Virtually Connecting with Digital Pedagogy Lab

Last week I got to attend the first (annual?) Digital Pedagogy Lab in Madison, WI. The week was intense: attendees spent an average of 5 hours per day in one of three workshop tracks (Praxis, Networks, Identity) and also attended unconference sessions, keynote lectures, and daily meals together. It was exhilarating, exhausting, inspiring, and frustrating, all at the same time. The week left me with as many unanswered questions as it answered, and I’m still sorting through what I learned, and how to integrate that learning to improve my own teaching.

In addition to the regular activities, I was also one of a few people who acted as “conference buddies” connecting virtual participants to those who were able to attend physically by co-hosting brief, informal webcast conversations. There were live (and recorded) streamed hangouts each day of the workshop, and I participated in four out of five of them: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Here is the Virtually Connecting page with links to each of the sessions, and here is the overall schedule for the hangouts during the week.

Why Be a Buddy?

Rebecca Hogue () and Maha Bali () first introduced me to their concept of a “virtual buddy” who could facilitate informal chats between live conference presenters and/or attendees and virtual attendees at #et4online in Texas this spring. At that conference, Rebecca used her devices to connect Maha and other friends to a series of panels at the conference for brief “hallway chats” about the content of the panels. The style was informal and conversational, the purpose not to re-present conference papers, but rather to enable virtual participants (who watched live stream or Twitter feeds during the panels) to ask questions and discuss ideas.

Conferences are expensive and location-specific, so the virtual buddy concept that Maha and Rebecca developed is an attempt to address structural inequities that discourage so many academics from being an equal part of conversations. I love this idea, and I was (and am) delighted to be part of a project that encourages real inclusiveness. I have limited conference funding at my institution, so I am often the one watching the Twitter feed of a conference longingly, and I hope to get to participate as a virtual attendee one day soon. So far, I’ve participated as an attending buddy at three events this year: HASTAC, DHSI, and Digital Pedagogy Lab and as an attending guest at the inaugural #et4online conference.

How to be a Buddy

Now that I’ve been a buddy three times at different types of events, I thought I’d record my reflections. My overall feeling is delight and gratitude that Rebecca and Maha asked me to join their project. As a facilitator of conversations, I’ve gotten to chat with a bunch of folks at each conference–some I know well and others I’m meeting for the purpose of the hangout. The project opened doors for me, giving me a reason to approach Alex Gil (whose work I had admired from afar), and Amy Collier (whose keynote knocked my socks off). And facilitating an online conversation was something to offer back to friends whose work and ideas have influenced mine, such as Adeline Koh, Anne Cong-Huyen, and Chris Friend. Being a conference buddy–acting as a vector to connect virtual and physical attendees–is one of the most embodied modes of participant culture I’ve experienced. I love it!

Being there and being virtual: Balancing two ways of connecting

The most complicated aspect of being a buddy is the fluidity of connecting an embodied experience (conference attendance) with a virtual experience (streaming discussion). Ideally, the two should dovetail seamlessly, with the embodied bridging effortlessly to the technologically-facilitated virtual (which is, of course, embodied differently). In the best of all worlds, I’d hope that the VirtuallyConnecting hangouts provide the virtual participants a point of access into the sensibility of a conference, to the side conversations and serendipitous juxtapositions that transform conferences into coherent events rather than merely sequential presentations. Additionally, the virtual group, by participating in the conversation, can spontaneously generate fascinating connections and create their own shared sensibility, since such event coherence is produced by each conference attendee, or by small groups of attendees who share ideas.

But the part I find tricky is being the conduit: the “buddy” who acts as fulcrum between physical and virtual. I want to make my conference experience visible to the virtual participants, while also making space for them to produce their own collective focus during the discussion. And I want to achieve all that while being mentally present during conference sessions and also fully committed to the streaming discussion. So far, I’ve not quite mastered how to do all that. As a virtually connecting session approaches, I notice that I get nervous: will I be able to round up the on-ground participants elegantly? Will the hangout initiate smoothly? Will our conversation develop naturally out of the collective sensibility of the conference as well as of the virtual participants? How can I invite virtual participants into conversations that feel ongoing among the on-ground attendees with as little repetition as possible? How do I enjoy my own conference-going fully, while also adhering to the preset Virtually Connecting schedule? This last is one of the most challenging aspects of being a buddy: you have to interrupt your own conference to help others connect in. But, so far, that complexity has yielded enormous benefits for me. And, more importantly, I get to feel that I’m giving back to others by bifurcating a bit of my own conference time by linking multiple communities together. It’s one of the most rewarding and exciting aspects of these last few conferences I’ve attended, and I look forward to becoming better at it.


DHSI 2015: Fun with Data Visualizations

I just returned from a week in paradise Victoria, BC, at DHSI 2015. This year I did a data visualization workshop with Aimee Knight. I’ve lots to say about Aimée’s wonderful pedagogy, the focus and structure of the workshop, and some of my favorite new tools, but for now I’m just posting our shared notes and tweets here for everyone’s use:

More to come soon!

DH and Social Justice

(Click HERE to jump to links.)

Yesterday I asked a question on Twitter and Facebook:

Do you know of a ‪#‎DH‬ project or tool that addresses a social justice issue? I know this is a broad request, but I’m looking to compile a list of interesting projects for students to analyze. Plz share links, resources, or references and I’ll share the list we come up with.

In less than 24 hours, I’ve received dozens of links and suggestions, and also many requests to share the list. To make sharing and contributions simpler, I’ve created an open Diigo Outline, which you can access here, or see below.

First–thanks to everyone who has sent links and resources. Please keep adding–this is a huge area, and the more work we collect the better for our students/scholars/activists.

Michelle Moravec asked a crucial question about the method and scope of my request:

Are you looking for just contemporary social justice or historical?

As you see from the list below, I’ve included both and tried to tag and categorize to make finding easier.

The inspiration for my request comes from a class titled “Just Hacking” I will be team-teaching with my colleague Bill Kronholm in Fall 2015. Here’s the catalog description:

“Hacking” is often viewed as a criminal endeavor; however, at its core it is the art of creative problem solving. In this course students will hack the information flow of new media to conceptualize, design, and implement responses to real-world social justice issues. As a class, we will identify a specific issue and then learn data visualization, basic programming, and/or design skills as needed to build a project to address it. No prior programming experience is assumed. 4 credits. CON2

The course is designed for people with no prior programming experience who share a conviction that we are all responsible for improving our world. Students will learn efficient problem-solving and basic coding (especially Python) using an applied project-based learning approach in which they will collectively identify a social problem, design potential projects to address it, select an approach, learn the skills they need to implement their choice, and then collaboratively implement their solution. The course will teach basic programming skills as a literacy that can help address social problems, while also exploring ways technological solutionism can obscure or exacerbate existing social problems.

I’d love your feedback and thoughts about our concept. We are developing the course modules this summer, and the projects on this list will be both inspirations and opportunities for students to analyze existing projects in order to imagine what is possible, what can be improved, and what works.

Diigo DH and Social Justice Outliner:

DH and Social Justice

Learning Subjectives: Joining #rhizo15

I have been looking forward to #rhizo15 for a few months now. I was traveling during the last round of #rhizo, but I keep seeing people I enjoy using the hashtag, so I’ve been chomping at the bit to join in! Despite that enthusiasm, though, I am coming to the party a week (or three) late, since April truly is the cruelest (grading) month when you teach on a north american semester schedule.

So I am DELIGHTED to see the first prompt: learning subjectives.

Okay, honesty gut check moment: delighted is the second thing I felt. The first was confused. Was “learning subjective” a term I should be familiar with? Was I about to be exposed as a fraud, a dabbler in pedagogical theory rather than an expert? That kid in class who didn’t do the homework? Someone who doesn’t know the terminology?!

Then–after reading Dave Cormier’s introduction–then I was delighted. “Learning Subjectives.” Of course! What a great term/idea/reversal/introduction!

Learning subjectives encapsulates my reason for joining the #rhizo15 party: it’s where the cool people are. My goal in joining #rhizo15 had always been to get to know more people, to share ideas, to widen my learning network, to benefit from others and to articulate my own ideas about teaching, and thereby to learn from and for myself, as well. In other words, my motivation to participate has been about the “subjects” rather than the “objects” of learning.

And this realization has caused me to reflect on a formerly unexamined assumption I had about students at my liberal arts college. Students choose classes because of the classmembers all the time. Sometimes they choose based on the professor. Sometimes it’s based on a friend who is taking the same section. Sometimes their choice is based on what other students have said about past versions of the class. Bottom line: student class choice is heavily shaped by a network effect. (This may not be true of larger institutions; but at my 1,700 student college, everyone really does know everyone, at least by reputation.)

So, a new learning subjective for me: how do I line up my learning subjectives with my students’?

Why should students take my course?

Yesterday a small group of folks here on campus gathered in the Faculty Alcove of the library to watch the first webinar for Connected Courses. The Webinar featured  Mike Wesch, Cathy Davidson, and Randy Bass, and was FANTASTIC.

What was so great about it? The speakers were fantastic: succinct, inspiring, on topic, smart smart smart. But what really made the event special was that I got to watch it with a group of folks all engaged in helping learning happen in different ways: one professor of psychology, one of Spanish, one specialist in digital scholarship, and two undergraduate students not enrolled in any of my courses.

It was AMAZING to discuss teaching and learning with such a diverse group of folks who all really care. The students, especially, challenged me to think differently, to question some of my own assumptions, and to try things that sound pretty scary to me (like an anonymous chat backchannel during class discussion. Scary!)

After the webinar, we were asked to respond to a specific writing prompt (ahem, another demonstration of good pedagogy!) Here’s the writing prompt this post intends to address:

So what is the real “why” of your course? Why should students take it? How will they be changed by it? What is your discipline’s real “why”? Why does it matter that students take __________ courses or become _________ists? How can digital and networked technologies effectively support the real why of your course?

Mike Wesch made a comment that spoke to my course’s “why”:

WSP101, the course I am focusing on for this project, is an introduction to a program in self-directed learning in which students can choose to design their own learning programs (within the limits of the course offerings of the college, and their study abroad and internship experiences). It’s a really exciting program, and offers students who are both ambitious and motivated an opportunity to tailor their experience at our small college to suit their own goals. So, in a way, the “why” is easy for this course.

Why take this course? To learn how to decide for yourself what you need to learn and to practice some ways to achieve that learning.

I think the Whittier Scholars program fits easily into the connected learning concept. I am just updating the methods the program has long used by encouraging students to build their own personal learning networks on Twitter and Medium, and other places.

But another comment yesterday really got me thinking:

Whittier Scholars, for all its wonderful flexibility and clear basis in students’ own interests, can also seem a bit vague or difficult to evaluate. Sometimes, that can lead students to feel unclear about what constitutes accountability. This is something I need to really work on.

The class this semester will be doing self- and peer-evaluation quite a bit. In fact, they will be writing ocassional narrative evaluations of their own participation and submitting their self-assigned grades to me. I, then, will respond to their narratives and suggested grades. Grading, in other words, will be a dialogue. I hope this will help. We shall see.


I wrote all that, and then I saw this comic on my Twitter feed. This is so true and right and good that I can’t help posting it here: