Tag Archives: Pedagogy

Critical Digital Pedagogy: A Definition

One of the most thought-provoking online tech journals, Hybrid Pedagogy, published this article today. It is incredibly thought provoking and articulate. I hope you will read it and comment on the article. It is reproduced here in its entirety in conjunction with their Creative Commons Licensing. If you enjoy the article, I recommend that you subscribe to their free journal.

On November 21 at the OpenEd Conference in Washington, DC, Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel will present on critical digital pedagogy and MOOCs. This is the first of three articles that inspired that talk.


“There is no such thing as a neutral educational process.”  ~ Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“Pedagogy is not ideologically neutral.” This line has been for me almost a mantra over the last several years. I’ve said variations of it on Twitter, on the About Us page of Hybrid Pedagogy, on the site for theHybrid Pedagogy Inc. non-profit, and in our recent CFP focused on Critical Digital Pedagogy. I’ve circled around this phrase, because I feel increasingly certain that the word “pedagogy” has been misread — that the project of education has been misdirected — that educators and students alike have found themselves more and more flummoxed by a system that values assessment over engagement, learning management over discovery, content over community, outcomes over epiphanies. Education (and, to an even greater extent, edtech) has misrepresented itself as objective, quantifiable, apolitical.

Higher education teaching is particularly uncritical and under-theorized. Most college educators (at both traditional and non-traditional institutions) do little direct pedagogical work to prepare themselves as teachers. A commitment to teaching often goes unrewarded, and pedagogical writing (in most fields) is not counted as “research.”

The entire enterprise of education is too often engaged in teaching that is not pedagogical. There are a whole host of other words I’d use to describe this work: instruction, classroom management, training, outcomes-driven, standards-based, content delivery. Pedagogy, on the other hand, starts with learning as its center, not students or teachers, and the work of pedagogues is necessarily political, subjective, and humane.

What is Critical Pedagogy?

Critical Pedagogy is an approach to teaching and learning predicated on fostering agency and empowering learners (implicitly and explicitly critiquing oppressive power structures). The word “critical” in Critical Pedagogy functions in several registers:

  • Critical, as in mission-critical, essential;
  • Critical, as in literary criticism and critique, providing definitions and interpretation;
  • Critical, as in reflective and nuanced thinking about a subject;
  • Critical, as in criticizing institutional, corporate, or societal impediments to learning;
  • Critical Pedagogy, as a disciplinary approach, which inflects (and is inflected by) each of these other meanings.

Each of these registers distinguishes Critical Pedagogy from pedagogy; however, the current educational climate has made the terms, for me, increasingly coterminous (i.e. an ethical pedagogy must be a critical one). Pedagogy is praxis, insistently perched at the intersection between the philosophy and the practice of teaching. When teachers talk about teaching, we are not necessarily doing pedagogical work, and not every teaching method constitutes a pedagogy. Rather, pedagogy necessarily involves recursive, second-order, meta-level work. Teachers teach; pedagogues teach while also actively investigating teaching and learning. Critical Pedagogy suggests a specific kind of anti-capitalist, liberatory praxis. This is deeply personal and political work, through which pedagogues cannot and do not remain objective. Rather, pedagogy, and particularly Critical Pedagogy, is work to which we must bring our full selves, and work to which every learner must come with full agency.

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire argues against the banking model, in which education “becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor.” This model emphasizes a one-sided transactional relationship, in which teachers are seen as content experts and students are positioned as sub-human receptacles. The use here of “sub-human” is intentional and not exaggeration; for in the tenets set out in Freire’s work (and the work of other Critical Pedagogues, including bell hooks and Henry Giroux), the banking model of education is part and parcel with efforts most clearly summed up in the term dehumanization. The banking model of education is efficient in that it maintains order and is bureaucratically neat and tidy. But efficiency, when it comes to teaching and learning, is not worth valorizing. Schools are not factories, nor are learning or learners products of the mill.

I immediately become deeply skeptical when I hear the word “content” in a discussion about education, particularly when it is accompanied by the word “packaged.” It is not that education is without content altogether, but that its content is co-constructed as part of and not in advance of the learning.

Critical Pedagogy is concerned less with knowing and more with a voracious not-knowing. It is an on-going and recursive process of discovery. For Freire, “Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.” Here, the language echoes the sort of learning Freire describes. With a flurry of adjectives and clauses separated by commas, his sentence circles around its subject, wandering, pushing restlessly at the edges of how words make meaning — not directly through literal translation into concepts, but in the way words rub curiously against one another, making meaning through a kind of friction. Knowledge emerges in the interplay between multiple people in conversation — brushing against one another in a mutual and charged exchange or dialogue. Freire writes, “Authentic education is not carried on by ‘A’ for ‘B’ or by ‘A’ about ‘B,’ but rather by ‘A’ with ‘B’.” It is through this impatient dialogue, and the implicit collaboration within it, that Critical Pedagogy finds its impetus toward change.

In place of the banking model, Freire advocates for “problem-posing education,” in which a classroom or learning environment becomes a space for asking questions — a space of cognition not information. Vertical (or hierarchical) relationships give way to more playful ones, in which students and teachers co-author together the parameters for their individual and collective learning. Problem-posing education offers a space of mutual creation not consumption. In Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks writes, “As a classroom community, our capacity to generate excitement is deeply affected by our interest in one another, in hearing one another’s voices, in recognizing one another’s presence.” This is a lively and intimate space of creativity and inquiry — a space of listening as much as speaking.

What is Critical Digital Pedagogy?

My work has wondered at the extent to which Critical Pedagogy translates into digital space. Can the necessary reflective dialogue flourish within web-based tools, within social media platforms, within learning management systems, within MOOCs? What is digital agency? To what extent can social media function as a space of democratic participation? How can we build platforms that support learning across age, race, culture, ability, geography? What are the specific affordances and limitations of technology toward these ends? If, indeed, all learning is necessarily hybrid, as I’ve argued, to what extent are Critical Pedagogy and digital pedagogy becoming also coterminous?

The wondering at these questions is, in fact, not particularly new. In his forward to Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Richard Shaull writes, “Our advanced technological society is rapidly making objects of most of us and subtly programming us into conformity to the logic of its system [...] The paradox is that the same technology that does this to us also creates a new sensitivity to what is happening.” And, John Dewey writes in Schools of To-Morrow, published decades earlier, “Unless the mass of workers are to be blind cogs and pinions in the apparatus they employ, they must have some understanding of the physical and social facts behind and ahead of the material and appliances with which they are dealing”. If we are to keep every educative endeavor from becoming mill-work — from becoming only a reflection of oppressive labor practices and uneven power relationships — we must engage deeply with its reality.

Increasingly, the web is a space of politics, a social space, a professional space, a space of community. And, for better or worse, more and more of our learning is happening there. For many of us, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between our real selves and our virtual selves, and in fact, these distinctions are being altogether unsettled. In “The New Learning is Ancient”, Kathi Inman Berens writes, “It doesn’t matter to me if my classroom is a little rectangle in a building or a little rectangle above my keyboard. Doors are rectangles; rectangles are portals. We walk through.” When we learn online, our feet are usually still quite literally on ground. When we interact with a group of students via streaming video, the interaction is nevertheless face-to-face. The web is asking us to reimagine how we think about space, how and where we engage, and upon which platforms the bulk of our learning happens.

In Small Pieces Loosely Joined: a Unified Theory of the Web, David Weinberger writes, “We are the true ‘small pieces’ of the Web, and we are loosely joining ourselves in ways that we’re still inventing.” Ten years ago, following the publication of Weinberger’s book, I wouldn’t have imagined the learning networks I have now built with colleagues working together (sometimes simultaneously in real time) in places as seemingly remote as Portland, Madison, Manchester, Prince Edward Island, Sydney, Cairo, and Hong Kong.

This is not to say, however, that there aren’t challenges to this sort of work. In On Critical Pedagogy, Henry Giroux argues,

Intellectuals have a responsibility to analyze how language, information, and meaning work to organize, legitimate, and circulate values, structure reality, and offer up particular notions of agency and identity. For public intellectuals, the latter challenge demands a new kind of literacy and critical understanding with respect to the emergence of the new media and electronic technologies, and the new and powerful role they play as instruments of public pedagogy.

Most digital technology, like social media or collaborative writing platforms or MOOCs, does not have its values coded into it in advance. These are tools merely, good only insofar as they are used. And platforms that do dictate too strongly how we might use them, or ones that remove our agency by too covertly reducing us and our work to commodified data, should be rooted out by a Critical Digital Pedagogy. Far too much work in educational technology starts with tools, when what we need to start with is humans.

We are better users of technology when we are thinking critically about the nature and effects of that technology. What we must do is work to encourage students and ourselves to think critically about new tools (and, more importantly, the tools we already use). And when we’re looking for solutions, what we most need to change is our thinking and not our tools.

In short, Critical Digital Pedagogy:

  • centers its practice on community and collaboration;
  • must remain open to diverse, international voices, and thus requires invention to reimagine the ways that communication and collaboration happen across cultural and political boundaries;
  • will not, cannot, be defined by a single voice but must gather together a cacophony of voices;
  • must have use and application outside traditional institutions of education.

A Critical Digital Pedagogy demands that open and networked educational environments must not be merely repositories of content. They must be platforms for engaging students and teachers as full agents of their own learning.

Pete Rorabaugh writes in “Occupy the Digital: Critical Pedagogy and New Media”:

Critical Pedagogy, no matter how we define it, has a central place in the discussion of how learning is changing in the 21st century because Critical Pedagogy is primarily concerned with an equitable distribution of power. If students live in a culture that digitizes and educates them through a screen, they require an education that empowers them in that sphere, teaches them that language, and offers new opportunities of human connectivity.

Critical Pedagogy is as much a political approach as it is an educative one. As Sean Michael Morris writes, it is “a social justice movement first, and an educational movement second.”

So, Critical Digital Pedagogy must also be a method of resistance and humanization. It is not simply work done in the mind, on paper, or on screen. It is work that must be done on the ground. It is not ashamed of its rallying cry or its soapbox. Critical Digital Pedagogy eats aphorisms — like this one right here — for breakfast. But it is not afraid to incite, to post its manifestos, to light its torches.


Hybrid Pedagogy uses an open collaborative peer review process. This piece was reviewed by Sean Michael Morris and Valerie Robin.

[Photo, “Electric Sun“, by Andreas licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.]

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Transforming Project Based Learning with iPad

The next session I’m attending is “Transforming Project Based Learning with iPad” by Ah-Young Song from Phillips Exeter Academy. Ah-Young tells us that she will be discussing some of the PBL projects she has implemented in her own classroom. She will be covering communication tools, gamification, audio/video tools, and media resources.

Ah-Young has just become teaching at Phillips Exeter, which is a harkness school. Harkness is a form of teaching that engages students collaboratively.

“Project Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge.” – Buck Institute for Education.

Ah-Young believes that even without institutional support we can, as teachers,

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

advocate for our own students and innovate in our classrooms. Some examples of PBL projects include:

  • track migratory species
  • beautify space with a public art project
  • meet with local officials to address local concerns
  • create a tech start-up budget
  • analyze and project sports statistics

There are numerous resources out there for PBL lessons. in the process of building a project based lesson, students develop a variety of skills, including:

  • Critical Thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Curiosity
  • Creativity
  • Communication
  • Content
  • Resilience
  • Resourcefulness
  • Analysis
  • Reflection

There are numerous tools that educators can use with their students as they develop their PBL. One of her favorites is Blogger, which students can use to post text, video, images, etc. By posting a blog, students can publish small writings and engage in collaborative feedback. She does this through a Google+ community.

AScreen Shot 2014-11-13 at 2.34.33 PMdditionally, she likes to have students backchannel book discussions using Today’s Meet or SMS Generators to engage with a fictional character! She uses Google Sheets as a rubric for certain activities, such as a jury trial of Lady MacBeth. The jurors created the rubric for the trial and used it to assess the verdict.

She also uses Google Docs to create a paperless environment. She distributes content with Google Drive, grades on Google Drive, and returns content this way. However, Exeter is not a Google Apps for Education school. However, the students have their own accounts so it works.

If you want to gamify your classroom, there are several fun tools you can play with. You can run a Space Race using Socrative.

Socrative introduction video (new) from Socrative Inc. on Vimeo.

I’m a fan of Socrative. You should also check out Poll Everywhere and Kahoot!.

Another tool she shares is Qrafter, which lets you read and generate QR Codes (paid version). You can use this to create a scavenger hunt. Voice Record Pro 7 is a robust audio recording tool that will let you record audio and share with others. You can use it to teach language assessments, read poetry, or for students to engage in alternative assessments. Adobe Voice will let you build an audio slideshow. Canva is another really cool tool that will let you build posters and infographics.

She is going to have students produce vignettes using a tool like Canva or Penultimate to explain their learning.

Screencasting tools like Doceri or Explain Everything can help students to explain their learning.

Shakespeare Through a new Lense

The next session I’m attending is Shakespeare through a new lense with James Lucas and Jessica North Macie from the National Cathedral School. You can view the presentation materials here. I’m excited to hear more about teaching Shakespeare using 21st century tools. I’m live blogging this session so please excuse typos and errors!

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Jessica tells us that the course is a combination of textual analysis in conjunction with film analysis. So why did they do this as a video project? Shakespeare works best “on its feet” and we need to learn about broader types of literacy. This project has been updated annually. This past year, they did it on iPads for the first time. It allows for one-stop shop for shooting and editing, features aide for shot composition, and with its long battery life, no worries about it dying on you with multiple classes. With  this project, they check out the iPads to students for the whole week. They also use tools like tripos and microphones so that students can produce sophisticated works.

As students learn and study film, they get to learn about what makes good filming techniques.

Unit Overview of Lesson Plan

Unit Overview of Lesson Plan

This is not only an analysis of the text, but they look at images, concepts, film, etc. They use a variety of media to study using Manga. Next, they use texts to support them delving into the texts. They explore how the text enhances images or even changes how we analyze an image. Visual consumption is an important element for exploring Shakespeare.

To study images, they go to online content and print images that speak to the students. For example, they will go and look at images that convey power to the students. This may involve art, music, and more. They also watch films that cover their topics and have students analyze gesture and movement that convey concepts and ideas. For example, look at the character Puck from a Midsummer Night’s Dream. Students can see how they can personalize and open their own interpretations.

Simultaneous to the Shakespeare study is an analysis of film. We watch the beginning of Benny & Joon to explore how a film is introduced. The colors are saturated with color and that iconic song by the Proclaimers plays in the background.

When giving this assignment, you need to teach students the components of film making: camera framing & movement, script writing, storyboarding, and shooting & editing. They don’t want students to imitate the play, but deliberately create messages based on what they know about the story.

They introduce students to filmmaking with a scavenger hunt – they have to find a shot, such as high angle shot – enjoying the day, medium close-up – a Crank, Extreme Close Up – shocking surprise, etc. Students are allowed to wander the campus as they create these shots.

When students build their storyboard, they have to create a shooting plan. Students can create costumes and design their own performances. However, those are not graded components.

Students also have to write out a script. The instructions are both written and they providing an example. This demonstrates how students must format and present content. They also have a rubric for teh script, using traffic signs (go, slow down, detour, etc) so get students away from thinking about numbers and letters. I wish I could employ this in my classroom! Grades are often a distraction to learning.

In addition to shooting, students must edit. Jessica says that they learn that the magic happens in editing! Students learn about both video and sound editing.

Students also have to explain why they made the choices they did in creating their videos. I like that this takes away from the “flashiness” of the project.

Students also need to be respectful of how they treat the devices. Instead of calling them iPads, they refer to them as their “filming equipment.”

The final products are cross-curricular and address both traditional and modern media. Very cool!

Designing the Future of Learning: Personalized Prototypes

The next session I’m attending is “Designing the Future of Learning: Personalized Prototypes” with Payton Hobbs, the Head of the Lower School at Ravenscroft School, and Bryan Setser, from 2Revolutions. This is live blogged, so please excuse typos and poor prose!

One of the statements that is prevalent in schools is “We don’t know what the jobs of tomorrow will look like.” Bryan, however, argues that we do have a view, namely sustainability and technology. Bryan argues that we need to make a shift in designing the learning of our schools and prototyping to build that.

“Design si where you stand with a foot in two worlds – The world of technology and the world of people and human purposes – and you try to bring the two together.” – Kapor

We live in a world where the model of pursuing a college level, elite education leads to careers success. However, the product is very different – kids with 100-200 thousand dollar educations are working as baristas. We need to learn to improve, experiment, and prototype the world of education. This is especially difficult working in an environment with a strong tradition and culture. So how do we approach this? How do we prepare for the next iteration?

Courtesy of Stockmonkeys.com via Flickr

Courtesy of Stockmonkeys.com via Flickr

If you want your school to be innovative, then it has to be a meaningful and objective goal. You have to be prepared to not only accept, but to celebrate failure. Failure is often life’s best teacher.

This is not an easy process! When you get into the nitty gritty and practice, this is difficult! However, there are successes in real life. Google, for example, has its famous 80/20 policy. It also celebrates failure. Check out Google Graveyard to see how many failures they have experienced. Still they remain one of the most successful companies today.

If you look at people’s needs, we can use that information to build a strategy. Crowdsourcing allows us to build objectives and develop a plan.

INdividual Learning Plans (ILP) is a “specific program or a strategy of education or learning that takes into consideration the student’s strengths and weaknesses.” A Digital Learning Plan is an “amalgam of an ILP, student data, and assessment evidence in service of maintaining, adapting, innovating, and producing e-artifacts for an electronic portfolio process.”

At Ravenscroft, they looked at ePortfolios as a way for students to establish a Digital Learning Process that then allows them (students) to brand themselves. Ravenscroft wanted to prototype digital portfolios to increase staff and student engagement. Ideally, this will allow students to own their learning and engage with it more meaningfully. Payton advises that when building a platform for teachers, organization and time are vital. By having the faculty learn by doing, teachers’ became familiar with the ins and outs of digital portfolios and Google Sites. It also allowed the school to streamline their templates. Students shared their Google Site portfolios appropriate, it is right now a private space and not public.

Time, Talent, & Technology

If you focus enrollment structures around time, talent, and technology you will get an innovative structure that works in your environment. Create a culture of innovation and use technology to help solve your tools.

When Students Get Creative with Tech Tools, Teachers Focus on Skills

Mindshift recently published an article of mine entitled “When Students Get Creative with Tech Tools, Teacher Focus on Skills.” In the article, I focus on how to infused digital tools into your curriculum. I hope you will read more on KQED’s website!

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There’s no app for good teaching

Jennifer Carey:

Love the ideas here. There is no magic app. Technology in the classroom is only as good as the teacher.

Originally posted on ideas.ted.com:

8 ways to think about tech in ways that actually improve the classroom.

Bringing technology into the classroom often winds up an awkward mash-up between the laws of Murphy and Moore: What can go wrong, will – only faster.

It’s a multi-headed challenge: Teachers need to connect with classrooms filled with distinct individuals. We all want learning to be intrinsically motivated and mindful, yet we want kids to test well and respond to bribes (er, extrinsic rewards). Meanwhile, there’s a multi-billion-dollar industry, in the US alone, hoping to sell apps and tech tools to school boards.

There’s no app for that.

But there are touchstones for bringing technology into the classroom. With educational goals as the starting point, not an afterthought, teachers can help students use — and then transcend — technology as they learn.

Children as early as Pre Kindergarten at Love T. Nolan Elementary School in College Park, Georgia have access to the iPad to reinforce techniques taught in the classroom. Starting in pre-kindergarten, children at Love T. Nolan Elementary School in College Park, Georgia, have access to an iPad to reinforce techniques taught in the classroom. Photo by Amanda…

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NYT offers Free, Common Core Aligned Content

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The New York Times blog, the Learning Network, is up and running for the new academic year. If you’re unfamiliar with this tool, the New York Times offers free lesson plans and content for Social Studies and Humanities teachers covering current events. Every week, they post a new Common Core aligned lesson plan include multi-media resources (all entirely free). They also offer monthly “Text to Text” lessons “in which [they] pair an often-taught work in history, literature, science or math with a piece from The Times that illuminates it in some way.”

In addition to lesson plans, they provide a variety of interactive features (quizzes, student contest, and more) for educators and students. All of this material is offered entirely free for educators and students.

Check out the inaugural post “How to Use This Blog” for the NYT Learning Network, or follow them on Twitter or Facebook.