DPL 2018: Opening Remarks

Welcome to Digital Pedagogy Lab 2018. Thank you all for coming. It is with no light sincerity that I say none of what’s about to happen this week could happen without you. Which is, I hope, something you’ll discover sooner rather than later.

Digital Pedagogy Lab didn’t start off as a big idea. It started off as a small idea. It began with a desire to help teachers who were faced with teaching in an increasingly digital world get their feet under them. When Jesse Stommel and I first conceived the Lab–walking around and around a hotel parking lot–it was to try to fill a gap in learning and professional development that we ourselves had felt acutely as graduate students and new teachers. We started with a small idea.

And in some ways, the Lab holds to that small idea. While there have been Digital Pedagogy Labs held in four countries, and while participants have come from six continents (we’re working on Antarctica), the heart of the Lab remains small. We are focused here on the individual, on the exchange of ideas in small groups, in the need for greater intimacy in pedagogy rather than automated “personalization.” We believe that teaching done digitally is, at its core, guesswork. Upon a field where so much changes each day, and where revelations about surveillance and digital redlining and the tyranny of algorithms and the deep wells of data about us which are being read and used every day, and from which we have a hard time knowing how to protect students–how could teaching upon that field be anything but guesswork?

But we also believe that teaching itself finds its best, most surprising expression in that guesswork. Audre Lorde says that “It is necessary to teach by living and speaking those truths which we believe and know beyond understanding.” And so we try to imagine a pedagogy which begins someplace beyond understanding. A pedagogy we can approach as a toddler approaches walking: bravely, wobbly, experimentally, and entirely.

We don’t talk a lot about mindfulness here, but there is mindfulness present in this pedagogy I’m describing. In the focused listening to another’s story, the intentional reflection upon your own, the critical examination of digital tools, the choice of word and phrase when writing to a student. The looking in another’s eyes. The waiting upon the silence for the next word. The willingness to start over where you thought you had already finished.

I’ve recently been sort of obsessed with reading the work of Maxine Greene, an author and teacher coming out of the critical pedagogy tradition, who speaks about imagination as a key component to change. She writes again and again of the need to imagine things “as they might be otherwise.” Not to stop at the point where we see things aren’t as we hope they will be, but to plunge forward with daring and to imagine them differently. What is wrong with education today? We could talk about that for hours.

What do we want education to be? What can it be? What do we hope for? The answers to these questions too often fall upon cynicism, fear, or just plain exhaustion.

But here, over the course of today or the next few days, we invite you to imagine. Become playful, hopeful, creative. Imagine things as they may be otherwise. And take the rest of us with you.

Photo by Boris Smokrovic on Unsplash

Sean Michael Morris

Among with Digital Pedagogy Lab

Sean Michael Morris is the Director of Digital Pedagogy Lab and senior instructor of Learning Design and Technology at the University of Colorado Denver.

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