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.


In January, I sought the aid of other voices in answering the question, “How does your training (vocational, traditional, etc.) inform the way you spend and/or value your time?” When I asked, I knew that I would receive wonderful, rounded responses, but I continue to get unexpected insights that have me thinking differently every time I read through them.

Caroline Stauss, a new K-12 instructor who decided to wait until later in life to begin her career as a teacher, reveals some discontent she feels in her community. In responding to the question above, Caroline goes deep about the outcome of the more difficult experiences of this phase of her journey. She leads us through a narrative situated within scenarios many of us may find familiar, and which may sound rather foreign to others. Like me, Caroline understands the institutionalization of education that I mention in my introduction to these responses, but reacts to it in a much different way than I do. And here is where I find the meat of what I am attempting to do with my questioning: if we think about unions and what the types of communities unions can build up, as well as the ones it can break down, we are thinking as learners all along the way. Take a look what community does for Caroline:

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The traditional take on assessment positions the teacher (or the state) as the one with all the answers and asks students to prove that they can figure out what the testers want them to know. Think of AP exams, SATs/ACTs/GREs, and loads of other acronym-derived test names, notably including statewide benchmark testing made widespread in America by No Child Left Behind legislation from 2001. In short, there’s significant inertia behind standardized assessment that critical pedagogy needs to address in order to reform traditional education.

In this episode, we’ll return to Kris Shaffer and Asao Inoue to pick up the assessment-focused parts of their conversations that didn’t make it on the air, and we’ll hear from Lee Skallerup Bessette to consider institutional assessment, empathy, and student needs. We’ll look at assessment in music classes and writing classes, classrooms of composition and classrooms of compassion. We’ll find ways of assessing students that prioritize their abilities and new experiences over their ability to do exactly what everyone else has done before them. We’ll ask how we can give students greater authority in the assessment process, and we’ll even address the idea of standards within the context of Critical Digital Pedagogy.

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“[W]hat is broken and twisted is also beautiful, and a bearer of knowledge. The Deformed Humanities is an origami crane—a piece of paper contorted into an object of startling insight and beauty.” Mark Sample

Folding: Theory

The Digital Humanities are actively being invented in this very moment. They have not taken shape as a concrete thing, but evolve as an ongoing and collaborative process still taking shape. This can be seen in how the Digital Humanities are being negotiated as a debate between building and breaking. What’s being built: word clouds, wikis, blogs, maps, games, comics, prezis, films, crowdsourced articles, MOOCs, curated social media stories, and greater access.  What’s being broken: traditional pedagogy, poems, images, borders, and potentially even the law.

While this has been the dominant narrative, I want to propose a counter narrative where transformation and invention occur not through the building or breaking binary, but rather as a result of folding, unfolding, and refolding. This origami metaphor, I think, aligns with Freirian Praxis as a process of “engaging in a cycle of theory, application, evaluation, reflection, and then back to theory.”

The need to develop this counter narrative was apparent after co-teaching an upper level English course. The course had two distinct instructor personas — a luddite and a cyborg — and we were on the path to creating another iteration of the dissonant building and breaking narrative. My assignments allowed students to build digital and multimodal artifacts. The other instructor urged students to break down texts from critically informed perspectives. However, by folding these two personal pedagogical approaches together, we were able to collaboratively realize Freirean praxis as a cycle of theory-practice-theory.

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Twitter and the Locus of Research

Twitter and the Locus of Research

Hybrid Pedagogy recently announced a CFP focused on The Scholarly & the Digital. This piece is a response to that call and an invitation. While we have begun to review submissions, this is a rolling call, so visit the CFP for more details if you are interested in reflecting further on any of the conversations started here.

It isn’t that a single tweet constitutes scholarship, although in rare cases one might, but rather that Twitter and participatory media more broadly disperses the locus of scholarship, making the work less about scholarly products (the bits) and more about community presence and engagement (the scrawl).

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Traditional college students of today are completely mediated. They can tweet, text, and post to Instagram all day long; they swim through a sea of media, and are savvy with an array of technologies; they use phones that are smarter than the computers of just a few years ago. Students are continuously, and rapidly, improving on basic computer skills and often work with the computer intuitively to perform tasks and to solve problems when they get stuck. When students come together in a computer classroom, they bring with them a great variety of experiences and skills. Some students can navigate any task brilliantly at lightning speed, some get the same results at slower speeds, and some need more instruction for developing skills they may not have had the opportunity to practice previously. In my experience, this variety opens up spaces filled with possibilities for learning.

Finding out more about where students are when they enter the classroom, meeting them there, and then working with them to move beyond basic forms of communication and consumption into thinking more deeply about hyper-media, social media, the media industry, technology, and other cultural topics can now be endeavors for instructors in the computer classroom. Critical pedagogy emphasizes participation, engagement, and collaboration so that students become active producers and critics, and are not simply passive consumers ingesting course content. Bringing this philosophy into the computer classroom further opens the space for critical and thoughtful conversation about culture to happen naturally, and in which critique is often extended beyond surface commentary. This combination of physical space, technology, and engaged pedagogy can also foster another effect of working in the computer classroom, and that is the organic way in which community-building happens.

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Teaching as Wayfinding

Teaching as Wayfinding

The 21st century learning landscape demands a significant shift in the role, but not the importance, of the teacher. Smart use of relevant technology can help make that shift easier.

In June of 2014, The Atlantic magazine published a piece by David Zweig: “How You Know Where You’re Going When You’re in the Airport.” The piece was a short profile of Jim Harding, a designer who created the “wayfinding system” at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, the busiest airport in the world. His specialty? “The process of designing cues — from signage to lighting and color, even the architecture, anything at all — to help people navigate a built environment.” Harding’s system ensures that travelers can smoothly navigate from point to point in the airport, be it from one gate to another, from baggage claim to the taxi queue, or from security to the nearest restroom. He melds sophisticated technology, like the trains that whisk passengers from terminal to terminal, and small but critical details, like the font on bathroom signs, so they cohere into a kind of invisible hand that gently pushes the traveler around the airport without unnecessary distractions or diversions.

Harding’s work helped me think about the demands placed on learning in the 21st century. Harding does not create the environments in which his wayfinding systems live; he is handed a complex system — an airport, a mall, a hospital — and asked to simplify it for the user. More importantly, he has found that his systems are “most effective when they function as a kind of transient, touching just the most superficial (or perhaps, conversely, subconscious) part of our brains, conveying information without drawing attention to the conveyer.” Travelers’ minds are fixed on their own journeys and destinations, as they should be. Harding’s challenge is to leverage that intrinsic motivation as he wayfinds, creating a system flexible enough so travelers feel they are forging unique paths.

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After a brief hiatus during MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy, our regular monthly #digped chats return for a discussion of National Adjunct Walkout Day and #afterNAWD — the next steps in the conversation about precarious academic labor.

On Wednesday, February 25th, adjuncts and their allies across the country rallied together for National Adjunct Walkout Day (#NAWD). This demonstration was intended to bring attention to the harsh realities of contingent labor in higher education, where as much as 70% of teachers and professors struggle to earn a livable wage. Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites covered the event with discussions and debates, and among those conversations were the many voices of those who weren’t able to actually walk out of their classrooms — for fear of losing their job, or for a variety of practical and technical reasons, such as not wanting to give up a day with the students or, for a growing number of adjuncts teaching in digital environments, they had no physical classroom from which to walk out.

Despite these vastly different situations, many adjuncts and their allies found ways to stand in solidarity, seeking ways to become visible.

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“It is possible to think critically about technology without running off to the woods — although, I must warn you, it is possible that you will never be quite so comfortable again about the moral dimensions of progress and the part we all play in it.” ~ Howard Rheingold, “Technology 101

The scene: Highway 36 as it descends into the Boulder valley. Flatirons in the springtime evening. The towers of CU-Boulder glowing like a village in Tuscany. Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris drive along the road, taking in the landscape.

Jesse: Let’s start a school.
Sean: (laughs)
Jesse: (undaunted) A school for teachers and also for students, where they could learn about learning and teaching. Too many teachers aren’t taught to teach. Learners should be empowered to be teachers.
Sean: You’re not wrong.
Jesse: Let’s start a school.
Sean: When?
Jesse: I don’t know. Tomorrow?

The year was 2002.

Thirteen years later, the need for a school of critical digital pedagogy is tremendous. The most recent Babson Survey Research Group report states that 6.7 million students are enrolled in online classes. This number doesn’t account for the millions more who use digital technology in hybrid environments — collaborating in Google Docs, discussing on Twitter, using SlideShare to share presentations, interacting virtually with learners across the globe to conduct research, and more. Digital teaching and learning has become more and more ubiquitous, and as much in K-12 as at the college level. All this requires that we think more critically about when and how (and also whether) to use digital tools in classrooms.

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Inner Voice, Criticality, and Empathy

Inner Voice, Criticality, and Empathy

I am deeply disturbed by dominant discourses in society that silence the voices of others, particularly women and ethnic minorities. I am frustrated by people who put others down, particularly online. And I am always surprised by teachers and academics who talk of empowering and encouraging their students while they constantly put others in academia down, by belittling their research, providing harsh and hurtful feedback, stifling dissent, and harming them in countless micro-aggressive ways.

How do we (women, young academics, minorities) protect ourselves from this micro-aggression? One solution can be found in self-reflection, by listening to our inner voices and not allowing others to put us down or question our self-worth. But this worries me, too.

Over-listening to our inner voice might blind us to diverse perspectives that may otherwise benefit us. We risk becoming egocentric or sociocentric because, as Barry Dyck says, when we think alone, we are not really alone: our thoughts are really the product of social interaction and thinking. This is a point Deleuze and Guattari emphasize in saying “we are multiple.” We may even reinforce social expectations rather than breaking free from them. Listening to our inner voice can be an act of reinforcing our own biases based on social discourse that has become internalized, rather than an act of critical consciousness. In short: over-listening to our own voice may blind us to the many diverse perspectives available.

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Faculty, Mobilize for Equity!

Faculty, Mobilize for Equity!

“The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square. What is your income?” ~ Oscar Wilde’s formidable Lady Bracknell in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Act I.

And how about traditional higher education in America? What is our income?

After reading the steady stream of contingency narratives that expose unfair labor practices, the stigma of adjuncting, and attempts to quell organized advocacy, one thing is certain: the state of higher ed reveals intentional structural economic violence. It’s time to focus attention on the laws governing contingent labor and hold institutions, boards, and legislators accountable.

According to the United States Department of Labor, Commission on the Future of Worker-Management Relations, Section 5: Contingent Workers, two general recommendations are made:

  1. The definition of employee in labor, employment, and tax law should be modernized, simplified, and standardized. Instead of the control test borrowed from the old common law of master and servant, the definition should be based on the economic realities underlying the relationship between the worker and the party benefiting from the worker’s services.
  2. The definition of employer should also be standardized and grounded in the economic realities of the employment relationship. Congress and the NLRB should remove the incentives that now exist for firms to use variations in corporate form to avoid responsibility for the people who do their work [my emphasis].

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Compassion in the Classroom

Compassion in the Classroom

Maha Bali’s featured column on Hybrid Pedagogy prompted the topic of this episode—compassion—but from an unusual angle. She and I talked about the problems we see with the way plagiarism is presented, discussed, and treated systemically. We thought that common systems that check finished work for signs of plagiarism turn it into a punitive situation, rather than a teaching opportunity. That’s the big difference between the student experience of plagiarism and the academic understanding of it. What if we looked at citation as a compassionate authorial act? Could we situate quoting and referencing as an act of academic kindness?

We also hear from Asao B. Inoue, who explains his efforts to make compassion an integral part of his teaching and learning practice. For him, compassion starts with the act of reading, and focusing attention on others helps students work in the moment and in the actual situation of class.

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MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy (MMCP) is a six-week exploration of critical pedagogy. During our final week, we’ll be discussing Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms, and Paulo Blikstein’s “Travels in Troy with Freire: Technology as an Agent of Emancipation.” Our discussion will center on the relationship between Critical Pedagogy and all things digital. Feel free to read/watch as much or as little as you are able (or find useful). There will be no quizzes.

Schedule of Events:

  • Read Seymour Papert, Mindstorms, Preface and Introduction
  • Read Paulo Blikstein, “Travels in Troy with Freire: Technology as an Agent of Emancipation”
  • Wednesday, February 25 at 12:00 pm EST — #MOOCMOOC Twitter chat
  • Friday, February 27 at 5:00 pm EST — Google Hangout with Audrey Watters, Jesse Stommel, and Sean Michael Morris
  • Ongoing – Participant blog posts, casual conversation, and questions shared on the community hashtag #moocmooc.

“The understanding of learning must be genetic. It must refer to the genesis of knowledge … Thus the “laws of learning” must be about how intellectual structures grow out of one another and about how, in the process, they acquire both logical and emotional form.” ~ Seymour Papert, Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas

“It is one thing to write down concepts in books, but it is another to embody them in praxis.” ~ Paulo Freire

As Utopians go, Seymour Papert is a very different sort than those currently running rampant in educational technology. He did, in 1980, advocate that every child should have access to a computer, but he also said quite definitively that “the child should program the computer,” instead of the computer being allowed to program the child. Computer aided instruction (CAI), where much of human-computer learning has its roots (not to mention instructional design and the worst-intentioned strategies of most LMSs), “consisted of a learner seated in front of a dumb terminal. The basic computing program presented piecemeal bits of information to the learner. After, the learner was asked to complete a number of questions written specifically to determine if she had learned the content” (Matthew Kruger-Ross). This response-to-stimuli approach to learning has not only persisted in digital education, but too often exemplifies precisely what Papert objected to.

We cannot replace agency with response to stimuli.

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How do we know if the new ‘it’ technology will work in our classroom? Will it create meaningful learning for our students, or even for ourselves as educators? As an educator whose research focus is on digital identities and technology in youth culture, I spend a lot of time concerned about my practices with technology integration. I believe that knowledge building and understanding how our personal pedagogy affects our use of technology should play key roles in the process of integrating various technologies into our learning environments, and in using those technologies to create learning spaces. But how an educator approaches the process of dealing with technology and the digital generation can be a very individual experience.

When introducing any type of technology into a learning space, I want to be able to reflect on the purpose and practice. When it comes to introducing a particular new kind of technology in a classroom, such as Twitter, I do so using pedagogical practices that revise, evaluate, and negotiate the technology alongside my students. I see Twitter as a unique social medium that has its own rules and best practices in the digital realm. Twitter poses some challenges for educators as its potential as a learning environment is only one of its many identities. A well-informed “Twitter Pedagogy” comes from reflecting, for example, on the volatile nature of trolling, and on exploring the technology through praxis.

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Training to Work in the Wet

Training to Work in the Wet

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.


Last month, I set out on a journey to explore values and how the ways in which we spend our time accounts for those values. First, I introduced the following question: “How does your training (vocational, traditional, etc.) inform the way you spend and/or value your time?” Then, I set out to find 3 very different people who might bring interesting perspectives to the question. The results were unexpected, fun, and insightful.

The story below is written by a man — Arlo Daniels — who chose to leave academia and learn vocationally. And though I’ve known Arlo my entire life, I am still surprised to learn the rationale behind his journey. As we worked through this piece together, I learned that engagement and readiness both played a large part in what stuck with him. For teachers, it is important to hear stories like the one below, to understand why some students leave the system, and why others make it their careers. As someone who admits to being fully institutionalized by the educational system, I am delighted to get the opportunity to showcase the idea that training (or more specifically, learning) is not a formal, isolated experience in this world. Communal learning is business as usual. It’s us, as academics, who try to identify it, dissect it, and analyze it. That might be what makes academic work feel less ‘real.’ So let us set aside our dissection tools for a moment and consider another way to learn:

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MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy (MMCP) is a six-week exploration of critical pedagogy. For this fifth week, we’ll be discussing Henry Giroux’s Rethinking Education as the Practice of Freedom, Ivan Illich’s Why We Must Disestablish School, and Ricky Lee Allen’s Whiteness and Critical Pedagogy. Our discussion will center on the sites of learning and the oppression of institutions. 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.

Schedule of Events:

  • Ongoing – Participant blog posts, casual conversation, and questions shared on the community hashtag #moocmooc.

The origins of critical pedagogy are outside the classroom, indeed, outside the common imagination of a school. Many critical pedagogues today continue to see the school itself, and not just the classroom, as an institution to be challenged, subverted, undermined, or ultimately, completely dismantled. Schools as a model for organizing learning are fundamentally oppressive: they force learning into a narrow schedule and space and simultaneously reinforce the notion that learning does not happen in important ways anywhere else.

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What is new and which affects the idea of the work comes not necessarily from the internal recasting of each of these disciplines, but rather from their encounter in relation to an object which traditionally is the province of none of them.” ~ Roland Barthes, Image, Music, Text (155)

The suppression of self-expression is impossible.” ~ Kenneth Goldsmith, Uncreative Writing (9)

By and large, digital work is not considered appropriate material for tenure and promotion at institutions of higher education. This despite the fact that nearly seven million students are enrolled in digital (online or hybrid) courses, many institutions of higher education have entered the arena of MOOCs, and that professors — those same whose digital work is not acceptable for T&P — are expected to work with facility in online environments (69.1 percent of “chief academic leaders say that online learning [and teaching] is critical to their long-term strategy”). The digital has proven to generate revenue, produce volumes of research, and to be a field rich with scholarship and innovation — and the grants that follow. Yet traditional tenure and promotion committees expect even digital work to be catalogued in the tombs of print journals, subject to double-blind peer review. The creative field of digital scholarship is not offered an equally creative reception. It is as if the dust upset by digital ingenuity must settle upon the same dry, fossilized bones that have always stood in the archive.

The reliance upon peer review — as much in its role in publishing as its role in tenure and promotion, employment, and the multifarious ways it’s structural to academic life and work — demands inspection in the digital age. As Kathleen Fitzpatrick has said,

The work we do as scholars is repeatedly subjected to a series of vetting processes that enable us to indicate that the results of our work have been scrutinized by authorities in the field, and that those results are therefore themselves authoritative.

But … the nature of authority is shifting, and shifting dramatically, in the era of the digital network.

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MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy is a six-week exploration of critical pedagogy. During this fourth week of MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy (MMCP), we will be discussing Jeffery Shantz’s  essay, “Spaces of Learning: The Anarchist Free Skool” (chapter 7) in Anarchist Pedagogies and considering the impulse to dissent as seen in Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience.” Feel free to read as much or as little of these selections as you are able. We promise there will be no reading quizzes.

Schedule of Events:

  • Wednesday, February 11 at 5:00 pm EST – #MOOCMOOC Twitter chat
  • Friday, February 13 at 8:00 pm EST – live, digital roundtable featuring the author of this week’s reading, Jeff Shantz.
  • Ongoing – Participant blog posts, casual conversation, and questions shared on the community hashtag #moocmooc.

Critical pedagogy asserts that learning is an act of freedom, the practice of becoming free. And, yet, the education system, of which we are all products (and which many of us continue to participate in), is a highly regulated and structured environment. Students, teachers, support staff, and administrators all lack the personal autonomy they deserve and are therefore often limited in their actions. Anarchist educators, working both within and beyond the formal education system, resist these limitations, seeking to maximize personal freedom and autonomy.

This is no easy task.

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The Teacher Wars: A Review in Two Parts

The Teacher Wars: A Review in Two Parts

The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession by Dana Goldstein. 349 pages. Doubleday: New York, etc. 2014. ISBN 978-0-385-53695-0.

A Review by R L Widmann

This book is the type that you want to inhale as fast as possible, throw across the room at the wall in furious rage, or read slowly, slowly, page by page. Or all three.

Dana Goldstein gives a substantive account of the history of how teachers in the US have been supported, demonized, idealized, and/or pilloried over several centuries. In so doing, she also keeps the students in the classroom in focus. These two strategies make her book compulsive reading, especially for people who know only the very recent history of the teaching profession in the last decade or two.

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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 of 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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What We Can Learn from Homeschooling

What We Can Learn from Homeschooling

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).

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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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