Hybrid Pedagogy Publishing is our experiment in longer-form work related to critical, digital pedagogy. For the past year and a half, Hybrid Pedagogy Publishing has been providing editorial and technical support to the Generative Literature Project, which is producing a crowdsourced, gamified digital novel about a murder. Once a week for the next several weeks, Hybrid Pedagogy will publish updates and reflections about the project collaboratively authored by several of the student and instructor participants. In this third installment, Mia Zamora and Matthew Jacobi reflect on how they learned about, reacted to, and grew from this project.

Photo from Mia Zamora

How did you first hear about the #GenLit Project? What impressions did you have about joining this experiment?

Mia Zamora:   In August 2014, I was preparing for my Fall 2014 Writing Electronic Literature course at Kean University. While doing a bit of my regular reading at Hybrid Pedagogy, I came across the initial CFP for The Generative Literature Project. I immediately knew it would be a special undertaking to incorporate this innovative experiment into my #elitclass.  Writing Electronic Literature is a cross-listed undergraduate (ENG 4081) & graduate (ENG 5081) course in our School of English Studies.  Throughout the course of the semester my students receive an overview of established and emerging forms of Electronic Literature including hypertext fiction, network fiction, interactive works, and digital poetry.  I was aware right away that the prospect of contributing to a transmodal generative novel would at once thrill and overwhelm my students.  This presented a significant pedagogical challenge that excited me.  As I am constantly considering the transformative potential of co-learning, I sensed that this unique experience would offer each and every one of us a chance to grow in a multitude of ways. I answered the call with enthusiasm.

The first challenge was to figure out out how to drop this relatively large project down into a course that was already designed.  I had taught the course in earlier semesters with success, and didn’t want to break that “success mold” that many of us as teachers know well.  Once a course has been established and taught with a track record of clear, positive results and notable learning outcomes, why mess with success?  In short, I was taking a risk.  Nonetheless, in order to participate in the #GenLit project, I recognized I must veer from the established map and chart new territory in terms of course design. In my former iterations of the Writing Electronic Literature class, students read, analyzed, and composed a variety of emerging genres of electronic literature.  Electronic literature refers to works with important literary aspects that are digitally born and take advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by a computer.  In preserving the original integrity of this electronic literature course, it was imperative to me that my students learn both the affordances and constraints of these contexts.  I determined that my students would learn the scope of the field of electronic literature by presenting reviews of self-selected texts featured in the Electronic Literature Collection. Simultaneously, they would also experience the affordances and constraints of the medium first-hand by writing their own electronic literature.  Their writing assignments were thus designed within the context of the transmodal networked gamified murder mystery that is the basis of the #GenLit project.  They would ultimately write a series of digitized artifacts that would serve as part of the generative content for the #GenLit project.

Matt Jacobi: When Dr. Zamora first explained that we would spend our semester in Writing Electronic Literature both learning about what electronic literature was, and creating our own pieces of electronic literature as part of The Generative Literature Project, perhaps counterintuitively, the task seemed manageable. The proposal sounded like one with which I was well familiar from school- to investigate a literary form and imitate it. But as we learned more about the field of electronic literature, and then delved a little more deeply into what would be asked of us as part of The Generative Literature Project, the picture of what lay ahead of us became much more complicated. Once we knew a bit more about what it would entail, the Generative Literature Project became somewhat intimidating. Trained as students typically are in doing original and independent work, the notion of making something individual that fit seamlessly into and indeed contributed to the quality of this vast narrative was daunting at the outset. Combined with the student’s instinctive dread of group projects, it was enough to give me pause. Once I began to understand the larger picture, what the work on the project seemed to boil down to was to create digital artifacts in conjunction with dozens of unknown collaborators, and arrive at a unified and coherent end. It felt akin to being asked to perform a play without being able to rehearse, or even read the script. That is to say, to pull it off would be a miracle. We each set out to creating supporting characters in the life of Dr. Rachel Behar, the Theopolis College alumna who would become one of a small number of suspects in the murder mystery at the center of the Generative Literature Project. From that point we had a number of decisions to make concerning the extent to which our individual characters would impact the life of our main character, Dr. Behar, for whom we were collectively responsible. How would each of us decide what moves we would make, and what we would do if conflict arose? The level of cooperation and cohesion required for the work we were to do that semester, at the beginning seemed unprecedented — the Platonic ideal of co-authorship. The struggle ahead was as much to unlearn this apprehension as it was to execute the assignments in the syllabus.

Where did students find conflict?

Matt Jacobi: Whenever an instructor gives a group assignment to a class, better than ninety percent of those listening will have an adverse physical reaction, e.g., a slacking of posture, a troubled sigh, an imperceptible tensing of the muscles, etc.. Working with a group is like going out to dinner with a group of people you don’t know very well. You want to go to dinner with people who are responsible and well-mannered, tasteful without being picky, fun without being distracting, focused without being rigid, and generous with their time and resources. Unfortunately, this dream combination is just hard to find in a random assortment of people.

At Kean, many students have jobs, sometimes several, or children, or both, and myriad other responsibilities. Gone are the days in which a professor could assign group work and rest assured that the students could meet in the dorm lounge and work all weekend. There is a lot to be said about the ethics and pedagogy of group projects in 2015, but for the moment, suffice it to say that the issue boils down to control. When working in a group, in school or out, we sacrifice control. We either lose agency by submitting to the direction of someone else, or lose ownership by delegating work elsewhere. We’re forced to rely on others, people not usually of our own choosing, and in that way give up a degree of control over our lives, and in school, over not just our grades, but our standing, and our reputation.

This kind of longview, macro way of thinking was just the trouble with my approach to The Generative Literature Project.  As students, we are accustomed to assessing things by asking questions like, “How am I going to complete this? How am I going to finish this out so that I am positioned well, or graded favorably?” In our preoccupation, we often overlook the actual doing, and doing well. Even as a student who likes school, pursuing my second degree, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that when faced with a deadline, really learning the subject at hand and engaging with the material, even if I am really, really interested in it, has sometimes come second to making the assignment “work” well enough to get me the grade that I want. I can’t imagine that this comes as news to professors anywhere, but I point it out to highlight the shift in perspective required to participate in the Generative Literature Project.

With the #GenLit project, it was impossible to manage the whole narrative, or even one element of the narrative, from start to finish, so immediately there was a disconnect between the task ahead and what was familiar. No matter what I did to my work on the project I never got any closer to squeezing it into a form that I thought would get me an A, because no such form existed. It required that I focus on the tools I had gathered to bring to life a concept to the best of my ability. The Generative Literature Project then offered almost a Zen exercise in creating one good thing, without becoming preoccupied by its correctness. Other assignments in other classes of course ask students to think this way, but the reality is that when a student understands the form of the assignment, and knows the rhetorical moves to make to achieve “correctness,” there is little motivation to take an assignment beyond that. Even those of us like myself who take pride in the quality of our work are typically not inclined try to revolutionize the approach to the assignment when we can already see a clear, established path to success. This is probably an indictment of the nature and practices of grading more than anything, but the usual method of grading based on accuracy becomes procedural and would not have worked in this generative project. The allowance that our projects might lack a certain refinement, and the absence of a known route to success, encouraged us to explore and play as we created our pieces, and kept us from cleaving too closely to a familiar path.

When the realization dawned that no individual piece would become the focus of the larger project, a great weight was lifted, and the work became easy, even fun. We were allowed, even encouraged, to take our new skills and tools, and play. Our task was to take events and people born of our imagination and native to a fictional world, bring them to life in a digital environment, and make them seem real. More than that, we had no endgame. For once, we weren’t being graded on what we turned in as much as how we got there. For a little while Writing Electronic Literature became kind of like Inventing 101, where our job was to try and make things and see how they turned out. This segment of the semester was almost pure creativity in action, and immensely rewarding.

Mia Zamora:  As I anticipated, many of my students balked on the first day of class when I shared with them my ambitions for their semester.  Several students had come to class with trepidation regarding the title of the course alone, but decided to sign up because the class fit in their schedule and they had studied with me before.  The majority walked into this experience without much understanding of electronic literature or what was really going to happen.  No student had any previous knowledge of the genre of electronic literature called “generative literature” or for that matter, the #GenLit Project.  They were especially concerned when they heard about how they would write digitized “artifacts”.  That terminology seem to daunt them, and they were not sure where to begin.  I was confronted with the myth of the “digital native” first hand.  Some were just settling into the notion of blogging and were setting up Twitter accounts for the first time.  Several students admitted to me later that they were planning to drop the course after our first meeting.  But for some intuitive reason, they decided to give it another week before making the drop decision.  Some students admitted they stayed despite genuine anxiety simply because I seemed convincing in my reassurance that they could do this.  (I never doubted for a second that each of them could participate in this project in productive and creative ways.)  They said they decided to trust me.  In the end, their sincere desire to do something innovative and unchartered trumped any fear of technology.

What surprised you?

Mia Zamora:  One surprise for me was in regards to student reading practices.  It surprised me how little students were willing to rely on their own instincts when reading elit for the first time.  They often doubted their own ability to interpret elit effectively.  E-Lit certainly disrupts our typical associations with the act of reading.  My students readily admitted that electronic forms of literature “unsettle” the reader.  Many electronic texts are interactive — or connected to the network or the physical world — in ways that print texts are not. The reader’s interactions may simply determine the organization of the text — or they may operate in some ways to create the text by limiting or changing the possibilities for further interactions.

Students in my class often read E-Lit with apprehension.  They collectively discovered that “navigation” is a central characteristic of a digital literary aesthetic, and that, ultimately, “navigation” serves as a primary source of E-Lit’s signification.  Still, I was surprised that they were so bound to a traditional/confined notion of the act of reading, and they often expressed that they didn’t know if they read “correctly”.  The interactive form of reading seemed to invoke in them a true sense of being “lost”, as conventional connotations of reading undermined their confidence in analyzing elit.  The challenge then for me was to create a learning environment wherein they might feel safe enough to “admit” their initial instincts regarding a text.  They needed to hear that their own opening explorations and questions were valid.  If they could express some initial ideas about their own reactions to a text, then students could establish a solid entry point for a meaningful interpretation of the text. It surprised me how much students really needed to be reassured that their own intuitive reading experience was a valid starting point for understanding E-Lit.

Matt Jacobi: It’s surprising to me that Dr. Zamora was concerned about student self-efficacy, because from my point of view the feeling of “How on Earth am I going to pull this off?” is so fundamental to the student experience as to be somewhat taken for granted. Once I felt that I had my feet firmly on the ground, I found that the most challenging and frequent question that came up while writing for #GenLit was, “how real do we want to make this?” Some of the class seemed divided on the question, while others were too focused on the creative process to worry about it. The strategy of subtlety, the pursuit of verisimilitude in the Twitter-scape, was a goal for some, while others drew magnificent characters in sharp lines with bright colors. The differences in how students approached creating these characters (see brainstorming diagram, below) really exemplified the boundary between the “digital” and the “novel” in our digital novel. In a traditional work of fiction, bold characters would at the very least raise a reader’s awareness, limiting their usefulness as parts of a larger work of which they were not the focus. But on Twitter, where everyone is outspoken and understatement only serves the already massively famous, these characters are extremely commonplace. In this way, some of our more “boring” characters might have been the ones that stood out and raised suspicion, while the very conspicuous ones blended into the digital environment more naturally.

Adapted from a GenLit planning document

After these questions of truth and conception, the technical hurdles in the class  felt manageable. These were tangible obstacles, which it was up to each of us to assess and overcome in order to create our pieces of the #GenLit puzzle. The difficulty that remained really had to do with collaboration and peer learning. While it was our task to create artifacts for the project, the class was also learning, most for the first time, about the tools and platforms we would use to give life to our creations online. Many of us took to this task like writing an essay, shutting ourselves away and making attempts at writing code or manipulating unfamiliar web tools to serve our ends. Many of our projects had at their center a kernel of a good idea, but their execution was lacking. Only when one classmate suggested to another to abandon the one insufficient tool and try another which had been successful for someone else did the work begin to take shape, and reflect the nuance and refinement native to its source material. At first, using a tool because a classmate had found success with it felt like cheating, as if the work itself was unoriginal. The instinct was to find an unknown tool, an untapped resource, and create something new with it- to be impressive. But in a connected learning environment such as ours, it is a significantly more challenging task, and a more impressive accomplishment, to use a known resource in an individual and expressive way than to use a search engine to find a novel platform for one’s work.

What role did peer learning play? What was the greatest takeaway?

Matt Jacobi: This spirit of peer learning, of standing on one another’s shoulders and sharing the view over the course of the semester, was perhaps the most significant takeaway of the semester. It came as a surprise, which in retrospect is a strong indicator of just how valuable a discovery it was. Ironically, although we were working on what essentially amounts to a massive coauthorship of the digital novel we call The Generative Literature Project, it did not occur to many of us, at least not initially, that we not only could but should help each other along on our projects, sharing what we had learned with each other, to what would eventually be the ultimate enrichment of our overall product. The Boogeyman of plagiarism so haunts the student’s nightmares, especially in graduate studies, that we naturally and scrupulously rejected each other’s involvement in our work because it felt too close to an ethical grey area, and that makes us very uncomfortable. But in truth, without the cooperation of our classmates, many of our contributions to the #GenLit project would have been of a significantly reduced quality, if they existed at all.

Photo from Mia Zamora

Mia Zamora:  I think Matt’s comments on the potential of peer collaboration to broaden and deepen our learning is such a crucial point.  So much of learning is about knowing how to ask the right questions, and knowing who one can trust to support our efforts as we try to push an idea or conception forward.  Learning is most definitely about being connected to a community of co-learners who are generous and collaborative.  But I also think that learning at it’s heart is about gaining certain instincts and self-confidence.  I mentioned trust, which I believe is a key foundation for connected learning, and I would like to extend that idea of trust a bit further.  Not only do we need to trust in each other in order to push ourselves further, but we also need to learn to trust in our own individual instincts.  Sometimes we just need to take time to tinker, to google it, to figure it out for ourselves, as we let go of any fear of failure.  Trust should be fostered in learning communities, but it must also be nurtured within ourselves.  I find that when my students are reassured and then given the freedom to trust in their own instincts, that is when the magic happens in a classroom.

The assessment of this new kind of work is a topic that calls for more extensive reflection, but I would like to quickly add here that the #GenLit writing/making assignments were recursive in nature.  Each student had three projects wherein they honed and edited their own evolving digital artifacts, sometimes using different tools in order to realize their concepts.  At the close of the course, they submitted a digital portfolio along with a self-assessment narrative.  These narratives were very thoughtful, and students were able to identify impactful moments that lead to their own learning outcomes.  I find that the self-assessment narrative empowers students to reflect more deeply regarding their learning take-aways.  They are invited to think beyond prescribed outcomes and dig into more personalized ones.

The #GenLit project was fun.  We laughed a lot.  We surprised each other, and we have plenty of great memories of our shared learning experience. As we wrapped up the semester, my students designed a showcase of their own work that was housed in the University Library.  They shared their work with the broader University community with pride and enthusiasm.  The culminating showcase — our celebration of our work — was a perfect testament to the success of this experiment in reading/writing/learning.

Matt Jacobi: The beauty of our showcase was that it didn’t tout our conclusions or celebrate our results…not exactly. It was a place for us to share our creations, and talk about our processes, with guests and with each other. This event was the true culmination of our semester, more so even than the portfolios we compiled for our final presentations. It embodied the values we strove to realize in the preceding weeks. We designed the layout of the room, chose where to place which projects, and positioned students to guide our guests through various components of the evening. We brought snacks- some of us even cooked. Everything that went into our symposium, from planning to execution, was centered around the value of making, rather than an evaluation of what was made.

Photo from Mia Zamora

And when the President of the university arrived, we didn’t have to sweat as we showed him how the findings of our research justified university funding. Rather, we could offer him a brownie and introduce him to the characters that we brought to life, just to show how cool it was that we were able to do it. This is the ideal that is often promised in college brochures but too seldom realized on campuses and in classrooms. Writing Electronic Literature was not a class of learning by rote and absorption of a great number of facts. I was never asked to memorize my professor’s lecture and repeat what she said on a test. But what I learned during that semester was as meaningful to me as any class I’ve taken in recent memory- and much more importantly, I was engaged in the work that I was doing continually as I was doing it, rather than looking toward the end, trying to beat a test or make a deadline. As learning spaces continue to evolve with technology and teaching practices, a move toward this kind of learning experience could well result in graduates who are less afraid of risk and preoccupied by bottom lines, and more mindful, inquisitive, and willing to try different approaches to complete assignments. My class experience, for me, returned classroom learning to an immersive and focused way of thinking that has been too rare in my scholastic education, and I’ll venture to guess is too rare in general.


This article is the third in a series of reports on the Generative Literature Project, sponsored by Hybrid Pedagogy Publishing.

Hybrid Pedagogy uses an open collaborative peer review process. This piece was reviewed by Robin Wharton and Chris Friend.

[Photo, “Roofs in perspective”, by Francisco Antunes licensed under CC BY 2.0.]

This piece is being published to coincide in real time with Adeline Koh’s keynote at Illiads 2015

On a walk last week, my husband asked me what I was going to talk about for the keynote that I’m giving today. I responded that I wasn’t sure yet, but I was considering whether I could fit an activity or two in so that I wouldn’t be droning on at my audience for an hour. His response: “I wouldn’t do that. They are inviting you to show off your expertise. Doing activities would be a cop-out.”

In some ways, my husband was correct: keynotes have an expected format, and that format is to lecture to — or at — one’s audience, to showcase one’s supposed brilliance. Yet everyone who has given serious thought to the mechanics of traditional face-to-face pedagogy knows that the lecture format can be highly problematic. Lectures are non-interactive, meaning that there is little way for lecturers to know whether they are getting across what they intended. Indeed, lectures have sometimes been called the “spray and pray” method: you scatter the seeds of your own knowledge in the hopes that they will actually take root in the audience. Jared Stein notes that this is a “lossy” form of education, using computing terminology to call attention to the great loss of information that occurs during transmission from speaker to learner. Lectures, he says can implicitly “encourage students’ passive acceptance of concepts, or worse, fail to change pre-existing misunderstandings by not directly challenging biases or interpretations.” Indeed, according to a recent study published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, passive forms of instruction result in failure rates 55 percent higher than those of active forms of instruction. All this indicates that activities are not cop-outs but actually a good presentation strategy and good pedagogy.

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The serpentine struggle to make a living wage as an adjunct in academe is far from over, and higher education is losing world-class instructors and original contributions to research in the wake. The ivory tower is crumbling under the weight of contingency, and students are suffering the consequences of corporatized higher ed. Increasingly, the commodification of higher ed demoralizes students. With skyrocketing tuition, additional fees, and instructional cuts that impact the quality of education, more and more students question the market value of their degrees, too. Is a four-year degree worth a lifetime of debt and lottery odds of job placement?

Former student Don DuPay tells me candidly:

As each term starts and I join the long line of students waiting for services like funding information, I start to feel like I am enrolled in Walmart U. ‘Take a number! Next! Please wait behind the line for your turn.’ Yes, I feel like a commodity. Then when classes start I realize I am taught by the ‘other’ commodity, the underpaid adjuncts who do all the work. I get an education, yes, but sometimes I feel like I’m waiting in line for a burger. And fries.

DuPay paints a clear picture of what higher ed has become: “Walmart U” funded by federal and private student loans that turn many students into default debtors to the tune of $1.2 trillion in national student loan debt. And Don’s experience is not unique; rather, it’s the new norm. In fact, he knows he will die a debtor. It doesn’t have to be this way, and if more of us demand quality and affordable higher ed, they’ll supply it. So demand it.

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After including the GenLit Project in my Experimental Writing course during the Fall 2014 semester, three senior undergraduates remained mesmerized by the perceived novelty of a generative, digital novel. For the following semester all four of us shared our frustrations, questions, and perplexities, which later drove our inquiry into the nature of the novel in its digital future. Many of those started as definitional questions around the confines of a novel while some others were reactionary, addressing why many are fearful of literature’s migration to digital platforms. As it turns out, much of the criticism we read to spur thought on our questions addressed materiality of the codex in conjunction with literature’s responses to digital technologies. We each read from a corpus of essays I chose and students augmented. With each week of reading we all wrote responses to the ideas we encountered, compiling and rearranging them as our collaborative essay developed. Each section of the essay had a “parent” author that worked to consolidate, develop, and edit more heavily than others in the group. To open our four-part essay, we share our reflections on the theories that supported our thinking.

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This piece first appeared on Educating Modern Learners.


I want to talk about Ferguson. We need to keep talking about Ferguson because if these past 12-24 months have taught us anything (if we have been paying attention) it is that this isn’t going away. If not Ferguson, then about Sandra Bland. If not Sandra Bland, then about Samuel Dubose. If not Samuel Dubose, then Charleston. If not Charleston, then McKinney, Texas. Or Eric Garner. Or Tamir Rice. Or Trayvon Martin.

I could go on. To list all of the racially-motivated killings and other acts of aggression would fill this space, and do nothing except further numb us against this daily reality. And if it didn’t, it would make many of us extremely uncomfortable, confronted with our own privilege and our own complicity.

As educators and school leaders, we can no longer hide behind the privilege of “not knowing.”

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I am a big fan of those educators who have learned that you can use these tools, together with critical thinking, as a means of empowering students to take on their own learning. ~ Howard Rheingold

What Makes an Effective Teacher?

A lot has changed in K-12 education over the last five years: new state standards, new standardized tests, new requirements on teacher evaluations, and more integration of technology. A major challenge to discussing these changes is that everyone seems to have an opinion about what needs to happen in order to improve K-12 education. These well-meaning opinions come from parents, policy makers, educators, students, etc., but, more often than not, they miss the point.

I am honored to teach high school English. As an English teacher, my classes offer students an opportunity to engage big ideas and essential questions that they may not encounter in other courses. For example, within the discipline of English Studies, because of the texts that we read and write, I have a natural opportunity to tackle with students John Dewey’s points about “the democratic ideal.” Dewey emphasizes that the democratic ideal — arguably the point of education — is for a student to “refer his own action to that of others, and to consider the action of others to give point and direction to his own,” and by doing so, dismantle “barriers of class, race,” etc. It is important that this tenet of critical pedagogy stays at the forefront for teachers, but unfortunately the time needed to reflect on such things is often pushed aside for what in the moment seems more pressing, like grading papers and responding to parent emails.

Yet, If K-12 teachers make a decision to approach teaching from a perspective of critical pedagogy, as a heuristic to working out their teaching philosophy, Dewey’s words will remain a powerful influence amidst the daily grind of teaching. Critical pedagogy necessarily introduces students to nuance and complicates dichotomous thinking. In addition, with access to digital technologies that can find and curate different perspectives at the click of a button, it is especially important for students to learn to critically engage multiple points of view. It is the teacher’s responsibility to create an environment where the exchange of ideas is productive. I would argue that this is where seeing teaching as an art is crucial. This is messy work…the work of effective critical pedagogues.

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Teaching Digital Wisdom

Teaching Digital Wisdom

Eliciting both passion and bloviating, the topic of appropriate technology use in the college classroom is sure to spark lively conversation among college instructors. While more and more institutions are requiring at least some use of course management tools like Blackboard and Moodle, instructors still can decide whether to incorporate technology and digital pedagogy into their classrooms. Some choose to give traditional lectures and allow their students full use of laptops and the Internet (see David von Schlichten). Others allow no laptops or cell phones in the classroom (see Hinda Mandell).

Because I study technology and new media, colleagues will often ask about my classroom practices. Their initial questions, though, are exactly that: about practice rather than philosophy, about what rather than why. This serves as my public contribution to the technology-in-the-classroom conversation, though hopefully a contribution supported by more evidence than a typical professorial water cooler conversation (or, I suppose, “coffee pot conversation” may be more accurate in practice). I aim to suggest a pedagogical approach to technology and the classroom that does not stop at whether or how students may access digital devices in my classroom, but seeks also to address why it is important that students critically engage these very questions.
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The Twitter format lends itself to excitement, leaping out, connecting with people over content, not into content, and offers opportunities for people to make what they want of out of journal article reading. It’s one of the reasons the activity has always appealed to me; it fits my desire to DO things with articles, and it makes them seem like they should be accessible, like what would be in a book club on the weekend. It breaks down the distinction between being a learner and scholar for sure. (Laura to Simon, in the #TJC15 Twinterview)

For a lot of reasons, the types of learning and knowledge valued in our world are diversifying. Networked participatory scholarship, which is increasingly carried out on social media platforms such as Twitter, provides opportunities for alternative forms of academic expression: those that do not necessarily fit traditional academic criteria but fulfil professional and personal needs of faculty, students, and researchers anyway. The Twitter Journal Club (#TJC15), an open, unstructured, academic reading group found on Twitter, provides meaningful learning experiences while embracing the holistic and messy nature of learning. Within this space, we — Laura (the group’s creator) and Simon (a frequent participant-observer) — have found room to breathe as well as opportunities to care, in terms of emotional and intellectual engrossment, relational and personal interest, and kindness and mutual respect. As such, we find this alternative, digital approach to academic reading one that engages its participants in uniquely creative, playful, and human ways of learning even as it augments and challenges traditional academic practice.
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This post originally appeared on HASTAC on June 18, 2015.


I’m often asked why I start with pedagogy, given the larger institutional reforms and social ambitions that HASTAC and the new Futures Initiative program advocate. If your goal is equality in a world where inequality is structural and violent and pervasive, you can at least start with your classroom as a place in which to model a better way. Rather than feeling overwhelmed and oppressed by the unfairness of the world, be an activist in the realm where you have control. You can change to a pedagogy of liberation today. These four ways are all simple to implement. And if you make sure to add “meta-cognition” — you discuss with your students what it means to change power relations when you have the opportunity — you also instill learning and life lessons that persist far beyond your classroom.

Remember:  your students have had at least twelve years of practice/indoctrination in mastering the formal education methods where hierarchy and control displace all the complex, experience-based, interactive learning methods (i.e. the kind we all use in our lives outside of formal education when we really want to learn how to do something). Because they have been rewarded for credential-centered and teacher-centered learning in school, some will think you are trying to get out of work or pulling a fast one by having them do the thinking and taking responsibility for their own learning. So I typically note that these are extensively researched theories, practices, and methods designed to help students learn not for the test or the grade but for the best possible retention and application of complex ideas that they will use in this class, in other classes, and in their lives beyond school.

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Librarian as Outsider

Librarian as Outsider

Academic librarians are worried about power. And powerlessness. They are particularly concerned with the way power dynamics shape their identities as educators and inform their pedagogical capacity.

Recent library scholarship has introduced a number of compelling arguments for pedagogical alternatives to what Freire calls the “banking concept of education,” which conceives of students as passive “receptacles,” teachers as “depositors,” and knowledge as capital. If James Elmborg’s seminal 2006 article Critical Information Literacy: Implications for Instructional Practice is any indication (it’s been cited more than 250 times as I write this), the banking concept of education doesn’t work for information literacy instruction. Elmborg begins his article with a problem and ends it with a challenge: “the real task for libraries in treating information literacy seriously lies not in defining it or describing it, but in developing a critical practice of librarianship — a theoretically informed praxis.” This is a daunting task, particularly considering the logistical reality of information literacy instruction, which typically happens in ‘one-shot’ library sessions. While a “problem-posing” approach is difficult to achieve in the context of the one-shot, a critical approach is not just an alternative but an imperative.

Here’s why.

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I am not a scholar, at least not in the traditional sense.

Almost 5 years ago, I wrote How Highered Makes Most Things Meaningless. It also appeared on Inside Higher Ed. It remains one of the most-read pieces on my old blog. And even though I don’t post there anymore, my old Blogger site still receives over 2,000 hits a month. Five years later, I’m still left wondering whether the work I do online counts. It matters, but does it count?

Recently, William Thomas, Chair of the Department of History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the John and Catherine Angle Professor in the Humanities and Professor of History, offered a typology for digital scholarship. He breaks it down to three types: Interactive Scholarly Work, Digital Projects / Thematic Research Collections, and Digital Narratives. What strikes me in these categories’ descriptions is that they are all still deeply embedded in traditional forms of scholarship and scholarly expectations: theory, rigor, methodology, evidence, citation.

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On June 29, 2015 at the ISTE Conference in Philadelphia, Audrey Watters spoke on a panel called “Is it Time to Give Up on Computers in Schools?”. The transcript of her speech can be found here. Below is the longer speech she prepared for the occasion, which she offered to Hybrid Pedagogy to publish.


Last year, Gary Stager joked that we should submit a proposal to ISTE for a panel titled “Is It Time to Give Up on Computers in Schools?” No surprise, it was rejected. But this year, he submitted again, and the very same proposal was accepted.

So here we are today, making the case for why this whole education technology thing has gone alarmingly off the rails and it’s time to scrap the entire effort.

ISTE is, of course, the perfect place to deliver this talk.

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Upholding the Hidden

Upholding the Hidden

Our choice of words is never value-free. Language runs deep in us — setting the perspective of our daily lives and prevailing attitudes. In educational environments, “a lot of what upholds our standards of industrialization is the way we speak.” As a socially negotiated product, language includes the acts of connotation and implication, whether intended or not.

In establishing learning spaces, educators have the opportunity to communicate to learners a mindset of intention, autonomy, and control. Moving into, around, and back and forth between learning environments built by physical space and learning environments built by hidden ones and zeros requires transitioning — much a matter for language and its influence on inner thought.

For learners, the essence for commanding and construing a personal learning environment is the ability to anchor shared activity to personal choices and context. If educators want to take education beyond simply rebelling against a centralized past, the challenge then comes in helping learners realize the need for the ability to construe their own environment, and then helping learners acquire these skills. In each program, system, process, platform, device, technology, element, or medium that learners employ to tailor surroundings to suit individual learning goals, there lie hidden obligations that need to be made explicit in order for learners to become autonomous and intentional. As Marshall McLuhan once stated, “the hidden aspects of the media are the things that should be taught…when these factors remain ignored and invisible, they have an absolute power over the user. If you understand the nature of these forms, you can neutralize some of their adverse effects and foster some of their benevolent effects.”

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Few things annoy me more than burning time on bureaucratic paperwork. Frankly, as an educator, my time and attention should be centered on students and learning — and that includes  modifying and selecting readings and resources. Finding fresh critical pedagogical articles that connect pop culture and critical thinking, for example, is not only more interesting to me professionally than revising course outcomes to match accreditation evaluation rubrics, but such articles are more useful and engaging for my students. Plus, such articles can support critical thinking skills and connecting these skills with media in students’ lives. While some administrators might disagree, few educators would. Making this  “idealistic” hope happen is a challenge. One possible path to this solution: reconceive how we as individuals approach Open Educational Resources (OERs) and our use of educational technologies. UNSECO defined OERs in 2002 as “technology-enabled, open provision of educational resources for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users for non-commercial purposes.”

Thus OERs are centered on being created by and for, as well as being adapted by, learning community members regardless of where the learning community happens. If we align with Critical Pedagogy (CP), OERs can help us do more than apply our passion and engagement to create or curate anti-racist, liberatory, and conscious texts for our classes. If we couple CP’s  goals with OERs and treat OERs as convivial tools, we can also help reduce textbooks’ financial burden, support communities-outside-our-classes learning, and potentially amplify voices that might otherwise remain unheard.

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In January, 2014, we participated in the MOOC Rhizomatic Learning: The community is the curriculum (#rhizo14) facilitated by Dave Cormier. A group of us decided to research participant experiences in this course, but not by repeating existing scholarly research on cMOOCs, which to our minds has two serious shortcomings. First, most MOOC research has not brought the connectivist experience to life for readers who have not experienced the rhizomatic swarm of open, online, connected learning. And second, most MOOC research is not participatory, is not told from inside the process. We want to write from the inside, for as Tanya Sasser says, “we have the tools and the opportunity to write our own story, rather than suffering someone else to write it for us.” So following the rare example of Bentley, et al, we decided to conduct a collaborative autoethnography (CAE), which began mid-February, 2014, as an open Google Doc to which 31 #rhizo14 participants eventually added their post-MOOC narratives (officially, the MOOC had ended; practically speaking, the Facebook group and Twitter hashtag were still thriving, and still do to some extent today, especially as many of us have joined the 2015 iteration of the course, #rhizo15).

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We have an immense amount of power, if we reach out and harness it. This is not just some new age abstraction. To be specific: anyone can create a website, a video, a tweet. People like me, from a working poor family, can go on YouTube and watch a lecture given by the authority of most any field for free. We have access to public spaces where we can define our own identity.

One part of this narrative is about me as a writer, figuring out that I wouldn’t settle for selling out and giving up my ideals. The other part is about how my experiences as a contingent faculty member informed my decision to start a project, which I hoped would spark critical participation in my community and set a good example for former students, as well as help teach people — some of whom I had never met — how to find their voice.

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The Pedagogy of Trolls

The Pedagogy of Trolls

Andrew Shaw’s “The College Experience: A Modern-Day Paddy West?” demonstrates the value of asking undergraduates to prepare and publish assignments. As an historian of the early modern world, Shaw was able to make a meaningful contribution to an on-going discussion of #FutureEd that was taking place on the HASTAC website as well as other venues. Reflecting on her experiences of engaging in a global discussion, undergraduate Suzanne Hakim comments that never in her academic career has she “been able to connect and share thoughts and opinions with my peers and multiple professors on an intellectual level.” The experience of publishing was refreshing because she was treated with respect as a colleague with independent thoughts.

Asking students to participate in scholarly dialogues gives them the ability to participate in scholarly conversation, to manage different viewpoints and different ways to express them, and to participate in thorough and respectful debate about important issues.

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Insoumis.

Insoumis.

In Submission. 22nd May 2015

In January 2014 I signed up to study on Dave Cormier’s Rhizomatic Learning Course, known often by those in a know by its hashtag #rhizo14.

This course, acted as a catalyst in helping me develop a voice, in enabling me to make certain connections…

What had started as rather irregular writing became very regular writing.

What had stopped me writing in the past had been not only a lack of desire but an instinctive opposition to simply reproducing forms…

I think back to that teacher at university, who had encouraged me in my attempts to write differently, while kindly explaining to me that the way that I wrote didn’t necessarily correspond to ‘what was expected…’

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Homework is a Social Justice Issue

Homework is a Social Justice Issue

This article was originally published in Educating Modern Learners.


When a teacher assigns homework, she makes some big assumptions about students’ home lives. Do they have the requisite supplies? A quiet place to study? Supportive parents or guardians who will motivate them to work? Knowledgable guardians who can assist with challenging problems?

But even these questions have significant assumptions underlying them. Do students have a stable family life? Or does the return home in the afternoon bring an increase of stress and anxiety about their family’s well-being? Single parents working multiple jobs, for example, may put the “parenting” of young children onto the shoulders of their older siblings. The increased responsibility likely increases the stress experienced by the older child, while simultaneously reducing time for academic study outside of school.

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A few years ago, Sean Michael Morris and I wrote, “Meaningful relationships are as important in a class of three as they are in a class of 10,000.” In the rest of that article, we wonder at questions of scale: how to scale up, when to scale down, and what it might mean to scale sideways. My question here: is it possible to scale up and down simultaneously — to create more and more intimate learning experiences for larger and larger groups of learners?

I’m currently co-teaching Shakespeare in Community, a Massive Open Online Course from University of Wisconsin-Madison. The goal of the course is to bring thousands of learners into conversation. While I’ve taught MOOCs since 2012 on several platforms, this is the first time I’ve developed a Coursera MOOC. Coursera is a platform well-oiled for content-delivery. In fact, when I sat down with Daphne Koller, the founder and president of Coursera, she used the word “content” several dozen times. I asked about “conversation”, “dialogue”, and “community”. Her responses showed that these are, for Coursera, an afterthought. And after playing around inside the guts of the tool, it remains clear to me that these are, indeed, an afterthought. All the proof I need is that it’s about ten times easier to upload a video, and track the watching of that video, than it is to administer the discussion forum. But Coursera does content-delivery incredibly well. My content feels stroked and adored by the platform. It feels genuinely loved. As learning management systems go, I am happy to go on record saying that Coursera is one of the best.

However, I remain certain that learning is not something that ought to be managed. The better we become at managing learning, the more damage we do to learning. This is the cruel irony of the learning management system. The better designed it is for doing its core function, the worse off the learning that happens inside of it. As a technology, the learning management system is genuinely Orwellian. I like best the learning management system when it is still a baby, before it has fully grown up, before it has earned its stripes. But every learning management system is almost immediately on its way toward extinction. They die quick deaths at the point they forget that learning is an encounter, not a spreadsheet. The gradebook, and the demands it places on every single other feature, ultimately kills the learning management system. (Thus, I wouldn’t blame the technological systems so much as I’d blame the institutional and political climates that drive them.)

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Learning is Not a Mechanism

Learning is Not a Mechanism

This article was originally published on Educating Modern Learners on January 26, 2015.


“The classroom, with all its limitations, remains a location of possibility.” ~ bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress

Digital pedagogy is not equivalent to teachers using digital tools. Rather, digital pedagogy demands that we think critically about our tools, demands that we reflect actively upon our own practice. So, digital pedagogy means not just drinking the Kool-Aid, but putting the Kool-Aid under a microscope. When I lead workshops for teachers interested in developing digital skills, I say right up front that I have little interest in teaching teachers or learners how to use the technologies they’ll use in classrooms for the next three years. I am much more interested in working with teachers and learners to develop the literacies that will help them use and evaluate the educational tools they’ll be using in ten or twenty years. Often, this means knowing when and how to put tools down, as much as it means knowing when and how to take them up.

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Pedagogy of Care—Gone Massive

Pedagogy of Care—Gone Massive

Sometimes, the most valuable thing we can offer our students is genuine care for them, their well-being, their happiness. Not just their grades. Not just their learning. But their whole selves.

This article is inspired by a discussion with a friend who suggested that medical ethics should not be about “do no harm” but rather about caring. As one who comes from a family of doctors, I often hear about how medical people sometimes focus on the body and forget to look at the whole person. The same reductionism can be found in education. bell hooks critiques this, calling for educators to engage with students’ whole selves, with their souls. Inspired by her, Jesse Stommel and I recently wrote that in seeking to empower students, “teachers must…show the kind of care for the work that only comes when we make ourselves at least somewhat vulnerable.”

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Adeline Koh will be teaching the Identity track for Digital Pedagogy Lab in August 2015. To find out more about her track and to enroll, visit Digital Pedagogy Lab’s main page.


I am often asked about the digital humanities and how it can update, make relevant, and provide funding for many a beleaguered humanities department. Some faculty at underfunded institutions imagine DH is going to revitalize their discipline — it’s going to magically interest undergraduates, give faculty research funding, and exponentially increase enrollment.

Well, the reality is this: what has until recently been commonly understood as real “Digital Humanities” is already belated and is not going to save humanities departments from ever bigger budget cuts and potential dissolution.

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LibGuides: Pedagogy to Oppress?

LibGuides: Pedagogy to Oppress?

You have to be a pretty tenacious researcher to find any criticism about LibGuides, the practical and convenient tool that librarians use to create online guides to research. My search for “LibGuides and critique or criticism” taught me a great deal about how to interpret literature, while keying in “LibGuides and problems” merely returned information about the occasional scheduled downtime. It was not until I limited my search to wordpress.com and then traced a bunch of links and pingbacks that I could even start to gather a sense of the conversation round the topic. Yet, ironically, it is exactly this twisting, infuriating and (occasionally) joyful process of research that is stifled by the way that most librarians structure and organize their LibGuides. Web-based research guides have helped to bridge the gap that the growth of online resources has put between the library and its patrons. However, their typical focus on librarian-defined notions of value and authority conceals an industrial-era adherence to library-centric, behaviourist learning theories and provides a textbook example of Paulo Freire’s banking model of education. In short, while librarians have started to think about the nature of critical pedagogy in the classroom, a failure to subject instructional materials to the same processes of reflective, critical thinking serves to dehumanize both our students and the nature of research and inquiry.

What is a LibGuide?

If you have never seen a LibGuide before, a quick browse of the LibGuides Community site will turn up a typical example of how librarians employ this proprietary software. Most simply, librarians use LibGuides as a guide to relevant or recommended sources and sites that students can use to search for information on a topic. Mirroring typical research assignment prompts that may ask for 5-10 scholarly articles, guides are typically created for courses or for general topics such as criminology or art history and organized by source format, for example, databases or images. Today, 78,000 librarians from nearly 5000 libraries have produced over 400,000 LibGuides. Providing an easy way for even the most non-tech savvy librarian to produce or highlight content on library websites that are often heavily locked down, or poorly designed and cluttered, LibGuides have now expanded beyond their original research guide design, and are marketed as a core instructional tool for academic, public, school and special libraries. Simple and practical, LibGuides are deservedly popular. However, by failing to consider LibGuides within the context of broader pedagogical practices, librarians run the risk of misrepresenting both the nature and the scope of research and inquiry.

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Bonnie Stewart will be teaching the Networks track for Digital Pedagogy Lab in August 2015. To find out more about her track and to enroll, visit Digital Pedagogy Lab’s main page.


The idea of publics is central to scholarship. Scholarly pursuits are financed in part through public purses, and scholarship — in its idealized form, at least — contributes back to publics. Research. Knowledge. The public good. These are the returns through which scholarship justifies its place in society.

Yet scholarship has never been particularly open to the public. It operates, in increasingly-rationalized incarnations, as a carefully-managed ecosystem of gatekeeping measures: the prestige hierarchies of academic credentials and the academic publishing system comprise a powerful inside-baseball discourse. Contemporary scholars have tended to be far more accountable to the system itself than to actual publics, except in rare cases where the scope or consequence of the work — as in the cases of McLuhan or Milgram — has been rendered public by media.

Until now.

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This article is a response submitted for our series on the Scholarly and the Digital. See the original CFP for details.


On a beautiful June morning, I hurried through the streets of Bloomsbury to the University of London. These streets carry a great deal of imaginative and emotional resonance for me, layers of time and story. I think of Virginia Woolf and her luminous conjuring of a London morning in Mrs. Dalloway. Maybe she hurried like this to give a lecture, a lecture not unlike the one that formed the kernel of A Room of One’s Own. That book makes a space for the play of ideas; when I teach it I suggest to my students they might strive for the same kind of openness, the same kind of playfulness, the same kind of light handling of heavy questions I see Woolf performing there.

The hurrying was more out of nerviness than out of a concern for time. I was heading to the annual board meeting for the organization that had just made me the new editor of its scholarly journal The Space Between: Literature and Culture 1914-1945. Part of my charge in accepting the job would be to transition the journal from print to digital, and at this meeting I was to present my proposal for doing so. This transition was deemed necessary due to cost; producing a print journal for an organization of several hundred members and fewer library subscriptions was not sustainable. This probably sounds familiar to anyone who belongs to a professional organization, subscribes to a scholarly journal — or doesn’t, opting out because the costs are prohibitively high, hiked over a number of years by groups and presses that serve a necessary purpose but find it harder and harder to do the work for their members and subscribers due to the roiling economic state of scholarly publishing.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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