The past couple of days at Digital Pedagogy Lab have me thinking about the confluence of hospitality (a point of southern pride at UA, and perhaps also here in Fredericksburg, Virginia) and the new-to-me-concept of digital sanctuary (introduced by Amy Collier; more below!)
Hospitality clearly means something here at University of Mary Washington. Beautiful architecture, brick sidewalks and fountains delight the eye; covered walkways provide shelter on rainy days; librarians adorn their outward-facing windows with declarations of “we will help!” The Hurley Convergence Center offers all kinds of space for gathering and building community (not to mention a Starbucks machine on the first floor).
We at DigPedLab have been treated to a hot lunch every day in the student center cafeteria (even with school out of session!). A “Digicart” is ready to drive us when we need assistance, ensuring that no-one should struggle to be part of this group. We have been offered pronoun buttons–they/them/theirs; she/her/hers; he/him/his–that help us not only signal easily about our preferred pronouns, but even more fundamentally hold space for any and all to be welcome and comfortable in their own personhood.
Hello from the Digital Pedagogy Lab (DigPedLab) Institute 2017! Andrew Richardson and I are here from the Innovation Team, with 7 more faculty* from across The University of Alabama, already immersed in questions and practices surrounding Critical Digital Pedagogy and associated themes such as design, networks, data, and domains.
We are meeting in a collaboration-friendly, tech-filled space at the University of Mary Washington Hurley Convergence Center. I especially like the Herman Miller Magis Spun Chairs on the fourth floor, which turn their riders (there really is no other noun for this — one does not merely sit) into human spinning tops — see HM’s spun chair YouTube video for the full effect.
Add to these the Lego™ minifigure avatars we made for one another in an opening icebreaker and you get the picture of DigPedLab as a place where community matters, play and collaboration are encouraged, and we all have the opportunity turn, to spin, to look around (or be twirled!) for new perspectives.
While play might seem to some a non-starter, I find it sets the tone for an open, willing-to-learn attitude that infuses and inspires the whole community. In our lives and jobs we are teachers and designers and administrators; but here, we are learners. The theme of play also puts me in mind of John Seely Brown‘s keynote at UA’s Online Learning Innovation Summit 2017, in which he showed us how play is essential to curiosity about and engagement with a topic, and thereby critical to learning.
As I moved into my smaller-group track on Critical Instructional Design, I was already in a space of curiosity, eager to play with ideas. The Design group members come from many backgrounds and experiences, so I was particularly interested to see what people would write on the board for this question: What are your implicit and/or explicit design principles?
It was easy for me to think about the explicit principles that form part of my institution’s approach to design: clarity, modularity, organization, accessibility. But I have to be quite honest and say I had never really taken a moment to consider what my own implicit design principles might be. I quickly realized I had a set of personal design principles around relationship and community, but I felt there must also be others to discover.
My sense of wonderment and possibility took over as I considered these, written on the board: empathy, exploration, affective relationship, agency. What could the online courses we work on become if a set of implicit design principles were agreed on by faculty, instructional designers, media and innovation teams from the beginning? They could (and probably should) be different for each course, and would increase our ability to bring online students course material that aims not only to deliver subject matter, but to be an experience–an immersion in theprinciples, ethos, meaning and implications of that subject matter.
This type of approach wouldn’t be entirely new for our group. I am sure my instructional design colleagues could offer some excellent examples, and here I’ll share one of mine: This year, one of the Innovation Team’s projects is a collaboration with Innovation Spirit Scholar Dr. Jennifer Becker, of the UA College of Communication and Information Sciences. Dr. Becker came to us with this conundrum: when faculty new to online teaching are assigned to teach Interpersonal Communication, they have a very large learning curve just in teaching online, not to mention connecting with online students. How, she asked, can we help them model positive interpersonal communication as they engage with students enrolled across many time zones, cultural backgrounds, age groups and life situations? In the terms used in today’s discussion, Dr. Becker’s implicit design principles, as she expressed them to us, include community-building, affective relationship, and empathy. Knowing those, we were able to collaborate on the development of guidance and strategies to help new instructors teach interpersonal communication online not only through readings and activities, but also through embodiment of its concepts in their own, intentionally personalized communication with students.
Clarity about implicit design values could also help us rethink how we engage our online student population. For instance, what would the implicit value of non-isolation look like for online courses? How would that value prompt us to think in new ways about familiar ideas like community-building and cohort formation within an online course or degree program? How could that implicit value prompt us to think about possibilities we haven’t even thought about yet?
I admire what Dr. Becker has done for her online course, and I look forward to conversations with future UA Innovation Scholars and Innovation Catalysts (UA Instructional Designers, it’s a new opportunity for you – stay tuned!) around implicit design principles, relative to their own disciplines and teaching perspectives, to see how those could shape a more holistic way of engaging, enfolding, including online students.
* Angela Benson (College of Education), Kim Colburn (New College/New College Life Track), André Denham (College of Education), Traci Ferguson (ACCESS English), Michelle Hale (College of Human Environmental Sciences), Heather Pleasants (Office of Institutional Effectiveness/QEP), John Ratliff (College of Arts and Sciences/UA Early College) ↩