On Origins; or, Why we’re working together in the first place

Just before one of the plenary gatherings of Digital Pedagogy Lab 2018, during that pause wherein an entire room can seem to take a preparatory inhalation before filling with the noise of a gathering, Jakob asked Chris about the visual design of articles published on Hybrid Pedagogy. He noted that those articles, when printed, looked abysmal on the page, and he asked whether that situation could be improved across the site.

“Does anyone actually print out articles from the Internet?” Chris asked. This was, of course, the wrong question to ask and a more-problematic way to ask it.

“I do, for one,” Jakob said. This was, of course, the right thing to say in context, and it made Chris stop and take his question seriously…which is a thing Jakob’s grown to be skilled at doing.

The following year, Jakob proposed “Syllabus as Metaphor” to Hybrid Pedagogy, the journal that Chris manages. When selecting reviewers to work with Jakob through the revision process, Chris wanted to create a team of collaborators who would challenge Jakob’s ideas to help him strengthen his argument and also support him through the process of writing his first piece for the journal. One of the reviewers is the author of the article Jakob responded to in his piece. The other reviewer is a Scottish firecracker who enjoys riling people up and encouraging boldness. Put simply, the selection of reviewers was intentional, designed to enhance not only the writing but also the author’s confidence.

While you’d have to ask Sean Michael Morris to get the full picture of his intentions,. Though we waited to accept Sean’s invitations until after gauging the compatibility of our visions for the course, his recommendation alone could have sufficed.

So basically, we blame Sean. This is all his fault.

On Development; or, How the course and its content took shape

Because we started from very different places — Chris having fallen into a routine of teaching this course several years running, and Jakob bringing an entirely new perspective — aligning our goals for the course took conscious deliberation. Perhaps most significantly, we agreed this was an “intro” course but hadn’t addressed the question of what we wished to introduce. Would this course introduce Digital Pedagogy Lab? Critical digital pedagogy? The concept of pedagogy itself?

Jakob’s interest in Self-Determination Theory motivated his approach to the course, and he brought the emphasis on self-reflection, self-awareness, and concern for process. Chris’s work with critical pedagogy kept him leaning on praxis and discussions. We found that each view complemented the other well and helped us avoid either approach taking over the course design. Where Chris wanted a thorough overview of pedagogy from several perspectives, Jakob wanted a thorough understanding of the whole person engaged in the work of the week. We quickly saw the value of making space for both throughout the course.

We arrived at our selection of daily topics by reviewing current and past course topics at DPL, in an effort to try and make this introductory course work as a launching-off point for further engagement with the conference. We also worked to keep the topics broad enough to apply widely, knowing our participants would come from K-12 through higher ed, from classrooms (well…) to design teams and librarians, from early career to administration. Expecting that diversity reminded us to lean into our own, with Chris’s classroom experience and Jakob’s therapeutic experience helping to broaden the course’s focus.

Perhaps here is where we introduce a metaphor to explain our activity- and readings-selection process. Was it ping-pong? Was it throwing cooperative spaghetti against a wall? What would the two look like if combined (besides messy)? Here again we drew from our experience — Chris, as a classroom educator and director of Hybrid Pedagogy; Jakob as an outdoor educator and mental health professional. Many of the activities we designed came from our work elsewhere, refashioned for a distributed, asynchronous audience. Our broad course topics allowed us both to find relevant materials from our experiences that suggested divergence, rather than unity, of interpretation.

That desire for breadth over specificity became an overarching design principle. A single path through the proposed concepts would diminish the potential of the course and our ability to collaborate. Our emphasis on breadth led to an insistence on choice as a default. It also launched our ongoing efforts to surface the values that guide our choices — because we believe that it is choice free from pressure and informed by these values that meets our needs and supports our wellbeing.

The insistence on choice also exposed conceptual tension: Chris worked in terms of an ever-expanding linear outline, where Jakob worked to simplify the chaos into checklists and tables. Again, we saw our different styles not as problematic but as complementary. We recognized that these differences between us had a good chance of reflecting legitimate differences in your preferences.

On Conclusions; or, What we have learned as facilitators

It is through this intensive, collaborative, divergent design process that we built our rapport, shared intentions, and work habits. Spending weeks developing our ideas and negotiating our plans made us familiar with each other’s styles, strengths, and approaches. That familiarity eased the process of dividing up the labor and of asking for help when needed. Each of us knew what kind of work the other did well, easily, or happily, and we relied on each other accordingly. Any appearance of coordinated effort or response during this week has been a direct result of the time we spent planning the course, not the result of pre-determined arrangement.

We, Chris and Jakob, have often asked others in this course how their days have gone, yet largely kept our own perceptions of the week private. Once we heard the decision that DPL would take place entirely online this year, we immediately knew that connection and empathy would take our greatest effort and be our greatest challenge. The online world is not known for facilitating empathy. To us, the unresolved challenge of bringing together a group of disparate and distanced people remains a significant point of frustration — we had hoped to form what James Paul Gee calls an “affinity group” with the participants of this course, but we don’t think that happened. To be sure, we built connections, but perhaps not as many as we had anticipated.

As Chris observed during Friday evening’s Office Hour, conferences like this one unwittingly present a dichotomy between performance and care — participants and facilitators alike often feel they must do all there is to do (lest they miss out on something great) or instead to be present, mindful, and compassionate (which take time and conscious effort). That same dichotomy appeared in our course design and in participant reactions — each of the five days we encountered apologies for lateness or incompleted activities. That this ran contrary to our encouragement of selective participation was a useful reminder: these ways of thinking are deep-seated habits of mind. We will continue to seek ways to balance expectations of performance and care within the academy.

We do believe the balancing process is already underway, and we hope the design of this course has encouraged it to continue. Prior to and during the course, we worked to balance professional and personal needs. Our interactions haven’t kept within the lines of work; our correspondence has been playful and supportive beyond the scope of our responsibilities in planning this event. We are whole humans to each other, just as we have encouraged everyone participating in #DPLIntro to show up as whole humans throughout our week together.

Prior to this document, everything we wrote for this course came from one of us at a time, starting with the Letter of Hopes and Intentions, in which we delineated who wrote each part. It seems only fitting that we end the week — and this course — with our first entirely co-authored text, bringing some more balance even to our communication practices.

As this week, this course, and this conference come to a close, we want to mention that this course blog, the Discourse site, and the collaborative documents we created this week will remain accessible indefinitely. We recognize that many of us need more time with this material, will want to refer back to it later, or were simply unable to attend to it this week. While this course may end, it does not vanish. We welcome you to linger, revisit, and review. But more than anything else, we thank you. Thank you for taking the time to discover with us new ways of thinking about pedagogy. We sincerely hope your fall semester (and years to come) are safe, supportive, and enriching. We are grateful for the variety of contributions, big and small, made by everyone in this course. Once again, thank you.