In creating this module, we’ve struggled with how to integrate technology and digital tools into our critical pedagogical practice. As you also have likely encountered, there’s a robust debate about the place of technology in learning environments generally. Critical digital pedagogy brings a new level of complexity into this discussion. Moreover, for many students, engagement with technology facilitates their class participation by mitigating learning disabilities, language barriers, and other obstacles to active learning. At the same time, digital pedagogy poses new considerations for access and inclusive design.
This module asks, how might we engage digital tools and resources to foster participation and collaboration and encourage engagement with course materials in face to face, hybrid, and online-only classrooms? What might supportive, transformative, and human-centered participation look like in a variety of digital formats and environments?
What does participation look like in critical digital pedagogy?
If one of the major contributions of critical pedagogy involves addressing participation in terms of students and teachers becoming engaged co-learners, what additional opportunities and challenges present themselves in the critical digital classroom?
How to use this module
This module will think through how to develop teaching practices that will foster participation in a variety of classroom settings. The creators of this module envision users engaging with this model to think critically about how they approach and evaluate participation in their classrooms in order to develop classroom policies and practices that ultimately nurture student and instructor development.
The following section unpacks these concepts and discusses resources and ideas as to how you might undertake this process. But, if you want to go right to how to shape your personal approach, please feel free to jump ahead directly to the activity that we have designed as part of this module.
Engaged Teaching & Learning
Engaged teaching and learning offers a way of admitting whole learners (students and teachers) into the classroom as co-constructors of knowledge. Drawing on the educational philosophies of Paulo Freire, bell hooks, and others, this kind of learning and teaching is relational, conversational, and attentive to embodiment and to individual and collective historicities, privileging an ethic of care over efficiency; as hooks says, this kind of teaching and learning “connects the will to know with the will to become” (18-19).
Engaged teaching and learning might draw, in part, from the following principles, practices, and activities for participation:
Relational and conversational learning and teaching
Students and instructors come to the classroom with a world of experiences. This type of pedagogy, in Freire’s words, considers all learners to be “historical beings,” taking “people’s historicity as their starting point.”
In terms of practice, this might mean making room for the choice to bring personal narratives into the class framework, with the instructor modeling use of the choice to include personal narrative by drawing on his, her, or their own life experiences when these experiences become relevant to classroom discussion. Response protocols might draw on the methods of narrative inquiry, in which the instructor models wonder and curiosity in response to others’ contributions, as well as offering materials that guide response and feedback opportunities to encourage learners to follow this method of response.
Possible activities for inclusion of personal narrative could include verbal icebreakers (face to face or recorded with audio or video) and self-reflection activities (to be shared or not shared; in speech, writing, images; with and/or without peer and instructor response). Approaches that could be helpful to guiding response protocols could be the methods of narrative inquiry, clean listening, practice in description, and self-assessment.
Active, responsive, and socially present learning and teaching
Social presence is defined as the feeling of being present as a learner in the classroom. Social presence may be felt by students and instructors, and social presence aids learning because it is a form of engagement with the learning self, with the learning community, and with the field of inquiry at play in the course.
Practice: In the critical digital classroom, active learning tasks in a feedback-rich environment create a sense of social presence for co-learning students and teachers, in which response-oriented participation goes beyond approaches that emphasize grades and even assessment.
Possible activities include project based learning (position papers or case studies that involve interviewing experts outside of class, in person or via videoconference, with steps in the process shared to a folder) (see Rebecca Frost Davis on project-based learning); media can include videoconferencing; voice annotation; synchronous online meetings; asynchronous video or image capture; discussion boards. Still more possibilities include Keyword Videos and Feminist Mapping, both described at FemTechNet, and Tumblr working groups, such as the Queering Slavery Working Group.
Any practice of engaged teaching and learning in the critical digital classroom should take into account issues of privacy and surveillance and the ethics of openness, which become even more important in pedagogical relationships and learning communities founded on considerations of personal narrative, historicity, and identity.
In the critical digital classroom, teachers and students become co-creators of knowledge. In this sense, we might think of collaboration in critical digital pedagogy in terms of what principles and practices shift the locus of control and authority in the classroom from a point concentrated in the instructor to many points dispersed among individual learners but also shared by a collective exploring questions that develop within a common field of inquiry.
In a collaborative critical digital classroom, authentic learning occurs as a consequence of the choice to pursue a chosen line of inquiry in a social context.
In terms of practice, opportunities to collaborate can be built into many different aspects of the course design, from think-pair-share activities, to group work that leads to individually authored pieces, to collaborative reflections on course progress and structure.
Possible activities include: Collaborative authorship of syllabus policies, procedures, course materials, activities (including participation and grading policies), as well as collaborative or individual authorship of grading rubrics, with self-reflective assessment letters in which students evaluate their own goals and progress. See Starr Sackstein’s Hacking Assessment for more. Collaboration and assignment-building can take place in person, in shared docs, in videoconferences, via surveys, via anonymous exit tickets, etc. Other possible activities include: Annotation flash mob (privately within a class or public); forking; text analysis in Wordle or Voyant; group note-taking, authorship, or peer response in WordPress, EtherPad, google docs, hypothes.is.
Any collaboration activities should be conducted with the learning community’s discussion of and agreement on a code of conduct and policies and procedures (see, for example, this sample code of conduct from DHSI, and this Student Bill of Rights). Special thought needs to be given, as well, to labor and privacy issues involving content moderation, students’ ability to opt-out, and data extraction. Students retain all control over their own works, for instance, on a WordPress site installed on a web space of their own hosted by, for instance, Domain of One’s Own.
Participation & Technology
How can digital methods and technologies open up the possibilities of critical pedagogy and facilitate new kinds of collaborative frameworks and participation? Thinking about participation in fully online and blended course environments appears to add many layers of complexity to critical approaches to teaching and learning. Yet, we are constantly contending with technology in any classroom, from the physical classroom arrangements to pencils and chalkboards to online discussion forums, laptops, and various software/platform choices. As discussions about technology, particularly laptop use, have highlighted, “The notion of laptops in classrooms seems to come down to issues of distraction, attention, control, and agency” (Morris and Stommel 2015). The focus on technology as a source of heightened distraction, immaturity, lack of the “right” priorities, or generally “not caring” misses the mark. “Distraction is not something to manage but rather something to harness with an open pedagogy” (Stommel 2015).
Yes, the by-design distractions on Facebook, Gmail, or iMessage are a formidable force to contend with in the classroom environment. Considering the important place of technology in all of our lives, a focus on admonishing students for their technology use misses out on opportunities to foster better tech literacy. Incorporating policies on technology into collaborative discussions about syllabi, assignments, and participation can yield positive consequences for students’ future social and professional lives.
Some questions to think about when shaping thoughts on participation in critical digital pedagogy might include:
In digital environments or digitally mediated environments, how can teachers adopt platforms and create digital spaces where students can “make their presence felt” (Friend)?
Are our choices about technology use constraining or reinforcing our critical approach to participation? What are our ethical responsibilities in choosing particular tools?
How can necessary reflective dialogue flourish in a technologically mediated environment?
How can we use technology to better build an inviting, inclusive learning community that cares for, values, and dignifies the personhood and experiences of all members?
Just as most humanities classes are writing classes, a critical digital pedagogy recognizes that all of our classes are tech classes (Gilliard). We must think about which platforms, software, and hardware requirements we use in our classes, keeping in mind the ethical concerns behind our choices, their openness/accessibility, and the constraints we all work within in making these decisions. By example, recognizing the limitations of our own course design in the context of this online format, we’ve provided suggestions for how digital tools could facilitate collaborative participation below. Working with new technologies in a classroom can oftentimes be exciting, yet we must be aware of the added labour of learning new methods. Integrating low-stakes activities that build towards bigger projects is essential. This progressive approach to building technology into participation also allows for teachers to be learners alongside their students, reinforcing so much of what is central to a critical pedagogical approach. Finally, digital projects in a classroom help link specifics topics to more “meta” projects like a wiki or a digital exhibit and extend the reach of participation beyond the scope of the semester or class, as Cathy Davidson has so aptly pointed out in emphasizing community and networked potential of digital platforms in learning.
When considering participation in the critical digital classroom, it is imperative that we take into account a wide variety of factors. By modeling respect and cultivating a collaborative learning environment that holds students accountable for bringing their whole selves to the learning process, critical pedagogical practices can encourage responsible use of technology in the classroom.
In the digital age, networked technologies enable and facilitate participation for people with a variety of disabilities, learning styles, and languages. It can also expand access to students in a variety of geographical, class, and employment settings who have often been excluded from participating in solely in-class settings. There are, however, valid concerns about the ways that technology distracts and detracts from student learning, and about the question of who has access to broadband, devices, and digital educational opportunities, which can be explored further in the Access portion of this module
This activity is aimed at assisting you, the person undertaking this module, to respond to the types of questions you might pose for students on a first day of class. We’ve designed it to get you thinking about what you think a participation statement might look like in a class incorporating critical digital pedagogy.
Below, we’ve written a questionnaire for you to take as you think through your participation in this online course in Critical Digital Pedagogy. Our hope is that you will undertake this questionnaire with reference to yourself and your own learning here, thinking of it as the kind of activity you might, in turn, conduct with students. We then ask you to complete one further step, which is to:
Write the participation policy you think your students might come up with when you present them with the task of writing their own on day 1.
You can use the questionnaire for a second time to think about how students might respond to these same questions if you were asking them to do this activity themselves. You might also consider, as you draw from past experience, how different students might respond differently to these questions and how you envision guiding the class conversation through writing out an inclusive, inviting, and respectful participation statement.
We’ve developed this tentative, suggestive, and stimulating questionnaire that models a series of questions that might help lead you (and subsequently students in your class) to articulate important aspects of a participation statement for your syllabus.
If you are working on this activity on your own, we encourage you to take out a writing instrument and paper (or open a notepad on your computer). We hope that taking the time to write out your answers will allow for more reflection than thinking about these answers in your head. If you are interested in making this activity collaborative, see our invitation to collaborate directly below the activity.
1. What personal experience/questions brought you to this module or course?
2. In your own words, what topic brings you to participate in this module? (This could be specific, as in “critical pedagogy;” or descriptive, as in “how to teach more inclusively;” or maybe “how to better engage technology adept/curious students”)
3. In what context do you feel most able to share and learn about this topic? Why?
4. In what context do you feel least able to share and learn about this topic? Why?
5. In thinking about your answer to question 3, describe the kind(s) of class activities, assignments, and/or collaborative work that you find best facilitates your learning about the module’s topic? For example, does it comprise private reflection, one on one conversation, small group discussion, large groups, online discussion forums, group projects, peer-reviewing etc.?
6. In thinking about the previous question, is your best collaborative learning conducted online, in-person, or via a mix of the two?
7. What kinds of digital tools might enhance your participation in this module/course?
8. What kinds of digital tools might constrain or take away from your participation in this module/course?
9. What personal, academic, or professional aspects constrain collaborating and participating in this course?
10. Who is the teacher in this course, and what role does the teacher have in facilitating your learning?
11. Who are your peers in this course, and what role do you play collectively in facilitating one another’s learning?
12. What constraints (institutional/funding/ability/accessibility) are you working within? What about the teacher?
13. What kind of assessment and feedback do you want to see from your teacher(s) and your peers? What kind of feedback do you find most useful in supporting your learning?
14. How will you know when you have achieved your desired learning goals in exploring this course?
Now, imagine you’re preparing to teach the first day of class and you want to engage your students to co-construct the participation clause in your syllabus together. How would you modify these questions? What questions might you add?
Working through the questionnaire again, from a perspective that takes into account the diversity of the students you will be teaching, what do you imagine they might say?
Invitation to Collaborate
As you may have noticed, some of our questions were difficult to answer in the context of this self-directed online course. We’ve felt that the role of technology in mediating your progress in this module was a difficult one to positively model, given that we developed this course during a week-long intensive workshop at DHSI 2019. We would love to have provided a rich moderated discussion forum to discuss learners’ answers to our questions in a way that could emulate the in-class discussion you might have with students in a class. But, each going our separate way, our course needed to stand alone, without need for careful moderation.
So, in an attempt to make use of the connective powers of digital space, we wanted to suggest some creative ways you might engage this activity of outlining a participation statement for you syllabus collaboratively.
1. In your department, with fellow grad students, instructors, librarians or other teachers you know, work through these questions and share them with each other. What is the participating statement you all come up with to describe your participation in this course or module.
2. If you are a Twitter user, tweet out some of your answers to our questions using this format:
“Q1: [Your Short(ened) Answer] #CritPrax #Participation #WorkshopMySyllabus”
3. Or, still on Twitter, if you have questions and want feedback on your draft participation statement in your syllabus (or really anything in your syllabus), use the hashtag #WorkshopMySyllabus! Our community of learners from DHSI 2019 #CritPrax will be using these hashtags going forward working on their own materials, and there were already a good number of great comments live tweeted from during our sessions.
- Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum Books, 1993.
- hooks, bell. Teaching To Transgress. London, New York: Routledge, 1994.
- Morris, Sean Michael, and Jesse Stommel. “Laptop Policies: a #digped Discussion,” Hybrid Pedagogy. September 2, 2015. http://hybridpedagogy.org/laptop-policies-a-digped-discussion/
- Sackstein, Starr. Hacking Assessment. Times 10 Publications, 2015.
- Stommel, Jesse. “Open Door Classroom.” May 28 2015. Keynote Address. https://www.slideshare.net/jessestommel/open-door-classroom
- Friend, Chris. “Critical Pedagogy and Digital Praxis in the Humanities.” DHSI, 3-7 June 2019, Clearihue Hall, University of Victoria. Course Lecture.
- Gilliard, Chris. “Critical Pedagogy and Digital Praxis in the Humanities.” DHSI, 3-7 June 2019, Clearihue Hall, University of Victoria. Course Lecture.
Resources and Further Reading
- Introduction to Critical Pedagogy A brief overview including history, literature, and links to additional resources.
- The Pedagogy Project Part of HASTAC. This project started when several professors asked for specific suggestions on digital or collaborative projects they could do with their students. The Pedagogy Project is organized into nine sections, with numerous examples of projects, assignments and concepts in each area.
- An article, “Learning in the collective,” excerpted from the work A New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown and a subsequent discussion on Hybrid Pedagogy about Peer-to-peer learning.
- Keywords around Digital Pedagogy contains over five hundred digital artifacts–syllabi, student work, sample assignments, and can be found at: https://github.com/curateteaching.
- A digital pedagogy discussion on, Classroom Discussion, which asks great questions like: “How can we shape our pedagogies to affirm a student’s presence and their right to speak without privileging certain shared responses?” In addition, “In what ways can we establish alternative classroom cultures, ones that promote student-directed dialogue, even when it digresses from course content and graded assignments?”
- A conversation on participation in the digital world by academics. A great self-reflection on our own uses of technology and participation.
- Another couple of articles posted on Hybrid Pedagogy: “Illusions of Inclusion”and “Participation as inclusion” as well as a moderated digital pedagogy discussion on Participant pedagogy.