I attended the Digital Pedagogy Lab (DPL) at Mary Washington University in Fredericksburg, VA July 31-August 3, 2018. The information I learned in my track, Design for Change, pertains directly to the kind of change that Plymouth State University is experiencing.
The workshop, led by Amy Collier of Middlebury College, focused on the relationship between “the digital” and culture change in academic settings. Before the workshop, participants were asked to read five articles. The articles focused on “digital pollution” in the form of fake news, hyper-partisanship, digital polarization, and other trash that litters the digital landscape. One of the articles asked the question of whether higher education could be the savior of the World Wide Web and several of the others responded directly to this question. These articles set the tone for the 4 day workshop and our focus on ways to design educational experiences (both face to face and digital) that empower students (and ourselves) to clean up the information environment that we encounter in both personal and professional activities. I strongly recommend these articles so here’s the list of them:
There are a few main points that I took home with me from my 4 days at DPL.
A guiding principle in education design is that every person in the room is indispensable. That is, if a particular person were not in the room, the educational experience would be different and diminished in some way. Thinking about education like this requires us to see each and every student as a fully rounded human. We need to care about aspects of their lives that we typically don’t touch on. For example, no one can learn if they are hungry or worried about where they might sleep the next night. So we should design educational environments that support all aspects of a student’s life, not just the academic.
The central question for any design process should be: for whom are we designing? It is not enough to say “students.” Which students? What do these students have in common? In what ways do they differ from each other? How do we know what they need/want/could benefit from? And the design process is never complete. As we learn more about the actual people in the room (or in the major or at the institution), we need to be flexible and change our design in response to what we have learned. In other words, our design should be radically human-centered.
As institutions, we need to be much more thoughtful about student data. We should be prevent the unnecessary collection of student data by third party software vendors and by ourselves. When we do collect student data, we should have clear plans for what we will do with that data, how long we will keep it, what we will do to protect it, and options for students to opt out. The contracts and terms of service for every piece of software we use should be publicly available with means for questioning and commenting.
When we ask students to work in “the digital,” we need to think about the risks we might be exposing them to. For example, if we require them to use their real identities on Twitter or on a public blog, we might be exposing them to a former abusive partner or to immigration officials or any of a number of other dangers. When we ask them to look something up using Google, we are changing the algorithm that Google uses to determine which results to show them. The requirements of our assignments can have significant impact on their real digital and non-digital lives. So we must always give students an out, a way to engage with the educational environment non-digitally. Of course, this might mean that some content (new media studies comes to mind) is unavailable to the student. But engaging digitally should always be the student’s choice.
We should infuse our curriculum design with more fun. The curriculum design process itself is often undertaken with such seriousness that we are unable to be truly creative to think about new possibilities. I especially enjoyed an activity in a workshop led by Heather Pleasants in which we had to design a class that used the disciplines of everyone in my group as well as at least one of our hobbies. Heather asked us to think especially about expressing our learning outcomes in language that we don’t usually use for such things. Given that one of the hobbies we were using was brewing beer, one of our learning outcomes was that students would learn how to “brew narratives.” We expressed another of our learning outcomes using a song. Expressing learning outcomes in these ways made us think about the entire course in new ways and although these learning outcomes might be difficult to measure, the possibilities were truly exciting.
I am still processing the lessons I learned at the workshop and how those lessons will inform my work as General Education Coordinator. I look forward to continuing the conversation.
Image Credit: I took the photo of a work by my new friend and fellow Design for Change participant, Katy Kavanaugh Webb
I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in astrophotography, game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.