Angular white walls against a white backrgound.

An Urgency of Teachers

 Published on September 11, 2018 /  Written by and /  “Reggio Emilia AV Mediopadana, Italy” by Luca Bravo on Unsplash /  0

As early as 2011 — and by some accounts earlier — Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel began writing a praxis of critical digital pedagogy, working to imagine a frame for the critical pedagogy of writers like Paulo Freire and bell hooks within a digital context. Publishing variously on Hybrid Pedagogy, their own blogs, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and in books from the University of Chicago Press, Utah State University Press, IGI Global, and others, Sean and Jesse created a volume of work that inspects, defines, explores, and wonders at a pedagogy for online, hybrid, and digitally-inflected learning and teaching. And today marks the official release of a collection of that work, An Urgency of Teachers: the Work of Critical Digital Pedagogy. Below is the introduction to the book.

All proceeds from the book benefit the work of the Hybrid Pedagogy 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. This journal runs entirely on the volunteer efforts of the dedicated writers, editors, and the director, Christopher R. Friend. To support their work, please consider purchasing the paperback or Kindle book of An Urgency of Teachers. For more information about the book, to purchase, or to view the open-access version, visit the book’s website.


Education is, in the words of Paulo Freire, an “inescapable concern.” The work of teaching is activism. There are many models for this, but ours comes from a concern for the raising of critical consciousness on the part of students and teachers, but also within the minds, hearts, and policies of the administrators, governments, corporations, and other stakeholders (including, increasingly, technologists) who control the environments for learning at institutions of higher education and schools at all levels. No one can be left out of the work of critical pedagogy, or critical digital pedagogy, both the effort of it and its ends.

It wouldn’t be appropriate to kick this book off with a linear history or neat and tidy map of the trajectory we’ve taken across our work. The ideas here developed as a series of nodes more than a connected set of thinking on a single subject. Our own definitions for critical digital pedagogy arrived through conversations, moments of intersection between our work as academics, teachers, and students, in the development of Hybrid Pedagogy and Digital Pedagogy Lab, and in the long thread of ongoing discussion on Twitter, in synchronous moments at conferences, in late evening text messages, on airplanes, on long walks through parking lots, and in classrooms upon several continents across multiple hemispheres. Critical pedagogy is as a philosophy and educational approach slippery enough to find its way into almost every conversation. And so this book includes tangents towards digital humanities, educational technology, digital writing, social justice, plagiarism and academic integrity, instructional design, and more.

It is in the slipperiness of critical digital pedagogy that we find its most valuable application, and have found throughout two decades working that praxis through. We’ve traced within this volume, and within the history of our work together, an exercise of pedagogy that pushes past the walls of the classroom and into the complicated practice of being human. This is work increasingly difficult in a world where the possibility of “being human” is not equally distributed — a world where who we can be, the education available to us, the resources which may support our curiosity, our intelligence, our imaginations, has become more and more dependent on the technologies our institutions employ. It is this unevenness, this inequity, that critical digital pedagogy seeks to rout. Our work (across this book and within its pieces) begins from a place of hope but recognizes the hard paths we must tread — the hard paths we must continue to tread—toward action.

And thus, our title “an urgency of teachers” describes the necessary shift we must make toward valuing more the work — affective, flawed, nuanced, unfolding—that teachers (all of them) do online and in classrooms, and also the important work wrought upon the heart and mind by an education that is concerned with the human. It is urgent we have teachers, it is urgent we employ them, pay them, support them with adequate resources; but it is also urgency which defines the project of teaching. In a political climate increasingly defined by its obstinacy, lack of criticality, and deflection of fact and care; in a society still divided across lines of race, nationality, religion, gender, sexuality, income, ability, and privilege; in a digital culture shaped by algorithms that neither know nor accurately portray truth, teaching has an important (urgent) role to play.

This book is a somewhat messy assemblage of the public writing we’ve done over the last 6 and a half years. There are nearly 50 individual pieces here, and yet they represent less than a third of our Web-published work. The choice of what to include and not to include was instinctual more than overtly intentional, a looking back to surface the hows and wheres of the emergence of our idea of critical digital pedagogy. These are the jumping off points we continue looking to as inspiration. Some of these pieces reflect a very distinct moment in time, and while we’ve edited and re-imagined many of them, we’ve decidedly left the rough bits that show the wear and tear on our own thinking. There are moments of contradiction we haven’t carefully smoothed over, because even after years of circling around this work, we still don’t always agree with ourselves.

At various points in the evolution of this volume, we weren’t sure whether we’d each end up with separate books or if we’d end up with a single book, co-authored together. In the end, we decided to leave our voices alongside one another (but also distinct), because that’s how these ideas were born. When we write together, we don’t always know where one voice ends and the other begins. And when we write separately on these topics, we still find ourselves inhabiting one another’s sentences.

This book is not meant to be read in any particular order, but it certainly could be read from start to finish, cover to cover. While we haven’t assembled the pieces chronologically, they do track a sort of narrative from one to the next, making meaning through friction and metonymy.

When we set out to gather these pieces, our idea was to bring some amount of closure to what has been an extraordinary time for us and our work in education. Our hope is that marking this moment will help create space (in our lives and work) for new projects we find ourselves turning to — new projects that are decidedly not included here (even if the work subtly hints at them). That’s also how we hope this work will be read, as a set of calls to dialogue and points of departure, not as a static repository of content. The words here were never meant to just sit on a page. They were always designed to pose questions. They were always designed to do work in the world.

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