Engaging Students through Democratic Pedagogy


KENNESAW, Ga. (Mar 15, 2016) — In her Dean's Lecture Series presentation about democratic pedagogy, Dr. Jeanne Law Bohannon examines how institutions and the educational system as a whole can expand to better incorporate student voices. Bohannon studies first year students in writing courses because these students are participating in a required course where they are also required to enter into academic dialogue. Understandably, entering into academic dialogue can be an intimidating process for first year students. Plagiarism and having content with substantive value is a major concern to students. To overcome this fear, Bohannon presents the idea that we need to meet students in their own spaces – the new digital writing and conversation spaces. All academic disciplines must exist together, and one way to bridge the gap between these disciplines is to encourage students to focus their academic research on topics of personal interest, where the student specifically looks for cross ties between their interests and the assigned course material. After finding those cross ties, students can then present their findings on digital spaces to facilitate broader academic discussions and to minimize the apprehension and fear about academic writing.

Democratic pedagogy focuses on bringing democratic values into the sphere of education, so the students’ voices are equal to the professor’s voice. One aspect of democratic pedagogy is active participation in learning. Active “doing” in the education process should account for 90 percent of what we say and do because after two weeks participants who actively “do” remember more of the material they engaged with. In the 21st century, democratic pedagogy has been applied in crowd-sourcing elements, interactive lectures, flipped teaching, dialogics, transparency and digital literacies. Pedagogically, we learn best in hybrid environments that include both realized content and shared experiences. Democratic learning is contingent on awareness of a diversity of points of common interest as well as the change that occurs through discourse.

Student writers share experiences and discourse by writing as a social endeavor that in turn can cross-over multiple genres and fields of inquiry. As the students entering the university system now have always had digital technology in their lives, these students participate in digital narratives. They find their voices as students and scholars to have meaning and value over digital platforms. Bohannon applies the principles of democratic pedagogy to first year students involved in her freshman writing course. She incorporates digital writing spaces into her curriculum to engage with students where they are comfortable sharing their voices. By engaging with digital writing spaces, students can combine the social writing process with the academic writing process and receive constructive criticism by their peers about their work in a hybrid learning environment. Interacting with students in spaces where they are comfortable promoting their personal narratives equalizes the students’ voices and the professor’s voice, which is the basis of democratic pedagogy.

Engaging students in spaces they understand is crucial for the education system to advance as technology advances. Using the ideas of democratic pedagogy helps to navigate those new spaces for professors developing courses intent on student engagement with academic writing and literature.


To share your voice and join this discussion about democratic pedagogy, you can tweet @DrBohannon_ksu or @KSU_CHSS using #demoped.