Reflections on Praxis at DPLI2016

It’s done. I did it. We did it. It was hard and challenging and exhausting and invigorating and inspiring and just so much fun. But it’s over, and I’m left trying to make sense of what exactly happened last week during Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute 2016.

I taught the Praxis track, and you can see my preliminary syllabus here, but as you will see, things changed, as they should, especially if you embrace student-centered learning and the co-creation of knowledge. Which I do. At least, I try to.

(This whole process was inspired by Audrey Watters who taught the Action Track. I wish I had done this earlier, because I swear I don’t remember what happened on Wednesday. Not well. But I’ll try to recreate the week. You can see a long, heavily curated Storify of the week, focusing on our track.)

Monday was magical. We all came together in a space and allowed for ourselves to be vulnerable and creative. I first asked them to get to know each other by creating a picture of what their ideal class would be, prompting them to think figuratively about their pedagogical philosophy.

I then handed out index cards, in order for them to write down their three to five most important pedagogical values, with the goal of giving them a resource they can take with them beyond this week to remind them of those things most important to them when making decisions around their teaching.

And finally, we started to imagine what our dream course would be, with no curricular, institutional, or resource limitations. Very rarely do we get to engage in these kinds of big, bold, imaginative thinking when it comes to the courses we teach.

(Feel free to steal any of these exercises. Just warmly and accurately say that it was all my idea.)

My track was already starting to take my “this is your course, to make of it what you will, and to do in it what you will” by continuing to talk and talk and talk and talk and talk when I was trying to nudge them towards their goals.

Which was awesome. It became a theme.

The two keynotes Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning really helped reinforce a lot of things I had already said (as well as being thought provoking and awesome). Tressie McMillan Cottom put up two questions that she keeps returning to when making decisions around the Master’s in Digital Sociology, while Cathy Davidson celebrated collaborative, participant-driven pedagogy and “stealing” great ideas from other great teachers.

When we got back into our class space on Tuesday morning, we were all feeling overwhelmed and a little mentally exhausted…which I did nothing to alleviate by crowdsourcing what we wanted to do over the rest of the week. That afternoon, we crowdsourced a digital tools document, as well as begin to have a critical discussion around tool selection, accessibility, and values, started around the barriers people in the class people encountered using Google Docs, as well as the values therein.

And that I chose to make a doc and not a spreadsheet.

No one really remembers what happened on Wednesday. Seriously. I think we spoke a little about how we go about designing our courses, but then folks were off to the races themselves, creating their courses and assignments for the upcoming semester. We also talked about creating community within and outside our course spaces, but then:

The class has essentially kicked me to the curb and now it’s all about them. LOVE IT. #digped

— Lee Skallerup (@readywriting) August 10, 2016

That afternoon, during the unconference, I had the pleasure of participating in a raucous VConnecting Session, connecting with pedagogues from around the world, and generally making me feel like a superstar.

Thursday (OH GOD WE’RE ALMOST THERE), I had the honor of setting the daily intention, and said something similar to what I had told the participants in the Praxis track the day before: I was deeply appreciative of the time and resources the devoted to coming to DPLI, and that I also acknowledged the amounts of affective labor and trust that they were placing in us and each other.

And then, we got to talking about assessment. We solved all of the problems and have revolutionized the practice, but we forgot to write it all down, so…

Not really. We had a good airing of grievances and analysis of the boxes we all contend with at our institutions and within our disciplines, and began to explore ways to make space for a different kind of assessment of and for our students and their work.

And then, for the final afternoon, we unconferenced our way into whatever they still needed or wanted to work on, including setting them on with their own Domain. It made me so happy that only days after being introduced to the concept of an unconference, they were confidently using it in their own practice.

Is it Friday yet? I think it’s Friday now. Friday kicked off with a joint keynote of Martha Fay Burtis and Sean Michael Morris, and then, for our last activity as a track together, I had the participants write three superpowers they had and three areas where they still felt they needed help (stolen from Cathy Davidson’s keynote). They wrote them on the whiteboard, and then people put their names by the superpower they wanted to gain. Everyone got to be a hero to someone. And everyone also got a helper for their area where they needed to grow. I was trying to help them find their tribe.

I think they did.

I’ve finally found time to finish writing about this, a week later. Life, of course, doesn’t slow down, and at this time of the year, it just ramps up. The faculty at my institution have all gone back on contract, and so my days are filled with faculty consultations, opening events, faculty development activities, not to mention getting my own class up and running. But I approach it this semester with a renewed sense of purpose and energy; I did, in fact, learn as much from the participants in my track as they did from me, if not more. But I also was reminded that I had, in fact, found my place, found my tribe, and was doing the work I have always wanted to do.

My one hope is that each of the participants, at one point in their lives and careers, get to have that same feeling.