Rectangles in clay in various shades of gray, black, and white
02
Sep
2016

The Digital Pedagogy Lab 2016 Institute: An aftermath in the future tense

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"rectangles"” by Dean Hochman; CC BY 2.0

“Anyone can participate; who does?”Cathy Davidson, Keynote “Educating Higher” Aug. 10th

“How can we work towards institutional change that matters?”Mia Zamora, Virtually Connecting Hallway Conversation, Aug. 11th

“I think sometimes we believe that we have to always value something above the technology and sometimes I actually think the technology points to places and shows us things we didn’t see before.”  ~ Martha Burtis, Virtually Connecting Hallway Conversation, Aug. 9th

“We are each others’ friends from other places. We make each others’ worlds bigger when we do this and we have to diligently think through this question of center and periphery – and instead say, ‘the center is where I am – let me not center it on myself…let me try to imagine your center which is where you are.’” ~ Kate Bowles, Virtually Connecting Hallway Conversation, Aug. 11th

“What is an institution?” ~ me, in a blog post inspired by Tressie McMillan Cottom’s keynote.

“Learning is a death defying act.”Sean Michael Morris, Keynote “Critical Instructional Design”, Aug. 12

The quotes above represent some of the many ideas which continue to rattle around in my brain more than two weeks after the fact. Some ideas bubble up again when I read reflections from other participants like from Kate Bowles and Chris Gilliard. Certain ideas seem to throw me an accusing look from across the Internet in tweet form: why haven’t you spent more time with us? And still a handful of ideas have staged a campout across various parts of my mind — these are the ones  which appear least likely to pull up stakes in the near future.

While I could report on my experience and impressions as a virtual participant of the Digital Pedagogy Lab 2016 Institute at University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, I have reservations about whether this is the direction in which I need to be looking. Rather, I want to think about the future. Now that I’ve had this rich, intellectually nourishing and personally galvanizing learning opportunity, what of it? Can I apply for level 1 of my digital pedagogy merit badge? Shall I now be swept up into the community of digital scholars and regularly engage in meta-level analysis of the world as it could be yet isn’t?

I wonder.

What is true is that my elementary physical education students during their first weeks of classes will probably learn not a whit of what I was up to during the last days of summer vacation. And they will not particularly care. On the other hand, they may well benefit from received wisdom when I apply one or more of Cathy Davidson’s simple tools for generating full participation, which she talked about during her keynote. Maybe we’ll use exit passes or do a think-pair-share exercise. In the process, I can always ask myself about the kinds of participation I am likely to privilege. Whose voices receive the most attention? How comfortable am I with releasing control? Which messages am I sending about what is important and of value in this classroom?

My virtual participation at this event geared towards a higher education audience hardly constitutes an easily bundled professional development experience that I can briefly share with colleagues and administrators. I return not bearing a library of handouts or new apps to explore. I return only with myself and my awareness. I return with my vulnerability and my struggle to draw connections which are not already perforated. I return with an aggressive curiosity about people and systems and stories — and the Institute is where I fed that curiosity from an astounding buffet of offerings. That’s what I could say but it is unlikely to be helpful in passing conversation.

Instead, the Institute experience strikes me as one that requires room to grow and mature — far away from, and outside the lab. It needs air, space and light and contact with many other ideas from fully other sources. Which is what makes me glad about easing back into the routines of school days — the prospect of the healthy mixing of notions. Where my daily practices in early childhood care suddenly show parallels to an online colleague describing attempts at developing greater thinking independence in undergraduate students. Or when my students express a need to address a topic in a way I have not yet considered and I find a way to reach an agreement with them that is both empowering for them and still aligned with our overall learning goals. These are some of the ways I imagine the wealth of my Digital Pedagogy Lab experiences may reveal themselves over time, popping up in various nooks and crannies of my practice with students.

With my colleagues I look forward to creating spaces for different kinds of conversations. And in order to have different conversations, we need fresh questions coupled with a fierce curiosity about each other and whatever draws us together. Some of us may come together around tech interests, or yoga, or policy work – and in such groups I (only having control of myself) will aim to remind myself that I always hold the power to invite more reflective participation by modeling it first. And whether these conversations take place face to face, or in other formats, I want to pay attention to the tools we use to achieve our goals. What does effective collaboration look and feel like? To what degree is our success dependent upon digital tools and how do varying levels of comfort and competency with various tools influence our outcomes? These are sneaky, under-the-hood kinds of questions which rarely if ever see the light of day in school operations. That can change. I can start that change.

A few thoughts on Inclusion

Kate Bowles wrote so eloquently about inclusion in the context of communities which aspire to be open and said this:

We wonder if organically forming communities have an inherent tendency to marginalise the unexpected visitor—and not just in spite of the diligently inclusive language they use to value all their members, but because whenever belonging is made visible in the formation of a community, it is always coded by those who control the invitation to belong.

My experience as an invited panel guest for a “hallway conversation” following the workshop on Inclusive Globally Networked Learning brought the following idea to the fore: Inclusion is a construction project. Inclusion must be engineered. It is unlikely to “happen” on its own. Rather, those who hold the power of invitation must also consciously create the conditions for sincere engagement, where underrepresented voices receive necessary air time, where those contributing the necessary “diversity” are part of the planning process. Otherwise we recreate the very systems of habit we are seeking to avoid: the unintentional silencing of our “included” colleagues.

I bring this up because as an elementary educator in physical education, as a black person, as a woman, as an American citizen at home in a Central European country — I had moments during the Institute in which various aspects of my otherness were tangible to me which led me to think more deeply about inclusion not only as an idea but as a practice. Maha Bali, who facilitated each hangout I attended with such warmth and skill, provided me with a worthy model for study and created an encouraging atmosphere for my increasingly vocal participation over the course of the week.

Going forward I want to look more carefully at the ways in which inclusion is and isn’t practiced in the groups I inhabit and also form. Like you, I am equally capable of exclusion and marginalization of those with whom I feel I lack commonalities. Digital Pedagogy draws its very life force from the constant need to raise, develop and refine awareness: of self, of systems, of society, of tools and on and on. My choice to draft this essay via Google Docs necessarily has implications for how it can live and be received or transformed in the world and this fact in turn connects to my personal beliefs about why this method feels safe and secure enough, or why I go straight to the screen document rather than to paper first. These tiny daily interactions which make up a life in this digital age require noticing.

In his comprehensive tome, Researching Your Own Practice: The Discipline of Noticing, math professor, John Mason explains:

“Something more is needed if we are going to learn effectively from experience. Noticing as an intentional stance towards our profession is enhanced by various practices which serve to support both ‘picking up ideas’ and ‘trying them out for ourselves’. Indeed the cornerstone of noticing as a method of enquiry is trying things out for ourselves rather than taking them on trust as a result of some statistical study, logical argument, or authoritative assertion…

The basis of the approach is that it is possible to sharpen sensitivity to notice. But the most one can ever do is to increase the likelihood of noticing.” (p. 30, emphasis mine)

I want to challenge us all to continue to investigate our own practices, to pay attention to how and with whom we form our groups; how we select our tools and engage our students – in short, to spend time and energy increasing the likelihood of noticing. Following the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute experience, I do not see how we as participants, listeners, or followers can afford to do less.

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