A PROVOCATION: When is class too much?

I really appreciated the conversation that was either implicitly or explicitly taking place between this week’s readings.  I’m a big believer in the potentials fo Digital Pedagogy, even outside of our Zoom-centered COVID classrooms.  I need not list the values, as they’re so well detailed throughout these readings: removing individuals from their “silos” (Rosen/Smale), increasing the buy-in for students, allowing “productive digressions” (Ugoretz), and so on.

But I have to say that I was really struck by the comment that a student made to Luke: “I don’t like [the blog pedagogy] because it keeps the class always on my mind.”  I feel that this potential downfall of digital pedagogies is not sufficiently explored in these readings, and hardly in the work we read last semester.  (I don’t doubt those arguments are out there, so apologies if someone reading this is like “dude, like 7 scholars have already said all this.”)

My provocation, then, is to really insist we worry as educators about the type of epistemology that we’re expecting of students when we implement technologies like blogs or social media.  This “digital epistemology”—by which I mean a way of thinking and learning where the work might never end, where you can always click in and see what’s new and add to it, and so on—has potential dangerous implications for both individuals and education overall both.  The argument I’m making is similar to one I made when we discussed Slack in ITP1: I think it’s totally efficacious, but I don’t like it because I suddenly feel like I’m always expected to be aware of the class dialogue.  About one semester later, let me say: it’s happened.  I check the ITP Slack along with my other mindless social media scrolling.  Now, my own situation is certainly a reflection of my own ongoing struggle with screen time and time management (read: phone addiction), but I also believe I’m hardly alone in this.  And while this particular issue (ITP in Slack) doesn’t carry dangerous implications for me, it does reflect what could be a real problem.   After all, there is no expectation that I constantly check it.  That was made clear by Lisa and Carlos last semester.  And yet it nevertheless became part of my lifestyle in this way.

Luckily, I like ITP and we’re all respectful of each other.  But let’s for a moment expand my experience to consider how it could affect an undergrad.  Someone who may already need positive, reinforcing epistemologies of education, who in their potential insecurity about their talent/commitment/intellegence/social standing/whatever already needs educators to help them understand that what we learn is part of our lives and not a burden, that knowledge is supposed to serve and empower us.  This feeling, that the class is “always on our mind,” has the real potential to underline the toxic competition that education can engender, the sense of a master/student binary where the latter is always expected to please the former by assessing the master’s expectations and then meet them.  In a pedagogy where you could always sign in and respond to more blog posts, where you might log in to see that other students are doing that and you don’t want to fall behind, where we are so many of us already struggling with the all-encompassing Skynet of a digital world, this “always on my mind” quality of digital education, particularly if it was happening in several classes at once, could totally negate the democratizing potential that digital pedagogy promises to bring.

And of course I’m being a bit doom-saying here.  I neither want to dismiss that digital pedagogy does have democratizing potential—it’s largely why I’m a fan of it—nor presume that making students do blog posts is going to stress them out beyond believe and then there goes the neighborhood.  However, I do think we need to be aware as educators that many students do see expectations in our assignments, and so the relatively formless assignments that could never end are something we have a responsibility to navigate so that the knowledge serves the student rather than becoming a burden adding more stress to lives already overburdened with the digital demands of late capitalism.

2 thoughts on “A PROVOCATION: When is class too much?”

  1. I really appreciate your pointing out “that we need to be aware as educators that many students do see expectations in our assignments, and so the relatively formless assignments that could never end are something we have a responsibility to navigate so that the knowledge serves the student rather than becoming a burden adding more stress”, it describes how I feel about the discussion board posts I have to put up for one of my other classes (not ITP). I still stress out about what is expected of me (although I am doing well in the class in terms of grades) because I do not know what the point is of responding to the readings for the course, which are entirely informational and do not posit arguments but rather assert facts and essentially just list statistics/ correlations that aim to fit a hypothesis alluding to a conclusion of interacting causes. As a grad student in that program, I presume that I am just supposed to verify that I understood the content and then engage with others, confirming that we both understand stuff that is relatively self-evident. Also, when I look at the responses from students to other students, there is no clear style of discussion so I still have no idea what the teacher’s goal is for the interaction between students. This week I just posted a “wow great point, thanks for sharing” to someone because I saw that it was done by others. Another time, I went deep into someone’s post and eventually veered away from the original topic, I still do not know what is expected but I surely feel there is a expectation that I have not figured out. There is a fine line between a productive discussion board that allow for useful digressions and a collection of random thoughts you hope the teacher will qualify as important enough to get a the” total points”.

    1. I wholeheartedly agree with you comment, Stephen, and was struck by that line, too. I’ve tried to consciously compartmentalize time in my teaching and learning. (Lisa’s schedule with its 30-minute blocks are still an aspiration, though.) I think as teachers it’s absolutely essential to avoid using digital technology in a way that works against the necessary “rest time” for real intellectual work to happen. Like Shpresa, I have often found discussion boards inauthentic audiences, even when the participants are doing their best to engage each other meaningfully. Can’t wait to talk more with everyone about this tomorrow.

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