MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy (MMCP) is a six-week exploration of critical pedagogy. For this third week, we’ll be discussing Chapter 4 of Henry Giroux’s On Critical Pedagogy and work and thoughts posted to the #FergusonSyllabus hashtag. However, feel free to read/watch as much or as little as you are able (or find useful). We promise there will be no reading quizzes.

Summary of activities:

  • Read Henry Giroux, On Critical Pedagogy, Chapter 4, “The Promise of Critical Pedagogy in the Age of Globalization: Towards a Pedagogy of Democratization.”
  • Explore some the #FergusonSyllabus posts on Twitter.
  • Create an online resource (blog post, video, syllabus, lesson plan) that encourages the empowerment of students to be transformative agents in the world and share it on Twitter with the #moocmooc hashtag
  • Participate in the Twitter #moocmooc chat, 2/4, 5pm EST
  • Participate in the Google Hangout On Air, 2/6, 12pm EST

“Pedagogy is a moral and political practice.”Henry Giroux, On Critical Pedagogy, p. 71

What do we as educators owe our students? Accurate, up-to-date content? Efficient delivery of information? Effective building of skills? A clear road map to predicted outcomes?

The power to transform the world?

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Our homeschooling journey began nearly a decade ago, when our three year-old daughter started preschool. I was certain she would love school.

She didn’t.

We cycled through three schools. At one, teachers thought putting blue eyeshadow and rouge on the girls, using the same applicators for all, would be fun. They also allowed my husband to walk in, take my daughter by the hand, and walk out without saying one word to him, though no one had ever met him. In another, the teacher was perpetually unhappy, yet the principal couldn’t understand why our daughter wasn’t bonding with her. Finally, a third principal took me aside to report that my daughter had been disruptive. Apparently she had wanted to dance rather than sit in a circle and listen when the teacher turned the music on. Then, the principal said, in a hushed and solemn voice, all the other two and three year-olds had wanted to get up and dance, too.

By Thanksgiving, we were homeschooling.

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MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy (MMCP) is a six-week exploration of critical pedagogy. For this second week, focused on feminist perspectives, we’ll be discussing Chapter 1 of bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress and two short videos from Anita Sarkeesian. However, feel free to read/watch as much or as little as you are able (or find useful). We promise there will be no reading quizzes.

A summary of activities for the week:

  • #moocmooc Twitter chat January 28 at 12pm EST
  • Create your own feminist video/blogpost (e.g. critiquing sexist/patriarchy in pop culture such as children’s cartoons, fairy tales, political behavior). Post your video or blogpost to #moocmooc and others can respond to it. We consider your posts primary texts alongside the “official” assigned readings — in fact, many of the ideas in this post have been inspired by Twitter conversations and blogs from week 1.
  • If you have culturally-specific examples of patriarchy or feminism, Tweet or blog them. (We love that participants have already made connections between CP and Maori pedagogy.)

In the Introduction to Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks writes, “any radical pedagogy must insist that everyone’s presence is acknowledged” (8). She describes the process through which we become self-actualized in the classroom. “Teachers must be actively committed to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well-being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students” (15). And it isn’t just that students should be empowered to show up as full selves, but that teachers must as well, in order to model, but also to show the kind of care for the work that only comes when we make ourselves at least somewhat vulnerable.

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Embodying Openness as Inclusive Digital Praxis

Embodying Openness as Inclusive Digital Praxis

It is much easier to pay lip service to notions such as critical pedagogy and open education, than it is to truly embody those ideals in our own practice. One of the struggles I share with Ellsworth (1989) is my discomfort with how theoretical and abstract some critical pedagogy texts are, and how difficult it often is for a teacher to feel able to apply the ideas in them. Applying the ideals is complex and challenging. I think the same applies for open education, which I consider to be one way of embodying critical digital pedagogy (even though openness as a philosophy goes beyond the digital). I tend to agree with Adam Heidebrink-Bruno that an “open” philosophy should be inclusive (but often, in practice, is not).

Being truly open, inclusive educators is difficult. It entails making ourselves vulnerable by making our practice explicit and public. It entails opening our classrooms (usually behind walls) into spaces for others to observe and critique. It entails trying to accommodate diverse others we did not even know existed, and being excited about how they hack our ideas and what beauty this all brings, even when it initially makes us defensive or disappointed. There are other dimensions of openness that I might tackle in a future post, but for now, I’ll focus on openness as inclusion.

Two examples from non-digital critical pedagogy illustrate this well.

In Pedagogy of Hope, Paulo Freire humbly responds to women who criticize his sexist language in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. After admitting to his initial defensive reaction (after all, this is common linguistic practice), he writes about how he came to recognize the importance of language in propagating sexism. He empathized with how women feel excluded when someone writes about “men” as a way to include both men and women, because he knows that he would not identify himself with a statement talking about “women”. As a result of this critical reflection, Freire decided to change his practice to either constantly say “men and women” or to say “human beings”. He recognized his own shortcomings by listening openly to others, allowing them to help liberate him from the hegemonic linguistic practices most of us take for granted. He openly admitted the initial narrowness of his own view and how listening to constructive feedback of others revealed a different worldview – and he took action to rectify it.

The next example is more dramatic in its proportions: it is bell hooks’ narrative of how it felt as a young black schoolgirl in the age of desegregation. In Teaching to Transgress she tells of how being a black child in a mixed-race classroom was disempowering, as white teachers and students constantly reproduced racism and encouraged obedience to an alien culture, whereas previously, she had been educated by black teachers who engaged black children in a collective struggle. The story struck me as evidence of how something the dominant elites implement (desegregation) may appear to those in power to be a step forward in empowering the oppressed, but that they cannot make such claims on behalf of the oppressed, without actually including them. They had ignored, or at least bypassed, their agency. This is something that occurs regularly with foreign aid agencies working with developing countries, for example. I’m sure it occurs regularly in the relationship between governments and citizens; teachers and students; parents and children. It’s what Jennifer Gore refers to as the dominant deciding what they can do for others, rather than asking others how they would like to be helped.

Toward a More Inclusive Openness

The two examples above highlight an important aspect of inclusive openness: do not assume that you are aware of other people’s needs, nor that you can meet them, and not even that they would be happy for you to interfere. Instead, we need to listen to people different from ourselves, and ensure they have the power to shape not only their process but also our own. Encouraging and fostering student agency doesn’t simply set them on their own pathways (which, really, they might manage without our interference), but also opens ourselves to be influenced by them. To allow ourselves to change our minds, behaviors, and attitudes based on different perspectives and needs of the “Other”.

In summer 2014, I encountered a personal example of inclusive openness. I played the Twitter game #TvsZ for the first time. #TvsZ is a Twitter literacy game based on the humans vs zombies game played on college campuses in the US, and was originally developed by Jesse Stommel and Pete Rorabaugh. The game launch was scheduled for 3 or 4 a.m. my time, and Pete was excited that I was joining from Egypt in the wee hours of the morning. By the end of the game, there was a group of “new” people (including myself) who wanted to try co-facilitating the next round of #TvsZ and incorporate it in our classes. This team eventually co-designed and facilitated a hacked version, which ended up being #TvsZ 6.0. The team consisted of two men (including original co-designer Pete) and four women (including Janine De Baise, who had been involved in every version of #TvsZ as either a player or facilitator). They were all located in North America except for myself, in Egypt. The willingness of this team to welcome me in, not just for the exoticness of having a global team, but to truly include me as a key member of the facilitator team highlights a number of features necessary to embody inclusive openness:

  • Flexibility and Openness: team members who loved the zombie narrative (which had been successfully engaging participants for three runs of the game) were willing to accommodate the preference of two of us to change it (largely from a feminist drive for a non-violent narrative, but also my personal cultural aversion to zombies, or ignorance of their appeal). Not only were they accommodating, they were (for the most part) excited! We agreed to create a “hacked” version of the game and enthusiastically started brainstorming ideas over several months via google docs, google hangouts and twitter.
  • Generous with their time: I was the one on a different timezone, so scheduling hangouts was difficult; usually, I had to stay up late; but sometimes some of the others stayed up late at night or woke up early on a weekend to talk to me.
  • Culturally inclusive: we discovered the complexity of finding an alternative narrative to zombies that had a powerful impact and worked well – and yet another act of inclusiveness was that we had to scratch a lot of great ideas because they either did not have the same pop culture value for my Egyptian students, or because I could not use them with my students comfortably (e.g. we scratched a team called “We’re F*cked” because as I was uncomfortable using that kind of language with my students).

#TvsZ game is already a very open game which allows participants to create their own narrative and suggest rule changes while playing. This time, however, it was even more so. We modified the timing of the start, end, and key turning points in the game to accommodate Egyptian participants (no launch times at 3am this time!). The emergent nature of the rules of the game took on new proportions when an Egyptian student suggested changes to the “time limit” rules of the game in order to accommodate poor internet connections in some Egyptian homes. The game also incorporated narrative storytelling (and even a #danceparty) in multiple languages in order to highlight the diversity of the group of players and encourage collaboration.

My point is this: inclusive openness is not just a “cool” concept. It’s hard work. But it also pays off really well for everyone involved. As Howard Rheingold (one of the lead facilitators of the connected courses MOOC #ccourses) says in Net Smart, “Participation…is a kind of power that only works if you share it with others”, and he (as well as some of the other facilitators such as Mimi Ito, Mia Zamora and Alan Levine) repeatedly demonstrated this in practice by listening carefully to participant feedback, modifying elements of the course design and rhetoric, and going a couple of steps further to create space for participants to follow their own paths, going so far as to invite a few participants to join the facilitation team mid-course. In our “Bonds of Difference” articles (“Illusions”; “Participation”), Shyam Sharma and I talked about how a lot of rhetoric about inclusion in education addresses it from the perspective of the dominant.

There is a difference between creating a learning experience, and welcoming others into it on your own terms, and creating a learning experience and allowing others to modify it to suit their own terms. And even encouraging it. This often entails stepping outside our comfort zone and empathizing with a world view, or at least a point of view, different from our own. It can entail questioning deeply-held beliefs, enduring discomfort and overcoming defensiveness over how our often good intentions are received differently by others different from ourselves.

Many of us find ourselves in positions where we are alternately or simultaneously dominant and subaltern/marginalized. Are we able to embody inclusive openness?


Maha Bali is a Hybrid Pedagogy featured columnist.

[Photo, “untitled” by Photophoría, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.]

This piece is a follow-up and response to “Syllabus as Manifesto: A Critical Approach to Classroom Culture.”


There is a fear among University educators that the students they have received are damaged goods. Frustrations are vented frequently in the faculty and graduate lounges about the student who avoids homework, and the one who never does the reading. It’s far too easy to complain about the students who are products of mediocre high schools and are grossly unprepared for the rigors of academia. But labels are terribly powerful. We must not give in. We must resist the urge to label a student, and we must destroy the very foundations upon which that urge is built.

Classrooms are an experiment too. Whether one wants to or not, each semester educators are asked to define what “student” and “teacher” means in the context of their course. This is done for the first time on the class syllabus. For many, this is a routine task that is often dreaded or regarded as mundane, frequently completed with help from templates and requirements being handed down from administrative teams. But a close, critical look at your syllabus will reveal more than an attendance policy and reading list.

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MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy is a six-week exploration of critical pedagogy. For this first week of MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy (MMCP), we will be discussing Chapter 2 of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and this pedagogical moment from Emily Dickinson. However, feel free to read as much or as little of Freire’s book as you are able. We promise there will be no reading quizzes. Our discussion will begin on Twitter at #MOOCMOOC on January 21 at 5:00 PM EST. We also encourage you to write blog responses each week during MMCP and post links on the hashtag. We consider your posts primary texts alongside the “official” assigned readings.


One of the most difficult things to reconcile as critical pedagogues is the exercise of our own authority. Yet it is there. In the interest of learners, we often enough jeopardize our own philosophy in order to “free” minds. The contradiction is as obvious as it is obstinate. At times we are too ready to drag learners kicking and screaming into their own learning process. Or, in the company of our fellow academics and teachers, we insist on our philosophy and praxis, laying out line-by-line the wrong things our colleagues are doing in their classrooms or with each other.

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Struggling with Time — An Introduction

Struggling with Time — An Introduction

What do we mean when we use the phrase, “in the real world”? As many of us are in a state of transition between school and work, styles of work, or a balance of both, are we living a less real life if we don’t work for a corporation? Indeed, the different ways humans interface with the world is hybrid. The column below is an inquiry into the meanings of culturally problematic phrases like “the real world,” and “proper use of time,” and the ways these interplay. It will ask questions concerning digital humanities, critical pedagogy, and agency. It is an exploration, a discussion, and a journey. Join us.


Having spent about 30 years in the school system, most as a student, some as a teacher, I am often told that my life will change “when I get out into the ‘Real World.’” This phrase has always troubled me; it sometimes even angers me. I don’t do a fake job, eat fake food, or pay fake bills, do I? My rent sure feels ‘real’ every month. And yet, for some reason, simply because my income comes from a university, my life is less ‘real’ than those who pay the same bills by some other means. Despite the university’s foothold in the capitalist system — despite my substantial role in training young minds to go out into that ‘real world,’ the industrial educational complex somehow maintains a protected status — disconnected from the places people go when they leave. I am well aware that education does not stop when I stand up from my desk. And it doesn’t stop when there are no longer grades involved. Still, there is a divide we tend to maintain between the ‘in here’ and the ‘out there.’

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Faithful Listening

Faithful Listening

 

When you read through and comment on your students’ work, how do you assess the twenty-fifth essay you read as faithfully — as painstakingly, as generously, as truthfully — as you did the first?

My answer is that I literally listen as I read. Using a text-to-speech program like TextAloud, I listen to each paper as I simultaneously read it with my eyes. When my eyes are tempted to skim, I make sure my ears hear every last word.

This kind of listening, I argue, promotes fidelity to our students and their work and encourages us to read more truthfully and generously.

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For the last three years while I’ve worked with Hybrid Pedagogy, I have been flip about Digital Humanities as a field, a practice, or a pursuit. I have largely dismissed the work of digital humanists as arcane, irrelevant, boxy and tiresome, or as posturing by hungry, over-educated academics needing to stake a claim in the rapidly disintegrating educational institution. Among other things, I have echoed Matthew Kirschenbaum’s idea of Digital Humanities as “a term of tactical convenience”; and I have asked again and again: “What can Digital Humanities do for me?”

I remain largely unmoved in my opinion that a lot of DH projects are arcane, inaccessible, and of questionable relevance to the understanding and enjoyment of the Humanities. But I chalk this up in part to the nature of the work, and in part to my admittedly liminal involvement in the field. I am an outlier among outliers — not as much in the Ivory Tower as tilting at it — and among the least qualified to offer an opinion about whether or not Digital Humanities projects have or will result in meaningful scholarship with long-sustained impact. What makes my contribution to this discussion relevant, coincidentally — if I am to believe Jesse Stommel, my longtime friend and collaborator — is my distance from that discussion, and the perspective which that permits me. And also I am a pedagogue deeply invested in offering space for voices that are left out. I do not suppose to speak for anyone but myself, but I do suppose that my own voice can be joined by a chorus of others.

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There seems too often to be an explicit agreement that instructors lead and students respond, that instructors advise as students seek guidance, that when instructors talk about their pedagogy, it should be outside of earshot of the students they instruct. Open digital platforms can break these implicit rules to make spaces for joint inquiry among all members of the college community in the spirit of Freirian ideals of critical pedagogy. Using open digital tools creates space for productive dialogue within and across courses and departments, allowing for critical co-investigation not just within a single course but in the college community. An open learning space in which everyone can work together enables browsing and viewing each other’s work, and empowers students to participate more fully in their education.

Open digital pedagogy is the use of cost-free, publicly available online tools and platforms by instructors and students for teaching, learning, and communicating in support of educational goals, can, as Kris Shaffer has argued, “facilitate student access to existing knowledge, and empower them to critique it, dismantle it, and create new knowledge.” This approach can bring critical digital pedagogy to higher education and equip students to actively participate in their education. Jim Groom and Brian Lamb describe innovative customizations of open digital tools in use at various colleges and universities, including the University of Mary Washington, the University of British Columbia, and other CUNY campuses like Baruch College. At our college — New York City College of Technology, CUNY (City Tech) — a grant has allowed us to develop the City Tech OpenLab, an open digital platform for teaching, learning, and collaborating. Also built with open source software, the OpenLab enables the entire City Tech community to take advantage of open digital practices in courses, projects, clubs, and eportfolios. Our examples here are drawn from the work that members of our college’s community have contributed via the OpenLab.

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On May 4, 2012, Hybrid Pedagogy hosted its first hashtag chat using #digped (digital pedagogy). The chat revolved around a discussion of the first chapter of Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. Since that time, the journal has hosted dozens of chats centered on aspects of digital pedagogy — from what it means to learn online and MOOCs, to the intersections between K-12 and Higher Education, the adjunctification of education, and even a hashtag chat about hashtag chats. Within each of these discussions, and throughout the emergent conversation with educators worldwide which resulted, one idea surfaces more than any other: that educators are not given the tools they need to teach effectively using digital technology. More than any other, we have fielded most often the request to offer examples of, or provide ourselves, professional development in digital pedagogy.

From August 10-14, 2015 in Madison, WI, Hybrid Pedagogy, in collaboration with University of Wisconsin-Madison, will offer a 5-day institute on critical digital pedagogy. Digital Pedagogy Lab is a practical institute that will help prepare learners, educators, librarians, administrators, and others to teach and work with digital technology. Participants will practice hands-on solutions for the common challenges teachers and learners face when working digitally. However, in keeping with the philosophy and ethos of critical pedagogy, this will not be simply a 5-day tutorial. Instead, the institute will ground itself in philosophical, theoretical, and even political discussions of digital technology, identity, and pedagogy.

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On Friday, December 5 a crowd of accidental pedagogues met on Twitter via #digped to raise their voices. We considered the notion that critical pedagogy is not only a theory of teaching, but also a social movement. An eclectic group of educators (loosely defined) joined together to discuss the expansive world of critical pedagogy, seeking to (re)define its borders.

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MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy

MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy

  “To engage in dialogue is one of the simplest ways we can begin as teachers, scholars, and critical thinkers to cross boundaries, the barriers that may or may not be erected by race, gender, class, professional standing, and a host of other differences.” ~ bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress

Over the last year, we’ve watched the discussion of pedagogy in higher education shift. The MOOC crisis, the urgency to move toward the digital, the welfare of our contingent colleagues, and an imperative to confront directly issues of gender, race, class, and sexuality — both within the university and outside its walls — have us asking more and more critical questions about how we should teach, where we should teach, and why. The contents of our Twitter streams have made clear that we can’t go on talking about pedagogy as though business is usual. #Ferguson, rape culture, and the often inhuman conditions under which adjunct teachers work make clear that teaching can and must be politically aware, even socially active. Many of us live and work in situations that require what Paulo Freire would call “hopefulness” — but a hopefulness that demands and results in real action.

Teaching as action, pedagogy as praxis, a how-to for Critical Pedagogy begins, as hooks implies, with dialogue. In “Critical Digital Pedagogy: a Definition,” Jesse argues, “pedagogy, and particularly Critical Pedagogy, is work to which we must bring our full selves, and work to which every learner must come with full agency.”

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Hybrid Pedagogy will go dark from December 10, 2014, through early January 2015. Many of our readers and authors take this time to prepare for the new semester and/or spend time with family. The conversation takes a deep breath during the month, ready to make more noise in the new year.

In the meantime, we reviewed the events and publications of 2014 and present our list of the year’s greatest hits — those articles and projects that we believe warrant another look or a closer read during the break. For new readers, these articles present the core of what we do here at Hybrid Pedagogy. They represent the most successful conversation-starters and community-builders of the year. Take a(nother) look and (re)discover what we’ve cooked up this past year.

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The Rules of Twitter

The Rules of Twitter

Twitter is an incredibly dynamic digital tool that can create spaces of flattened hierarchies. These spaces can fuel inclusive pedagogy. But before teaching with Twitter, instructors have to think about how to use it together with students. What are the rules — particularly in relation to ethics?

Twitter as a Digital Mediated Public Space

Several recent posts have considered participatory culture and the potential demise of social media. Bonnie Stewart writes, “they’re multiplying, these narratives, just like the fruit flies in my kitchen.” Academics and tech programmers have imagined Twitter has changed from the porch to their homes to now becoming Broadway the street. And in so doing, they have declared the demise of the social media microblogging platform. This is not new. The spatial frames discussed (at the previous link) by four white men (academics, writers, and tech programmers) are of a certain brand of tech culture — male, white, upper-middle class. So when lamenting Twitter’s end, they believe it is the end of conversations “on the porch” where they can “have a nice chat with friends and neighbors.” But the porch is located in a white, single-family home clearly either in the suburbs or further afield, but not in an urban (racially mixed) public space.

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“I am not alone. There are accidental pedagogues everywhere, teachers without classrooms who left the academy but kept their ears and eyes open for when a discussion of a new future for higher education might take place . . . And their minds are full of ideas.” ~ Sean Michael Morris

Critical pedagogy is everywhere, or at least it should be. It does not come prepackaged for the classroom or only affect teachers and students. Regardless of context, there remains space for critical pedagogy. It’s there in administrative offices, libraries, and interface design. However, if that space goes unused, the emptiness lingers there, waiting to be filled. And too often that space is filled with something awful.

Audrey Watters recently announced at University of Mary Washington that “there’s a problem with computer technology.” And she reminded her audience that not only is there a problem, but as a woman in the industry, she has received death threats for saying so. Somehow, we continue to occupy a world that responds to this message with something other than outrage.

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Convivial Tools in an Age of Surveillance

Convivial Tools in an Age of Surveillance

On December 1, 2014, Audrey Watters published a collection of her lectures under the title Monsters of Education Technology. The following is the final chapter from that collection. As Audrey describes it, the book focuses “on topics ranging from teaching machines to convivial tools, from ed-tech mansplaining to information justice.” The full book is available to purchase on AmazonSmashwords, and directly from her site


I’m very excited and honored to be here to talk to you today, in part because, obviously, that’s how you’re supposed to feel when you’re invited to speak at a university. Truthfully, I’m stoked because I’m reaching the end of what has been a very long year of speaking engagements.

Initially, I’d planned to spend 2014 working on a book called Teaching Machines. I’m absolutely fascinated by the history of education technology — its development as an industry and a field of study, its connection to scientific management and educational psychology and Americans’ ongoing fears and fascinations with automation.

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Over the weekend of November 21-23, the Hybrid Pedagogy editorial board gathered in Washington D.C. for an intensive working retreat. During that time, we collaborated on the following article — 10 authors and reviewers working together in a single document over three hours to brainstorm, draft, and revise the piece. What we offer here is both an experiment in peer review and also a treatise on peer review.


Love as Pedagogy

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. ~ I Corinthians 13:4-7, ESV

Love, patience, kindness, humility, truth — we don’t often talk about these things in the academy. Even those of us who eschew discussion of “efficiency” and “effectiveness” in favor of “empowerment” often stop short of genuine affection. But education, at its core, is an act of love — it seeks to empower as its very nature. And this care fuels our desire to help each other become full agents in our own right.

When we truly love, we humanize rather than normalize. Much of what the academy does — both in teaching and in scholarship — is about norms. Even our new wine ends up in old skins, as the norms of academic discourse dominate the dissemination of our work in journals, monographs, textbooks. But love does not “insist on its own way.” In Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks advocates for “an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom” (207). Empowering another human to be a mindful agent in their own learning requires a great deal of patience, kindness, and determination. These things only coexist with conscientious effort. This is the work that we all do as we exist simultaneously as authors, editors, and students.

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On November 21 at the OpenEd Conference in Washington, DC, Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel will present on critical digital pedagogy and MOOCs. This is the second of three articles that inspired that talk. The first, Critical Digital Pedagogy: a Definition, appeared on November 18; the second, A Misapplication of MOOCs: Critical Pedagogy Writ Massive, appeared on November 19.


“I am hopeful, not out of mere stubbornness, but out of an existential, concrete imperative.” ~ Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Hope

In a recent UW-Madison event focused on building community in MOOCs, Al Filreis offered a keynote, “The Non-automated Humanities MOOC,” in which he remarked, “Don’t talk about MOOCs as courses. That’s a slippery slope to creating a thing that doesn’t hybridize but colonizes.” To see the MOOC as a course, as that which reinforces ossified hierarchical relationships in learning environments, is to carry forward a banking model of pedagogy that does nothing to empower students or teachers. As Sean says, “The openness the MOOC presages is one where agency trumps position, where a student can become a teacher, a teacher a student, and the whole endeavor of education becomes a collaboration.”

The pedagogical value in openness is that it can create dialogue, and can deconstruct the teacher-student binary, by increasing access and bringing together at once disparate learning spaces. Openness can function as a form of resistance both within and outside the walls of institutions. But open education is no panacea. Hierarchies must be dismantled — and that dismantling made into part of the process of education — if its potentials are to be realized.

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On November 21 at the OpenEd Conference in Washington, DC, Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel will present on critical digital pedagogy and MOOCs. This is the second of three articles that inspired that talk. The first, Critical Digital Pedagogy: a Definition, appeared on November 18.


“The public squares are filled once more.” ~ Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

If 2012 was the Year of the MOOC, then 2013 was the year the MOOC died. The public imagination around the massive open online course has faded, become niche, and now it is the playground of political and social theorists, a dedicated (and mostly academic) audience, and learning hobbyists. The conversation has gone to its corners, and the biggest impact that MOOCs have had on education is to catapult edupreneurs like Sal Khan and Daphne Koller into a national spotlight that includes appearances on NPR and CNN. Lackadaisically, other universities are joining the MOOC movement, perhaps hoping for some windfall of either a larger student body or just some good local press, or perhaps simply as a great “why not?”; but the MOOC moment has passed.

So why do I keep writing about MOOCs? Because the MOOC remains largely unconsidered. In July 2012, when Jesse Stommel and I launched our MOOC inspection of MOOCs (MOOC MOOC), it was not to investigate the practical applications of either connectivist vision or an iteration of the use of learning management systems; we entered the fray because MOOCs excited (molecularly) education. There was value in even the desperate attempts, the banal efforts, the comical forays because of the conversation they initiated. But that conversation has become no more than a cloistered murmur now.

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Critical Digital Pedagogy: a Definition

Critical Digital Pedagogy: a Definition

On November 21 at the OpenEd Conference in Washington, DC, Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel will present on critical digital pedagogy and MOOCs. This is the first of three articles that inspired that talk.


“There is no such thing as a neutral educational process.”  ~ Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“Pedagogy is not ideologically neutral.” This line has been for me almost a mantra over the last several years. I’ve said variations of it on Twitter, on the About Us page of Hybrid Pedagogy, on the site for the Hybrid Pedagogy Inc. non-profit, and in our recent CFP focused on Critical Digital Pedagogy. I’ve circled around this phrase, because I feel increasingly certain that the word “pedagogy” has been misread — that the project of education has been misdirected — that educators and students alike have found themselves more and more flummoxed by a system that values assessment over engagement, learning management over discovery, content over community, outcomes over epiphanies. Education (and, to an even greater extent, edtech) has misrepresented itself as objective, quantifiable, apolitical.

Higher education teaching is particularly uncritical and under-theorized. Most college educators (at both traditional and non-traditional institutions) do little direct pedagogical work to prepare themselves as teachers. A commitment to teaching often goes unrewarded, and pedagogical writing (in most fields) is not counted as “research.”

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On Friday, November 7, several brave souls joined a conversation working towards uncovering and discovering the mysteries of the digital experience. It didn’t take long before the digital/physical dichotomy began to fall apart. And as the façade fell, new visions took its place among the real.

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This piece was contributed as part of Hybrid Pedagogy‘s Digital Writing Month.


I’m tired. Scratch that: I’m exhausted. I’ve been writing for my life, like my life depended on it, like somehow if I could find the right words, my life would finally be what I wanted it to be. Words, the public kind, done in all sorts of digital medium, were my lifeline, my lifeblood. I wrote once on Twitter that “You can write yourself into existence. The person you are and the person you aspire to be.” But what happens when you stop?

It’s strange for me to be invited this year to contribute to Digital Writing Month; my digital writing, compared to previous years, feels like it has slowed down. I write “feels like” consciously, because if I were to actually look back at my writing from the past year, it would probably match, if not exceed, last year, but with one significant difference:

Much of it is behind paywalls.

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“Screens so hi-def you might as well be there, cost effective videophonic conferencing, internal Froxx CD-ROM, electronic couture, all-in-one consoles (…) Half of all metro Bostonians now work from home via some digital link. 50% of all public education disseminated through accredited encoded pulses, absorbable at home on couches (…) saying this is bad is like saying traffic is bad, or health-care surtaxes, or the hazards of annular fusion: nobody but ludditic granola-crunching freaks would call bad what no one can imagine being without.” ~ David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

As I stare at my computer screen in the comfort of my homeworker lair, I can’t help but feel awestruck by the prophetic quality of DFW’s words. In his famously unwieldy masterpiece Infinite Jest, he concocts a vision of postmodern western society that has few equals in literature, sociology or any other artistic or scholarly domain you can think of. The book itself is, in its structure, style and in the type of reading it invites, not only a compelling representation of a certain type of human condition, but an artefact which literally becomes the facts and truths it concerns itself with. The greatest trick DFW ever pulled was making a novel which is also an object, a Rubik’s Cube, a handheld device that shows as much as it tells, and invites the reader to play and mess with it like a sandbox videogame. I am not ashamed to confess that my experience with Infinite Jest was as chaotic and piecemeal as the book itself. I skimmed through pages when I felt things were dragging on and I permanently earmarked sections or underlined paragraphs which I reread obsessively, without worrying in the least about the lack of narrative resolution or linearity. Despite my messing with it, my appreciation and love for the book is undiminished. I believe that Jesse Stommel’s notion of interactive criticism applies to the sort of two-way textual engagement I am describing here. As Jesse eloquently puts it, sometimes reading is not an accomplishment over the text, but a dialogue – something we do to the text and something the text does to us.

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Trust, Agency, and Connected Learning

Trust, Agency, and Connected Learning

This interview with Jesse was published on HASTAC as part of the Digital Media and Learning Competition 5 Trust Challenge. We are republishing a revised version here on Hybrid Pedagogy’s Page Two with additional content.


What about our contemporary moment makes understanding trust important?

Technology has the potential to both oppress and liberate. And social media is, right now, rapidly changing the nature of the academic landscape (for teachers, students, writers, and researchers). But there is nothing magical about new technological platforms. We could make similar arguments about Twitter, the internet, MOOCs, but also the novel, the pencil, or the chalkboard. I’ve long said that the chalkboard is the most revolutionary of educational technologies. And it is also a social media. In his forward to Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Richard Shaull writes, “Our advanced technological society is rapidly making objects of most of us and subtly programming us into conformity to the logic of its system […] The paradox is that the same technology that does this to us also creates a new sensitivity to what is happening.” So, we feel discomfort when the platforms for or nature of our work change, but that discomfort also causes us to pause and take stock — to interrogate what we do and why we do it.

For this taking stock to happen, educators need to actively guard space for learners and learning. In a continually changing educational landscape, developing trust depends on teachers being advocates more than experts.

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This article is a response submitted for our series about critical digital pedagogy. See the original CFP for details.


I’m a feminist teacher of writing and literature of over 25 years and, amazingly, I still love it. I love the transformative nature of critical feminist pedagogy, the dialogic classes where meaning is created together, and I am always learning from and with students. Having cultivated my teaching style around fostering close relationships and community in the classroom, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be expected to teach a 100-student class like Women in Literature, and in a hybrid setting no less. At my core, I believed that such a setting was, by its very nature, antifeminist. How could such a classroom support the breakdown of hierarchy and foster a space where everyone is invested in and responsible for the content, process, and learning? Where I could serve as a facilitator rather than lecturer? Where every student’s presence is recognized and our evolving knowledge is incorporated in the direction of the course?  My modus operandi is to nurture trust among students but also to trust in them. How could this be accomplished when confronted with an endless column of faceless names and numbers, numbers that students themselves have become accustomed to being? Was there really such a thing as feminist learning (and teaching) online?

Like most university educators in the United States, I have had to adapt, like it or not. Administrators view online and large classes as cost effective while teachers are constrained by ever-increasing demands at the same time that funding remains stagnant. We are limited by having to follow a top-down, capitalist model requiring proof of our “efficiency” (accommodating large class sizes, often in online settings) and “effectiveness” (high student evaluations) in meeting the needs of public higher education. This leads inevitably to risking the quality of, and to the commodification of learning. So why did I accept the large, hybrid Women in Literature course assignment? I could say I was being a good citizen by helping the department meet the institutional directive of more FTEs — taking one for/with the team, which was partially accurate. Having tenure meant I did not have to say yes. Admittedly, I wanted to better position myself for the enticing possibility of teaching awards that carry salary increases, but ultimately, I did want to stretch my teaching skills. Given the trends, teachers like me have to find a way to incorporate their pedagogical ideals in these new educational environments, or miss out on the possibilities to revitalize their teaching and pedagogy. I had to believe I could pull off feminist teaching in this new and unfamiliar environment, especially since it looked like it was here to stay.

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“Algorithms control the way we write, the way we interact with one another, the way we find each other in the digital, and whether or not what we say ever gets heard how and by whom we intended.” ~ Sean Michael Morris, Risk, Reward, and Digital Writing

In a recent episode of Doctor Who, the crew encountered (no surprise) a new species. As a species of only 2-dimensions, they were desperately reaching out into the third, trying to understand a confusing new world. Trying to communicate in a radically different context. To the “boneless” — as they were later named — the actions of 3-dimensional beings, when noticeable at all, looked random and disconnected. Like footprints on glass. Like a Pollock painting.

We, too, have been tasked with reaching out into a radically new environment: the digital. Yet, in a way, the scenario may be reversed in our own lives. As 3-dimensional beings, we wander into and through a nebulous, digital landscape. In many cases, we welcome the literal flattening of our world as we type it, scan it, speak it, and record it into our many electronic devices. We mustn’t be convinced, however, that these are perfect copies. The entirety of our complex physical experiences cannot be captured in terms of 0s and 1s.

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Maggie’s Digital Content Farm

Maggie’s Digital Content Farm

This piece was contributed as part of Hybrid Pedagogy‘s Digital Writing Month.


Over the course of the last 6 months or so, I’ve felt a real shift in what it means (for me) to write — to work, to be — online. And let’s be clear: this affects me offline too.

I’m hardly the first or the only person to notice that the great promises of the Web — freedom! knowledge! access! egalitarianism! creativity! revolution! — are more than a little empty. I’m hardly the first or the only person to notice that the online communities in which we participate increasingly feel less friendly, less welcoming, more superficial, more controlling, more restrictive.

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The World as Classroom: Calling All Scholars

The World as Classroom: Calling All Scholars

Like many people across the world this spring, I sat and watched Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. As a non-scientist, I was not only awestruck by what I learned, I was heartened by this program’s appearance on network television. Beginning with Carl Sagan thirty years ago, scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson have made public communication central to the scientific life. They call themselves science communicators. At a time when a large portion of the American public does not trust the scientific community when it discusses evolution or global warming, scientists have taken it upon themselves to find and gain the public’s interest and trust.

We need similar projects. We need humanities communicators. The role of the humanities may not have the urgency of global warming to push it into the public eye, but the necessity of deep understanding of the humanities has its own set of urgent issues. How are our fellow humans going to understand the loss of net neutrality, and how it connects to every other time in history corporations have gained an advantage over us? How are our children going to understand themselves and others when our disciplines are pitted against STEM rather than trumpeted alongside them? How are our fellow citizens to become mindful of and understand the bewildering change brought about by digital technology and the internet? At the same time when we as humanists are talking in specialist periodicals about how important our studies are, who is going out and telling the rest of the world? It is our duty to educate society about the importance and necessity of the humanities. To do so, we must engage with humanity.

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Risk, Reward, and Digital Writing

Risk, Reward, and Digital Writing

Autocorrect is tyranny. It is interruption of thought, of speech, of creation, a condition for — and sometimes a prohibition against — my voice being heard. When I type “phone-less” and autocorrect changes it to “phenols”, when my sister-in-law’s name, Asya, is regularly corrected to “As yet”, even the simplest communication becomes humorous at best, hazardous at worst. Because I use text message to discuss matters of pedagogy, philosophy, religion, relationship, and the running of this journal, my thoughts are often flowing faster than my fingers; and when I have to slow down to correct the correction algorithm on my phone or my computer, time and thought can be lost.

And in the process of learning to outthink autocorrect, I have relearned typing, grammar, punctuation. I write in anticipation of being corrected, like a small child speaking to a stern parent.

Algorithms control the way we write, the way we interact with one another, the way we find each other in the digital, and whether or not what we say ever gets heard how and by whom we intended. Writing and interacting to outwit the algorithm has become a digital literacy all its own, a new savoir-faire. Resisting the algorithm, on the other hand, is a minute rebellion, a disassembly, even in the smallest way, of the systems that control our words and relationships.

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Amplifying Indigenous Voices

Amplifying Indigenous Voices

It is not too hard to recognize that educational institutions, to a large degree, determine the process of engagement with learning and engagement with the learners. It should come as no surprise that unrepresented students might be tentative about actively participating in this process when their previous experiences with other schools or other social institutions might not have been positive. What underrepresented students are often asked to do, whether it is recognized or not, is leave their true identities — their true voices — at the door. “Anytime teachers develop a pedagogy, they are concurrently constructing a political vision. The two acts are inseparable” (Kincheloe, 2008, p. 9). As institutions and teachers, the way we set up our classrooms either makes space for students or ignores their identities.

Jesse Stommel says teachers need to be cognizant of the physical space(s) and the virtual spaces(s) the teacher and the students will occupy and also create pathways between what happens in the various physical spaces and what happens on the web, either with each other or by ourselves. To that I would add that teachers need to create pathways among students’ “voices” (students’ cultures, backgrounds. and experiences) to enhance the learning environment even further. Hybrid learning should not only involve combining the physical classroom with the web and other environments outside the classroom, but also combine western viewpoints, experiences, and ways of learning with those students who are often asked to leave these attributes at the door.

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I am an innovator. And yet, I still struggle with what exactly that means.

Say you’re driving down a west coast highway in your economy car, listening to music, admiring the landscape around you. You look up and see that there are old electrical (or maybe they’re telephone) lines up on the mountain to your left. Do you ever wonder who put those up there? How much manpower did it take to move a structure like that up a mountain? Are you noticing how many there are? And this says nothing of the highway carved out of the base of that mountain, or the metal, wood, and plastics that make up the railings, signs, and other parts of the highway that make up the invisible highway interface on which you now drive. Each of those pieces that make up your driving experience must be made from something, mined, or created from somewhere, fabricated and constructed by someone.

Last year, sitting with a community designed around learning and pedagogy in Atlanta, Georgia, I learned about maker spaces — a gathering of interested people with a variety of skills, getting together to exchange ideas, abilities, and learn from one another. This year, I accepted a fellowship called the Student Innovation Fellowship (SIF), which is a sort of maker space for innovation on my university campus. When I attempt to explain what I do as a SIF (yes, we make plenty of Star Wars jokes), it takes me a moment to decide what to say. Sometimes I describe it as a think tank, and sometimes I say that we advise faculty and students on technology use, but really, it’s a maker space where I get to explore what it means to innovate. I have certainly learned that a maker space is an innovation in itself: When we use skill and knowledge as a currency (ex. I will teach you HTML if you teach me how to change my oil), we open up whole new worlds of complexly linking systems about which we often don’t already know. This, to me, is the wonder of infrastructure: that idea that the material world is made up of so many many moving parts that one human could not possibly understand every bit of it, even in a lifetime of trying.

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We are all animals of speech and expression, we are creative beasts with crayons, we are all authors, and we are all founding mothers and fathers of a territory yet unclaimed. So write because you want to, write because you need to, and may the echo of your voice stir others to say more and say again. ~ Sean Michael Morris, Creative Beasts with Crayons

Adeline Koh has said that “You are already a digital humanist, whether or not you know it.” All of us, to one extent or another, create with the digital. We write e-mails; we post to Facebook; we write concise, short poetry on Twitter; we put our selfies on Flickr; we write e-mails and text messages; we tell the world who we are, where we are, and what we think almost automatically, and usually instantaneously, every day. We put concepts into action. We are the creators of artifacts. “We are no longer responders to History, no longer makers of Literature. We are the writers of partially-realized ideas and their rewriters.”

Hybrid Pedagogy is about to begin a new iteration of our Digital Writing Month event, our month-long free, open, hybrid digital making extravaganza that first made its debut in 2012. When Jesse Stommel and I first started the event, we did so with a certain abandon, hoping that our enthusiasm would be contagious and all manner of invention would follow. We set up reckless challenges, invited in the online chorus, created viral zombies, and dared to encourage every single person we could find to become madcap digital-writing humanists. We were happily overjoyed by the response.

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 “Ra-Ra Ah-Ah-Ah, Ga-Ga-Ooh-La-La, I want your bad romance.” – Lady Gaga, “Bad Romance”

Do I really see myself teaching Lady Gaga next semester? Or should I stick to teaching Mozart? Should the speakers ooze legato violin melodies or wildly shake with pounding screams and saturated bass? The option paralyzes me. After all, my training is overwhelmingly in classical music. That’s the repertoire, the language that I can precisely understand and communicate. What do I know about Lady Gaga? Yet students who are not music majors love her, and want to learn more about her. Even more so, a faculty member in the social sciences (read: classes with large enrollments, hear, hear) insists that we design and teach a learning community entirely focused on popular music from the last decade or so.

It’s a hefty choice; yet, we are all forced to make these choices when we develop a class. So, do I teach “The Magic Flute” to the fervently devoted few or do I team up with this colleague — whom I don’t know very well — to teach songs like “Paparazzi”, “Bad Romance”, “The Perfect Storm”, and “Blurred Lines”, to the non-musically trained many? Do I take the safe path, teaching a universal topic that I can do reasonably well, or do I teach a subject which may or may not be relevant five years from now? Am I ready to build a course practically from scratch while negotiating a new, messy, yet-to-be defined protocol with my colleague from another discipline? Am I willing to risk it all and teach a group of students who neither love classical music nor revere me?

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The dissertation is a curious beast. It has eyeballed me for years. Even now, having tucked it safely in a drawer since 2010, I still catch it looking at me. The word alone, “dissertation,” evokes a certain awe — a kind of fear coupled with an almost giddy excitement. When I was writing mine, I would wake in the middle of the night with my heart racing, thoughts of the thing scuttling about my brain. There’s nothing like scrambling out of bed to write at 3:30 in the morning as though your life depends on it.

I’ve wondered frequently about the value of the dissertation — about the various expectations of the form — about the compromises I made — about what the writing of one awoke in me. Recently, as I’ve begun to turn the raw matter of my dissertation into articles and book chapters, I’ve realized how little the dissertation actually prepared me for the work I’d ultimately do. And as I’ve found myself serving as a mentor for other dissertators, I’ve wondered increasingly about its pedagogical value. For me, the dissertation is a container that seems most useful and pedagogical at its breaking point. At its worst, a dissertation is a mere exercise, designed to prove the merits of a student to a committee. The ideal response to a dissertation, though, instead of “this meets expectation,” might be “what am I even looking at?” At its best, then, a dissertation is a genuine surprise, an encounter with something a committee couldn’t anticipate, which is why I find recent experiments with the form, like Nick Sousanis’s comic dissertation, so compelling.

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Hack This Book: Announcing <i>Open Music Theory</i>

Hack This Book: Announcing Open Music Theory

Hybrid Pedagogy Publishing is proud to announce its first textbook: Open Music Theory, “beta” edition—co-authored by Kris Shaffer, Brian Moseley, and Bryn Hughes. Open Music Theory, or OMT, is an open-source, interactive, online textbook for undergraduate music theory courses. As we write on OMT’s About page, we hope that this textbook will “support active student engagement with music in the theory classroom” and that the text will “take a back seat to student music making (and breaking).”

In OMT, we strive to create what I have called a “critical textbook.” In fact, this is a core part of the vision that Robin Wharton and I have set for Hybrid Pedagogy Publishing. We intend HPP to support “works that are born out of, or facilitate, community (inter)action — works that are crowdsourced or collaboratively authored, openly accessible, encourage remixing and republishing, and/or blur the lines between author and reader.” And as I wrote in “The Critical Textbook,”

While [Hybrid Pedagogy Publishing] will be casting a wide net, textbooks are an ideal target. Critical textbooks do not take students from beginning to end at the same time and place. Instead they facilitate student access to existing knowledge, and empower them to critique it, dismantle it, and create new knowledge. That’s what we want to create.

This is why OMT is open-source and not simply open-access. We have made it legally and (as much as we can) technically possible for instructors, and even students, to contribute to the text, translate it, publish it in other formats, copy it—in a word, to hack it. (Those interested in doing so may visit OMT’s project page on GitHub, and consult my articles “Open-Source Scholarship” and “Push, Pull, Fork: GitHub for Academics” for further philosophical and technical information on academic “hacking.”) We hope that this ”hackable” textbook will empower both instructors and students to critique and create knowledge during the course of their musical studies.

With OMT, we also introduce a new interactive music notation tool for the web, developed by Trinket (with some advising from me over the summer), which allows students to engage musical concepts directly from within OMT and to “hack” some of the musical examples in the text. You can see this tool in action on OMT pages such as Composing a cantus firmus and Composing a first-species counterpoint. These music “trinkets” have already made an appearance in my first-year music theory course, and they have already proven to be a useful tool for music instruction. You can read more about how this technology works here.

Because this textbook is in “beta” edition, that means that there will still be a few kinks to work out. While the content for the first edition is more-or-less complete, there are a few things missing. For example, you may visit a page and see a note that says “insert trinket here,” or “updated graphic needed.” Also, some of the video content is a bit rough-and-tumble, as the videos were created originally for individual classes, rather than the public at-large.

Throughout this academic year, the three authors will be using the textbook in our courses, noting where updates need to be made, replacing rough-and-tumble video content with more professional videos, and adding more interactive music trinkets. However, we are announcing the beta edition publicly, in the hopes that a few others will join us in testing it out. For example, many theory instructors already supplement a standard textbook with more exhaustive or up-to-date materials on two-voice counterpoint, classical form, pop/rock music, or post-tonal music. We invite instructors to examine those sections of OMT that might work as a supplement for their course’s current textbook, and use it in their courses. We also invite those instructors (or their students) to submit feedback or, better, “pull requests” (GitHub language for suggested content to add/change in the text). If you have specific suggestions for the textbook, please email Kris or fork the textbook in GitHub and submit a pull request. This will not only help us improve the textbook, but will also help it move towards being a more community-driven resource. We also welcome more general comments about the project and Hybrid Pedagogy Publishing in the comments section below.

The writing of OMT was supported by a crowdfunding campaign. Trinket generously matched our first $2500 of community donations with $2500 of their own. We are beyond grateful for all of this support. A full list of the non-anonymous financial supporters can be found on the About page. If you know one of them, please thank them!


[Photo, Slicing Through, by MTSOfan licensed under CC BY–NC–SA 2.0.]

“Each novelist, each novel must invent its own form.” ~ Alain Robbe Grillet

The Generative Literature Project is now underway on seven campuses, as a murder mystery unfolds in the hallowed halls and on the carefully manicured quadrangles of Theopolis College. What has emerged from the project thus far is part mystery novel, part role-playing game, and part social media performance. In their work over the course of the semester the faculty and student participants will of necessity confront, and perhaps reconsider and adapt the conventions we use to distinguish one genre or one kind of narrative from another. Like most digital hybrids, the Generative Literature Project resists traditional classification schema that have evolved to describe and identify the artifacts of print culture. At the same time, though, because it is “both . . . and . . .” as well as “neither . . . nor . . .” the project depends to an extent on reference to or iteration of such schema to make itself known to its audience as narrative.

From Sunday, September 28th, through Tuesday, September 30th, participants in the Generative Literature Project will take to Twitter using the #GenLit hashtag. Over the course of an extended — at times synchronous and at times asynchronous — conversation, they will provide a window on their process and progress, and engage the broader community following the project in a discussion of how their distributive, collaborative, digital composition both uses and breaks with formal, aesthetic, and generic conventions.

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The murder of Theopolis College president Cadence Mackarthur has not yet happened. It’s Fall, and the college hasn’t yet made public their choice of ten “Distinguished Centennial Alumni”; indeed, Theopolis College is only starting to make plans for its 100th anniversary. For now, things are quiet.

But across the United States, in the Marshall Islands, and in Puerto Rico — much more sinister plans are brewing as writing students — graduates and undergraduates — take to their computers to inhabit characters in and create the artifacts for a grisly murder  mystery that will become The Generative Literature Project (GLP), a gamified digital novel that will be published in 2015 by Hybrid Pedagogy.

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Pedagogy, Prophecy, and Disruption

Pedagogy, Prophecy, and Disruption

This article is a response submitted for our series about critical digital pedagogy. See the original CFP for details.


Without consideration of its past, present, or future, critical digital pedagogy may become irrelevant before it begins in earnest. The forces of neoliberalism that critical pedagogues hoped to expose and remove have become extremely adept at moving into digital spaces. Online institutions run by for-profit companies attract students from vulnerable populations —  the very populations that critical pedagogues aspire to help. For-profit institutions are often a mixed bag, at best, for these students, but more public and nonprofit institutions model their online offerings to compete with for-profit models. While some professors and academics have resisted changes, the classes they’ve protected were upper-division seminars rather than developmental or basic courses. Educational experiences that create common ground rather than career or academic tracks have migrated into spaces for efficiency, thus reducing traditional liberal arts and sciences to more closely resemble for-profit colleges’ career-focused format.

The rise of the for-profit online classroom is well documented, and the expansion of for-profit education, in part, is the result of various decisions made by higher education institutions. While elite institutions were mostly preserved, public schools, especially community colleges, were hurt by the expansion of online education. Spaces for critical, engaged learning in communities gave way to large digital spaces driven by profit motivations. Some of these institutions are starting to falter, and the space for these failures allow for a critical digital pedagogy to enter online spaces. However, critical digital pedagogues need to consider how they can make critical pedagogy resonate with the public, and use critical theory to examine digital tools and new methods.

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This article is a response submitted for our series about critical digital pedagogy. See the original CFP for details.


Poetry is a way of knowing, like numbers, like facts, like photographs and video.

As an independent academic operating outside the university, I move among the roles of publisher, editor, poet, curator, activist, critic, teacher, administrator, designer, producer. I belong to creative communities and circles — not institutions—and have the freedom not only to move among roles, but also to invent and inhabit new creative contexts, inviting others to collaborate. I don’t get paid for most of the work I do, but flexibility, meaning, and freedom are also forms of compensation, as well as privilege. One of these creative communities, Verse Wisconsin (VW)is a hybrid print-online poetry magazine that I co-edited, published, designed, and was the webmaster of for five years with another Madison poet, Sarah Busse. Our final issue came out last April, providing opportunity for reflection: What have we learned? What can we share with creatives, inside and outside universities, who are building their own artistic republics and neighborhoods? What happens out here in the community (as “Public Humanities” likes to call the vandals at its gates) that doesn’t occur inside the university or other large arts institutions?

I offer the perspective of a failed — and I mean that in the best way — tiny arts organization: a print-online publisher of poetry and verse drama, spoken word and visual poetry, seeking performance-based, activist alternatives to publication; a pedagogy & editorial praxis informed by performance-poetry; and a Midwestern poetics/aesthetics informed by the present, not just the past. More barn razing than raising; more meth than myth; goth and gothic; aware of current political/economic/cultural realities; always, but also increasingly, urban and non-white; the human in the humanities besieged not just by external forces, but also by its own non-responsiveness to the immediate human, to local problems, concerns, resources and changing circumstances.

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A class discussion where the teacher pre-determines the outcome is just a lecture in disguise, dressed up to feel student-centered while still being instructor-directed. When a class involves discussion, we owe it to our students to not know what’s going to happen, lest we start dictating what we want them to think. To truly engage another in a conversation, we respond to the ideas that develop organically; a person who talks without listening delivers a speech, not a discussion. The moment we attempt to set the conclusion of a discussion before it starts, we cheat our students out of an opportunity for honest engagement, and we fool ourselves into thinking we let our students learn things for themselves.

I sensed I had a problem with discussions last semester, when I taught two consecutive classes that were identical on paper: same course, same content, same classroom. Only the time and the students were different. It took many weeks before I realized how foolish that view was; despite the “on paper” claims, the two classes were not at all alike. What could possibly be more defining of a class than the students involved and the time we spend with them? Yet my efforts to plan and run my classes kept frustrating me — I struggled to keep the classes aligned so that I could remember where we were and what we needed to do next.

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Critical Pedagogy: Intentions and Realities

Critical Pedagogy: Intentions and Realities

This article is a response submitted for our series about critical digital pedagogy. See the original CFP for details.


It is one thing to read about critical pedagogy in the abstract, but I believe there is much more to learn from contextual understandings of how the philosophy of critical pedagogy works in practice. When I first started reading about critical pedagogy I found the scholarship interesting but too abstract. I understood that it was intentionally non-prescriptive, but it also seemed impractical to me. Elizabeth Ellsworth’s article was enlightening in her criticism of critical pedagogues for “consistently strip[ping] discussions of classroom practices of historical context and political position” (300), a view also held by Catherine Cornbleth, who suggests that a better approach to a critical curriculum would be to include both the macro issues (traditionally tackled by critical pedagogy scholars) and the micro-contextual issues of the lived experience of teachers.

I teach at the American University in Cairo (AUC) as a part-time teacher educator with no K-12 teaching experience (I am a full-time faculty developer, i.e. my day job is to support AUC faculty, and I’d had experience as a TA for undergraduates, and as a teacher of adults before). I teach educational technology to in-service school teachers who are either close to my age or much older. This means my students often have much more teaching experience than I do! Most of the experiences described below are from teaching a course on ethical, legal, social and human issues in educational technology. Teaching this course before Egypt’s January 2011 revolution, some students had been more cautious about critiquing the Egyptian public school system; they have since felt more comfortable doing so. But their willingness to critique me does not come naturally to them, given the strong culture of respecting authority in Egypt.

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On Friday, September 5th, Hybrid Pedagogy hosted a #digped discussion on Twitter about classroom discussion and the pedagogy of inclusion. Foremost in the conversation were concerns about social anxieties, race relations, class assumptions, personal desires, and diverse power dynamics which are at play in almost every classroom environment. Critical pedagogy insists that these issues never be overlooked in any facet of teaching and learning, and so the hashtag chat fronted these issues head-on.

The following is an interview with Jared Stein, Vice President of Research and Education at Instructure, the makers of the Canvas LMS. Following a press release in June that announced a suite of digital products for the hybrid classroom, we caught up with Jared to get a little insight into the pedagogy behind Instructure’s new tools.


1. What inspired the idea of lossless learning?

The idea of “lossless learning” was inspired at first by a desire to think differently about some of the fundamental concepts we take for granted in education, like transmission and reception of information, in order to help teachers and technologists find new ways forward.

Like most ideas, we arrived at this metaphor from many different conversations and research threads serendipitously coming together over an extended period of time. I do remember Josh Coates and I talking about the potential of big data – truly big data from a cloud-native learning platform like Canvas. Canvas has a tremendous amount of data, more than we currently know what to do with. So how do you make that much learning data actionable in a way that is both reliable and meaningful? How do you know which data is important and which is not? Is it even the right data? I’d been reading and writing on blended learning for a while, and the lack of data in face-to-face was foremost on my mind. Josh related the challenge of lossiness in data storage, situations where the quality of information is lost — sometimes inadvertently, but sometimes to gain a benefit elsewhere, like in size or speed. This idea of educational lossiness — accidental or planned — lined up with the notion in blended education that you lose something when you move from teaching face-to-face to teaching online — and vice versa. And we were off.

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“Indeed, little of the teaching makes our students see the relevance, necessity, or beauty of the subject.” ~ Paul Goodman, from Compulsory Mis-education, 1964

Many tensions lurk beneath the surface of classroom discussion. Social anxieties, race relations, class assumptions, personal desires, and diverse power dynamics are at play. New instructors may feel the pressure to manage these conversations immensely and experienced professors tend to develop a mantra that guides them through the chaos. This challenge is not new nor is it going away anytime soon. In fact, as lectures and content knowledge move beyond the classroom walls, discussion-based alternatives replace them. So, how do we make the most of this time together?

The discussion-ending comment is a well-known classroom phenomenon; one moment, the classroom is alive with discussion, and the next: silence. Fortunately, however, these moments are neither isolated nor unpredictable and pedagogues have long considered the origins of this challenging classroom dynamic.

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From Ph.D. to Poverty

From Ph.D. to Poverty

Another Ph.D. just applied for unemployment. I haven’t received any benefits because my claims are under review while the Employment Security Department determines reasonable assurance of reemployment. Per my contract with one college (I work for four institutions): “This memo is not a contract for employment and may be rescinded should the class(es) be cancelled or for any other reason.” Standard non-contract language of institutions nationwide, and not oblique: there is no reasonable assurance of employment for adjuncts.

My personal low and itinerant “profession” stems from a labor crisis in higher ed that’s attracted the attention of unions and Congress, but nonetheless persists, and perpetuates a unique poverty that affects the majority of academic laborers. And because we look forward to new email memos from colleges offering non-contractual, temporary appointments, we lesson plan, design LMS content, and draft syllabi without pay. These working conditions are disruptive, cyclical, and intentional.

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Many of us are drawn in by the allure of digital technology, tempting us to structure our daily personal and work routines increasingly on asynchronous communication. Making choices to act asynchronously, often by default and in ways that will limit the scope of such choices for future generations, feeds an environment that is structured for the development and well-being of technology rather than the development and well-being of humans. This is what I imagine it means to be infatuated by technology.

Technology is born from the world around us — long ago, at some rather extended point, humans developed spoken language, the closest thing we have to what can be called synchronous communication. Also long ago, humans looked at the world around them and recorded with marks on stone tablets the cycles and patterns of the moon, the stars, and the seasons in the sun. The technology used for recording these cycles and patterns was about as asynchronous as it can get — the recordings used minimally varied and simplistic symbols, they deteriorated easily, and they were not very transportable over distance. Since then, humans have been developing communication technologies that were either faster or that could travel over distances easier — oral mnemonic devices, papyrus, paper, the printing press, radio, tv, electronic text, and now all types of smart-media. (See Innis for one example of many who have written about this)

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Syllabi that reflect the mundane, bureaucratic requirements of the University are at risk of setting an equally banal classroom atmosphere. While administrative personnel may argue otherwise, the syllabus is not simply a contract between teacher and student. Rather, a syllabus should be a manifesto that serves as a founding document detailing the rights of the students and the pedagogy of the classroom.

Over time, the syllabus has become perfunctory. University policies and classroom expectations are the first impressions that we make in our classrooms. Using such a prescriptive approach to classroom culture, however, damages the social, cultural, and educative potential of formal schooling. To undo this harm, we must redefine the form and repurpose the syllabus as a space of cultural exchange. Only then can the artifact begin to enhance teaching-and-learning relationships within the classroom.

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