“The world is not a cul-de-sac.”
~ Paulo Freire, Education for Critical Consciousness
There is no hope for the future without education.
For the past ten years, Hybrid Pedagogy has worked to help craft a theory of teaching and learning in and around digital spaces, not by imagining what that work might look like, but by doing, asking after, changing, and doing again. Since 2011, Hybrid Pedagogy has published over 400 articles from more than 200 authors focused in and around the emerging field of critical digital pedagogy. This book gathers together a selection of those articles. Much of the writing on Hybrid Pedagogy feels just as timely now as it did when it was written (and even more prescient). The journal has spent the last decade working to support voices which are “emotionally resonant and intellectually vital” and their vision of an equitable, resilient, critical pedagogy, and a hopeful future toward which education might arc. That work has become more vital and must continue.
Critical digital pedagogy is activism as much as it is a field, practice as much as it is theory, derived from experience and then reflection upon that experience. In his definition, Jesse asserts that when “we’re looking for solutions, what we most need to change is our thinking and not our tools.” He further argues that critical digital pedagogy is more defined by its questions, by the problems it poses, than it is by answers, and that it “will not, cannot, be defined by a single voice but must gather together a cacophony of voices” (“Critical Digital Pedagogy: a Definition”). It’s not a stack of content or a bibliography; critical digital pedagogy is a way we treat one another.
We have long held that “every voice is needed within academe, within education. The more we leave out, the less we have to offer” (Morris, “Call for Editors”). Hybrid Pedagogy’s collaborative peer review process is decidedly not “blind” and typically includes open discussion about the overall direction of a piece and its author’s voice as much as the specifics of its rhetorical strategy. We work to build personal relationships between and among authors and editors. Writing requires trust. Editing requires trust. Building communities of trust is at the center of our work.
Hybrid Pedagogy authors have written about and around some of the most vital issues in pedagogy and digital learning. The writing done on the pages of the journal are a critical, in-depth resource for teachers, administrators, instructional designers, and others as they begin to navigate digital, remote, and hybrid learning.
As Hybrid Pedagogy’s work continues, we recognize that education is, in many ways, at a vital moment. The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has abruptly shifted more than one million students to fully online or remote instruction. And what has become immediately clear is that students face much more than technological hurdles. As Jesse writes in an article for AAUP’s Academe: “When so many higher education teachers have almost no training at all, it’s hard to imagine how faculty could be adequately prepared for working with students who are increasingly nontraditional and often lack access to basic needs such as food and housing.” The work of students and teachers is increasingly precarious.
Critical Digital Pedagogy: A Collection is the first peer-reviewed book centered on the theory and practice of critical digital pedagogy. The collection represents a wide cross-section of both academic and non-academic culture and features articles by women, Black people, indigenous people, Chicanx and Latinx writers, people with disabilities, queer people, and other underrepresented populations. The goal of this collection is to provide evidence for the extraordinary work being done by university and college faculty, librarians, instructional designers, graduate students, technologists, and more — work which advances the study and the praxis of critical digital pedagogy.
What is Critical Digital Pedagogy?
There are three words in “critical digital pedagogy,” and it is not a neat and tidy triptych. The pieces of this collection circle around, and through, these three words. Too often, folks privilege “digital” at the expense of “critical” and “pedagogy.” This reduces the practice of critical digital pedagogy to tools and technologies, mistaking it for best practices inside a learning management system, or sequestering it strangely within other fields, like digital humanities or open education.
Similarly, focusing too much on “critical” instrumentalizes the work of teaching, relegating the work of thinking about teaching to the humanities, and isolating criticality from STEM fields. This not only diminishes the potential of critical work, it underestimates the much broader swath of teaching and learning which must (and does) benefit not just from criticality and critical thinking, but from a mission that is critical, a practice that asks questions in order to dismantle (criticize) institutional or societal impediments to learning.
Perhaps the most confounding and contentious of the three words, “pedagogy” too often refers to work done in classrooms with children. When conversation turns to andragogy and heutagogy, and crude distinctions between adults and “kids,” learning and teaching become age-specific, institution-specific, environment-specific instead of human endeavors, practices of freedom. The word “pedagogy,” as we use it, defines the work of education at the intersection of theory and practice — the act of teaching that derives from reflection and which inspires reflection again. Pedagogy is both where “critical” and “digital” terminate, and also the whole terrain of teaching.
All three of these words, “critical,” “digital,” and “pedagogy,” do real work in the world — each individually, and also in combination. In Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks asserts that when “there is a split between theory and practice” we perpetuate “conditions that reinforce our collective exploitation and repression.” When, however, we let words do work, when “no gap exists between theory and practice,” we allow teaching to be more than instrumental, and digital learning to be more than edtech. We reclaim the critical aims of education, its questioning and reflection, its imperative toward justice and equity, and its persistent need to read the world within which it takes place, whether that’s a classroom, a living room, a playground, or a digital device.
There are no easy answers in critical digital pedagogy. It can’t tell us how to shift face-to-face teaching online. It can’t tell us how the learning management system can be refashioned for 6-year-olds fumbling through remote karate lessons. Critical digital pedagogy can’t, of its own volition, keep at bay the absurd siren song of Turnitin or ProctorU. It can’t solve the problem of recreating online a 3-year-old’s Montessori language-immersion preschool.
About the Collection
Articles in this collection have been organized into five sections, with each section standing alone but also building on what precedes it. In other words, though the chapters of this collection have been arranged in a specific order, they need not be read in that order.
The book acknowledges the humanity behind critical digital pedagogy and its influence on the people with whom we work. In Politicizing Critical Digital Pedagogy, we critique the connection between education and efforts to use power to dominate or control others — and the urgency of resistance. This section establishes the need for critical digital pedagogy and its foundation of liberation and care. Through these chapters, we see the practice of teaching as embodied compassion, a theme we revisit throughout the book. We see that practice as essential in today’s world, for as Chris writes in Hybrid Pedagogy‘s “Politicizing Critical Digital Pedagogy” CFP, “we can no longer afford to push politics to the side because it affects us all, at every turn.” This opening section works best for readers who want to engage with the effects of pedagogy on educators and learners alike.
In Practicing Critical Digital Pedagogy, the articles take a hands-on turn, focusing on what can be done, today, to implement the fundamental principles of critical digital pedagogy into any classroom — whether online or on-ground, humanities or STEM, taught or designed. This section connects with our past (“Building in the Humanities Isn’t New”), engages our present (“Best Practices: Thoughts on a Flash Mob Mentality”), and looks to our future (“Why Start With Pedagogy?”). Each chapter examines the potentials of critical digital pedagogy within a specific context, showing the tangible benefits of this approach to education. Readers already familiar with the tenets of critical digital pedagogy but considering implementation will find wisdom and clarity within this section.
Contingency and Academic Labor steps away from explicit discussions of pedagogy to consider working conditions in the academy from the perspective of the oft-marginalized. Here, adjuncts, librarians, mothers, and others share their experiences as professionals in problematic or precarious positions. Educators in similar situations may find shared experiences expressed by authors in this section. But these chapters are also a call for those in positions of authority and secure employment — administrators and tenured faculty — many unaware of the gulf separating their working conditions from those of their more marginalized and precarious colleagues.
Pedagogical Alterity questions assumptions about the broad applicability of our pedagogies. These chapters ask us to face difference and consider its effects on students, instructors, institutions, and learning environments. Through the narratives in this section, authors remind us that we cannot shape a pedagogy without acknowledging the backgrounds, social location, bodies, and intersectionality of teachers and students alike.
In The Scholarly and the Digital, authors consider the nature not just of teaching but of scholarship in the digital age. From matters of publication and peer review, to issues of access and recognition, this section encourages us to look closely at our use of digital technologies and the human connections they engender. This section ends by asserting that institutions, processes, and pedagogies must remain focused on the people we serve and the compassion they deserve.
A compassionate pedagogy is more necessary now than ever before: to see the student beyond the screen, to recognize the limits and affordances of body, space, and technology, to identify issues of privacy in an increasingly surveilled digital world, and to be conscious of the basic needs of students which must be met to make learning possible.
The Present Moment
This introduction is written in a peculiar present.
As we write this, the coronavirus pandemic has thrust human and educational experiences into online spaces without preparation. Presently, there will be no graduations or ballet recitals. There will be no last days of senior year. And online learning and digital pedagogy are failing as a salve or a lifeline in a moment of uncertainty and panic. Tools like Zoom were not built to meet the moral challenge of a present moment like this one. Nothing in edtech was built for humans. Thus far, our edtech machines were taught only to speak to other machines. If we imagine we can just “pivot” out of classrooms and into online class portals, the what of education, the how-to of technology, and the why of our humanity will continue to break down. At a moment like this, a pause with one eyebrow raised is the most necessary work that critical digital pedagogy can bring.
What we can only hope to be left with after this month, and next month, and next year is a certainty that we do not yet know how to learn online. We do not yet know what education can be in the wake of such political, social, ideological, technological unrest. What we can only hope to end up with is the understanding that we didn’t ever know. Students are burdened by massive amounts of debt, face increasing basic needs insecurity, and the work of teaching has become increasingly precarious. Critical digital pedagogy must be an utterance of the hopeful and haunting question, what now?
We have known (and written) all along that the stuff of teaching in a classroom does not port, or shift, or “pivot” into digital spaces. The culture of a classroom is unique, and the architecture of the Web is unique as well. The physical environment of a bricks-and-mortar classroom is not equivalent to the 1s and 0s of a learning management system. In fact, these digital spaces (and the ways they traffic in educational data) are sometimes, or often, anathema to the relationships at the center of the work of teaching and learning.
Ultimately, digital pedagogy is about human relationships, the complexity of humans working together with other humans — the challenge (as Sean has said elsewhere) of finding ways to teach through a screen, not to a screen. The work of critical digital pedagogy is to inspect our tools, understanding them — reading them — as part of the world of education. But before we can turn to tools, we must reflect on who we are as teachers, where our pedagogies come from — the wherefore of our teaching. “The answer does not lie in the rejection of the machine,” Freire tells us in Education for Critical Consciousness, “but rather in the humanization of man.” These words are all the more apt when we are faced with such uncertainty.
In Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, bell hooks writes, “At its best, teaching is a caring profession.” It’s a simple statement. It is also, in the way hooks so often does, aimed at correcting a misperception. Namely, that caring and teaching are not part and parcel of the same profession. But hooks’ critical pedagogy insists, as much as that education is a practice of freedom, that caring and teaching are intimately bound.
We must come to grips with the fact that, right now, the work of teachers is not just to teach. We are also responsible for the basic needs of students. Helping students eat and live, and also helping them find the tools they need to reflect on the present moment. This is in keeping with Freire’s insistence that critical pedagogy be focused on helping students read their world; but more and more, we must together reckon with that world. Teaching must be an act of imagination, hope, and possibility. Education must be a practice done with hearts as much as heads, with hands as much as books. Care has to be at the center of this work.