#Rethinq18 -ing Things

Late last week, I had the opportunity to sit in on the Thinq Studio’s one day unconference. I’ve been watching their work from afar, and following along as some smart folks do wide things. But I was looking forward to spending some time with local colleagues and teachers to explore issues around teaching differently.

The focus of the event was on higher education, though I wasn’t the only “other” in the room – not a professor, not a full-time researcher, etc. There were some classroom teachers, a librarian or two, and some other others. I was looking forward to listening.

What I didn’t expect what that the day would begin and end with what I called “pep talks” by Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel. But I needed them.

Sean opened the day with a challenge, a provocation of a sort, to help us remember to be imaginative and awake in how we approach the systems we work in and help to shape. And he reminded us that the work of critical pedagogy is, in his words, something that can make us quite nervous:

And so perhaps there’s a measure for whether a project is truly critically digitally pedagogical in its intention, execution, and practice: that if we’re not just a little bit scared, if we’re not just a little bit nervous, a little bit pukey, then it’s likely we’re not pushing far enough.

He also reminded us that one of the hardest parts of transformative work, of liberation in teaching or in ed tech, is that it’s not something you can impose on others. It’s far gentler than that, because to force is not to fix, but to impose anew:

Critical pedagogy, and its digital counterpart, are practices obsessed first and foremost with liberation, with freedom, and with agency. And to that end, the very best thing we can do is to support those whose interest draws them to this work, and thus spread the work where it will grow most rapidly. The caution here is that when we become insistent that our colleagues follow along our desire lines—and not their own—we run the risk of oppressing them.

We can be the judge of our own work, but we cannot hold sway over the work of others. We cannot deny them access, we cannot make them dependent on our blessing.

You should watch his talk or read the transcript. It was a call to the power of imagination, and of remembering not to forget, and to stay awake even as we find ourselves in places and situations that may well be designed to help us to be asleep, places we may well have designed ourselves.

I really needed to hear it.

The unconference-y portions of the day involved sessions on a variety of topics. I found myself in a conversation around student agency, one piece of which was a reminder that agency isn’t something we give to students. They have it already.  And not recognizing that in our words and actions is a problem because it perpetuates one.

As I’ve written before:

Agency isn’t something you can give to someone else. It isn’t something you can demand, require or mandate. It’s something, like a flower or a good relationship, that you can work to create the essential conditions for, and if you’re lucky, you might can watch blossom.

You can invite folks to engage. You can ask them to try. But you can’t force something to grow. You can’t mandate love. You can only work to create the essential conditions under which it could grow.

If anyone ever says they can “give” you or yours agency, then they’re mistaken.

But helping to build spaces where people can flourish is quite a delightful way to get to contribute to the rich tapestry of human experience. And such a great use of one’s potential.

The afternoon found me in a session on OER with several friends and colleagues1 and new voices, and Remi masterfully allowed us to meander across several layers of conversation and different background and expertise. For some, OER is the next free textbook. For me, it’s a way of thinking, working and sharing that I’ve been struggling to do well in contexts where I find myself, for a variety of reasons, being comfortable in the discomfort of working openly in incomplete and unfinished ways2 .

The day ended with a pep talk by Jesse Stommel as he took us into some recent experiences and helped us reconsider where empathy can live in our teaching.

Again, it was a talk I really, really needed to hear. As I design experiences for teachers and others, I, too, must consider the role of empathy in my work and how I can bake it into the experiences I’m creating.

All in all, a fine visit to a thoughtful group of higher educators. I am grateful that my work and experiences bring me into places such at the Thinq Studio, and that places like that exist to help us grow. And that, from time to time, wayward folks like me can wander in and get a pep talk or two.

  1. Scott and Noah and Remi, for starters. []
  2. More on this in another post. []

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