This week, alongside two of my colleagues from Sam Houston State University, I am attending the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Specifically, I am participating in the Intro to Critical Digital Pedagogies track.
This space is asking us as educators to consider some critical questions related to digital space(s): pedagogically, beyond simple discussions of tools, learning management systems, and content, we are really here thinking and philosophizing about how we think learning in digital spaces from communal, humanistic, networked, and justice-oriented perspectives.
Outside of our structured track times, we have the opportunity to hear from keynote speakers that challenge us as educators to think about real world issues that impact humanity and thus digital education of all forms. We have heard from Sara Goldrick-Rab on the crisis of resource insecurity in higher education; and from Adeline Koh about self-care and the violence of the academy.
The ‘Space’ to Process
Importantly, we are being given space to process information, conversations, and our own thinking. While we have intense conversations to “live in the questions” of what “critical digital pedagogy” might be~is~can be, thus far the value of this week for me has been about this space – which is an interesting word we have been reflecting on all week.
What is space? Here are some ways I’m thinking about this as the week unfolds:
- Space might be physical or virtual location(s). It is telling we have gathered in-person, in a geographic space and place to discuss virtual, networked, and online learning; though we are inviting others to this space through virtual spaces – such as the #digped hashtag on Twitter; or with Virtually Connecting.
- Space as time. This afternoon, as I write this blog, we were invited to leave the space of the institute building to do our work, writing, thinking, and processing. I’m outside on a lovely patio at the University of Mary Washington. I’m in the space of a campus, the space of nature, and the space of time to actually think. Digital Pedagogy Lab is not over-programmed. We are not working from sun-up to sun-down, cramming in one million sessions. We are being given the space of time to engage in conversation with conference attendees, and importantly, with ourselves. In our frenetic (academic) world, what a gift this space of time actually is.
- Space as digital space(s), as in, what are the actual digital tools we are using? How do our learning management systems, or the other digital tools we employ, open or constrain space for learning? What ethical, moral, and philosophical questions do we need to be asking about these tool spaces? Importantly, why do we conform to the space rather than asking the tool space to conform to us?
- Space as community~network. Yesterday, we engaged in a fascinating conversation about the (in)differences between community and network. What does it mean to build a community in an online space? Who is and is not in the online space? What makes online spaces flourish or flounder as spaces of community and~or network?
- Space as action. Today we discussed the role of listening and empathy. This was centered on the critical and underlying tone of this conference – the need to provide space for people – ourselves, students, and those we intra-act with online – to be. There is something about creating an ontological and epistemological space for becoming.
What made me profoundly nervous about taking my job at Sam Houston State University two years ago, with no online teaching experience, was fear about how digital tools would limit my relational capacity with students. I talk in my teaching philosophy about the need for students to view the space(s) of both my online and face-to-face classes as spaces of becoming – based on my own philosophical and theoretical commitment to disrupting notions of stasis and embracing movement, possibility, and complexity in our lived realities.
I have worked hard in my online teaching, particularly, to build relational capacity with students. This is simply foundational to my approach and belief about education. Thus, I have harnessed tools such as Zoom to host synchronous meetings, a practice that I find students increasingly crave and enjoy based on my teaching evaluations. I have employed various digital tools to challenge the typical assignment types in higher education – infographics, videos, screencasts, wikis. I spend important and critical time providing detailed feedforward insight to students on assignments, discussion boards, and other tools I employ through the LMS.
But I still have work to do in thinking about building relational capacity in these online spaces in particular. For example, I am thinking about accessibility issues – how do I ensure my videos are accessible for those who cannot hear? How do I ensure the text content is screen readable?
I still have work to do in thinking about issues such as student privacy and accessibility to specific non-LMS tools that I might wish to employ. What challenging position am I putting students in by asking them to participate or engage with certain technologies, particularly if they come with cost, or, as Chris Gilliard reminds me, they are collecting all kinds of data on students that then turns them further into data and products – the exact opposite of what a critical digital pedagogy is attempting to do.
And, I am thinking more about how we build relational capacity for students to have more control of the space. While I have attempted to think about and build opportunities for this into my classes writ large, I still have tremendous work to do in this regard. Today, as we discussed care, empathy, and listening, we thought about what rights we believe students might have. My small group decided that rather than writing a traditional contractual ‘rights’ statement we might instead envision how to build a living declaration in our classes – and how we might break down some of the traditional hierarchies between teacher-student; student-student; educator-learner (all questions raised by Biesta (2010) Learner Student Speaker in much of his work).
So, we are living (with)in some profound questions that really have very little to do with ‘how to’ use tools; or ‘how to’ build platforms; but rather to become comfortable with that which may have no answer; that which requires us to unlearn that which has so structured our thinking in education, and online education in particular, for some long.