Dead trees emerging from still water at dusk
09
Aug
2016

Finding Our Tribes

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Written by
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Night Trees” by Tim Donnelly; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

During her keynote address on Day 1 of the 2016 Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute, Tressie McMillan Cottom discussed the goals and challenges of a new online Masters of Sociology program created at Virginia Commonwealth university.

Through that narrative, she challenged assumptions of how capitalism, bureaucracy, and academia intersect. She discussed ways in which institutions marginalize people, both within and without. And she illustrated how one year can be enough time to build a program and define a field.

Tressie kept returning to the importance of connecting people. From her opening remarks encouraging a call-and-response approach to interactive presentations to her acknowledgement that she blatantly borrowed and stole ideas from programs designed at CUNY, Tressie showed how the impressive work she has done at VCU was made possible by — and was intentionally crafted for — people making connections in serendipitous ways.

Those demonstrations were perhaps themselves serendipitous. Throughout the opening day of DPLI 2016, participants worked to build connections with communities both inside and outside the Institute. Folks in Lee Skallerup Bessette’s Praxis track “crowdsourced their homework” by reaching out to Twitter for thoughts on what makes the ideal class. Collaborative teams in Amy Collier’s Design track scoured their environment for examples of how design affects our ability to carry out our intentions. Audrey Watters’ Action track brainstormed the ways online tools can shape student connections with each other and their data. The afternoon Virtually Connecting session with Tressie and Cathy N. Davidson discussed approaches to forming effective, connected online communities in graduate programs. Across the board, people worked to connect themselves with their resources both online and on ground.

In many ways, the on-ground participants of this year’s DPLI took the first steps toward creating what Tressie called an “Information Underground Railroad” that can ultimately connect marginalized students with institutional resources.

Twitter handles for each participant in the 2016 Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute

Twitter handles for each participant in the 2016 Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute

When I began the morning session and welcomed the on-site participants to our time together, I highlighted the collection of Twitter handles we created for this event. The image represents all participants converging to create a mesh of resources and opportunities. Those connections formed quickly on the first day, from cohort sessions to lunch meetings to online chats, and they reached out to include participants and form conversations from around the world. Whether virtually or physically, those who gathered for DPLI 2016 chose to build connections with like-minded scholars, finding a tribe to do the work of critical digital pedagogy.

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