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Perspectives, Play, and Pedagogy: The Hybrid Pedagogy Virtual Unconference

 Published on June 5, 2013 /  Written by and /  0

“There are better forums for discussion than online discussion forums.”
— Jesse Stommel

This is how it started: forums, we decided, don’t work. They are slow, lumbering, impersonal, and hard to follow. And yet, we wanted to create a dynamic, interesting place for people to discuss issues related to teaching, learning, digital writing, Digital Humanities, higher education — and more — on the pages of Hybrid Pedagogy. Since its inception, the journal has maintained a forum, but it was seldom visited and all but silent. As a journal devoted as much to praxis as to discourse, we were unsatisfied.

In an article co-authored with Jesse Stommel, Sean Michael Morris observed:

Discussion forums are the sort of ed tech you hope creative teachers will hack mercilessly, creating in their place a means through which students and teachers can interact in substantive, relevant ways. The forum itself does not automatically promote meaningful  conversation — or conversation at all, unless conversation can be reduced to monotone interjections by its participants — but that does not mean good things can’t happen there. In truth, discussion forums have the same potential all digital pedagogy tools have. In the right hands, wonders occur.

And so we set out to do an experiment, an exercise in online pedagogy and play, to see if something new could be done with the forum. We began by renaming the forum “Commons” to inspire greater interaction and interplay between participants and ideas, and then we issued a call for sessions not dissimilar from those for THATCamp and EdCamp. We wanted to inspire creative collaboration, immersive discussion, problem-solving, and more.

The result was the First Ever Hybrid Pedagogy Virtual Unconference, which ran from May 27 through June 2. We had a great turnout, and some really smart participation. Working under the theme “Critical and Digital Pedagogies”, learners and teachers from all levels of education joined in — both through the Commons, and using networked digital tools like TwitterGitHub, and Google Docs. Many session leaders and participants archived and curated their discussions, and some proposed articles for Hybrid Pedagogy based on their interactions with others.

Here are some perspectives on how the event went, from people who participated in more than one session, or who hosted their own:

Karen Young — “Your Brain Is 6”

“The unconference was a great learning experience for me for many reasons. First, it gave me the opportunity to connect with others on the topics of play, fun in learning, backward design, and the idea that perhaps we are taught to be ashamed to play as we age except in an organized team setting (probably as a result of current social conditioning.) The people who added their thoughts to the Google Doc, Hybrid Pedagogy site, and spent time in the tweetchat were very open to sharing their ideas.

“What was clear to me is that there really is a divide in the mindset between different educational divisions on the value and approach to play, and that play as a topic is not well defined or understood by educators. Part of this reflects the bureaucratic nature of the systems in which formal education occurs.

“Another valuable lesson was the timing of the Tweetchat. I needed to offer more opportunities for engagement at various times throughout the day and more than just a Google Doc for commenting. Since I was talking about play, a play space would have been ideal (next time!).”

Linda Levitt — “Ear to the Ground, Ungrounded”

“The virtual unconference featured some of the best aspects of a F2F unconference: great discussions, thoughtful presenters, important questions, and exciting innovations. I appreciated conversations that began with a specific question and wandered off in various directions. Typical of an unconference, participants collaborated throughout. While a F2F unconference can be a brief and intense gathering, the virtual unconference lasted a week, allowing for common themes to develop. The unconference enabled opportunities to reflect on themes, wander off into other discussions and readings, and then come back to another segment of an ongoing conversation. Through the virtual unconference, I was drawn to the Hybrid Pedagogy Commons, where I look forward to spending more time.”

Kris Shaffer — “Fork Me on GitHub”

“On Monday, my article “Push, Pull, Fork: GitHub for Academics” went up on Hybrid Pedagogy. On Tuesday, Barry Peddycord hosted a Google Hangout for the Fork Me on GitHub session. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Barry’s session was a “flipped” session, in that participants were asked to do a little reading and exploring (mostly exploring) of Git and GitHub beforehand, and most had also read my article. That gave us a great framework for discussion, and it was a very productive time. Most of the participants knew something of Git or GitHub, but we all came from different directions (isolated coders, collaborative coders, those looking to share pedagogical materials online, Americans, Canadians, Australians, etc.). Even though I came in considering myself somewhat of an expert, I learned quite a bit and came away motivated to get some good work done.

“I’m glad that Hybrid Pedagogy was able to put this together, because my conference travel allotments rarely allow me to go to conferences outside my field (or home country). This was a great opportunity to interface with scholars in other fields and other countries and learn from their perspectives.

“Now if we could just do this in multiple languages simultaneously…”

James Wermers — “Conquering (?) the Digital Divide in a #digped World”

“More and more, it feels like working in digital spaces is like walking a fine line between chaos and pandemonium — between the creative possibility of nothingness imagined in Greek cosmology and the cacophony so compellingly captured in Milton. For me, the first Hybrid Pedagogy unconference was a wonderful exercise in walking this line. Throughout the week, presenters, myself included, attempted to dredge up something of value from formlessness. We used Canvas, Twitter, Storify, Google+ Hangouts, Github, etc. to make new things and start new conversations, leveraging spaces and methodologies that are not normally part of academic discussions.

“At times this was chaotic in the best of ways — the openness to new ideas and voices lead to provocative conversations, ideas, and collaborations emerging in digital spaces that were neither prescribed nor policed. At other times, it did feel like pandemonium — like an array of voices shouting past one another such that no one could hear the other (our own #hpuc1-3 Twitter feeds were a good case in point). Taken as a whole, the conference was open-ended enough to allow for new possibilities to emerge and to allow for failures that will incubate future growth. This was a powerful and important tension, and it lead to an engaging and inspiring call for more thoughtful and extensive pedagogy and practice.”

As James said, the week included some productive failures, and some surprise successes. But this is pedagogy in motion: we must look for ways to improve existing practices, theorize a new approach, and then watch as the environment and participants respond in unanticipated ways. Our next unconference will incorporate lessons from this one, in order to set the stage for new perspectives, play, and pedagogies to emerge.

In the meantime, be sure to visit the Commons and populate it with discussions of your own. When you do, invite others in, tweet us @hybridped so we can promote your discussion, and prepare to discover the community of learners awaiting you!

[Photo by Newton2]

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