Moving Classes Online–What Are We Bringing With Us?

Based on the name, I would’ve assumed that most scholars of digital pedagogy would be operating under some kind of assumption that technology was an innate force for good, that nonelectronic methods of teaching would become dated, or that the role of the instructor in individual interactions could be automated away, but it was nice to see that this wasn’t the case. In fact, I found myself entranced by the definition and exploration of digital pedagogy as being centered around potential, and innovation, and rethinking what the needs, goals, and values of the classroom are in order to select the appropriate tools.

If the correct tool is not already available, then these conceptions of digital pedagogy encourage students to “hack” them instead. I am both deeply interested in the power and potential of technology as being transformative, as a programming-hobbyist-turned-impromtu-computer-scientist and as a digital citizen who often found more genuine community online than I had access to in the physical world, and deeply skeptical of those who think that the transformative potential of technology is always positive, or even always unpredictable and unknowable and we are all merely along for the ride, pulled along by its whims. If digital pedagogy is a pedagogy dedicated to asking what we actually need in the classroom and other teaching environments and not settling for things simply because it has always been done, even if it means becoming the very first to do something, then I’m in.

One can always clean house, for any reason, and it is easier to make and keep a clean house if you do so regularly in small doses. But, as someone who has moved far too many times in the past years, I know that moving is a powerful motivator to purge one’s belongings. Thinking about the various physical objects cluttering my home as items that require an investment of time and energy into packing, carrying, and unpacking–not to mention precious car space and gasoline–lets me more objectively consider why I have the object and whether it’s still serving me. Plus, I’m already having to touch each object to put it into a box. Sure, maybe sorting out a donate pile makes the packing take a little longer than if I just threw everything into the boxes the night before, but it lowers the barrier to reflection and I can remind myself that I won’t have to carry as much on Moving Day, that worst-of-all-possible-days, if I carry things to the goodwill now. I’m finding it especially helpful at the moment to think of new technologies, especially migrating a class to them (as many of us have been and continue to be doing), as a chance to look at the various trappings of higher education–grades, lectures, types of assignments, ways of interacting with students, ways of structuring the classroom–and ask ourselves whether we want to carry them across state lines.

As an example: does it still make sense to take attendance in the same way? What are we hoping to accomplish by grading attendance, and is it a root problem or a symptom of something else? What do we gain or lose by trying to replicate existing attendance grades digitally?

What about tests? What is the point of a test, generally, and how does that change as it becomes harder to ensure that students are not using illicit outside resources? Are there ways to incentivize students not to cheat that don’t make them feel like targets of suspicion? What does it tell us about our classes or our students when they cheat, and are we sure that those students have not fulfilled the course learning objectives while others have? I already have some doubts about the usefulness of multiple-choice tests and other forms of assessment that require an absolute lack of outside resources to test information recall, but I think the move online and the question of whether to use a lockdown browser, for instance, offers a great chance to reflect on this. Incorporating online sources of information and teaching students how to learn and gather that information outside of the classroom environment, in many ways, makes the classroom more like the way students will learn in the “real world”.

I don’t think that the classroom necessarily needs to be like the “real world” of the workplace or job market in every way, but no classroom needs to be like the traditional idea of a classroom in every way, either. Since we often live in a highly digital world, I think the move online can actually be a time to make the classroom environment less artificial by being┬ávery intentional about where we deviate from the “real world” and why.

One comment:

  1. Leah, thank you for this post. I find your metaphor of moving a very provoking one. I hope that the ‘move’ day is coming in relation to COVID-19 so to speak. I think you are exactly right about the fact this does allow us to reconsider formats of assignments that no longer serve a particularly helpful function. I think students appreciate it when they know how an assignment, even if it is difficult, is connected to an overall purpose for the course. I think in light of the ongoing pandemic as well there is nothing wrong with creating assignments that are potentially less time-intensive or explicitly deisgned to be difficult. Especially when it comes to research skills, its possible to design assignments that teach the skills without the potential harsh grading that follows. These are unconnected thoughts, so I will stop here, but, again, thank you for these thoughts.

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