Necessary and Urgent: Designing for Change in Troubled Times

On July 31-August 3, 2018, Digital Pedagogy Lab will offer a Design for Change course taught by Amy Collier, Associate Provost for Digital Learning at Middlebury College. This course explores and experiments with ways to bring positive change to educational institutions and to our world by engaging critically with digital tools, spaces, and practices. Participants will design activities/actions that faculty, staff, and students can do individually, in communities, and at their institutions. In this post, Amy reflects on the backdrop for this course, and why designing for change is both necessary and urgent.

Last year, a month after the new presidential administration took office in the United States, I gave a talk at the University of Edinburgh about critical pedagogy in troubled political times. I argued that, based on what we had already seen emboldened by the election and the new administration, we could expect higher education to be the site of overt struggles over civil and human rights. We had already seen indications of it: The emergence of watch list websites targeting faculty who teach topics like women’s studies, African American studies, etc. An increase of hate crimes on campuses. The threat of immigration enforcement coming on to our campuses to round up undocumented students. Title IX changes that would remove protections for students who experienced sexual assault or harassment were already being inked. Things were becoming bleaker by the day, it seemed.

Little did I know that two days after returning to campus from Edinburgh, my own campus would become a site of struggle over civil rights when, on March 2nd, Charles Murray came to campus. I realize that, by my mentioning that event, you might expect to read my perspective on what happened. I’m not going to offer that. But I do want to point out how that event and its aftermath, as they flared into our campus life and into our courses, had all the hallmarks of the larger context under which all of us are operating—an erosion of trust, an influx of external polarizing voices and influences, and a growing backlash against academic and public institutions and their part in the public sphere.

It is within this context that many of us are trying to reframe our work, with the goal of making positive change in education and the world. We don’t have a choice. Education can never be thought of as apolitical or divorced from social and political contexts. Paulo Freire, in many of his writings, argues that any beliefs we have about the role of education in students’ lives, any hopes we have for students and our world, make education a political activity. That notion is to be embraced, not obscured or denied. As educators, as designers, as technologists—as people whose work is intended to support the transformative role of education in students’ lives and in civil society—we can no longer ignore the call to action. We can no longer, as Jesse Stommel tweeted, afford to bullshit our way through this work.

In the DPL 2018 Design for Change course, we will be exploring what that transformative change might look like in our own campus contexts and in higher education more broadly. There are implications for teaching and learning, leadership, and policy—and we will dive in to those areas and more. We’ll also talk about what it means to approach this work from a design perspective, both exploring and problematizing design frameworks.

In the letters collected for the book Pedagogy of Indignation, Paulo Freire repeats a statement over and over again—a call for educators to find hope and vision for the work they do. He writes that this work will not be easy, repeating the phrase “changing is difficult, but it is possible” throughout his letters. In the original Portuguese: “mudar é difícil, mas é possivel.” On a whim, I searched using the original Portuguese phrase and I found another version of it, which Freire had written in Pedagogy of the City in 1992, five years before he died. This phrase will be our Design for Change motto. Freire writes: “Mudar é difícil, mas é possivel e urgente.”

Changing is difficult, but it is necessary and urgent.

Let’s design for change.

Register for Design for Change

Amy Collier

Among with Digital Pedagogy Lab

Amy Collier is the Associate Provost for Digital Learning at Middlebury College.

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