of participation in a virtual classroom

  • Can be used as a means of valuing the funds of knowledge and home pedagogies students bring to the digital classroom

  • Can be used as a means of creating “agents of social change” in learners as a consequence of engaging in community action

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