Designing Systems with Care: Responding to Inequality in an Online Course in South Africa
Contemporary South Africa is a highly unequal society, emerging from a history of racial segregation, characterized by diversity along dimensions such as class, race, ethnicity, linguistic background, religion, culture and rural-urban locations (Czerniewicz et al., 2020). Informed by this diversity, higher education institutions attempt to “balance the pursuit of equity, quality and development goals” (Badat, 2020, p. 26). Over the last few years, in particular during COVID-19, care-oriented approaches that emphasise student wellbeing and belonging, such as humanizing online teaching, intentional hospitality, liberating structures,and trauma-informed design have gained traction in higher education. Drawing on three dimensions of human relations, namely affect, reciprocity and power associated with Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, we reflect on how adopting a care approach and working with trauma-informed pedagogies in a postgraduate course on blended and online course design was experienced by course participants. In this paper, we draw on voluntary participant interviews and our own reflections as course facilitators to make an argument for a caring learning design that intentionally creates caring learning experiences for a highly diverse group of students. Participants in this course come from geographically diverse locations, from secondary or corporate environments with differently positioned home institutions and diverse access to resources. Also, participants’ positionality and disciplinary backgrounds require different forms of care. We found that Tronto’s concepts of paternalistic and parochial care useful to reflect on our own care practices, as they highlight the importance of creating spaces where students can co-create the care relationship, while understanding how their different positionalities impact their voice and agency, but also remind us how important it is to understand how students’ context differ from our own and to set up caring relationships that suit their contexts.