Lisa Scheer & Susanne Kink-Hampersberger
Susanne Kink-Hampersberger is a sociologist. She researches and teaches in the areas of sociology of gender and education, gender and diversity, social inequality, and school development. She is currently a University College Lecturer for Sociology of Education at the University College of Teacher Education Styria.
Lisa Scheer holds a doctorate in sociology and currently works at the Competence Center for University Teaching at the University of Graz. Her tasks include teacher training, knowledge management and organizational development with a special focus on anti-discriminatory teaching and learning, teaching reflection and design-based research.
This short paper serves as an introduction to several student contributions which are published in this Forum. On the following pages, we briefly describe the course and present a few reflections which can be useful for fellow teachers but also editors who wish to attract diverse contributors.
In summer 2023, we held the seminar “Equality policies from affirmative action to intersectional mainstreaming” at the University of Graz, a mandatory seminar in the master programme Gender Studies. Among the 21 students were mostly those from the MA Gender Studies, but also a few students from other BA and MA programmes such as Global Studies and Pedagogy who took it as an elective. As intended learning outcomes for the course we listed that students should be able to
- name and describe underlying equality policies based on different problem formulations,
- know different equality policies and link appropriate measures with them,
- design concepts for the implementation of gender equality and diversity measures,
- link their own professional and leisure experiences with what they have learned,
- analyse their practical experiences with regard to the underlying equality policies, find best practices, formulate gaps and think about further development.
We had the impression that the Queer STS Forum 2023 call on Queer-Feminist Inclusion and Visibility met with what was covered in our seminar and with what students were supposed to learn. Additionally, we like including ‘real’ assignments: projects with outcomes that are viewed by a larger, class-external audience, that have practical relevance or can directly be used outside of class. Such assignments usually increase students’ motivation. Therefore, we included contributing to the Forum as one of three larger assignments, crediting it 20% of the overall course grade.
In one of the classes, we presented the call text, discussed on how it could be understood and let student brainstorm and exchange first ideas. We then gave them a deadline to hand in abstracts so that we can provide feedback and guide students in their assignment work. How students first reacted to the call, how they realised the assignment and what learnings we as teachers and forum editors can draw, is presented in the next section.
Observations and reflections
At first, the students were irritated and put off by the call. They found it very difficult to understand, needed time to digest it and to come up with ideas. We experience insecurity and uncertainty about the correct interpretation and understanding as rather common reactions to assignments and exercises in Austrian higher education settings. This can be explained by a dominating assessment culture in which contributions of any kind are quickly evaluated and mistakes are seen as negative and problematic rather than as learning opportunities. In addition, students’ first reaction to the call provides important feedback to editors, especially to the Queer STS working group members who serve as Forum editors. If we aim at inviting diverse contributors, also from outside academia, we must reflect on the style of our call and especially on the language we use. Taking students’ reactions seriously, the 2023 call text (and most likely previous ones too) was quite complex and demanding – certainly not very inclusive and barrier-free. We should reflect further on purposes and intentions of our call texts and providing a call in plain language in the future in order to attract further contributors and to minimize scaring interested people off.
Already when receiving the abstracts, we were impressed by the great ideas our students had. This positive impression continued when receiving the contributions: From drawings and poems through posters and (video) interviews to visions and short analysis of queer-feminist inclusion and visibility examples student covered a broad span of topics and styles. We take this variety in contributions as a positive effect of a broad call text and an openly formulated assignment and believe it allowed students to either try out new creative ways of tackling a topic or choose known formats, letting each student decide on how far they wanted to go regarding creativity and experimentation.
Despite its positivity, there is also one downside: grading such a diverse range of contributions. Since it was hard to apply the same criteria to all the contributions, we decided to grade them quite mild and not be too critical about them. This led us to realize that further joint reflections on and conceptualisations of creative assignment grading criteria and practices are needed.
In the end, not all students wanted their contribution published in the Forum. Some would have needed small revisions but did not have the time during summer, others did not want to put in further resources for a translation from German to English. Two students did not feel comfortable sharing their very creative and rather personal contributions. These observations point at additional challenges in higher education such as limited student resources and limiting semester structures.
Overall and looking back, we were glad that we included the Forum contribution in our course and assignment structure because we believe it fostered student learning, it let them choose their level of creativity, and it motivated them because they contributed to a ‘real’ format that is openly accessible and read by many people – definitely by more than just their instructors which is usually the case with student assignments.