Deploying CDP

Guiding Questions

  1. What is the goal of education, and how can digital technologies best help learners achieve those goals?
  2. How can our institutions/contexts help students develop their agency?
  3. How might education become a site of activism?

Our conversations this week have run the gamut from specific to broad, immediate to historical, worried to optimistic. We’ve discussed the theoretical, the practical, and everything in-between. We’ve asked how critical pedagogy applies in-person, online, and in a handful of hybrid/hyflex models in-between. And we’ve offered ideas, swapped anecdotes, and shared observations about things we’ve read, done, or experienced. Though we’ve explored a wide variety of topics and situations, with plenty of food for thought and inspirational suggestions, I’m fairly certain our time together this week concludes with more questions than answers.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As you doubtless know by now, I firmly believe that teachers should serve not as an absolute source of knowledge but instead as a resource for students, helping them as they work to build and shape their own understanding of things they wish to learn. If you end this week with a set of complex questions about your teaching praxis, this course has done its job. If you leave this week with plans to enact critical digital pedagogy in a class of your own, I’d say this course has been wildly successful.

Implementing CDP

So far this week, we’ve looked at the principles of critical digital pedagogy and the importance of praxis in its application. We’ve challenged the role of teachers, the needs of students, and even the effectiveness of assessments. Going back to our first days, think again about the purposes of education and the quotes we curated from bell hooks. How do those ideals operate in digital spaces? How can the principles of CDP be applied to online or hybrid models?

When deploying critical digital pedagogy in our specific contexts, we have to balance the expectations of our institutions, the human needs of students, and the implications of our digital tools. Such triangulation obviously requires thoughtful consideration.

Teaching as Activism

As Freire reminds us, teaching cannot be ideologically neutral. As such, the act of teaching is a form of radical activism. Used correctly, our teaching can advocate for students and lead to liberatory practices for the students, the institution, and the community. Indeed, the final project of #CritPrax 2018 was a website designed to teach visitors how to teach toward activism.

How might you use your teaching as a tool to move students toward self-advocacy and social justice? What opportunities and affordances do you have access to that could lead to meaningful change?

Teaching as Care

Above all else, teaching is an act of radical care—for both students and teachers alike. By using education as “the practice of freedom” as bell hooks suggests, we can give students opportunities to experience, and literally practice, the freedom of thought and self-awareness too often omitted from traditional education.

Teaching as Political

Today’s readings hold little back in their assertions of political necessity. Watters and Zeller each blatantly advocate for the social good that can come from using education to establish political discourse. Licastro writes about ways political situations can both lead to and stifle service-learning projects among marginalized populations. How will your teaching praxis reflect your political needs?

Final Activity

The last thing to consider for today is a brief meta-reflection on your learning over the week. Based on where your work has taken you, what do you intend to start, stop, or continue doing in your teaching praxis? Should any of those plans be reflected in your teaching portfolio?

What can you do as a teacher to make yourself and your mentors proud?


(Meta-)Assessing (with) CDP

Guiding Questions

  1. How does CDP change the intent of, or need for, assessment?
  2. What assessments (or tools) work? How will we assess our own work this week?

If liberatory education is student-led and student-driven, how can it be assessed? Once assessment enters the learning equation, the relationship between teacher and student irreversibly changes. When we see ourselves as guides or supports, we relate to students essentially in their service, functioning as a resource for them to use to their benefit. Once we assume the task of assessing their performance, our role shifts to judge or even gatekeeper. We relate to students as their superiors, and they serve our needs until we are satisfied with their work. The relationship is inherently adversarial. Any kind of growth in that situation becomes a challenge.

Assessing With CDP

How, then, should we assess students? Are we even the right fit for the job? Today’s readings challenge that paradigm. Peter Elbow asserts that assessment (what he here calls “judgment”) serves three specific functions, none of which improves learning. I wrote that we should outsource grading, and Cathy N. Davidson reports success with crowd-sourcing it. Shea Swauger uncovers the terrors of test proctoring, and Asao B. Inoue proposes ways that changing assessment can reduce social violence.

Each of these authors encourages us to re-imagine how assessment works and who should be doing it. As I mentioned in one Monday Jam Session, if evaluation appears at the top of Bloom’s original taxonomy, students evaluating work should be learning at the most advanced levels. Yet schools rarely ask students to evaluate work, TAs notwithstanding.

The Goal of Assessment

What would assessment look like under the premises of critical digital pedagogy? How could assessment work in our classes if we hand that responsibility to students? How might we address the inevitable concerns of those who champion rigor?

As an experiment, try this activity: Compose a position statement on the goal of assessment, using exactly one full tweet. In other words, use exactly 270 characters, plus a space, plus the #CritPrax hashtag, to fill the 280 characters allowable in a single tweet. Then, compose a follow-up tweet in which you apply that position statement to your first tweet. In other words, grade yourself. How well does that process work? What standards did you use for assessment?

In Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto, Kevin Gannon shares an beguiling activity he does with his seminars. I won’t spoil the fun of his anecdote by sharing the details here, but his point is that our standards for assessment need to be relevant, obvious, and sensible. If they aren’t, even the most conscientious teachers can get viscerally angry. And that doesn’t help anyone.

Assessing CDP Itself

How do we know whether critical digital pedagogy actually works? Much has been written about critical pedagogy (see especially Freire, hooks, and Shor) and about critical digital pedagogy (see especially Stommel and Morris), but the vast majority of this work uses a critical narrative style that eschews empirical study and receives criticism for confirmation bias. Besides the intuitive sense CDP often seems to make, how can we know it’s working?

In Wednesday afternoon’s Jam Session, we chatted briefly about outcomes. Specifically, we discussed how broad outcomes can be (“Students will have an epiphany”) or how ineffective they can be (“Students will learn stuff”). But is there a way to create student-learning outcomes that will meet the needs of institutional accreditation and vertical alignment while also serving the principles of CDP? Can we have our cake and eat it, too?


Learning / Design / Technology

Guiding Questions

  1. How do we form outcomes for online courses?
  2. Whose voices contribute to the design of our courses?

Course design must be intentional, but the best path to good design isn’t always clear. As a student in Janine DeBaise’s class once said, “If you care about ecology, universal design solutions suck.” We must be mindful when building courses, always remembering the people our classes are for.

Educational technology often makes that mindfulness challenging. Standardization, scalability, and duplicability are the LMS’s siren song, promising simplicity for a workforce seriously overburdened and under-compensated.

Today’s Activities

The readings and activities for today fall along two lines. The first is an effort to reconsider the fundamental principles behind intentional course design. For these components, consider Janine DeBaise arguing against best practices, Cate Denial arguing for pedagogy built around kindness, Jesse Stommel arguing that DH classes should actively try to break things, my article arguing against teacher involvement in class discussions, or Luca Morini asserting the uselessness of education. In other words, many of our readings challenge you to flip your usual expectations. That leads to our first activity today, sharing thoughts (with the #CritPrax hashtag) on how educators can establish pedagogical principles from the disruptive assertions in today’s readings.

The second line of inquiry and activity today looks at solutions. Here I think of Maha Bali’s examples of the realities of applying critical digital pedagogy in practice, Karen Cangialosi’s application of CDP in STEM courses, and Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel’s argument against the use of Turnitin. Our activity here is one I took (with permission!) from Jesse Stommel called Critically Evaluating Digital Tools. In that activity, you’ll look at the people and politics behind any number of ed-tech tools and start to assert whether tools actually do what they claim to do. Perhaps more importantly, you’ll consider whether these tools support or stifle students—whether students are the intended audience of a product or the product itself.

Jam Sessions are Back

I’ve recovered from my misery yesterday, so today will feature both Jam Sessions. You’re welcome to attend as many as prove helpful to you.


Pedagogy as Praxis

Guiding Questions

  1. How do we build with CDP in mind?
  2. How does CDP inform praxis? Where are the trouble spots?
  3. Brainstorm an open course: What principles guide its design?
  4. What tools help create, deliver, promote, and maintain open courses?

Pedagogy guides our approach to teaching and informs our decision-making, but until it is brought to action—performed as praxis—it remains merely aspirational. Enacting pedagogy combines intention with embodiment, applying our philosophies to the actual people we are working with. And as we discussed on Monday, teaching is all about the people we work with.

The irony is not lost on me that the one day of #CritPrax dedicated to putting pedagogy into action happened to be a day I got so sick that I couldn’t hold any food down or stay out of bed for more than a couple hours at a stretch. It’s tough to perform the acts of teaching while sick. I had to drastically reduce my expectations of what I could provide and manage throughout the day and trust that the human(e) framework from Monday would allow some grace on Tuesday. Thanks to everyone for bearing with me.

Chat Recaps

In our morning Jam Session, the conversation revolved around the balance (or the distinction) between teaching people and teaching content. Georgia asked why it seems many teachers have recently discovered—mostly through the crisis of the global pandemic—that teaching requires human compassion. She wondered why this would be new. As a group, we spent time talking about the push to teach (or “cover”) content versus teaching the students in the room. And we noted that ed-tech can often serve as a distraction, making it feel as though we are teaching to the screen, or teaching in the LMS, rather than teaching the students enrolled in our class. Yi Wei shared an article she recently published examining this very issue.

Our afternoon Jam Session turned toward assessment (the focus of Thursday’s activities) and scaffolding. We discussed ways to de-emphasize grades and the need to make expectations (for assignments, for assessments, you name it) clear up-front. And we acknowledged the challenge of helping students learn to ask deep, meaningful questions that go beyond what can be answered through a simple web search or Wikipedia article. We didn’t solve any of education’s great challenges (darn!), but we did reaffirm some values and re-orient our thinking about praxis.

Tuesday’s Collaborative Activity

One activity on our Tuesday checklist never happened because I didn’t get the workspace set up in time. The plan was to create a Declaration of Ethical Principles for Online Courses. That shared document provides space for brainstorming our ideas of what principles should guide the work of course design—whatever form a “course” takes. In order to support critical digital pedagogy, and to center our work on student development, what principles should guide our work? How can our praxis be ethically informed?


Human(e) Learning

Guiding questions

  • What is Critical Digital Pedagogy (CDP), and what are its goals?
  • Why implement critical pedagogy, especially digitally?
  • What is a course?

What would bell hooks do with an LMS? How would Paulo Freire make a MOOC? The two most influential thinkers behind critical pedagogy see education as a deeply personal and intimate endeavor that helps people grow, together, through mutual support and understanding. Conversation forms the centerpiece of their pedagogy because it facilitates connection and mutual understanding, essential elements in a collaborative learning environment.

By contrast, today’s commonplace learning environments emphasize scalability, predictability, and duplicability. Our institutional systems tell us that learning should be managed. We create massive open courses that facilitate access to information—but perhaps at the cost of connection.

Connection Through Technology

I’d like us today to think about how connection and interaction—two actions facilitated by online technologies—can help us focus on the human aspects of our classes and make our teaching a more humane practice. The lingering effects of COVID-19 have shown just how much personal situations affect learning environments…and vice-versa. Teaching in today’s world demands patience, kindness, and grace. How can we use our technologies to extend those features to students?

Along the way, I also want to question the concept of a “course”. What qualifies as a course, and what essential elements have to be present to create meaningful learning experiences? At many institutions, a course is defined by seat time—how long a student occupies a desk—and is divided into eight equal modules, each with required discussion posts, and a final exam at the end. Do those requirements serve the students, or are they designed to meet the needs of the institutional machinery? How else might we conceptualize a course, to make it more open and flexible to the needs of the people we teach?


Today’s activities are as diverse as they are free-form. (See the course syllabus for details.) Consider reviewing your teaching philosophy statement after reading perspectives from today’s readings. Try finding the core of your teaching practice by stating your #4WordPedagogy and sharing it with the world. Share your thoughts on what a course can be using the #CritPrax hashtag. Regardless of which activities you choose, make sure you put people first. Remember that we teach students, not content. Our teaching becomes most effective when it’s decidedly human(e).


Hopes & Intentions

Audio version of the text on this page, read by the author

Connection is the central irony, the running joke, the elephant in the room of modern technology. Tools designed to bring people together have allowed us to grow more distant yet nominally stay connected. What we have come to call “connection” today often involves mediated performance—we put on shows in front of cameras as audiences watch us through screens. We struggle to pick up nonverbal cues, and technical glitches stymie what would otherwise be a simple activity. Synchrony becomes elusive as poor connections, lagging streams, and unhelpful interfaces make “no, you go ahead,” “you broke up for a second,” and “you’re on mute” all-too-familiar mantras—the meta-discussion distracting us from our intentions.

Intentions, of course, matter a lot in education. What we intend to teach and what students actually learn often differ. We might intend to have one conversation in class, but the discussion veers in an entirely unplanned direction. Such differences and redirections, I argue, show not a failure of educational rigor but instead a responsiveness to the immediate needs of the learners in that course. When discussions and activities respond to student needs and in-the-moment student self-assessment, they provide relevant experiences that encourage students to form connections between the course material and the students’ lives. Those connections, formed around real experiences, help push learning beyond the boundaries of the class(room), building habits of lifelong learning.

Critical digital pedagogy thrives on critical evaluation, personal growth, and genuine curiosity. These core principles ask participants to bring our full selves to the work of teaching—and the work of this course. Bringing our full selves to this work challenges us to oppose traditional assumptions about the classroom by being present with and for each other. For bell hooks, being fully present itself is an act of resistance:

Years of socialization that had taught me to believe a classroom was diminished if students and professors regarded one another as “whole” human beings, striving not just for knowledge in books, but knowledge about how to live in the world.

Any focus on building community takes on additional salience this year due to the lingering pandemic. As schools around the world have shuttered and courses have “pivoted” online, critical digital pedagogy has never been more necessary. In this class, we will rely on reflective, intentional uses of digital technologies to create dialogue and craft real, human connections. As Ira Shor says, “dialogue links people together through discourse and links their moments of reflection to their moments of action.” Dialogue forms “the threads of communication that bind people together and prepare them for reflective action.” It is my hope that this course will serve as an opportunity to create togetherness and community, to make connections not just with ideas but primarily with other people, and confront the challenges facing education today. Not to overstate the stakes of education’s current inflection point, but I hope that together, we can work to redefine online learning.

Clearly, I prioritize people in my pedagogy. That prioritization shapes my hopes and intentions directly. In our time together this week (and beyond), I hope that we discover ways to build strength, community, kindness, and empathy through our digital networks. And I hope that we are able to bring our whole selves to the work of teaching and learning to which we are committed. I hope this class becomes one of discovery, a space in which we come to see ourselves as one of bell hooks’s students saw herself:

“I don’t believe that we change what has already been done but we can change the future and so I am reclaiming and learning more of who I am so that I can be whole.”

I’m excited for the week ahead and eager to see the connections we establish! What intentions do you hold for our time together?