THE SELFIE: Building Classroom Culture

In an introductory course in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Rebekah Edwards adapts a Selfie Reflection assignment, first developed by Mark Marino and than extended by Adeline Koh, to help students articulate and develop the vocabulary, concepts, and skills useful for critically discussing race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, dis/ability and other identity categories that are socially construed from embodied presentation.

Using these assignments early in the semester helps develop a classroom culture in which students develop skills for talking about topics they typically feel are too difficult, taboo or explosive to discuss in class. With the Selfie Reflection assignment students synthesize their analysis of their own experience with that of their peers’ experience and practice the skills they need to navigate and engage in a critically informed, dynamic college classroom discussion.

Edwards’ use of the Selfie Assignment also makes possible a conversation about “open source” culture and offers another avenue to discuss the issues of plagiarism and citation that students are still learning to navigate in their academic experience.

OVERVIEW from Rebekah Edwards

Mark Marino developed an assignment, “Know Thy Selfie” , which asks students to critically examine and consider 3-5 of their selfies. Adeline Koh revised this assignment to include a second step that leads students into a larger group discussion. Koh’s discussion of this process may be found in the essay she wrote for The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Know Thy Selfie: A Selfie Group Discussion”.

Marino and Koh both have openly shared their work for use by other teachers in other classrooms. I cite both Marino and Koh on the versions of their assignment that I hand my students and I make a point to direct my student’s attention to the fact that I credit Marino and Koh. Such attribution enables a conversation with my students about open source culture and offers another way to discuss the issues of plagiarism and citation that they are still learning to navigate. My students often express surprise that something like a homework assignment is someone’s original intellectual work or that a course assignment might be reused or repurposed in ways that could be considered “stealing” or in ways that deploy respectful citation.

I have found that these assignments are tremendously useful for building a classroom culture that can grapple with and discuss topics that student have often said feel challenging. I use a three part Selfie Reflection assignment at the beginning of the semester. The students do part one (viewing, analyzing and writing about their own selfies) to bring to our second class meeting. Then during class in small groups they read each other’s analyses and discuss what they notice when their analyses are considered together and their selfies are viewed next to each other. They then plan and take a “group selfie” that best expresses what they have gleaned from their collective work and which they post to the class VoiceThread or class blog along with their analysis. Finally, as homework each student reviews all the group selfies, taking notes that they will use in discussion in the following class.

One side benefit of this assignment is that in classes where I use study teams or reading/research groups as a way of building in peer accountability and support over the semester, I will often have the group that has worked together on a Group Selfie Assignment continue on as a designated study group. Completing the Group Selfie Assignment seems to help quickly create a more cohesive and comfortable working group.



We recommend the journal Hybrid Pedagogy: a digital journal of learning, teaching, and technology as a go-to source for deeply considered and classroom tested innovative pedagogies that use digital tools. To further explore digital tools for use in the classroom or for your own digital humanities projects take a look at this list of digital research tools

If you do use and adapt this assignment or if you have an assignment that you’d like to share please let us know about your work in the comment section. Thank you.