Summit Reflection: Pedagogies of Care

In early October, Learning Innovation hosted the inaugural Emerging Pedagogies Summit for Duke faculty and staff invested in teaching and learning. The Summit’s goal was to promote ongoing conversations about the future of education in hopes of shaping a future vision of pedagogy. In this blog series, we will revisit each session to reflect on the lessons shared by the presenters and envision how these emerging pedagogies may take root at Duke.

Defining Pedagogies of Care

What are pedagogies of care?

When we planned the panel that focused on this turn of phrase for the summit, we broadly defined this as an umbrella term for different methodologies that demonstrate care in learning design (culturally responsive pedagogy, Universal Design for Learning, feminist pedagogy, anti-racist pedagogy, and so on). Care requires value-driven action and defines everything else we do in our learning design (hence it being the initial panel of the summit). 

To incorporate care in our course design poses a double-meaning, as we understand both that we’re making intentional design choices that shape our pedagogy (and student experience) and that our pedagogy supports student wellbeing. We invited three panelists whose work embodied these values: Nicki Washington, Cue Family Professor of the Practice of Computer Science and Gender, Sexuality, & Feminist Studies at Duke; Michael A. Betts II, Assistant Professor of Film Studies in Sound Design, UNC – Wilmington; and Nicolette Cagle, Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, The Nicholas School at Duke. David Malone, Professor of the Practice, Education at Duke, facilitated the panel.

Click the image below to view the recording of the panel, “Humanizing Your Learning Design to Support Student Success.”

What became clear during the wide-ranging panel discussion was the necessity for shared responsibility and accountability to create supportive environments — the kind of communities that enable student learning. 

Designing Learning Experiences with Care

As the panelists noted, traditional higher education is not built on care, but rather upholds hierarchies and reinforces structural inequities. 

“My master’s thesis was deeply about who are learning environments set up for in like native state if you will. And if we go through the historical record, it’s not folks that look like me. It’s not women. It’s not folks in our LGBTQIA+. It’s not people with disabilities,” Betts said early on in the panel. “So you keep having to realize … if the room is not set up for these folks to come in here, what do we have to do to make the space available for them to, one, believe they’re supposed to be here; two, feel that they can have some semblance of calming when they walk in; and then, three, feel as though they can engage in the space?”

An example of learning experience design Washington shared in the panel offers a blueprint of how we might be able to think through our own design choices.

Washington created the course Race, Gender, Class and Computing at Duke “as an act of care and resistance.” Upon her arrival at Duke in the Summer of 2020, amidst the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests that arose following the murder of George Floyd, she was encouraged to teach the class in Fall 2020. Washington talks more extensively about the course and its impact in the panel, but one feature of care in the course is that everyone is required to wear a mask.

“So I know that Duke has relaxed the masking requirement. But in that class, I tell everyone, we don’t know who in this room is immunocompromised. And every student deserves the right to be able to safely take my course, whether they have a disability or not,” Washington said. “And so as part of that, if you are here because you are concerned about topics related to equity and inclusion in computing, then the first step in that is going to be masking every day so that your peers can also take part in this class as well.”

There are several notable aspects about this policy. Asking students to mask:

  1. Reduces barriers for students to learning and takes the burden off students to request accommodations. 
  2. Reflects the values of the course.
  3. Pushes beyond compliance with university policy and goes beyond the minimum standard.

Reduces barriers for students

To continue using the example of masking, having all students mask creates a safer on-site learning environment for everyone, especially high-risk students. And high-risk students do not have to share private information to receive an accommodation. Denied accommodations (multiple examples exist of instructors refusing accommodations outright or improperly handling accommodations) or arduous processes to receive accommodations are just two examples of barriers that can inhibit student learning.

Reflects the values of the course

When designing learning experiences, we must be intentional about what our values are and consider how the choices we make (course policies, language use, technologies, medium, course materials, grading schema, and so on) reflect —or do not reflect — those values. As KA McKercher has said, “While love and design aren’t often talked about together, they should be” (Beyond Sticky Notes, 46). To echo the panelists, how are we modeling our values to students? To our colleagues? What are we merely repeating choices because it’s what we know? Despite our intentions, what do our spaces and communities look like and how does that stem from our design?

Pushes beyond compliance

In the article, “Creating Accessible and Inclusive Online Learning: Moving Beyond Compliance and Broadening the Discussion,” the authors distinguish between legal compliance guidelines for accessibility (e.g., following Web Accessibility Guidelines to avoid a lawsuit) and true accessibility, which certainly follows compliance guidelines but goes beyond these to support all students. Compliance, then, is only the beginning. We must continue to strive and imagine how our spaces can be liberatory

As Cagle put it, “Just because we’re not doing something bad, doesn’t mean we’re doing something right. Just because we’re not holding students down clearly doesn’t mean we’re holding them up.”

Acting with Care

During the panel, all three panelists discussed the history of their fields (computing, ecology, film) and how the history of those disciplines is intertwined so deeply with harm that evidence of this can appear in commonplace language (e.g., invasive species). Broadening that discussion, the panelists also discussed that how academia itself is organized can hinder resisting the status quo and creating solidarity.

Cagle modeled reflective humility by noting it wasn’t until the end of the panel and listening to her fellow speakers that Cagle realized she and her students could “push and resist” that language rather than merely pointing out its problematic features.

“Where have I been so hemmed in by the academic culture that I’m a part of that I can’t see the way out?” she asked before noting several ways we could make pushes for change within our ecosystems, “We all need to be taking risks and sometimes experience the consequences of those risks, or we need to reach out to other parts of our ecosystem and make some big changes together.”

The oft-repeated adage that faculty and staff working conditions are student learning conditions was discussed by Betts, who made a particular note about the benefits of slowing down in our work.

“This notion of urgency is something we have to slow down. Tema Okun talks about white supremacy culture and the false sense of urgency that lives in it,” he said. “That is one of the things that crushes any advances towards cultures of care, pedagogies of care.”

When considering the larger question of changing structures, Washington said, “We all have to sit with, what are we willing to do when it doesn’t benefit us directly. Because the people who are the most minoritized have been speaking out. But the way you change systems is that everyone has to buy into it. Everyone has to hold people accountable.” 

Learn More

If you’re interested in pedagogies of care and what was discussed during the panel, there are several authors and resources mentioned by the panelists:

If you’re interested in the work of and resources from the panelists here are a few notable examples:

If you’re interested in how design impacts users, including learners:

Learning Innovation also has a guide on how to Create an Inclusive and Equitable Course, which includes further resources. This guide should not be used as a checklist but as a starting point of how you can rethink your course design. 

If you’d like to talk to a Learning Innovation expert about pedagogies of care, you can contact us at or visit us during office hours.