The Intimacy and Vulnerability of Praxis

There is a moment of tentativeness when a faculty member comes to work with me. Almost like when students apologize when they come to see me during my office hours, the faculty member comes to me with a kind of vulnerability; they are coming for help, a situation that makes many professors uncomfortable. Sometimes they come to me because they are having trouble and want a solution, sharing a moment of failure. Other times, they come to me with an idea, often a “crazy” idea in their minds, or in the minds of their colleagues, and share it hoping to find a way to make it a reality.

This is my favorite part of faculty development, that moment of intimacy that initiates the praxis of critical pedagogy, digital or otherwise. But it is a difficult space, a fraught space, and one that is challenging to create and then confront: how do we get faculty in the door, knowing how difficult that decision and the following moments are? Because once they come in the door, the results can be stunning — assignments and courses reimagined, student experience transformed. And relationships built.

There is also a question of scale — how do you reach as many faculty as possible with these moments of intimacy and vulnerability? Community is necessary, because it is only through trust that the transformation can take place beyond a one-on-one relationship. Where we become a community of co-learners, of collaborators, of supporters and cheerleaders. Of critical co-conspirators.

I’ve taken and taught a number of digital pedagogy workshops, large and small. And I have struggled with the question of, why didn’t this work better? There is always a friction between what the participants want and what I hoped to accomplish. They say, give us the tools, give us “best practices,” give us the readings. I say, tell me what you want to accomplish, tell me what you’d like to build, tell me what you want your students to learn and how you want them to learn it.

But I realize now, the bridge is that moment of vulnerability and intimacy that my questions provoke. That moment of Praxis, where the fantasy of your dream syllabus or assignment must become reality. When we do, we make real, we make tangible, we make solid something that seemed so perfect in our minds. I am asking of them no less than what we ask from students, but it is not a position teachers are primed to embody.

This is what Praxis is to me, and what the track I’ll be leading this August at Digital Pedagogy Lab is ultimately about — those moments of intimacy and vulnerability necessary to make real our pedagogy. To come together for a week and make things together, in that space, in that time. Our community will be built on our shared care for students and their learning, and our own imperfect, iterative practices. This is a space to build, to rebuild, to reward, and to challenge ourselves to let ourselves be vulnerable, in the service of our students and our pedagogy.

DTLT is partnering with Hybrid Pedagogy and Digital Pedagogy Lab to host a 5-day Institute at University of Mary Washington. From August 8 – 12, a hundred participants from across the country (and around the world) will gather together in four small cohorts for a week of thinking, discussing, and practical application of Critical Digital Pedagogy. Registration is now open. And a limited number of scholarships are available for UMW faculty, staff, and graduate students.

[Photo “Brothers forever…” by Jeff S. licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]