Audrey Watters reminded us earlier this week that "public education is collective action." Similarly, higher education is a public good. To support the broad and diverse population of students we now serve, our pedagogical approaches need to acknowledge the real challenges students face in light of the new economics of college.

This week, we have looked in depth at the issues facing education—students, teachers, classrooms, curricula, digital or otherwise; again and again, we've found ourselves recognizing the need for a humanizing pedagogy. Whereas some of the contemporary mythology about college students paints them as “coddled” “snowflakes,” too distracted by their cell phones and social media, and “not prepared” for the work of college, we can recognize that data and evidence contradict these assumptions. Rather today’s students work long hours with far less support than prior generations and are enduring high rates of food and housing insecurity.

As educators, we need to design our pedagogies for the students we have, not the students we wish we had. That requires a pedagogy that is responsive, inclusive, adaptive, challenging, and compassionate. Exactly the kinds of pedagogies we've been talking about this week. But, as has also been observed this week, this work can’t happen in isolation from students. We must find more ways, with our pedagogies and policies, to bring students fully into the conversation about their own education.

Today is the last day that we'll be actively working together at the Lab. While this site and our discussions will remain online, now is our opportunity to think concretely about next steps, to move from talking about the problems to imagining creative solutions. Critical pedagogy is nothing without human agency; and human agency is nothing more or less than the ability to intervene in circumstances of oppression. So today, the question before us is: how do we intervene—in small ways and great?


Activity: Best-ish Practices

As we wind down from the week, and head back to the work at our institutions, let's consider what we might bring with us. Janine DeBaise writes in "Best Practices: Thoughts on a Flash Mob Mentality":

I’m not dismissing Best Practices entirely. I like the idea of having some guidelines that teachers can learn from, ideas I can share with my students. But we should be a little more honest about what they are. Let’s not pretend that universal design solutions aren’t without problems. Let’s call them “Practices Worth Considering” or “Things You Could Try” or “Stuff That Just Might Work.” Let’s not assume that our students are all moving in the same direction, listening to the same music, and singing the same song.

In that spirit, for this activity, join us in a Google Doc to list, collaborate on, brainstorm, imagine practices that aren't necessarily best, but that are sometimes-for-some-people-under-certain-circumstances practices. Practices, in other words, that echo our concern for inclusion, accessibility, student agency, compassion and generosity, and for the education-under-pandemic which we most immediately face.


1) Join one or both of the new threads for today:

  • Tiny Maneuvers: Before jumping into this discussion, take a moment to consider your nearest syllabus (for a class you've just offered or a class you're about to). Scan the policies. Listen to the language that's used. Consider carefully the assessments, the assignments, the rubrics, the learning outcomes. Look for the kinds of tiny maneuvers that Rebecca Weaver discusses in her article: "How many of us closely read our own syllabi, not for typos but for pedagogy? How many of us think about the subtle and overt messages they send to our students? What are the tiny and large maneuvers embedded there? What curriculum is hidden there?"
    Then, take some time and reflect here on what you might change, what you think needs to change, and what you feel you can change—no matter how small, no matter how great.
  • Assessment and Ungrading: Can we imagine assessment mechanisms that encourage discovery, ones not designed for assessing learning but designed for learning through assessment? Much of our work in education resists being formulated as neat and tidy outcomes, and yet most assessment takes the complexity of human interaction within a learning environment and makes it “machine readable.” When learning is the goal, space should be left for wonder and experimentation.
    What methods—among those below, or of your own invention—would you like to employ in your classroom? Why? And how will you?
  • Grade free zones
  • Self-assessment
  • Process letters
  • Minimal grading
  • Authentic assessment
  • Contract grading
  • Portfolios
  • Peer-assessment

2) Join us for our final live chat at 6:00pm EDT (UTC -4). Register here.

~ Read next post in Critical Digital Pedagogy ~

Taking the Work Home With Us

Posted by Sean Michael Morris

2 min read