Withering Online: English Teaching, E-learning and Discussions of Embodiment in Pedagogic Research Literature

By Joy McEntee.

Published by The Learner Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

In English, we help students learn to analyze how books, films and stories move them emotionally, and how those art works operate in their cultural contexts. The content isn’t scientific, and the teaching methods aren’t, either. While we don’t all jump onto desks and chant “Oh Captain, my captain,” many of us do operate by pushing students’ emotional buttons, in order to encourage them to reflect on how art pushes their buttons. This is ‘embodied’ pedagogic practice, embodied not only because the teacher is physically present, but also because it models the ways in which analysis in the ‘critical’ disciplines proceeds: the analyst is always already involved in the culture whose artifacts s/he is analyzing by a complex matrix of corporeal, psychological and cultural circumstances. Transferring this ‘embodied’ pedagogic practice to online learning environments is an acute contemporary problem that highlights the tension between ‘embodied’ pedagogy, and abstract ‘scientific’ models of cognition and learning. The practical problem of taking embodied pedagogy online is compounded by the fact that the pedagogic literature offers scant insight or support. The Humanities’ exploitation of affect, of ‘embodied’ teaching and learning, hardly appears in the literature of pedagogic research, which is dominated by scientific and empirical research models. This absence presents both a challenge and an opportunity. How embodied pedagogy works may not be amenable to analysis by the empirical methods, but it is, nonetheless, important to discuss it. Theorizations of the embodied learner have begun in some areas deriving from feminist theory (McWilliam). In such theorizations, literary disciplines are cited as addressing the learner as embodied, but the detail of the practice of teaching English is not addressed (Ellsworth, McWilliam). This paper seeks to build on established theorizations to talk through several practical problems: the difficulties of emulating embodied pedagogies online, of evaluating the effectiveness of these attempts at emulation, and of making effective interventions in the pedagogic literature.

Keywords: Humanities, Embodiment, Online Learning

The International Journal of Learning, Volume 14, Issue 12, pp.171-178. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 492.096KB).

Dr. Joy McEntee

Lecturer, English Discipline, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Joy McEntee currently lectures in American literature and film at the University of Adelaide. She holds a PhD from Monash University, where she completed a thesis on revenge tragedy and the movies. Her discipline-specific research interests are in Gothic literature and film because she unashamedly enjoys things that are dark, daft and bloody. Dr. McEntee has received a number of distinctions based on the quality of her teaching. In 2006, Dr. McEntee won a Carrick Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning; in 2002 she won a Fulbright American Studies Institute Award, and in 2000 she won a Stephen Cole Prize for Excellence in Teaching.


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