#CritPrax Letter of Hopes & Intentions

What else might we do here besides open that door?

Connection is the central irony, the running joke, the elephant in the room of modern technology. Tools designed to bring people together have allowed us to grow more distant yet nominally stay connected. What we have come to call “connection” today often involves mediated performance—we put on shows in front of cameras as audiences watch us through screens. We struggle to pick up nonverbal cues, and technical glitches stymie what would otherwise be a simple activity. Synchrony becomes elusive as poor connections, lagging streams, and unhelpful interfaces make “no, you go ahead,” “you broke up for a second,” and “you’re on mute” all-too-familiar mantras—the meta-discussion distracting us from our intentions.

Intentions, of course, matter a lot in education. What we intend to teach and what students actually learn often differ. We might intend to have one conversation in class, but the discussion veers in an entirely unplanned direction. Such differences and redirections, I argue, show not a failure of educational rigor but instead a responsiveness to the immediate needs of the learners in that course. When discussions and activities respond to student needs and in-the-moment student self-assessment, they provide relevant experiences that encourage students to form connections between the course material and the students’ lives. Those connections, formed around real experiences, help push learning beyond the boundaries of the class(room), building habits of lifelong learning.

Real connection differs from seeing a familiar face on a video chat or holding synchronous discussions in a distributed online course. Those tools can help, but true connection comes from empathy and understanding, not digital tools. In this week’s course, I hope to create a space where human connections form and strengthen.

Critical digital pedagogy thrives on critical evaluation, personal growth, and genuine curiosity. These core principles ask participants to bring our full selves to the work of teaching—and the work of this course. Bringing our full selves to this work challenges us to oppose traditional assumptions about the classroom by being present with and for each other. For bell hooks, being fully present itself is an act of resistance:

Years of socialization that had taught me to believe a classroom was diminished if students and professors regarded one another as “whole” human beings, striving not just for knowledge in books, but knowledge about how to live in the world.

Any focus on building community takes on additional salience this year due to the lingering pandemic. As schools around the world have shuttered and courses have “pivoted” online, critical digital pedagogy has never been more necessary. In this class, we will rely on reflective, intentional uses of digital technologies to create dialogue and craft real, human connections. As Ira Shor says, “dialogue links people together through discourse and links their moments of reflection to their moments of action.” Dialogue forms “the threads of communication that bind people together and prepare them for reflective action.“ It is my hope that this course will serve as an opportunity to create togetherness and community, to make connections not just ideas but primarily other people, and confront the challenges facing education today. Not to overstate the stakes of education’s current inflection point, but I hope that together, we can work to redefine online learning.

Clearly, I prioritize people in my pedagogy. That prioritization shapes my hopes and intentions directly. In our time together this week (and beyond), I hope that we discover ways to build strength, community, kindness, and empathy through our digital networks. And I hope that we are able to bring our whole selves to the work of teaching and learning to which we are committed. I hope this class becomes one of discovery, a space in which we come to see ourselves as one of bell hooks’s students saw herself:

“I don’t believe that we change what has already been done but we can change the future and so I am reclaiming and learning more of who I am so that I can be whole.”

I’m excited for the week ahead and eager to see the connections we establish! What intentions do you hold for our time together?