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Thursday, June 23 • 15:00 - 16:00
CON08.12a - Beyond words: Comics in the classroom

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Social work educators are increasingly called upon to do more with less: teach larger classes and create a positive learning experience for an increasingly diverse student body, all while teaching difficult topics that often take students outside their “comfort zones”. The challenge for social work educators is therefore to find innovative tools that not only help students engage with complex social issues but also to employ creative and resourceful instructional tools. This paper introduces comics as one such tool and suggests that comics are a viable and innovative supplement to traditional pedagogy in today’s global social work classroom. We argue that comics offer specific benefits to educators seeking to develop critical thinking and self-reflexivity in their students. We present findings that use of comics enables social work educators to integrate visually meaningful and relevant teaching tools to communicate challenging social work topics. This type of culturally validating, critical, and democratic pedagogy enhances divergent types of learning and supports different types of learners (Asante, 1990; Dei, 2014; Foster, 1995; Howard, 2003; Ladson-Billings, 1992). Therefore, comics go beyond words in counteracting hegemonic discourses in social work education.

Addressing social work issues—such as equity, power, and social justice—is a complex task deserving of innovative pedagogical tools, and this paper introduces comics as a pedagogical tool that can promote self-reflexivity and awareness of these complex social issues. Such a tool fills a gap left by teacher-centered, traditional pedagogies that feature low levels of student choice, place power primarily with the teacher, and result in passive students and oftentimes ineffective learning (O’Neill & McMahon, 2005).


Asante, M. K. (1990). Afrocentricity and knowledge. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.

Dei, G. S. (2014). Global education from an “indigenist” anti-colonial perspective. Journal of Contemporary Issues in Education, 9(2), 4–23.

Foster, M. (1995). African American teachers and culturally relevant pedagogy. In Handbook of research on multicultural education (pp. 570–581). New York, NY: Macmillan.

Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally-relevant pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection. Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195–202.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1992). Culturally relevant teaching: The key to making multiculutral education work. In C. A. Grant (Ed.), Research and multiculural education (pp. 106–121). London, UK: Falmer Press.

O’Neill, G., & McMahon, T. (2005). Student-centred learning: What does it mean for students and lecturers? In G. O’Neill, S. Moore, & B. McMullin (Eds.), Emerging issues in the practice of university learning and teaching. Dublin: AISHE.

avatar for Bree Akesson

Bree Akesson

Assistant Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University
Bree Akesson is an Assistant Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University's Faculty of Social Work where she teaches courses on social work theory, human development, and international social work. Her research focuses on social work pedagogy and global social work, specifically international... Read More →

Additional Authors

Olufunke Oba

Olufunke Oba teaches social work courses in social change, macro practice and diversity at University of Waterloo and University of Windsor while completing her doctoral studies at Wilfrid Laurier University. Her practice experience spans child welfare, domestic violence, youth engagement... Read More →

Thursday June 23, 2016 15:00 - 16:00 EDT
UCC 146