If a tree falls in the forest, an no one occupies the plush armchair overlooking the mountain, does the metaphor maintain its instructive value?

You know, the fun (and maddening) thing about teaching a course about teaching to teachers is how often we have the chance to “go meta” and look at what we’re doing while we’re doing it. For today’s work, one of the guiding questions I listed in our syllabus is twofold: “How does CDP inform praxis? Where are the trouble spots?” One answer to that question can be found by looking at what happened (or didn’t) on Monday. Critical digital pedagogy puts learning into the hands of students — in this case, DHSI participants. And as I discussed yesterday, critical pedagogy asks us to bring our whole selves to the process of learning. Teachers need to be fully present in order to respond to the dynamics of the class, and students need to be fully present to engage in the meaningful, messy, and important work of learning.

But what if they can’t? What if “being fully present” just isn’t in the cards?

What “Being Present” Used to Look Like

In a typical, pre-pandemic year, DHSI functions as a sort of “summer camp for nerds” allowing digital humanists a chance to escape the daily grind and trot off to beautiful Victoria for a week of intense learning, sharing, and collaborating. Problems get solved over breakfast. Grad students get advice from tenured faculty over afternoon beers. Lunch becomes a strategy game, in which socialization and sustenance compete for equal slices of the constraints of time. In short, the week allows participants and facilitators alike to fully immerse themselves in DH-related subjects for five intense and exhausting days. Being “fully present” is easy when you’re staying in a dorm and meeting your cohort in the same room each day. You’re there. Done.

But this year, we’re “attending” DHSI from our respective homes or offices, making it difficult to attend to much of anything. That’s precisely why the first item on our Pre-Flight Checklist asked you to consider your physical space. Some things — many things — this week might simply not be possible due to constraints of your environment. (I fully sympathize, as Helene and Lydia can confirm — my cat blocked my view of our Monday night Jam Session more times that I can count.) Another item on that checklist suggested identifying how and when you could engage with this course. It’s a lot to attend a seminar without leaving the routine of daily life behind, and I think many of us ran up against that challenge on Monday.

Our Slack channels saw relatively little activity. Our Twitter hashtag went nearly unused. Only three folks attended the first Jam Session. By any statistical measure of activity and contribution, very little happened in our class on Monday. But that’s okay. It’s what we needed, and it’s a consequence of we all brought with us to this course.

Avoiding Problems Through Praxis

So how does CDP inform praxis? Where are the trouble spots?

Critical digital pedagogy insists that we see students as humans, fully capable of learning on their own. That we see courses as opportunities instead of requirements. And that we default to trusting and caring for every member of a class. Faculty who apply critical digital pedagogy to course design need a flexible praxis that accommodates the specific conditions of a class in the moment. That can become troublesome if situations present themselves differently than anticipated, or if learner needs don’t align with teacher assumptions.

I experienced a trouble spot yesterday. Not a whole lot actually happened within this course. My emotions may lead me to feel disappointed, but my pedagogy leads me to seek information. So I created a poll in one of our Slack channels to get basic feedback about the energy level everyone has available this week. I might need to retool the expectations of the course because we might all be more exhausted, distracted, and limited than I initially anticipated.

But within the framework of CDP, that’s completely fine. We’ll take whatever approach to this course is most beneficial to those involved. And we’ll make the most of what we bring to the table.

Responsive Praxis

Based on Monday’s Jam Session conversation and my hunch on how folks approach this course, I see two questions emerging as immediately important:

  1. Who is a pedagogue? Where does teaching happen?
  2. What is a course? Where does learning happen, and what shape does it take?

Because so much in education got turned on its head this past year, answers to these questions fly in the face of what we generally expect. And they certainly contradict what we’ve been trained to work with as educators. Today, I think we should address those questions. I’ll post them to Twitter using the #CritPrax hashtag around midday PT, but I encourage everyone to share your thoughts however and whenever you see fit.

The rest can wait…because it seems we need it to.

[But if you’re curious, auditing, or moving full-steam ahead, the original Tuesday Checklist of activities is still available.]