A Soliloquy on Contingency

A Soliloquy on Contingency

I don’t share the sheer outrage that some adjunct professors are directing at the tenured ranks. I really do believe that the majority of tenured faculty — I obviously can’t speak for all of them — want every professor to be offered the benefits that were once the norm for university professors: stable employment, resources, research leave, health care, etc. I do believe this. However, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I sometimes bristle when I am forced to gape at the wide divide that separates me from those very, very few of my peers who have been fortunate enough to get on the tenure track.

To make a living wage, I have to work something between three and five jobs (the number changes slightly from year to year depending on how frequently I’m told mere days before my class starts that it has been cancelled). As a result, I cannot devote the requisite amount of time to research that would make me even remotely competitive for a tenure-line position. If I were to “sacrifice” some of my income to do that research, I wouldn’t make enough money to pay my bills; moreover, given the hyper-competitive nature of the academic job market, there is no guarantee that my sacrifice would ever result in forward professional movement.

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This article is the sixth in a series about pedagogical alterity. See the original CFP for more details. This is a follow-up article to “Bonds of Difference: Illusions of Inclusion.”


As teachers who consider the whole world a virtual classroom and community, many of us sometimes mistakenly assume that if we create space for representing the “voice” of the marginalized, all will be fine. But as long as the classroom or community is founded on the principles of learning/teaching from one particular context, marginal voices from beyond that context will continue to go unheard, or be heard and misunderstood, or understood but remain stereotyped and marginalized. It only takes a moment’s reflection to realize that we cannot assume the local is global without contextual considerations.

We [the minorities] and you [the dominant] do not talk the same language. When we talk to you we use your language: the language of your experience and of your theories. We try to use it to communicate our world of experience. But since your language and your theories are inadequate in expressing our experiences, we only succeed in communicating our experience of exclusion. We cannot talk to you in our language because you do not understand it. (p. 575 in Lugones & Spelman, 1983)

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Innovate: French innover, from Old French, from Latin innovāre, innovāt-, to renew : in-, intensive pref.; in- + novāre, to make new (from novus, new). ~ adapted from OED online

I have a confession: I am afraid of the Internet. When I think about innovation in terms of my own pedagogical skill, I immediately think about the Internet, and I get scared all over again. It makes sense though: the first thing I ever heard in regard to online interactivity was that some evil hacker could steal my identity, my money, or my youthful innocence. When I began work toward my PhD in rhetoric and composition a little over two years ago, if someone had told me then that I would become interested in technology, I would have snorted in disbelief. I could never have predicted how much I would grow to value my own fears, or change the tools associated with my teaching despite my fears. Regardless of what you may read here, I still harbor anxieties every time I pick up a new Internet skill. The nerves will likely never leave me, but now I embrace them as I puzzle through concepts like surveillance, privacy, and even the meaning of ‘innovation’ in my own theoretical work.

Learning even just a little bit about tech tools, from apps to programs, to social medias, has opened up more doors for me than I could ever have imagined. I have changed my entire rhetoric and composition focus, and I am now a go-to person for tool use at my current school. The funny part is this: I don’t feel like I know all that much more about online technologies. The difference is that I stopped saying ‘no’ to learning about emerging media and how it could enhance my own teaching, and started saying, “well… let’s learn a little bit about media here and there.”

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This article is the fifth in a series about pedagogical alterity. See the original CFP for more details.


A bull that went blind during the monsoon forgets that the world is not always green. — Nepalese proverb

Thanks largely to the advent of MOOCs, more scholars around the world are engaged in conversations about cross-border higher education today than ever before. As teachers who are interested in the prospects and pitfalls of emerging academic technologies and pedagogies for learning and teaching across national, social, and cultural contexts, we have been sharing our experiences in different venues. While the hype about the private higher education industry’s push for massive open online courses as the future of cross-border education rages on, we find ourselves much more interested in smaller-scale conversations about teaching and learning in all their confusing complexities in different contexts. Essentially, we are brought together primarily by our different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives; it is within the interest in difference that we share ideas, interests, and concerns.

One of us, Maha, is a faculty developer and teacher educator at the American University in Cairo who got her PhD from Sheffield, UK; the other, Shyam, is an assistant professor of writing now in New York, a man who hailed originally from the hinterlands of western Nepal (via the routes of education and professional careers in east India, Kathmandu in Nepal, and Kentucky in the US). Because we value (and indeed benefit from) our different identities, ideas, experiences, and perspectives based on our respective backgrounds, we come together in that valuation of difference. However, we are also aware that we are connected by our shared appreciation of difference as it is defined in Western or Westernized academic communities that we are part of.

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The Political Power of Play

The Political Power of Play

This peer-reviewed article was simultaneously prepared as a keynote address for Re:Humanities 2014, a peer-reviewed undergraduate digital humanities conference held by the TriCollege Digital Humanities Initiative (Haverford, Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore). The slides for the keynote are here.

We are accustomed to thinking about play as frivolous. We think of play as something that young children do; play is not serious, it doesn’t encourage deep, intellectual thought, it must be set aside as one grows older for quiet, reserved contemplation. Play is fun and pleasurable, the supposed opposite of rigorous education. Yet, Fred Rogers (better known as Mr. Rogers), is well known for his claim: “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” People who work in the arena of higher education have extended this sentiment to grown-up children: Sean Michael Morris, Pete Rorabaugh and Jesse Stommel argue that play constitutes a new form of critical inquiry; Cathy Davidson suggests, in Now You See It, that game mechanics should be used to reformulate some of the most critical learning goals in education; game designer and evangelist Jane McGonigal notes that “reality is broken” and that games are the solution to many of our problems — that if we played games as if our lives depended on them (especially collaborative games), we would learn that challenges never stop, and that it is worth risking absolute failure for an epic win. Accordingly, increasing numbers of educators are tuning into the idea of play as something serious and rigorous. A Serious Play Conference is held annually by key game developers as well as educators; while Michigan State University offers a Masters of Arts in “Serious Games.”

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Education cannot just be filling an empty brain, but must be as Paulo Freire says in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” Learning in prison is about the future that is at stake and the society at large. Prison rehabilitation should be based on process not content — should be focused on learning to make good moral decisions in a variety of situations and not a single dogmatic code of right behavior in our society. 

A pedagogy of prison rehabilitation is a life-or-death pedagogy. If even one inmate becomes a responsible, contributing member of society, there is a potential reduction of hundreds of new crimes and their potential victims. To the offender this means a life of integrity, new and positive relationships, a sense of peace and belonging, and a new self-efficacy. If the offender does not change, then it could be death on the streets, death in addiction or overdose, or a long slow death by the revolving door in and out of prison.

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All pedagogy is necessarily adaptive because it takes place within and regards the extant world. Digital pedagogy must be even more adaptive because it relies upon, at least in its manufacture, the whims and invention of engineers, code creatives, and a marketplace driven by the distraction of the new, the shiny, the better-than-last-year, the perpetual 2.0. Digital pedagogy is a pedagogy of machines as much as it is a pedagogy of minds and bodies — and not machines just as tools, but machines as environments, as extensions of our own learning processes, as approaches. And so, while “pedagogy is essentially a critical thinking exercise directed at learning and teaching,” digital pedagogy is a critical thinking exercise that considers our use of machines, and our lives as co-dependent with them.

In the last few years, teaching/learning and the digital have increasingly collided/colluded. The MOOC, the broadening of the LMS, the calcification of some approaches, and the response to that calcification — all have waged (mostly) friendly conversation about what it means to learn and teach and create in digital and online spaces. At the beginning of this year, Cathy N. Davidson asked, in a collaborative learning experiment, whether all our traditional approaches to education were invalidated by the encroachment of the digital into our professions. The answer was a resounding “maybe,” with exuberance for new media balanced out by a reluctance to embrace it.

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Humanizing the Interface

Humanizing the Interface

Oppression is inherently spatial. Governments use biopolitical mechanisms such as urban zoning and prisons to keep undesirable populations fixed in place; institutions use office location to distinguish permanent from contingent faculty; houses of worship physically separate believers from infidels. These structures all classify exclusion as a topography dividing “us” from “them.” Resistance is also spatial: Rooms of one’s own and brave new worlds constitute alternate landscapes that restage the relation of the person to society. These oppositional spaces protect us from the onslaught of the myriad forms of social coding that define us as objects rather than selves.

The Graphical User Interface (or GUI for short) is a high-stakes battlefield in this struggle between the oppressed and the powers-that-be. The general term for the proliferating technologies that communicate with their human users through images rather than text, the GUI expands the concept of digital literacy to include those excluded from traditional forms of technological aptitude. Smartphones and tablets depend upon rebuses (image-words) rather than lexicons to generate meaning. Hegemony and alterity converge on their topography, which offers people the same playing field regardless of literacy level. The GUI opens a space within which dwell ever-increasing numbers of individuals from diverse classes, educational backgrounds, races, nationalities, genders, and political, sexual, or religious orientations. It forges a common identity grounded in nothing other than its shared love of this user-friendly technology. This hybrid technology opens the same world up to the excluded and powerful alike. And this world is pocket-sized: virtually anyone can own it, carry it, use it. As a pedagogical device, the GUI erodes distinctions between those privy to elite education and those without access to basic learning.

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This article is the fourth in a series about pedagogical alterity. See the original CFP for more details.


I was in my car, pulling into the driveway after picking up some takeout. The radio was tuned to NPR, but I wasn’t paying that close of attention. I was exhausted after a long day of teaching and meetings.

The next day’s lesson was ready to go.

I wanted to clear my mind of school. I wanted to go home, see my family, and relax for the evening.

But, as I was reaching for the keys, I heard breaking news about the new way Facebook users would be able to classify their gender on their profile. I was then confronted with a choice. We have all been there. Do I ignore the information being offered to me so that I can continue on my way, or do I take the time to listen, knowing that I might hear something that compels me to rethink the plans for my next class?

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Writing the adjunct experience is its own genre now, having emerged from the duress of countless contingent laborers who are tired of marginalization. We are academe’s scapegoat. What I want now is the chance to help others in my position by talking about solutions, not problems. We have heard and read ample adjunct narratives. Let’s talk about something other than the predictable statistics, and contribute our voices to action that seeks progressive change and empowerment.

Like many adjuncts across America, I am a qualified and collegial asset to my university, and I want to move beyond the political apathy and/or aggression that fuel this crisis. Let’s all contribute to a conversation that is thoughtful and ethical. There must be a moral imperative to discuss the truths of our profession and abide by a standard of ethos and equality. And there should be a way to extend this branch to adjuncts and other marginalized university employees with a formalized concern for working conditions.

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CFP: Calling Adjuncts to Action

CFP: Calling Adjuncts to Action

“Our visible invisibility means universities sit in the comfortable position of never having to justify to parents the ever-increasing cost of a college tuition coupled with the reality that many of their children’s professors may be making as little as $16,000 a year.”
~ Margaret Betz, Contingent Mother: The Role Gender Plays in the Lives of Adjunct Faculty

Any movement, any effort toward greater social and economic justice, is only as strong as the voices behind it. When we speak up, when we pull back the curtain on the ways we’ve been oppressed or treated unfairly, it’s the stories we tell that make our struggle human. Social justice isn’t political, it’s personal, and the struggles happen every day in living rooms, classrooms, coffee shops, kitchens, and conference rooms. Broadcasting our voices on the internet creates a web of narrative that is as effective as any march to the capitol, any rally.

When Daniel Kovalik published “Death of an adjunct” in his column on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last September, it opened the floodgate for the adjunct movement in the U.S. The internet came alive as it had not previously with information about the treatment of adjuncts and contingent faculty, statistics about pay and hours worked, and details about the rights afforded (or exactly not afforded) a staggering 70% of higher education’s teachers. Many had been gathering this information for years — the New Faculty Majority, for example, or the Adjunct Project — but suddenly, through the very public death of Margaret Mary Vojtko, the statistics and data became personal.

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This article is the third in a series about pedagogical alterity. See the original CFP for more details.


“To the naked eye, I may seem normal just like another student or individual; however, behind the mask, I am constantly reminded that I am different from everybody else. I am not sure when I will be able to overcome these fears and doubts because I sometimes feel like I cannot be myself in school or back home. To the naked eye, I am known as Alexander; however, behind the mask, I am known as a hard-of-hearing queer Latino. Would there be a day that individuals like me ever feel comfortable? I am not sure, maybe in a near future, or maybe not because it all depends on how accepting our education and culture can be.”

We write together to share our experiences of difference, and to explore the question of how our schools and classrooms might become spaces where we can share ourselves in honesty and safety, where we can grow and learn together. We are Alexander Hernandez, a college student at a small liberal arts institution, and Deborah Seltzer-Kelly, a professor of educational philosophy at that college. This essay brings together selections from our ongoing conversations on this topic, moving between excerpts of papers Alex wrote for a class in educational philosophy taught by Debbie, and passages we wrote together specifically for this project.

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“There is more than one way not to read, the most radical of which is not to open a book at all.” ~ Pierre Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read

Not reading is serious scholarly business. It is a crucial part of the work of critics, students, teachers, and reviewers. Pierre Bayard writes that not reading constitutes “our primary way of relating to books. We must not forget that even a prodigious reader never has access to more than an infinitesimal fraction of the books that exist.” Stephen Ramsay writes similarly in “The Hermeneutics of Screwing Around; or What You Do with a Million Books,” “The world is vast. Art is long. What else can we do but survey the field, introduce a topic, plant a seed.”

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An Affinity for Asynchronous Learning

An Affinity for Asynchronous Learning

There is something that bothers us about conversations about replacing face-to-face teaching with online learning: they often fall into a trap of assuming that incorporating synchronous interaction is the optimal way to make learning more personable, that it approximates the face-to-face setting closest, and is therefore preferable and better. More often than not, synchronous interaction here implies some form of two-way audiovisual interaction, even though there are text-only forms of synchronous interaction (e.g., Twitter live chat). There are also asynchronous forms of audiovisual interaction (e.g., voicemail, recorded lectures).

But we feel the enthusiasm for audiovisual synchronicity often comes without sufficient discernment, and without deliberative consideration of how asynchronous learning can be not only viable but productive.

We’ve had experiences both teaching and learning online in a variety of formats, as well as supporting others who are still learning to teach online, and this article reflects our experiences and how they affect our thinking about digital pedagogy more broadly. We both have a strong preference for asynchronous learning.

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MMDU: Left Behind

MMDU: Left Behind

MOOC MOOC: Dark Underbelly (MMDU) is a rambunctious series of discussions about the past, present, and future of higher education, focusing on topics rising directly from Cathy N. Davidson’s distributed #futureEd experiment and its various offspring.

When we call out, we must listen for an answer. Cathy N. Davidson’s (and all our) “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education” pivots on the idea of a call. A call to action. A call to pay attention. A voice in the desert calling for change. We have, in the last six weeks, all become activists and advocates, each venturing out of our own comfort, each looking critically at our assumptions. A community has formed, a hashtag has flourished, and all that is under way has promise for a new “education from scratch”.

Now that we’ve rallied, we need to talk about who we’ve left behind: lurkers, introverts, the marginalized and contingent among us.

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“I’ve searched all the parks in all the cities — and found no statues of Committees.” ~ G K Chesterston

About two years ago circumstances reduced my full time job in a UK university to four days a week. I was aware of two possible dangers: firstly, my four days a week job would actually turn out to be a full-time job with less pay. Secondly, I was concerned that this non-work day would be academically unproductive and get absorbed by domestic responsibilities, jobs around the house, or general unproductivity. From the outset I endeavored to work on my own projects, unencumbered by the restraints of working for a large organization and, conversely, unsupported by other colleagues and the extensive resources my (then) employer had to offer.

Of course great men and great women (however defined) rarely work in isolation, but G K Chesteron’s quip is a reminder that it is individuals who are commemorated. I don’t make any claims to greatness, but I believed I could create, innovate, build and achieve without the consent and approval of others. The main thrust of my project was the building of the website YazikOpen.org.uk a directory of open access research articles for the learning and teaching of languages. I was accountable only to myself for questions such as:

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What is music theory?

What is music theory?

Music theory is making the rounds lately. It seems to have started with Ethan Hein’s post on Quora, and subsequently on Slate, “How Can Traditional Music Theory Mesh With Modern Pop Music?”. It’s not a very flattering piece about the discipline that I call my professional home. Unfortunately, Heim’s post, as Bryn Hughes points out, contains straw-man arguments, misinformation, and generalizations, but it’s received wide publicity. Of course, there are a number of things—some of them big things—that Anglo-American music theorists need to do better. However, it is clear both from Heim’s post and from the ease with which it circulated that most people simply don’t know what music theory is and what music theorists do. That, of course, is largely the fault of music theorists. On the whole, we tend to be a fairly insular bunch. Following Bryn’s lead, I hope to do my part to correct that a bit by offering as concise a summary I can of what music theory is, and (in light of Heim’s specific critiques) what college music theory courses are about.

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Toward an Interactive Criticism: House of Leaves as Haptic Interface

And now,’ cried Max, ‘let the wild rumpus start!
~ Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

When I first read Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, I barely got through 50 pages before I stopped doing what most would call “reading” and began to do what most would call “browsing.” While I was indeed playing across the book’s surfaces, flipping rapidly back and forth from one page to another, I wouldn’t describe my experience as a superficial one. This was a browsing that felt more like a frantic burrowing. I didn’t absorb every word, not more than a mere fraction of them, but I was building something substantial nonetheless. My first encounter with the text was a series of glancing blows, a play between the words, the spaces between them, and the shapes the words and spaces make together on the page. Reading the book that first time was more like venturing into the site of an archaeological dig. To this day, when I pick up House of Leaves, I feel like I’m still moving dirt, burying one thing as I uncover another. In this way, the book is about the acts of reading and interpretation, about the various ways we organize data and our own experiences of that data. House of Leaves is about matter and affect — about how we move stuff and how that stuff moves us.

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This article is the second in a series about pedagogical alterity. See the original CFP for more details.


I am stuck with the following story — not only with it, but by it. My decision to articulate it is always marked by haltings and hesitations, whether I’m inscribing it here or speaking it to friends and/or colleagues. It is, for me at least, a story of my failure to account for alterity in the classroom, and I do not wish its telling to be read as an attempt to confess and absolve myself, nor as a compelling anecdote nonchalantly recounted over coffee: a hard-boiled tale from my time in the pedagogical trenches. I would humbly offer it as a story that haunts me, one that materializes intermittently as a call to remember the latent violence beneath (my) pedagogical authority.

But it is also a story about the unintended resonances and consequences of a teacher’s words. Who am I, then, to try and govern the scene of its utterance? I can only tell this tale in order to let it go, and so I will — but, as one who remains responsible for it, only after some brief meditations on bell hooks, Jacques Derrida, and the medium in which it is here articulated.

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MMDU: The Missing Manual

MMDU: The Missing Manual

MOOC MOOC: Dark Underbelly (MMDU) is a rambunctious series of discussions about the past, present, and future of higher education, focusing on topics rising directly from Cathy N. Davidson’s distributed #futureEd experiment and its various offspring.

There is no more pedagogical an act than conscientious objection. There is no better way to teach than to smile, sit down, and refuse to do things in ordinary ways. No better way to learn than to organize a revolt. Because learning is always a process of unlearning, of letting go of previously cherished notions and ideas, every teacher must be a revolutionary, and she must inspire in her students the willingness to dismantle.

HASTAC has as its motto “Difference is our operating system.” Difference is necessary to revolution and to change. It is only in the space of the exchange of difference, the dialogues of disagreement and discernment, that we can see the frayed edges of our reason and experience and redefine our understanding. Making friends is an act of radical political resistance. And being kind, remaining open, unbiased, and disregarding the at-the-ready hierarchies of higher education is an operation of embracing difference. It is also a nuanced, careful, and meaningful form of conscientious objection.

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“The problem is to begin with a conception of power relations that grants that resistance is always possible but not always successful.” ~ David Sholle, “Resistance: Pinning Down a Wandering Concept in Cultural Studies Discourse” 

Why resist?

Figurines of Bambi (on left, facing right) and Godzilla (on right, facing left) appear at a standoff, ready to attack one another

The capability inherent in digital humanities for resistance is part of what makes digital humanities “humanistic“ — rather than, say, techno-utopian or neoliberal — it’s what connects the digital humanities to the humanities. Alan Liu and Stephen Ramsay have both argued for the necessity of theorizing “resistance” and its place in the work of digital humanists. Ramsay gets to the heart of what “resistance” might look like in this context when, in his eloquent “defense“ of the humanities in general, he describes the humanities as a discursive space in which we answer the pressing question, “How do we become individuals who move through the world with awareness, empathy, and thoughtfulness, and who know how to act upon those dispositions?” What if, “we can resist” were at least a partial answer to Ramsay’s question? If this is what resistance can do for us, for the project of being or becoming human, then I think we can see pretty clearly why it matters, why digital humanists should be investing time and resources in activities of resistance.

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MMDU: Unpedagogy

MMDU: Unpedagogy

Πάντα ῥεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει ~ Heraclitus

MOOC MOOC: Dark Underbelly (MMDU) is a rambunctious series of discussions about the past, present, and future of higher education, focusing on topics rising directly from Cathy Davidson’s distributed #futureEd experiment and its various offspring.

Learning must catch us by surprise, demand of us a compromise, a suspension of disbelief. Learning reminds us that we’re always a little bit stuck, but also that we have the ability to see our way out.

Last week, I was stuck in Washington DC under the oppressive gray clouds of winter storm Pax. But rather than be shackled by the conditions, I used the opportunity to visit museums and monuments. In the “Our Lives” area of the National Museum of the American Indian, I found myself surrounded by voices. They emanated from the multiple television displays, from audio that played only in this part or that part of the exhibit. The voices seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere. Ghostly, musical, they washed over me from every direction — north, south, east, west, from above and from below — giving the impression of omnipresence, of never being alone or separated from those voices. And yet this was a presence as invisible as it was ubiquitous, as nascent as it was ancient.

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On Being a Double Agent

On Being a Double Agent

When I was in graduate school working on my Ph.D. in English, I spent quite a few hours in the TA office, an expansive room in the basement of the English building, filled with cubicle partitions that barely demarcated the space allocated to each of the 20 desks. Each desk space was shared by two TAs, and the crowded condition led to lots of chatting, camaraderie, and general discussion, often on the topic of how our teaching was going. Most of us taught Freshman Composition, and the comp program was well-designed to generate growth in student writing. One of its strengths was the freedom it gave instructors to design their own assignments, and that group of TAs developed some amazing writing prompts and research projects.

Yet, a common trend in the TA office chatter was what to do in class on a given day. Unlike many of the TAs who were around 23 to 27 years old, straight out of undergraduate programs or master’s programs, I was older and had spent seven years teaching English in junior high and high school. To obtain my teaching license after earning a bachelor’s in English, I had taken pedagogy courses and national exams. During those seven years in a public school classroom, I had attended an almost interminable list of professional development workshops, and I worked closely with other educators to “hone my craft” of teaching. Listening to the discussions around me, I realized that I had some skills from those experiences that others were lacking.

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Finding My Voice as a Minority Teacher

Finding My Voice as a Minority Teacher

This article is the first in a series about pedagogical alterity. See the original CFP for more details.


As a high-school teacher, I kept quiet about my sexuality because I didn’t want to draw attention to it. Instead, I created a deafening silence, a vacuum that tugged on everything around it and demanded attention by its absence. I was silent because I thought my sexuality shouldn’t matter. I was also silent because I live in a state that has no protection against termination of employment due to sexual orientation. It’s not called “discrimination” here; it’s an employer’s prerogative. Because a few administrators at the school where I taught were Good Ol’ Boys, I was afraid. I was afraid that, as a new teacher, my sexuality would become an issue, a liability, or a pretense for joblessness. I was afraid the school’s small surrounding community, transitioning from rural to suburban and demographically divided by which church everyone went to, would question my fitness as one who works with children to get them to think bigger thoughts and question the status quo. I imagined protests to the principal. I imagined parents saying awful things about the person teaching their children. I don’t think I feared a lynching, exactly. But the county’s history of acceptance and inclusion has lingering tarnish.

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MMDU: “I Would Prefer Not To.”

MMDU: “I Would Prefer Not To.”

MOOC MOOC: Dark Underbelly (MMDU) is a rambunctious series of discussions about the past, present, and future of higher education, focusing on topics rising directly from Cathy Davidson’s distributed #futureEd experiment and its various offspring.

This week, among other topics, the #futureEd MOOC-ish course-like thing considers assessment: how we fund and accredit institutions and how we measure learning. In 2009, Cathy Davidson offered a risky and still novel post about “How to Crowdsource Grading”, in which she describes foregoing external summative assessment in favor of peer feedback and her own “feedback to the feedback.”

Assessment and standards are elephants in almost every room where discussions of education are underway. My goal here is not to demonize assessment but to dissect it — to cut right to its jugular: Where does assessment fail? What damage can it do? What can’t be assessed? Can we construct more poetic, less objective, models for assessment? In a system structured around standards and gatekeeping, when and how do we stop assessing?

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Things aren’t looking very bright for the arts and humanities at the moment. In our current age of austerity, arts and humanities budgets are easy targets for spending reductions. In both the United States and Canada, politicians seem focused on cuts. During his 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney identified the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts as programs that should be “eliminated.” Even after softening his tone regarding the arts and humanities, Romney continued to advocate for harsh cuts that legislators are still trying to pass.

Things are not better in Canada. In 2012 the Government of Canada cut the budget of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council by 14 million dollars. In efforts to make the most with their budgets, some Canadian universities are also restricting admission to arts and humanities program, like the University of Alberta that suspended admission to 20 humanities programs in 2013.

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Cracking Open the Curriculum

Cracking Open the Curriculum

“‘I hate it when you talk like this . . .’

‘I merely observe that this is a quantum Universe and, as such, what happens is neither random nor determined. There are potentialities and any third factor–humans are such a factor–will affect the outcome.’

‘And free will?’

‘Is your capacity to affect the outcome.’”

~ Jeanette Winterson, The Stone Gods

I challenge you to look boldly at today’s curriculum. Hold it in your hands, as every educator should, and peer into it. Just below the surface lies a labyrinth of possibilities. Its architecture is Deleuzean in concept, manifest folds upon folds. Curriculum is nebulous, expansive, recursive. As educators, we must do more than expect critical engagement from our students — we must model it in our efforts to change, modify, and adopt new learning practices. An educational system emerging from the demands of an industrial nation begins to crack in the light of post-industrialism. New literacies arise; epistemologies change. We must enter the labyrinth despite the minotaur.

In the deepest recesses of academia, we find ourselves still heavily influenced by the pervading capitalist culture informing our learning communities. This is damaging. Economic gain and critical pedagogy are too frequently at odds. The academy has become, among other things, a place to produce certified experts each designated to complete their commercial task(s). When in this model, then, does the student get to consider the system itself? We cannot afford to leave it unexamined. Consider this: we work, shop, eat, and live in a society where much of our produce has lost a significant portion of its nutrient value through generations of poor crop management, yet we gloss over these details in historical narratives that recast these losses as advancements in efficiency and industrial progress. I, for one, feel alienated from the primal necessities of life, hidden somewhere behind the well-stocked supermarket shelves. Upon reflection, however, I realize that many of these commodities have visited much more of the world than I have. Without well-developed critical thinking skills, our students will come to depend on — and reproduce — this historical narrative just as the current economy depends on and reproduces these crops.

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Confessions of a Subversive Student

Confessions of a Subversive Student

My relationship with education has always been a kind of dissonant harmony. I have always loved learning, yet I have always felt like a rogue in the regimented institutions of homogenization. Today, the dissonance continues as I find myself at times upholding and perpetuating systems of conformity in education, while simultaneously trying to disrupt and subvert those systems in order to shake loose their inhumanities and ultimately help them evolve past obsolete structural paradigms. Reconciliation is slow-going and messy. The pendulum must swing a wide arc before settling in its consonant center.

In my fifth grade class, we had a mock monetary system in which we earned fake dollars for good grades and behavior. The “money” was to be spent at “sales” during which our teacher provided trinkets and candy, etc. that we could purchase. This fake economy — supposedly designed to teach us about the “real” economy — was a regulated, glorified reward system for obedience and the completion of worksheets. I used the fake currency to set up my own black market. I hired some classmates, and we expanded our business to other classes that didn’t even use the currency except in my shadow economy. I got in trouble for this.

That same year, my teacher asked me if she could try to publish a political cartoon about endangered species that I made for a class assignment (“sure,” I told her). Perhaps she wasn’t serious, but it made me consider the possibility that the things I did in school might have merit in the “real world.” The prospect of publishing a cartoon connected my education to the “real world” much more significantly than the fake money did.

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MOOC MOOC: Dark Underbelly (MMDU) is a rambunctious series of discussions about the past, present, and future of higher education, focusing on topics rising directly from Cathy Davidson’s distributed #futureEd experiment and its various offspring. Our first chat focused on chaotic learning environments, vulnerability, and internet trolls. Some highlights from the conversation:

This week, we’ll shift focus a bit, as we continue to circle our prey.

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Last year, my then-employer, Charleston Southern University (CSU), instituted a new social media policy. Though I believe it was largely unintended, that policy (which is still available on CSU’s website) placed unreasonable limits on academic freedom, including in the classroom. It also contradicted existing policies in the Faculty Handbook. However, the faculty were able to get the Board of Trustees to replace that bad policy with a new policy that I drafted myself. Though I am no longer affiliated with CSU, they now have a solid social media policy that safeguards academic freedom.

Academic freedom and social media policies have both been in the spotlight of late, particularly in the cases of Patti Adler’s course, “Deviance in U.S. Society” at the University of Colorado–Boulder and the adoption of a new, restrictive social media policy by the Kansas Board of Regents. In light of these specific events, and my experiences going through a social media policy change at CSU, I offer what I hope are helpful suggestions to faculty seeking to preserve or regain academic freedom at institutions with bad social media policies or no social media policies.

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In April, faculty and staff from fifteen universities in the Atlanta region (and beyond) will attend the Domain of One’s Own Atlanta Regional Incubator hosted by Emory University’s Writing Program. Jim Groom, Tim Owens, and Martha Burtis of the University of Mary Washington and Audrey Watters of Hack Education will provide keynote addresses. Co-organizers David Morgen (Emory University) and Pete Rorabaugh (Southern Polytechnic State University) offer this theoretical context for the Domain pilots at their respective campuses and their reasoning behind building a regional, cross-institutional pedagogical network to explore digital literacies.

In a recent conversation about Twitter in my (Pete’s) ENGL 1102 class, one of my students observed that the way we were using Twitter in class was not “what Twitter is for.” It was a revelation and led to our probing the idea of digital tools and how they’re built for specific purposes. Observing that Twitter encourages short pieces of text, links, and self-promotion, the class came to the consensus that Twitter “was meant for” celebrities, advertising, and self-obsessed status updates. “Twitter is about what you ‘do,’ and not so much about what you think,” one student asserted. True or not, it was a meaningful capture of the resistance that I encounter when I introduce a class to social media in general and Twitter in particular. Everyone is familiar with memes, hoaxes, and selfies on social media; in many ways, that’s how some of us are trained to see social media. Yet, from the culture of coding we learn that any tool can be hacked and repurposed. User agency modifies the tool, changing what it can be for and unlocking its potential.

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MOOC MOOC: Dark Underbelly

MOOC MOOC: Dark Underbelly

“Too many people are drinking the MOOC Kool-aid (or dumping it out hastily) when what we need to do is look closely at the Kool-aid to see what we can learn from it. At this point, MOOCs are all untapped potential, mostly misunderstood and only potentially gangrenous.”
~ Jesse Stommel, “March of the MOOCs: Monstrous Open Online Courses”

In higher education, no ideas stay dead. MOOCs were festering at the verge of irrelevance, the arguments about them bloated and tired, then along comes a MOOC worth joining. Just when you thought it was safe, the meta-MOOC returns, this time all grown up with Duke University, HASTAC, Cathy Davidson, and her students at the wheel.

The ability or inability of a group or culture to progress is in direct relationship to the proliferation of aphorism within it. General statements of fact and abbreviations of great wisdom are misleading in that they censure further inquiry and discussion. The brilliance of our predecessors was never meant to be carved into stone monuments, but as a point from which our own meditations should depart. When we rest on their laurels we languor, we enjoy a tenure of torpor. We cannot attend old leadership any more than we can wait for new leaders. We must take the lead.

I talk to leaders every day. Because every day I am in contact with teachers who have an array of backgrounds, an array of pedagogical stances, an array of fears and beliefs. I hear teachers write about their students — encouraging them, disparaging them, condoning and cursing them — and I hear teachers write about their profession, usually from a perspective of discontent, of everything being not-quite-right. Teachers are spooked by their institutions, they’re intimidated by men and intimidated by women, no one is paid enough, and the list of crises in education seems impossibly long. Tenure and money are not solutions, online education is fraught, every single person deserves better treatment than they receive. Sisyphus had it easy.

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Stress Points

Stress Points

We’ve opened this area of the journal — Page Two — to non-peer-reviewed articles, editorials, announcements, CFPs, cross-posted articles, and more. Page Two allows Hybrid Pedagogy room to experiment even more rambunctiously with timely and non-traditional content outside the rigorous collaborative peer review that articles from the main page of the journal receive. 


Being a professor is easy, right? We have summers off, and we teach 1-2 classes per semester. When we’re not teaching, we’re lounging in our big offices and wondering about our next book contract or grant proposal. If we’re busy with writing that new book or attending a conference in some exotic location, we farm out the grading and teaching to our TAs. This low stress level is a major perk of being a professor. Or so CareerCast’s “Least Stressful Jobs of 2014” and “Least Stressful Jobs of 2013,” as well as a Forbes piece about the 2013 CareerCast study, would have it. But what about the roughly 70% of higher education faculty — the true new faculty majority — who lack the “lucrative prospects” (as the former terms it) and kinds of conditions CareerCast and Forbes seem to think most professors have? How “easy” is it for the professors who, for instance, teach at three different schools (sometimes in the same day) and still earn poverty-level wages?

The ever-increasing number contingent university faculty — over a million and rising — does not share this “low stress” lifestyle. (Neither do most tenured and tenure-track faculty, but I won’t speak for them.) Contingent faculty do not have teaching or research assistants, paid sabbatical leave, small upper-level classes in their area of expertise, or course releases to ease the teaching workload. Many are paid poverty-level wages and essentially hit the reset button at the beginning of every semester — the same short-term contract, the same pay scale, the same lack of basic faculty rights. It’s sometimes hard to feel stable in and dedicated to a school when your contract doesn’t extend past the current semester, or if you split your time and attention when you also teach at two others.

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In this piece, the first cross-posted article published on Hybrid Pedagogy, Kathi Inman Berens discusses an experiment in “flipped” pedagogy. Also published at HASTAC. We’ve opened this area of the journal — Page Two — to non-peer-reviewed articles, editorials, announcements, CFPs, cross-posted articles, and more. The page represents a kind of “flip” for us, too.


Procedurally, a humanities seminar is already “flipped.” Exciting student interactivity in a “flipped” engineering class is true of an ordinary humanities seminar.

Is there an equivalently awesome pedagogical innovation that flipping might yield for humanities students?

During fall 2012, the University of Southern California’s Center for Scholarly Technology conducted an interdisciplinary pilot to discern disciplinary differences in the application of “flipped” classroom techniques. A three-week unit was “flipped” in three courses: an engineering lecture, a sociology lecture, and a gender studies seminar. Originating in STEM disciplines, “flipped” lectures are videotaped and accessed as part of the student’s homework routine. Classroom seat time is freed up for active learning exercises, such as discussion of problem sets. Faculty circulate in the classroom as “master tutors.”

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Educational theory and practice have begun to appear more frequently in the popular press. Terms such as collaborative learning, project-based learning, metacognition, inquiry-based learning, and so on, might be new to some audiences, but they have a relatively long and well-documented history for many educators. The most widely-known and promising pedagogical approach is constructivism grounded on the work of Piaget, Vygotsky, and Bruner. Given how it has transformed my own understanding of pedagogy, teaching, and learning, constructionism seems ripe for a similar resurgence — like a phoenix rising from the ashes of Taylorization and standardized testing. Constructionism brings creativity, tinkering, exploring, building, and presentation to the forefront of the learning process.

Over the last decade my teaching has undergone a dramatic transformation as I played with many methods for getting my students to learn not only through doing, but also through creating. Initially this interest was sparked by a belief that targeting the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy (revised) would lead to mastery in all the other cognitive domains. Later it was bolstered by an interest in creating more collaborative learning opportunities for my students.

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The Photobook Club and Generative Pedagogy

My interest here is that of the odd marriage between online and offline in relation to an informal and voluntary project.

For the past 4 years I have been involved in open education in one guise or another, having first helped develop (with Jonathan Worth) the connected classroom that is #phonar (Photography and Narrative) and subsequently #picbod (Picturing the Body) which I am now taking in a new direction at Coventry University. During this time I established the Photobook Club, a project which seeks to promote and enable discussion and learning around the physical photobook format. The project began with open, online explorations into the most “influential” photobooks of the 20th century but soon morphed into a two headed beast: On the one hand the project continued to discuss the photobook through social media and WYSiWYG platforms, while on another, I ran and supported others in running physical, generative (Kelly 2008) events themed around the photobook.

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On January 27th, Cathy N. Davidson launches “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education,” a MOOC connected to dozens of other courses and events distributed across the web. Over six weeks, Hybrid Pedagogy will host a discussion group, codenamed MOOC MOOC Dark Underbelly, a rowdy exploration of topics unearthed by the course and its offspring, a place to examine the deeper (and sometimes darker) issues implicated in these discussions. Our node will include related articles, curated content from participants, weekly #moocmooc chats, and more. Watch @hybridped and @moocmooc for details. In this article, Cathy offers 10 things she’s learned from making her meta-MOOC.


1. It’s a little bit “Wayne’s World,” a little bit “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and a little bit amateur hour (and that’s a good thing).

Starting last May 2013, my HASTAC colleague Kaysi Holman and I began making a meta-MOOC, “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education.”  It comes with a long, whimsical subtitle intended to disrupt traditional ideas of the purpose and function of higher education:  “Or, How We can Unlearn our Old Patterns to Relearn for a More Engaged, Successful, Fruitful, Productive, Humane, Happy, Beautiful, and Socially-Conscious Life.” We made it for Coursera with which my university, Duke, is a partner. The Duke News team shot the opening promo video with two real cameras and real lights, but, for the rest of the six week course, Kaysi and I filmed with and delivered into a low-tech webcam neither of us had ever shot with before, a la Wayne and Garth.

Amateur videography is not really what I signed on for but it turned out to be interesting. I learned a lot about the art of scripting an entire course in 8-15 minute segments, designing and reading from cue cards (harder than it looks, as numerous hilarious Saturday Night Live segments attest), and storyboarding text and images. Kaysi, who has a law degree, not only read the fine print (confusing and in one case contradictory) on the agreements and helped with the IRB, she also learned many new skills: ScreenFlow editing, uni- and bi-directional mic’ing, and lighting to try to compensate, futilely, for the unflattering zombie green of office fluorescents, to name just a few. She edited, interjected explanatory texts and images, and designed landing pages. I’m not sure what we would have done without Lynda.com.

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I may have created a racist. I am an adjunct instructor at a large, public university in a rural area of the country. Given the media attention surrounding the death of Margaret Mary Vojtko, now those outside academia know the general powerlessness and insecurity of that position. I am also a youngish, short, woman of color from a lower socio-economic background. One colleague once remarked about my appearance that I was “a young, small girl with a sweet face.” At the intersection of gender, ethnicity/race, class and even physical appearance, I generally am at the “less power” end of the spectrum. So, imagine my surprise when I received an email from a white, male, probably middle-class student who is at least half a foot taller than me expressing anger and hostility. The email from a student I’ll call John read that he must speak up against a decision I had made that left him feeling powerless. Why was John so angry? What was it about my actions that left him feeling so powerless?

To provide a little context, I teach an upper division course, taken generally by juniors and seniors. John is in his senior year, and from what I understand, in his final semester at the large, public university. According to John, he has been working long hours at a job and also doing a lot of interviews to secure a job once he graduates. He is enrolled in other courses, but only has my class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. John, however, hardly attends my class. In fact, I remember him approaching me after class once to introduce himself and apologize for missing class. “I will try not to miss any more class,” he stated. I don’t think I ever saw him again until a few days ago. He came to my office to plead his case on why he deserved an extension on an assignment.

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Hybrid Pedagogy recently announced a call for articles that address the problem of contingency in higher education. The goal is to examine our role as pedagogues in a system wherein education does not always result in opportunity. The following article is the ninth from a series publishing throughout Fall 2013 and Winter 2014.


I am a mother. I am also a PhD in philosophy. And, finally, I am a contingent college professor at two universities. I am an example of how being a mother in that environment significantly affects a woman’s academic career. In addition to the struggles faced by the average contingent faculty member, contingent teaching is for many women the only viable employment option in the academic world. Indeed, motherhood alone may be a significant reason why women end up in the non-tenure track as parenthood unequally affects female academics. Many have found the academic setting is entirely inhospitable to mothers. Fellow academic Miriam Peskowitz, for example, argues women who are mothers often carousel in and out of work and, for that reason, motherhood may funnel qualified female PhDs into the exploitative world of contingent academic positions.

One myth associated with those of us in the non-tenured world is that there must be something wrong with us, something “defective” — either we are too lazy, unmotivated, unambitious or just not qualified for one of the “many” tenure track jobs offered each year. In an effort to help personally dispel that myth, I would like to mention that I have published a book, written both academic and non-academic articles, do at least four book reviews a year, present papers at conferences, develop new courses, teach four courses a year, volunteer at my university — all while raising my two sons without the use of outside childcare. Hiding behind this “defective” myth, institutional power structures take the scrutiny off of why the academic system maintains so many part-timers and the way it might be culpable for that exploitive reality. In addition, most colleges and universities only benefit from the fact that many of the students before me have never heard of “adjunct professors.” Our visible invisibility means universities sit in the comfortable position of never having to justify to parents the ever-increasing cost of a college tuition coupled with the reality that many of their children’s professors may be making as little as $16,000 a year.

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