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.

I was amazed at the confidence and certainty so many of y’all had when presenting your project idea…amazed, and a bit intimidated: I have a lot of catching up to do!

Truthfully, all of my ideas for a final ITP project are nascent, defined as much but my thoughts on usefulness and work load as by a particular vision of a final object. Some of those thoughts:

a) I’d like the project to have a clear, utilitarian value, whether by teachers or researchers

b) I’d like the project to present data surrounding theatre and performance, less overt claims or theses, more organized information with which interested people could develop their own claims or feelings

c) I’d like the project to be technologically focused; I expect I’ll need to learn some new tools, and I want depth rather than breadth here (i.e. 1-2 technologies at most), for the sake of both my sanity and the final product

I have three main ideas I’ll present below, though in all honesty, these are simply two of my several floating concepts that I’m going to develop here for the sake of the assignment.

ONE: From the pedagogical side, I’m wondering about trying to create a resource where teachers, students and researchers could visualize canonical theatre events (plays/performances/performative events, which could include mass gatherings, political rallies, etc.) in terms of quantitative data. That would probably involve determining a few metrics—how much money the event cost or made; how many people it served in its live incarnation; amount of time it persisted—and then perhaps organizing them onto a map of some sort. I imagine that starting to do this, and then allowing some tagging of the event by theme or type, might allow for some intriguing overlaps or correlations that could suggest room for understanding or argument.

TWO: This is as much a history as theatre idea, but I have an idea of an interactive map that tracks places where riots occurred in New York City. Using ArcGIS, I would collect data on violence and tag both the cause of the violence and/or the “cause” that it was pursuing. As a resource that might hopefully suggest overlaps in how the city has become commercialized space that interacts with its surroundings, this could be something really valuable. In some ways, if I could choose one of these and will it into existence, it would be this one. In entirely different ways, I worry about the extent of data collection for a project that might only tangentially relate to my larger dissertation research.

THREE: I have only the tiniest inkling about doing a podcast about selected acts of performative or theatrical violence (riots/coups/etc. as well as notably disturbing or violent theatre pieces), and discussing them from a theatrical vantage. While there’s arguable use here, the truth is that this would be something akin to developing chapters of a disssertation and I quite frankly will be nowhere near that place next fall…

I’m still thinking and hoping one idea comes to me that will present itself as the definitive right way to go, but until then, friends, I leave you with a blog post.

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