Why do we teach students how to write? Is it for their benefit or for ours? That’s a serious question—composition classes, and the five-paragraph essay, were initially invented as a service to teachers, not because students needed specific skills for life after college. How can we teach meaningful writing classes that are designed to address student needs beyond the classroom? To get help looking for an answer, I talk with Cheryl E. Ball about the ways she gets professional editing, modern publishing, and digital pedagogy to intersect. [A complete transcript of this episode is available.]
Back in 2012 and 2013, Cheryl wrote a three-part series of articles for Hybrid Pedagogy in which she introduces what she calls “editorial pedagogy” — a combination of the real work of the publishing process (which should teach authors how to write better) and the classroom environment (which should teach students how to write better, using “real-world” projects). Cheryl’s editorial pedagogy is a sensible approach, but it needs a bit of explanation. This episode dives in to how it works, what it looks like, and how it changes her teaching.
We also chat about the Vega publishing system, a massive multinational project to create a new open publishing system that supports multiple workflows, from double-blind review to the open mentorship approach. Along the way, we talk about assessment and (of course) outcomes.
This episode focuses heavily on composition and professional-writing courses, but Cheryl’s editorial pedagogy can be applied to any number of disciplines. It’s all a matter of using real-world experiences to drive student learning.
With each new technological development promising to “revolutionize education”, we need to start asking how…and at what cost. Platforms that provide services allegedly for free often do so in exchange for data about its users—forming a deep layer of surveillance over our online lives. Asking students to use online platforms and services raises ethical questions that often get overlooked, or even noticed.
Chris Gilliard joins us to walk us through the concerns he has about the state of online surveillance, the dangers lurking behind the expansion of the Internet of Things, and the caution we should use when inviting—or expecting—students to work online. He explains why we need to pay more attention to the technologies we use, to the technologies we expect students to use, and the kinds of information those technologies extract from us.
Filled with real examples of how technologies used in our lives and our classrooms can erode our autonomy and shape the way we perceive the world around us, this conversation shows how, while we think we’re using our devices and services, those things may end up using us instead. As students use increasingly more services and accounts to conduct their affairs, we’re less likely to know what data is being collected and how that data is being used to lead them to make decisions or take actions.
From digital redlining to racial profiling to round-the-clock surveillance, this episode is packed with stories of things we often take for granted without even realizing we’re doing it.
If you’ve listened to this podcast before, or if you follow its associated journal, you know that connecting with students ranks among our most important values, right up there with my personal soapbox of really listening to them. This episode (full transcriptavailable) follows that same trend, but through some unusual avenues.
I reached out to a fellow podcast creator, the exceptionally prolific Bonni Stachowiak. I wanted to talk with her about building community, because she’s done an amazing job developing a connected group of people out of the listening audience for her show, Teaching in Higher Ed. I also wanted to get her thoughts on vulnerability, based on something she said on Twitter a while back: “Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable gives us room to fail but then nudge those failures in a forward direction toward greater learning.” Bonni taps into the notion of classroom failure in a wonderful way because teachers are only truly vulnerable if there is that risk of failure, and when a lot of teachers talk about being vulnerable in the classroom they aren’t actually risking anything. Sam Hamilton discusses this dilemma at length in a 2016 Hybrid Pedagogyarticle called “Risk Taking is a Form of Playing it Safe” that you should totally go read (after listening to this episode!). For her part, Bonni says it’s actually our studentswho are putting themselves on the line, and they have a genuine and well-founded fear that by risking too much they are going to irreversibly fail.
But as Bonni and I discussed community-building and vulnerability and failure, the importance of connecting with students quickly emerged as thedriving force compelling us toward better teaching practices. We recognized that we have to connect with students if we want to work meaningfully with them. We have to connect students with our course content if we want it to resonate in their lives. And we have to connect students with their own inner compass if we want them to develop into morally responsible human beings. As we discussed these perspectives on classroom dynamics, the act of asking questions kept coming up as the only appropriate solution to each problem.
In his most famous work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire discusses his concept of problem-posing education. Instead of teaching students to seek correct answers for problems we present to them, Freire says we need to help students identify their own questions and find the problems in life and in society that will compel them to learn, grow, and develop their critical consciousness. Problem posing stands as the centerpiece of Freire’s approach to education. And while Bonni and I don’t talk explicitly about this method, we do discover that asking the right questions — from teachers and students alike — can make all the difference in helping us connect with one another and our courses. What set out to be a discussion about community and vulnerability became an argument in favor of asking good questions at every opportunity, even (or especially) when our instincts urge us to do otherwise.
In this episode, I spoke with Robin DeRosa about a broad issue that affects the way we do things in our classrooms; the way programs design their courses; the way institutions support their faculty and learners; and the way knowledge, education, and publication are funded. I’m talking about the issue of access — particularly open access — to course materials, course content, teaching tools, and even student work.
Ensuring that students have access to available networks of knowledge is just one piece of a very large and complex problem. We also need to ensure teachers have access to materials that help them teach. And everyone in the classroom has to have access to whatever tools are being used, whether that’s a #2 pencil that Betsy Devos seemed unable to find on her first day of work or a laptop that students could use to help them annotate or even publish online articles.
That’s what we’re exploring in today’s episode: What does it take to access an education? Learners must know how to navigate the system; how to self-advocate when needed; and how to distinguish among necessary processes, bureaucratic obstacles, and genuine injustices. Without these institutional social skills, navigating — and getting to — an education takes more effort than the learning itself.
Let’s talk about our expectations for students and what we think they are—and should be—capable of. There’s been a good deal of chatter online recently (see posts from Sean Michael Morris and Aimée Morrison, for instance) about the musings of a one Ron Srigley, who seems to make it a point at every turn to complain to the world about how stupid he thinks his students are. Which is odd, because shouldn’t he, a professor confident in his intelligence, consider that a source of job security and therefore a good thing? But I digress.
The trouble is that Srigley’s complaints are based on the premise that knowledge is held by the few, to be distributed to the masses fortunate enough to take in that knowledge from their teachers. Students are empty vessels, the thinking goes, awaiting pearls of wisdom to be graciously handed down from above. But I can say, as one who has spent a good deal of time in classrooms, both as a student and a teacher, I’ve never met a teacher who knew more than a room full of students. Just ask the students. They’ll be able to tell you what the teacher doesn’t know. The wealth of knowledge and experience that constitutes every classroom, thanks to what students bring with them, amazes me. All we have to do is listen for it.
In this episode, I chat with Janine DeBaise, who teaches writing and literature at SUNY-ESF in Syracuse, New York. Our conversation is a follow-up to an article Janine wrote for Hybrid Pedagogy, as well as an experiment she and I conducted with our students a few semesters ago. That experiment didn’t work so well, and that’s the point: Our teaching should be responsive, adapting to the situation, the students, and the semester, not determined by the textbook. This discussion explores the ways we can make our classes more responsive.
In episode nine, I spoke with Janine DeBaise about her style of responsive teaching. It’s her answer to the idea of “best practices”. The trouble with best practices, according to Janine, is that they are created by someone else and said to be the unqualified “best” idea for everyone in any situation. Now when I put it that way, you might object, saying that I’m carrying the meaning to an absurd extreme. “Not every situation,” you might say. “Just the regular ones.” But think about learners for a minute. What’s going on in their minds? What do they want to learn about, and what importance does that learning hold in their lives right now? The answer will be different for everyone. Even in a lecture hall of medical students, they might want to understand the same material and pass the same exam, but the way they understand or remember that material will be different for each person. The associations they make among concepts will be distinctive. An oncologist and a pediatrician would take very different things away from the same session because they see things from different angles and with different interests. If you throw in personal background, previous learning experiences, and current life situations, those differences only increase.
So the idea of “best practices” is built on an assumption of standardization — standardized content, standardized delivery, and standardized humans. Those assumptions strip away the individuation and personal interest that drives us all to actually learn things for ourselves. If all we’re left with is standardization, the personal purpose is gone from learning, subordinated to the systemic purposes of cranking out more standardized, credentialed clones. But again, I may be over-stating things.
To help bring perspective and clarity, I talk with Amy Collier, Associate Provost for Digital Learning at Middlebury College. Amy talks and writes a lot about the liminal state of working through something but not completely getting it yet. It’s that wonderful (or unsettling, depending on your view) time when you’re playing around with an idea and seeing how well it works in various situations without actually feeling like you really get what’s going on. You’re working on building your understanding and experience, but you’re not quite there yet. That feeling is what Amy and her colleague Jen Ross have taken to calling “not-yetness”, and it’s the idea I wanted to chat more with her about. Amy’s been friends with the folks from Hybrid Pedagogy for quite some time, and she presented one of the keynotes at Digital Pedagogy Lab Cairo in March 2016. In her talk, Amy presented not-yetness to a group of people interested in critical digital pedagogy.
In this episode, Amy chats about the connection between not-yetness and critical digital pedagogy, the changing nature of outcomes, the learnification movement, the value of education, the need for risk in learning, and the “rhetoric of opportunity” versus the “rhetoric of brokenness” being used in education. She covers a lot of ground, and through it all, she emphasizes the importance of questioning — as a means of improving our teaching, enhancing student learning, and understanding the contexts in which we all work.
Our typical focus on this journal and podcast is on students — advocating for their agency and authority over their own education. We’re taking a brief diversion with this installment and instead focusing on the needs of teachers. No, it’s not a selfish approach to demand for compliance out of students. Instead, it’s a look at when teachers need to be open and honest with students if they are to establish an environment in the classroom that encourages the sort of agency we normally discuss.
For some teachers, creating a classroom environment that encourages trust, understanding, experimentation, and risk can be tricky. Each of those characteristics requires a degree of vulnerability, and that can come at a cost — sometimes a tangible one — when people open up and share with their colleagues. This episode of HybridPod explores that decision to be open, for teachers to tell students about themselves, particularly about their sexuality. As we’ll hear, this maddeningly complex decision has to be made again and again with each set of students we encounter, at each institution where we work, in the context of each class discussion. It’s a tough situation to manage, and it deserves careful consideration.
In this episode, I share a conversation I had with Bonnie Stewart in November 2015. This conversation grew out of her involvement with Digital Pedagogy Lab, a one-week on-ground institute hosted by Hybrid Pedagogy and the University of Wisconsin—Madison. At Digital Pedagogy Lab, Bonnie led a weeklong track on Networks. According to the promotional material for that track, it focused “on the nature of digital networks and network-building, from blogs and social media to open courses and collaboration,” included “discussions of MOOCs, rhizomatic learning, how influence and reputation circulate in professional learning networks, the social contracts of closed and networked spaces, and the intersections between networks and face-to-face learning environments,” and aimed to “consider how networks are both responding to and creating the Internet as a learning environment.”
That’s a lot to fit into five days, and certainly too much for one HybridPod episode. But Bonnie and I do talk about how networks and learning exist symbiotically in society and in today’s structured education systems. Along the way, we also talk about outcomes, identity, power relations, and activism. It’s a thoughtful conversation about a complex topic. I hope you’ll join us.
Why isn’t school more fun?
Fred Rogers, famous in America for creating Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” Why do we assume, though, that adults don’t also learn from play? In this episode, I assert that “serious learning” happens through play at any age, and that a playful approach to classes, professions, and identity has benefits that too often get ignored in academia.
Unfortunately, school is often anything but playful. Between compulsory attendance, state-mandated testing, and the regimented routine of bell schedules, students are often expected to conform and comply, rather than to improvise and experiment. It seems there should be a way to incorporate play into education, making school something that students enjoy, look forward to, and find productive.
Adeline Koh writes that “play is serious business,” and this episode explores that assertion and tests the ways in which it can be applied to today’s educational environments.
Much of the conversation about modern education discusses what we as teachers can say or dowithin our classrooms. Relatively little attention is paid to what we can hear from our students. In this episode, we’ll explore some of the benefits we can get, and improvements we can make, if we essentially talk less and listen more.
First, I talk with Martín Kutnowski, author of “Daring Conversations: Searching for a Shared Language,” about how incorporating popular songs in a music-appreciation course reflects a pedagogy of listening. He warns against closing doors of opportunity when it comes to learning and the cultural problem of student agency. Martín also discusses student expectations (lecture-based courses) and a way to combat that tendency (profound outcomes).
Then we’ll hear from Kris Shaffer, regular contributor to Hybrid Pedagogy. He critiques traditional student-performance rubrics, advocating instead for a holistic assessment method that can be used to help us teach, rather than sort, students. Kris makes an argument for learning how our students work by listening more carefully to them. He then discusses what that sort of attention looks like in the classroom.
From there, I talk with Jonathan Sircy, author of “Faithful Listening,” about his evaluation methods and the focus he requires of himself. He tells us how he carries that perspective into his classroom practice and how “generous” reading has become his standard and his commitment to his students.
The episode concludes with an explanation of how the desire to listen faithfully complicated the creation of an audio version of his article, showing just how difficult—and important—it is to listen faithfully.
Many teachers prohibit the use of technology in their classes, occasionally forbidding laptops and frequently forbidding cell phones. These bans are generally called “technology policies”, but that name ignores the fact that the ballpoint pens and bleached-white papers our students otherwise use, as well as the chairs in which they sit and the windows out of which they stare are each another form of technology, created by humans as a tool to help make life simpler and more productive. Why are they not banned in “technology policies”, too?
I wonder whether it’s time or design that determines whether we think of something as a technology. I mean, I know that something doesn’t stop being technology when it’s old, but how long does something need to be with us before it’s no longer considered tech? A book of matches required design of the paper, plus the chemicals used to safely initiate combustion. I doubt many people look at a matchbook and think of it as a technology, though it was only developed in the middle of the 1800s. How often, when we flip a light switch or turn on a faucet, do we think of the technology involved in providing electricity or running water? How many teachers say they don’t like the distractions of technology, when they mean they don’t like the technologies that they didn’t have when they were students?
These questions may seem like red herrings, but I think it’s important to point out how much novelty plays into our current perceptions of technology. The same holds true with educational technology, with the siren song of “new! improved! faster! lighter! thinner! more features!” constantly vying for our attention…and our money. It’s too easy for us to focus on the novelty and not on the implications. We can too easily lose our critical perspective by thinking about what we can do versus what we should do.
Advances in digital technology have become commonplace to the point of being routine. We regularly hear of new developments in hardware, software, or system designs that influence how things get done in modern life. More significantly, though it sometimes seems no less frequently, we hear about major changes in entire industries brought about by the influence of digital technology. For instance, according to Tom Goodwin, senior vice president of strategy and innovation at Havas Media: Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. (You may have read those comments as they initially circulated on Facebook.) Encyclopedia Britannica, long seen as the standard source for general-knowledge reference material, published its last print edition in 2012, but its content has been available online since 1994. Print-based phonebooks are still produced in many places…but when’s the last time you used one? For that matter, you probably know a few people who no longer have a landline phone (I’m one of those people). In each of these cases, the shape and nature of an industry has been redefined because digital technologies rendered the old way of doing things obsolete.
When something “goes digital”, the way we work with that thing fundamentally shifts. With analogue photograph, an image was recorded on film, and the results couldn’t be seen until that film was developed. One-hour photo processing was a big deal. But with digital photography, an image is captured by computer circuitry, converted to zeroes and ones, and saved to a file. Film developing is mostly a historical relic. With analogue writing, text was recorded on paper, with ink or graphite bonding to the surface. The writing was done by hand or by typewriter, and once something was written, it had to be physically manipulated — think white-out, scissors, or erasers — to be changed. But with digital writing, text is captured by computer keys (or speech recognition), converted to zeroes and ones, and saved to a file. Correction tape and carbon paper are mostly historical relics, to say nothing of scribes. With analogue teaching, classes were… classes were… Hey, wait a second. Have we moved from analogue to digital teaching?
So there’s the question to launch us into today’s episode. We’re going to talk about moving education into today’s technological era — today, we’re talking about digital pedagogy. It’s actually the continuation of a conversation started back in April 2015 at GradUcon, a student services event for graduate students at the University of Chicago. One panel at this conference-style gathering, organized by Kristy Rawson, was titled Digital Pedagogies. The panel had broad goals, designed “to share information around a range of digitally enhanced pedagogical practices.” I was one of the panelists, and in this episode of HybridPod, we’ll be hearing from everyone else on that panel as we try and get to the heart of what digital pedagogy actually is, what sets it apart from regular pedagogy, and how digital pedagogy works it today’s educational environments.
Maha Bali’s featured column on Hybrid Pedagogy prompted the topic of this episode—compassion—but from an unusual angle. She and I talked about the problems we see with the way plagiarism is presented, discussed, and treated systemically. We thought that common systems that check finished work for signs of plagiarism turn it into a punitive situation, rather than a teaching opportunity. That’s the big difference between the student experience of plagiarism and the academic understanding of it. What if we looked at citation as a compassionate authorial act? Could we situate quoting and referencing as an act of academic kindness?
We also hear from Asao B. Inoue, who explains his efforts to make compassion an integral part of his teaching and learning practice. For him, compassion starts with the act of reading, and focusing attention on others helps students work in the moment and in the actual situation of class.
Eventually, I turn to the question of the role of education. What should education do? To Maha, “the role of education should be to promote this empathy of a different world view,” to make her students better global citizens. To Asao, education helps make our students “into better people.”
How does working together, you know, work? What are the promises and pitfalls of collaboration, and how can we prepare ourselves and our students for successful collaborative activities? When collaborative projects get crazy, messy, chaotic, unwieldy, or just too darn complex, how can we still manage to navigate them? In this episode, I explore those questions and attempt not to solve, but to understand.
For several years now, folks from Hybrid Pedagogy have hosted Digital Writing Month (or DigiWriMo for short) as a digitally focused event to parallel the National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) that’s been happening since 2009. The idea was to gather a bunch of folks who were interested in playing around with the nature, possibilities, and reach of digital writing, however that gets defined.
This year’s iteration is hosted by Maha Bali, Kevin Hodgson, and Sarah Honeychurch. I’ve watched a few of their conversations as they’ve worked to bring things together for the month, and I was impressed (okay, maybe a little overwhelmed) by how they worked together. In this episode of HybridPod, I sat down with Maha, Sarah, and Kevin to explore the idea of collaboration — how it works, what it is, and how we can facilitate it in our classes.
Along the way, we talk about playing ukulele, being overwhelmed by emails, and a way to game the entire time-zone system. It’s a fun conversation.
The traditional take on assessment positions the teacher (or the state) as the one with all the answers and asks students to prove that they can figure out what the testers want them to know. Think of AP exams, SATs/ACTs/GREs, and loads of other acronym-derived test names, notably including statewide benchmark testing made widespread in America by No Child Left Behind legislation from 2001. In short, there’s significant inertia behind standardized assessment that critical pedagogy needs to address in order to reform traditional education.
In this episode, we’ll return to Kris Shaffer and Asao Inoue to pick up the assessment-focused parts of their conversations that didn’t make it on the air, and we’ll hear from Lee Skallerup Bessette to consider institutional assessment, empathy, and student needs. We’ll look at assessment in music classes and writing classes, classrooms of composition and classrooms of compassion. We’ll find ways of assessing students that prioritize their abilities and new experiences over their ability to do exactly what everyone else has done before them. We’ll ask how we can give students greater authority in the assessment process, and we’ll even address the idea of standards within the context of Critical Digital Pedagogy.