In the interests of transparency, the following is a letter sent by e-mail to the editorial staff of Hybrid Pedagogy. We’re sharing this, and another letter, with our community.
On Canvas and the Mission of Hybrid Pedagogy
Dear Amazing Editorial Team,
Academic conversations can escalate quickly, especially those just outside the gates of reputation and scholarship. Last night, Jesse and I were confronted on Twitter by Matthew Gold (@mkgold) about our Canvas sponsorship. Dr. Gold was surprised to discover that Hybrid Pedagogy has been, for several years, sponsored by Instructure, the makers of the Canvas LMS. More, he was concerned that we were not adequately transparent about that sponsorship to our contributors, and that those writers had been misled when they published with us. The corporate sponsorship, according to the model that Dr. Gold follows, infringes on our ability to consider ourself an academic or scholarly journal.
His concerns are not uncommon. In 2012, when Jesse and I (but mostly me) initiated the relationship with Instructure toward a possible funding model, we did so with trepidation. Not only were we concerned about how a sponsorship would be perceived by academic culture, but more so, we were uncertain if that sponsorship would have an impact on the quality or direction of the journal itself.
To be perfectly clear: Instructure has never interfered in the editorial process or direction of the journal. Nor have we ever been asked to openly promote their product. We have received from Instructure an average of $14,000 per year over the life of the journal. As Jesse disclosed on Twitter when asked, that money has been used for fellowships to Digital Pedagogy Lab, travel for Hybrid Pedagogy staff, the 2014 on-ground editorial “camp” in DC, a photography intern, web hosting and applications, equipment, and $15,000 total in Managing Editor stipends over those four-and-a-half years. For the first several years, we chose to list their sponsorship on the About Us page of the journal so that any writers considering contribution would know that the corporation played a role in the journal’s financial maintenance. In January, the Canvas logo moved to the front page of Digital Pedagogy Lab’s site — along with other academic sponsors — as part of the redesign of the overall architecture of the journal.
It is unclear at this time whether Canvas by Instructure will remain a financial donor to the journal in 2016 and on. If they decide to sponsor us again this year, we will include information about that sponsorship on the journal’s site again. For now, Canvas is only providing in-kind sponsorship for Digital Pedagogy Lab Courses, in the form of an instance of their product, Canvas Catalog.
Transparency has always been important to us. As a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, financial transparency is our responsibility. But more than transparency about the journal’s funding, transparency about the journal’s mission is a top priority.
As members of the editorial team at Hybrid Pedagogy we want you to know that we don’t have a horse in the race with Matthew Gold. His is another race altogether: one of gatekeeping, traditional notions of scholarship, and an insular, academic vision of Digital Humanities. Jesse and I spoke yesterday to a group of graduate students and teachers as part of the Digital Currents initiative at University of Michigan. During that talk, I said (and wrote on the pages of Hybrid Pedagogy):
If it’s not clear, what I’m saying is that the systems of rigor that we’ve created, and that we submit to, and which purport to elevate us — in fact oppress. The academy, through some trick of mass hypnosis, makes us dependent upon its reputational economy…
Years and years and years go by and the most consistent message we get from the academy is to sit down, and shut up.
And that’s why Hybrid Pedagogy was founded. To say instead, no. Stand up, and speak.
There is a clear and present danger in the way our journal insists on not gatekeeping. It flies in the face of perhaps the most dearly held academic value of all: the hierarchy of reputational control. If, after years of dedicated work, an academic like Dr. Gold is unable to define for others what scholarship is, then what is the benefit of seniority?
My belief is and always has been that seniority, reputation, academic or social capital, should only be used in service to those without them. As a journal, we have never not made clear that we were founded in order to make a space for those voices the academy doesn’t include. That’s the race we have a horse in.
I write this to let you know that this is the risk the journal takes, and to thank you for taking that risk with us.
Jesse and I welcome discussion about any of this.
The following letter was written to the Vice President of Public Relations at Instructure.
Canvas Sponsorship and the Academy at Large
I hope this note finds you well. Thank you for the conversation we had last week regarding a possible change to the sponsorship of Hybrid Pedagogy and Digital Pedagogy Lab.
I wanted to make you aware of a conversation that took place last night on Twitter between myself, Jesse Stommel, and Matthew Gold (of CUNY). During our presentation at the University of Michigan yesterday, Jesse and I both mentioned the Canvas sponsorship of Hybrid Pedagogy. This came up in the context of how we’ve managed to keep the journal sustainable. As you know, we try to mention Canvas and Instructure whenever the opportunity arises out of our gratitude for your generosity over the years. Acknowledging one’s patrons is good manners.
However, the comment we made was picked up by academic Twitter and used against us. As long as we’ve had this sponsorship, we’ve known that corporate funding of a journal of digital scholarship isn’t looked at favorably. Last night’s conversation with Dr. Gold was perhaps the most intense attack on the journal’s ethos that we’ve weathered. It won’t, I suspect, be the last one. In fact, I expect at some point that there may be blog post “exposés” written about the Canvas/Hybrid Pedagogy relationship.
When Devin Knighton approached Hybrid Pedagogy in 2012 about joining in some kind of partnership, he did so because he believed that Instructure had a stake in conversations about digital teaching and learning. As a company, Instructure has always positioned itself as receptive to the input of the teaching community, and aware of its own limitations as an LMS provider. In fact, after Jesse and I confessed to Instructure co-founder Devlin Daley our own mistrust of learning management systems, he and Devin both felt that the partnership was important. They wanted a relationship with a journal that could be critical about the work done in educational technology.
We have, I think, lived up to that relationship. And we believe that relationship has been mutually beneficial. We’ve worked together at a table where influential conversations about edtech are under way.
This is not a letter to ask you to continue sponsorship of Hybrid Pedagogy in 2016. Rather, it’s just to make you aware that the relationship between Instructure and Hybrid Pedagogy has had an impact. And that impact has created some controversy that we’re working through. The stakes are high for any LMS provider these days — more and more people in education are not only coming out against such platforms, but also against the steady corporatization of higher education. It’s very important to us to maintain a critical distance from every debate, to continue to think about what may be best for the learner, and to, as Jesse has said, make friends as an act of radical political resistance.