An Interview with Cathy Davidson: Trust, Community and Paired Expertise

Futures Initiative Interview Collection: Team-Taught Courses

One of the Futures Initiative’s key programs is a set of interdisciplinary and inter-institutional team-taught courses. The interdisciplinary and inter-institutional team-taught courses are designed to exemplify equity and innovation, and promote the Futures Initiative’s goals of increasing faculty diversity and establishing robust peer mentoring among faculty members across the CUNY system.  And, this interview collection focuses on the faculty fellows’ experiences and thoughts about their team-taught courses. 

Cathy Davidson is the Founding Director of the Futures Initiative and a Distinguished Professor in the Ph.D. Program in English at the Graduate Center, CUNY and in the MA Program in Digital Humanities and the MS Program in Data Analysis and Visualization. Her scholarship focuses on the future of higher education and the best ways to transform higher education while yet supporting its crucial educational and social mission. In Spring 2020, Cathy taught the course entitled Introduction to Engaged Teaching for Transformative Learning in the Humanities and Social Sciences with Eduardo Vianna, a professor of the Social Science Department at the LaGuardia Community College. This interview took a form of written exchange. It has been lightly edited for clarity.


Could you tell us why you were interested in this co-teaching course? 

Mostly I realized my own knowledge of Vygotsky and Transformative Activist Stance pedagogy was lacking. I’ve long admired Eduardo Vianna and wanted to co-teach with him. Also community college is a chief focus of the Futures Initiative and our graduate students rarely have the opportunity to work with someone who teaches at a community college, who knows the demands and rewards.  

 Could you share what were the most valuable experiences you got from this co-teaching course in terms of the course contents, your students’ learning, your collaboration with your partner-instructor, your pedagogy and teaching, higher education reform, and/or public outreach? 

It was a sensational course in which, as usual, students worked in groups and designed about ⅓ of the course.  They did a brilliant job.  We kept a public blog on so others could learn from us.  And we are turning the products of the class into two Manifold open-access books; one is a guide to “Transformative Learning and Teaching in the Humanities and Social Sciences.”  The other is a cookbook that came out of one of the group assignments,—recipes plus family stories, cultural stories, etc.   We call it “I Wake Up Counting” because that’s what the 3 year-old nephew of one of the students would say when he woke up from his nap and we offered him a chance to count for us on Zoom.  It’s also a metaphor because, in transformative learning and at community college, every student “counts.”  The child’s joy and exuberance and his delight seeing all of us on Zoom kept up our spirits in a grim and heartbreaking time.  

We went online before the rest of CUNY because two students noted they were immuno-compromised and needed to work from home as soon as COVID hit. The class voted to ALL meet that way so as not to isolate and segregate them.  That in itself is profound.  They also voted to meet during CUNY’s break.  The sense of knowledge and community were profound for us all.  It was transformational.  We used one hour for asynchronous contribution, everyone responding to everyone, and the other for face to face checking in, ideas, and community building.  Again, the impressive results are on the website.

What aspects of this co-teaching program do you think can be employed in course design and/or teaching within CUNY and/or other higher education institutions? 

 Paired expertise.  Eduardo had not used actual participatory methodology in a class before; I did not know Vygotsky in a formal way.  We shared complementary expertise and the students not only learned our different content but saw us learning from one another.

 What was the most interesting and unexpected part of team-teaching?

 The quiet community we built.  The trust. 

 Is there anything you tried or learned in teaching this course that you plan to incorporate in other courses in the future?

 I think the blend of asynchronous and synchronous online participation worked especially well in a graduate class with a lot of reading. 

 Do you have any suggestions to improve this co-teaching program to the Futures Initiative Team? 

 I wish graduate classes at the GC were three instead of two hours… yet we did a lot in this limited time and I would not change that.






The Futures Initiative
The Graduate Center, CUNY
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New York, NY 10016-4309