In August a group of educators and learners gathered from across the world to attend the annual Digital Pedagogy Lab at the University of Mary Washington, Virginia. IATL’s Senior Teaching Fellows, Naomi de la Tour and Elena Riva co-taught a 5 day course, Education, Agency and Change, which was grounded in contemplative critical pedagogy. The group of 17 worked together to co-create a collegiate, reflective and critical space in which we sought to support each other in asking questions of our assumptions, experiences and practices as educators and the systems in which we work. Naomi was present in Virginia, with Elena co-teaching the group remotely over zoom and other technologies. They found this an opportunity for asking questions about the nature of online learning, the possibilities and challenges for building community and inclusion in online spaces, and the ways in which education can be reimagined and enacted.
Writing of Naomi and Elena’s course, Sean Michael Morris, the founder and director of the event said ‘I understand very well the challenges of teaching in an intensive, cohort-based environment—sustaining not only interest and engagement, but also a sense of play and productivity requires constant attention and creativity—but it seems work that both Naomi and Elena are built for. On their feedback form, a student wrote: "Extremely welcoming environment, removing constraints from our minds, giving ourselves permission to do something really opens up possibilities.”’
DPL is an event deeply grounded within critical pedagogic principles, and enacts those principles in the shape and organisation of the event. It was, therefore, a week of generosity, enquiry, engagement and listening. The international faculty who gather each year are committed to posing questions about the state and future of education, engaging with and transcending questions of technology and the digital. The event asks us to contemplate our roles and responsibilities as educators and learners, and challenges us to consider how we, individually and together, will shape and influence our educational spaces.
Highlights of the event included the keynotes by Ruha Benjamin and Robin DeRosa. Ruha explored the ways discriminatory designs “encode inequity: by explicitly amplifying racial hierarchies, by ignoring but thereby replicating social divisions, or by aiming to fix racial bias but ultimately doing the opposite”. Robin argued that “The daily contexts that wear us out are also the real conditions and experiences that we’re talking about transforming for future learners; when we feel the ways that our educational institutions press us down or out, it’s a critical moment where we recognize the ways that our systems could be more inclusive, when we envision alternatives”. Both explicitly challenged the audience to consider ways to bring educational change in their own spaces and places of learning. Additionally, for Elena and Naomi the community of practitioners that has grown after the event and who remain in daily contact with each other has been a particularly encouraging outcome. Sean wrote of that community that ‘Six years into offering this Lab, and I’ve never once seen a classroom community successfully remain cohesive and in touch after the event ends, but this one has.’ A 36 page living document ‘The Anti-Manifesto Manifesto’ was produced by the cohort, and this has already been used in HE faculty training in the USA and Norway.
Given the shared values and aims between the work of DPL and IATL, Naomi and Elena share Sean’s ‘hope to continue building this relationship between the Lab and IATL into 2020.’ Sean will also be co-convening IATL’s new interdisciplinary module Change: Critical Understandings, Practices, and Action with Naomi, beginning in Autumn 2019.