The Place of Education

“We should question this myth of the speed of technological change and adoption … if it’s going to work us into a frenzy of bad decision-making. Into injustice. Inequality.”
~ Audrey Watters, “
Memory Machines: Learning, Knowing, and Technological Change

When Donald Trump presumes to say “I alone can fix it,” he is asking for the end of agency, the end of inquiry, the end of criticality. Amid the flurry of offensive statements that drooled from his acceptance speech for the Republican nomination, this one stands as the most alarming. He proposes that it is to him we must surrender our intelligence, our reason, our discernment, our power, our instinct for justice.

It’s impossible to deny we live in frightening times when our country looks at fascism as a viable alternative. And as educators — as teachers and learners — we must respond. In every small way we can, we must respond.

The Digital Pedagogy Lab 2016 Institute will take place August 8 – 12 in Fredericksburg, Virginia, only a stone’s throw from the nation’s capitol, and just spitting distance from hotbeds of social justice battles being waged in streets, living rooms, and restrooms. Can we gather without acknowledging #BlackLivesMatter? Can we talk about pedagogy without talking about trans rights? Can we close our classroom doors to the racism, fear-mongering, and hatred trumpeted by the Republican candidate?

In what small way can we respond?

Jesse and I have been talking this through for weeks now. What does pedagogy mean in the face of such terrible revelations about American culture? How can learning about Twitter mean anything in a place where Black Lives are extinguished every day? What does the digital mean to civil rights and social justice?

In a recent Facebook post, Jesse wrote,

There are few things I find more important, at this particular moment in our history, than education. How can we approach the work of teaching from a place that isn’t ideologically neutral? Our work in higher education is no longer merely academic. Has never been merely academic. The stakes are much much higher. The stakes have always been higher.

The truth is that Digital Pedagogy Lab was never meant to be just another excuse for professional development. It was founded on the critical principles forwarded by the likes of Paulo Freire and bell hooks, whose work was most productively done outside the university. Digital Pedagogy Lab is a place for teachers and learners to confront and work to solve inequalities and injustice. In small ways. In the ways they are able. On Twitter. In networks. With each other.

To preserve agency — to advocate for learners and educators alike — must become the goal of all education, especially when our society looks poised to surrender it entirely to someone who should be a laughingstock. And so to preserve agency — your agency — is the goal of Digital Pedagogy Lab.

Domain of One’s Own

Learning is idiosyncratic. Pedagogy is subjective. Recognizing this and guarding space for learners is what educators do. And in digital environments, this work is often at odds with the work of institutions, toolmakers, corporations. So, how can we productively guard space upon terrain where agency is constantly affronted?

This year, all participants at the 2016 Institute will receive a domain name and one year of free web hosting for their own site, compliments of our partnership with Reclaim Hosting. Our decision to offer participants domains is inspired by the Domain of One’s Own project, which was initiated at University of Mary Washington and has spread to over 30 colleges in recent years. As Audrey Watters observes,

Having one’s own domain means that students have much more say over what they present to the world, in terms of their public profiles, professional portfolios, and digital identities. Students have control over the look and feel of their own sites, including what’s shared publicly. This means they have some say — although not complete — over their personal data, and in turn they begin to have an understanding of the technologies that underpin the Web, including how their work and their data circulate there.

What this means is that every participant at Digital Pedagogy Lab will be given a tool — no matter how small or simple — to exercise their agency within a digital space of their own. But this also opens up conversations about who controls our digital presence, who owns our digital data, and in what ways have we been complacent in surrendering our intellectual property and creative labor to companies we may not even know we’re in a relationship with?

There are no best practices in teaching. There are only good some of the time, maybe right now, in this particular context, practices. Offering educators at Digital Pedagogy Lab a Domain of their Own is less about doing the busywork of building a web site and more about considering how we (teachers and students alike) can have agency on our own collective corners of the web. Ultimately, we must consider the questions in tandem: What is the web for? What is education for? When someone like Donald Trump says, “I alone can fix it,” how can we respond loudly and together?

There are still spots available in the Intro, Praxis, and Action tracks at Digital Pedagogy Lab on August 8 – 12 in Fredericksburg, VA. We’ve recently released the final schedule. We hope you’ll gather with us or join the digital fray on #digped.

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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