Pedagogy is praxis so it looks to the larger philosophical implications of teaching but starts at the level of practice in the smallest maneuvers — the smallest gestures. How does the first thing we do in a classroom, the first words of our syllabus, the landing page of our course sites, shape the learning environment we’ll work within? Where does the work of pedagogy, the work of teaching and learning, to quote bell hooks, “most deeply and intimately begin”?
Pedagogy is fractal, contained at once in something as large as a course or program and also in something as small as a tweet or the first sentence of a syllabus. The work of teaching well demands our pedagogies be reflective and flexible, not predetermined entirely in advance. Learning can not be reduced to or packaged as a series of static, self-contained content. Rather, learning happens in tangents, diversions, interruptions — in a series of clauses (and parentheticals) … and gaps.
The tools we use for learning, the ones that have become so ubiquitous, each influence what, where, and how we learn — and, even more, how we think about learning. Books. Trackpads. Keyboards. E-books. Databases. Digital archives. Learning management systems. None of these have what we value most about education coded into them in advance. The best digital tools inspire us, often to use them in ways the designer couldn’t anticipate. The worst digital tools attempt to dictate our pedagogies, determining what we can do with them and for whom.
The discussion of digital pedagogy needs to include a critical examination of our tools, what they afford, who they exclude, how they’re monetized, and what pedagogies they might have already baked in. But this examination requires we also begin with a consideration of what we value, the kinds of relationships we want to develop with students, why we gather together in places like universities, and how humans learn.
These are the things this initiative will be about.
Where does the work of pedagogy, the work of teaching and learning, to quote bell hooks, “most deeply and intimately begin”?
A Community of Practice
In Fall 2018 and Spring 2019, the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies will gather together 12 – 15 UMW faculty and staff members for a series of discussions and practical labs to read, watch, and discuss historical, theoretical, and pedagogical foundations for our work in higher education. Our syllabus will be a sort of “desert island discs,” including non-fiction, documentary films, even comics, and ranging from classics (John Dewey, bell hooks, Seymour Papert) to curiosities (Virginia Woolf, Henry David Thoreau) to more contemporary choices (Sara Goldrick Rab, Rafranz Davis, Cathy N. Davidson).
We will meet every other week for two hours throughout the academic year. The trajectory of our conversation will emerge organically. And we’ll continue to co-construct our syllabus as we go. Special guests will join us from time to time, including (fingers crossed) some of the authors we’ll be reading together!
A Continuing Cohort
Open to all faculty and staff at UMW who consider themselves educators — or who are interested in learning and thinking about higher education pedagogy, digital and otherwise. Few higher education faculty receive specific training in pedagogy during their graduate education. This program is, in part, designed to fill that gap, so we particularly invite and encourage newer faculty to join us. However, mentoring and collaboration is so crucial to the work we do at a liberal arts institution like University of Mary Washington, and we rarely get to guard time as teachers to just talk about what we do and why. So, we also strongly encourage more experienced teachers to join us. Our conversations will unearth lots of perspectives, and the deep knowledge of each participant will help us all find new ways forward.
Cohort members will also be encouraged to work closely with the faculty development team in the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies, with support from the re-emerging Center for Teaching and Learning. Together, we will work to connect our cohort with other relevant collaborators across campus. At times we will also invite students working in the Digital Knowledge Center to join our conversations and bring their perspectives, input, and knowledge. We will host a panel in late Spring 2019 to share the fruits of our work together.