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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Risk, Reward, and Digital Writing

Risk, Reward, and Digital Writing

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

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

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

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Amplifying Indigenous Voices

Amplifying Indigenous Voices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pedagogy, Prophecy, and Disruption

Pedagogy, Prophecy, and Disruption

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Critical Pedagogy: Intentions and Realities

Critical Pedagogy: Intentions and Realities

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


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

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

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


1. What inspired the idea of lossless learning?

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

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

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From Ph.D. to Poverty

From Ph.D. to Poverty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Toward a Luddite Pedagogy

Toward a Luddite Pedagogy

An especially objectionable feature of the edtech discourse is its use of the word “Luddite” as a term of abuse. Uttering “You’re a Luddite” to the edtech sceptic is an act of verbal expectoration that is supposed to end the conversation, dismissing the sceptic as someone suffering from an intellectually crippling phobia.

The time has come to take a stand against this thoughtless use of “Luddite” in the pejorative. The historical record needs to be set straight, and it needs to be set straight as a prelude to defending a Luddite approach to education.

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My experiences as a graduate student of writing studies and online education have repeatedly left me inspired by the various “–isms” (e.g., constructionismconnectivism) that put the student front and center, valued as a unique individual with the ability to rail against and contribute to established authorities. But I also worry that these ideologies tend to deemphasize the instructor to an extreme, especially when we talk about teaching online.  

Advocates of online learning often join the student-centered rallying cries, showing that online courses can facilitate personalized and active learning and focusing on ways the instructor can create community in the “classroom” (some of my favorites include Palloff & Pratt and Warnock). At the same time, at both writing studies and education conferences it’s not uncommon to hear comments like, “once you have it set up, the course really runs itself.”

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On Silence

On Silence

The following article is republished from Hack Education with permission. Normally, we only post republications on the Page Two section of our site. However, we’re publishing this in the main section of the journal, because the issues Audrey Watters opens here should never be relegated to any back pages; rather, they should always be brought into the broadest daylight possible. Earlier this year Audrey and a handful of educators collaborated on a guide for teachers to use in starting conversations like this one. They write, “As educators we believe that we have a responsibility to use our classrooms to help young people grapple with and address the messiness of the world around them.” These are issues germane to the practice of critical pedagogy, and we do not see them as outside the purview of education. We cannot practice teaching outside of the society we live in, sheltered even from its most damaging and damaged confrontations.


I cracked open my copy of Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals this morning to reread “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.”

The essay contains one of the quotations for which Audre Lorde is best known: “Your silence will not protect you.” That sentence, even pulled out of context, is powerful — a reminder, a rejoinder, to speak.

But in the context of the entire essay — a beautiful essay on breast cancer, mortality, fear, race, visibility, and vulnerability — Lorde offers so much more than a highly quotable sentence on the responsibility or risk of silence or speech.

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You are already a digital humanist, whether or not you know it. Digital humanities has exploded in popularity over the last decade, as evidenced by the creation of many different types of grants to help digital humanities research (The Office of Digital Humanities at the National Endowment of the Humanities, the creation of digital humanities specific grants at the American Council of Learned Societies), and the impressive growth of digital humanities-related panels at the Modern Language Association and American Historical Association annual meetings. Feeling the effects of this expansion, many institutions are starting to privilege the digital humanities as a strategic priority. Yours is probably no exception.

But while digital humanities may seem like an intimidating, exponentially growing field with varying ideas of “insiders” and “outsiders,” you and your students are all already digital humanists, because you all use technology in your daily lives. At its best, the digital humanities is about engaging more critically with the intersections between technology and how we act, think and learn. Without knowing it, you’re probably already using many of the techniques of digital humanists in your life and in your classroom.

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


Danger and safety are both integral to education, particularly if one ascribes to critical pedagogy, which is, in many respects, about balancing the two elements. On one hand, it invites students and teachers alike to break free from safe thinking: to consider what they have been taught; to rethink the narratives, systems and hierarchies that have shaped their lives; and to make room for new and sometimes uncomfortable perspectives. To do this effectively one must be willing to leave the security of assuredness and embrace the fact that learning can be a difficult and even painful process that shakes your foundations, changes you, and transforms the way you see the world.

However, critical pedagogy is also about recognizing and challenging the violence that is engendered in the social and political systems that surround us. It advocates for ongoing self-reflection and communication in education in order to cultivate safe spaces for critical engagement, dialogue, and even intimacy. It asks us to respect each other’s personhood, to work towards addressing the assumptions and prejudices that make learning environments unsafe and uninhabitable for so many, and to be mindful of the power we have to inflict damage on others. As a teacher I struggle to balance these two elements in my curriculum and my classroom. I find myself wondering: how can I create a safe space for dangerous ideas, and a dangerous space for safe thinking?

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A weak light filters in through frosted windows and splashes across a table-sized world map as a gallery of onlookers poke each other and whisper in hushed tones. Two figures stand over the map and point to borders and replicas of military units, vocally processing the pros and cons of allowing one nation water rights in exchange for economic and military support. As the two negotiators come closer to striking a deal, many in the gallery look visibly relieved while other become nervous and restless, turning toward their own compatriots to discuss behind a cupped hand how this new deal will impact their prosperity.

No, this is not a scene taken from a G18 summit or some high stakes tête-à-tête from a Tom Clancy novel, although as adults we are all a bit predisposed toward thinking this type of capability is something unique to our well-developed brains. This scene is just a regular Tuesday, or any other day of the week for that matter, in the 4th grade classroom of John Hunter as his students attempt to achieve the unachievable in the “World Peace Game.

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


It is easy for those of us invested in critical pedagogy to see need for major change in education in the U.S. It is also easy for us to write highly ideological manifesti that make sweeping philosophical statements about how things should be. One question I often hear from those getting their feet wet in critical pedagogy is where do I start? Many agree with the ideology and the goals of critical pedagogy and other movements seeking major change, but we cannot simply drop those changes into our current institutional structures. Never mind the fact that we have colleagues and students to win over before we can implement these changes with a chance at success.

But some of the issues raised by critical pedagogy are major ethical issues. It’s not that we can do something more efficiently or effectively, it’s that we see what we’re doing on the whole as being actually wrong. As a critical pedagogue, I can go along with something less effective much more easily than with something that goes against my newly pricked conscience. So when I disagree fundamentally with the direction something is headed, but am powerless to change it singlehandedly, what do I do? Do I forget about it and wash my hands of the situation? Do I leave in disgust? Do I bide my time until I can really do something? (And hope it doesn’t get worse in the mean time!) Do I try to make incremental changes, appeasing my conscience with the knowledge that I am improving things, albeit slowly?

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On, On, On

On, On, On

The following post was originally published by Kate Bowles on her blog, Music for Deckchairs. It’s an important piece about the nature of academic work and labor, and so we offer it here (with permission) as a re-publication. We also encourage you to read (and contribute to) the discussion on the original post.


Life chez Simpson was not normal, Helen now reflects, principally because a constant eye had to be kept on anything that might affect Simpson’s performance, whether he was racing or not. … “Social life [as a couple] was non-existent. I often used to think it would be really strange living a normal life, going out and having a meal with people.”

~ William Fotheringham, Put me back on my bike: in search of Tom Simpson (2002)

In the past 4 months I have kept seeing accolades to Andy’s amazing productivity – the 100+ articles, the zillions of case books, etc., and I have always told people that yes, he led a normal life, yes, he got plenty of sleep and yes, he even took plenty of naps. But that’s not really true. His life was not normal, at least not to me, and it certainly wasn’t balanced.

~ Patty Sun, “Thoughts on Work-Life ImBalance from Those Left Behind” (2014)

It’s Tour de France time again, and I’ve been reading William Fotheringham’s sensitive and ambivalent search for the story of British cyclist Tom Simpson, who died on Mont Ventoux in 1967. In the history of professional cycling, it’s one of the landmark stories of ambition, risk and terrible loss—the grainy prequel to all the doping scandals that came later. Fotheringham spoke directly to Simpson’s widow Helen, and to those who were closely involved at the time of his death, including Harry Hall, the mechanic who helped Simpson back onto his bike on the mountain, and was the last to hear him speak.

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


Educational standards limit the consciousness towards which critical pedagogy aims. Yet, those committed to developing critical digital pedagogies need to pay attention to standards anyway. Specifically, critical digital pedagogues at all levels of education must familiarize themselves with standards regarding Information and Communications Technology (ICT) literacy; K-12 educators because these standards may dominate your teaching circumstances, and post-K-12 because these standards will have dominated the learning circumstances of your students. Promoted by organizations such as the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), and the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI), standards for ICT literacy represent a key component of cultural and political oppression with which all of our students must become critically conscious.

Let me slow down a bit, lest I fall prey to a common complaint about critical pedagogy in any form. I am not suggesting organizations like the ISTE, P21, or CCSSI (and the governments that listen to them) are promoting ICT literacy standards designed to systematically oppress students (and teachers) required to adhere to them; this is not a call to gather your pitchforks and torches. Rather, I am suggesting these organizations and governments are promoting ICT literacy standards that are limited, and therefore limiting. In their current state, these standards generate a culture of silence about some of the possibilities of ICT literacy in and for education, and the capabilities of teachers and students engaged with technologies in the classroom.

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When I discovered a rather nondescript blurb on Craigslist about needing an immediate replacement for a “technology specialist,” I didn’t know exactly what I’d find. Much to my joy, however, I soon found myself working once a week at a private elementary school, tasked with various tech-related responsibilities, including teaching second-fifth grade “tech classes.” The tech classes would be 30-45 minutes each, once a week per grade. And that was it; the entirety of my assignment explained to me in terms of minutes. No context. No examples from previous tech specialists. No curriculum and no grading. Nothing.

In short: I was as free as a teacher could be.

Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel attest that, “So often in our discussions of online education and teaching with technology, we jump to a discussion of how or when to use technology without pausing to think about whether or why,” and in a very real way I was asked to do precisely that. The implicit expectation in my newfound task was that I would teach students how to use technology, not why, or even if they should.

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On Tuesday, June 3, Hybrid Pedagogy released an announcement and CFP related to the first long-form project to be undertaken by Hybrid Pedagogy Publishing. Two weeks later, we launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to underwrite the creation of an open-source, interactive, digital music theory textbook. Kris Shaffer and Robin Wharton are collaborating to guide Hybrid Pedagogy Publishing. Kris has discussed some of his ideas in two Hybrid Pedagogy pieces, The Critical Textbook and Open Source Scholarship. This is the second of a three-part series of 1000-word essays in which Robin offers her thoughts about books, humanities pedagogy, and the future of academic publishing.


I ended Part 1 with the questions: Why are reading and writing books central to the work of humanism? And what kinds of books, and what sort of editorial processes can be most useful for humanists as well as the humanities? Because I teach writing-intensive courses in an English department, some obvious answers present themselves. Books are proper and traditional objects of study in literature courses, and students should be trained to understand and reproduce dominant forms to participate in contemporary rhetorical processes.

I’m less-than-satisfied with these easy answers, however. That stems in part from my own rather vexed disciplinary affiliation. While I’m fortunate to be a full-time “lecturer in English,” starting this Fall, I’ve often found it useful to think of myself as a scholar working in the humanities. Further, although some students who attend my classes are English majors, many of them major in other disciplines, and for all of them, it’s essential to help them connect learning in my classes with what’s happening in their other courses and communities beyond the academy. Especially in first-year composition, an introduction to literary studies is also often an introduction to the humanities.

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During the summer of 2013, I scratched my seven-year itch. I broke up with Facebook.

I first met the social media space in 2006, when the platform was in many ways an energetic youth bent on embracing all of life’s pleasures. Our relationship, like so many others, was full of vibrancy in the beginning. We shared our hopes and dreams, pictures of silly and significant events, and even shared music to chronicle our strengths and shadows. As our partnership matured, and Facebook began trying on new looks like the newsfeed, different privacy options, and even chat and mail, the once dazzling space dulled. We used to so clearly communicate, uninhibited by outside influence. And that quickly changed. As if almost overnight, Facebook began acting out, hiding important posts on the newsfeed and only showing what Facebook thought was most relevant or important. I began distancing myself in 2010. I could feel the shift in the site’s behaviors and habits, and I wasn’t sure then what that change meant for me or our relationship. In the final few years, I still occasionally flirted with Facebook, but I kept a distance; and in 2013, I finally left Facebook for good.

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Howard Rheingold brought this piece to our attention after Jesse and Sean published “Is it Okay to Be a Luddite” on Instructure’s Keep Learning blog. Originally published in 1998 as the start to a five-part series, Howard considers here many of the same questions we ask in our own article. Most significantly, his questions and ours intersect where we say “To fear a technological future is to deny a technological past and present” and he states “It is possible to think critically about technology without running off to the woods”.

So we offer this article, and our own, as a consideration of what it means to approach technology with mindfulness, skepticism, and also exuberance. Our intention is to let these two articles brush against one another to see what conversations they raise across decades.


“…A crucial turning point comes when one is able to acknowledge that modern technics, much more than politics as conventionally understood, now legislates the conditions of human existence. New technologies are institutionalized structures within an existing constitution that gives shape to a new polity, the technopolis in which we do increasingly live. For the most part, this constitution still evolves with little public scrutiny or debate. Shielded by the conviction that technology is neutral and tool-like, a whole new order is built — piecemeal, step by step, with the parts and pieces linked together in novel ways, without the slightest public awareness or opportunity to dispute the character of the changes underway. It is somnambulism (rather than determinism) that characterizes technological politics — on the left, right, and center equally.” 

~ Langdon Winner, Autonomous Technology

Are we awake to the world we’re building, or are we, as an old Sufi saying goes, merely asleep in life’s waiting room?

The petroleum economy, nuclear power, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, lasers, organ transplants, telephone and television and personal computer networks — today’s technologies have put staggering amounts of power into the hands of billions of people. More power is on its way in the next several decades, as present scientific knowledge drives future technological capability. Do we know what to do with the powers over matter, mind, and life that tomorrow’s technologies will grant us?

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Is It Okay to Be a Luddite?

Is It Okay to Be a Luddite?

This piece was originally published on Instructure’s Keep Learning blog. When it posted, we received a message from Howard Rheingold (NetSmart) linking us to a post last revised in May 1998. In that piece, he considers many of the same questions we ask here. Most significantly, his questions and ours intersect where we say “To fear a technological future is to deny a technological past and present” and he states “It is possible to think critically about technology without running off to the woods”.

So we offer this article, and Howard’s, as a consideration of what it means to approach technology with mindfulness, skepticism, and also exuberance. Our intention is to let these two articles brush against one another to see what conversations they raise across decades.


I feel a pinch as I approach the screen once more. A twinge, just the littlest bite of remorse. Sometimes, it’s sizeable, the feeling I have that I want the digital to be more, the Internet to be tangible, the vacant gaping spaces between my colleagues and myself to be smaller, more a hands-breadth than the length of a whale. And sometimes it is this, a mosquito in the ear. Either way, I return to the screen wishing for relationships that are bigger than pixels, and words that are indelible.

I rail against technology at dinner parties. I curse it to my friends in Google Hangouts. And they call me a luddite.

The title of this post is inspired by an essay by Thomas Pynchon. He wrote presciently in 1984, “Since 1959, we have come to live among flows of data more vast than anything the world has seen.” According to Pynchon, “Luddites flourished In Britain from about 1811 to 1816. They were bands of men, organized, masked, anonymous, whose object was to destroy machinery used mostly in the textile industry.” The 21st Century has produced a whole new kind of altogether less revolutionary luddite. These are the folks who refuse to go on Facebook, who have tried Twitter but would never use it regularly. They keep pen and paper handy and nod with suspicion at the great green elephant of Evernote. For these people, the Internet has not brought on a new world of connectedness and community, it has reduced us to two dimensions, static portraits of faces meant to be lively with expression. The Internet hurts their eyes. And they secretly (and sometimes not so secretly) scorn it’s denizens, reducing their work to blips.

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For many, the classroom is an alienating place. There are environmental factors that play into this (and monetary factors that play into these environmental ones). There are stigmas, expectations, and traditions that may interfere with learning. In attending and visiting various college campuses around the country I frequently see the same colorless, characterless spaces, each one artificially illuminated by fluorescent light. In fact, I dare you to type “schools look like” into Google and see how the program autocompletes the thought. Or fill it in yourself. If you have spent enough time near the institution, it is likely you and the search algorithm will pick up on the same cultural trend: schools look like prisons. And by observing the current boom in 21st century classroom design companies, I know that the market (and incidentally, Foucault) agrees with me.

More troubling, however, are the less visible cultural biases that manifest in these traditional classroom spaces. When left unmodified, the “default settings” and practices of today’s classrooms may be further marginalizing diverse student populations. One scholar, Mildred Jordan, observes a variety of “negative affects that a mainstream American educational experience can have on African American and other minority students.” In fact, Jordan goes as far as to suggest that, “the behavior of Black students is often seen as being disruptive rather than an expression of their own cultural styles.” While this assertion is troublesome enough, I want to argue further that the traditional classroom doesn’t even capture the needs of the mainstream student well. The Gallup survey states that student engagement at the high school level is as low as 4 in 10 students. With classroom disengagement rates soaring, it appears that no class, race, or culture has discovered immunity (albeit disproportionately affecting marginalized populations). According to a recently released report, even the teachers are becoming increasingly disengaged with the classroom, lacking the “energy, insights, and resilience that effective teaching” requires. And it’s the students who pay the price.

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On Tuesday, June 3, Hybrid Pedagogy released an announcement and CFP related to the first long-form project to be undertaken by Hybrid Pedagogy Publishing. In the coming weeks, look for another announcement regarding a second project we have in the works. Kris Shaffer and Robin Wharton are collaborating to guide Hybrid Pedagogy Publishing. Kris has discussed some of his ideas in two Hybrid Pedagogy pieces, The Critical Textbook and Open Source Scholarship. This is the first of a three-part series of 1000-word essays in which Robin offers her thoughts about books, humanities pedagogy, and the future of academic publishing.

I am late to the conversation about Adam Kirsch’s recent sortie into the digital humanities, hack v. yack debate. In fact, I am reluctant even to attach this piece, however tangentially, to that discussion, in part because many others have written such excellent responses to and critiques of Kirsch’s argument. Yet, I must admit with its throwaway rhetorical question, “Was it necessary for a humanist in the past five hundred years to know how to set type and publish a book?,” his essay provided a focus for some of my thinking about the past, present, and future of the book, and the work Kris Shaffer and I have undertaken to launch a new experiment in long(er)-form publishing for Hybrid Pedagogy. Where before, I was armed and armored, but roaming the countryside aimlessly, with Kirsch’s question as a lens I could at least see the windmill on the horizon.

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Though one might imagine that suggestions emerging from a preschool storytime may not seem to be a likely source of wisdom for an adult audience, I find that we often forget the importance of basic literacy skills as we age. No longer considered necessary or on par with our educational expertise, foundational literacy skills are scoffed at or abandoned for what we believe to be more advanced thinking. Yet, the evidence speaks for itself: at a recent preschool storytime, a gaggle of preschoolers vivaciously discussed the merits of Judy Allen’s Are You a Butterfly? One child exclaimed, “I love butterflies!,” to which another child replied, “I hate butterflies!” A third child chided, “You can’t use the word hate!” Isn’t this more or less the essence of literary criticism, save a larger vocabulary and more citations? I digress.

I have been in a variety of public and private schools for the past 20 years, so far. It was during my 21st year within the educational system that a foray into the nonprofit world brought me back to square one: preschool literacy. As an English 1 & 2 Instructor during my MA program in 2012-2013, I discovered that teaching is similar to leading an improv group: in both instances, you show up for your gig, torn between the desire to “direct” and the urge to allow conversations to unfurl organically. Sometimes, you witness beautiful moments. At other times, chaos ensues. As a young instructor in an old institution, I was worried I was performing from some predetermined teaching script acquired during my time there. In my current position in an alternative academic setting, I discovered a mode of comparison and upon reflection, found some teaching practices I could bring back to the college classroom.

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Hybrid pedagogy does not just describe an easy mixing of on-ground and online learning, but is about bringing the sorts of learning that happen in a physical place and the sorts of learning that happen in a virtual place into a more engaged and dynamic conversation. ~ Jesse Stommel

With growth in student population, budget constrictions, and increased enrollment, more and more instructors are facing the challenges of classroom management and engaging students in a large format environment. The traditional and often most-efficient teaching method is the lecture, but Gehring notes this delivery can be “impersonal, anonymous, and permits passivity,” all contrary to optimal student learning. While not discounting the benefits of face-to-face interaction, in an effort to ensure participation, many instructors implement policies requiring students be physically present in the classroom. Some quickly see the futility of these efforts, realizing that expecting students to adhere to mandatory attendance policies is becoming less and less justifiable.

Pete Rorabaugh argues that our daily lives are increasingly “mediated through technology” and a heightened presence of flexibility and choice resulting from not being tied to time or place. We are free to choose whether and when to communicate in person, by phone, email, video, social media, text, etc. Many of us have the opportunity to work from home or participate in meetings by voice or video. We can imagine a future where students have similar true agency in developing individual knowledge, yet before that becomes reality, small steps can be introduced.

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The MOOC Problem

The MOOC Problem

The purpose of education is in large part linked to its standing as a social science. Philosophers dating back to Socrates have linked education to a purpose beyond the individual, one where accrual of facts and training in skills is not the outcome or objective for the individual nor society; rather, a deeper relationship with thought and reason is necessary for the development of each person and in turn their community. This is at the heart of much great philosophy:  luminaries such as Locke, Milton, Rousseau, Hume and others saw education as a continuation of society through means greater than memory recall and skilled competencies. The education discipline is built upon this theory and is at the heart of its mission: through pedagogy and methodology education can foster the growth of our culture through each person.

This is not the methodology from which most outside interests view education. Rather than endeavoring to improve the practice, their stated goal is to solve education, noting that education is in crisis and its survival requires tautological changes to the status quo. This is the rallying cry most recently seen around the movement of massive open online courses (MOOCs), where a cavalcade of venture capitalists, politicians, computer scientists and media pundits have chosen to define education through analytics and instrumentation, the MOOC representing an opportunity to democratize education on a global level while at the same time undercutting the cost behemoth of a contemporary higher education. This argument reads like a win-win, but in reality the MOOC as a learning system has underperformed traditional models and shows no large-scale cost benefit to education providers. At this point, the MOOC as an instrument is a failure.  However, the MOOC as a landscape-altering educational phenomenon is a fascinating success, in large part due to shifting the definition of education away from its historical roots to a skills-based, instrumentally-defined exercise.

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Hospitality in the classroom and digital pedagogical practices encourage participatory pedagogy and collective action. This model of learning and teaching emphasizes the shared responsibility between all members to contribute to and actively further the intellectual exchange and critical inquiry of the course; indeed, this model of learning can frame how we understand subjectivity itself. Google docs, for example, can be thought of as merely a technological innovation that enables collaborative notetaking. But the programming structure of Google docs closely resembles Clay Shirky’s articulation in Here Comes Everybody of how collective action invokes subjectivity by tying one person’s identity to the identity of the group and making a decision of a group binding on all individual members (51). A collaboratively constructed Google document creates a site of authoring — and self-authoring — that materially represents the multiplicity of subjectivity. Unlike “group work” (where students simply divide the workload of a project into discrete, individual tasks), the collaborative production of participatory pedagogy derives from a shared responsibility, vision, decision-making, and creation that cannot be divided.

As a critical digital pedagogue, I owe a great debt to Jacques Derrida. Derridean concepts of ethical hospitality, freeplay, jouissance, and différance have always felt intimately human to me. The vulnerability to rupture, the burdens and liberations of undecidability, the spirit of generosity in multiplicity . . . the conditions underpinning Derridean theory are brimming with deeply humanistic inquiry. These same conditions can instruct educators not only how to facilitate participatory pedagogy and collective action in our classrooms, but also about knowledge production as communal intellectual rigor and joy.

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The Critical Textbook

The Critical Textbook

Nothing enshrines an idea quite like printing it in a textbook. In fact, the textbook is the ultimate canon: a fixed tome of knowledge, shared across institutional boundaries, with the authority to dictate pedagogical decisions and arbitrate student success.

The textbook affects more than just students, of course. Today’s scholars were yesterday’s students, and the ideas and assumptions that ruled their professional development in the tender, impressionable student years can easily permeate their thinking as scholars. Some of these ideas are groundbreaking and can springboard students into brilliant scholarly lives. However, many of those ideas and assumptions are half-baked or uncritically promulgated, and — left unchecked — can stunt the growth of our collective wisdom.

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