Two horses in the snow, looking at the viewer through a barbed wire fence

Open Letters

 Published on February 13, 2016 /  Written by /  “Horses in the snow” by Kit; CC BY-NC 2.0 /  11

In the interests of transparency, the following is a letter sent by e-mail to the editorial staff of Hybrid Pedagogy. We’re sharing this, and another letter below, with our community.

On Canvas and the Mission of Hybrid Pedagogy

Dear Amazing Editorial Team,

Academic conversations can escalate quickly, especially those just outside the gates of reputation and scholarship. Last night, Jesse and I were confronted on Twitter by Matthew Gold (@mkgold) about our Canvas sponsorship. Dr. Gold was surprised to discover that Hybrid Pedagogy has been, for several years, sponsored by Instructure, the makers of the Canvas LMS. More, he was concerned that we were not adequately transparent about that sponsorship to our contributors, and that those writers had been misled when they published with us. The corporate sponsorship, according to the model that Dr. Gold follows, infringes on our ability to consider ourself an academic or scholarly journal.

His concerns are not uncommon. In 2012, when Jesse and I (but mostly me) initiated the relationship with Instructure toward a possible funding model, we did so with trepidation. Not only were we concerned about how a sponsorship would be perceived by academic culture, but more so, we were uncertain if that sponsorship would have an impact on the quality or direction of the journal itself.

To be perfectly clear: Instructure has never interfered in the editorial process or direction of the journal. Nor have we ever been asked to openly promote their product. We have received from Instructure an average of $14,000 per year over the life of the journal. As Jesse disclosed on Twitter when asked, that money has been used for fellowships to Digital Pedagogy Lab, travel for Hybrid Pedagogy staff, the 2014 on-ground editorial “camp” in DC, a photography intern, web hosting and applications, equipment, and $15,000 total in Managing Editor stipends over those four-and-a-half years. For the first several years, we chose to list their sponsorship on the About Us page of the journal so that any writers considering contribution would know that the corporation played a role in the journal’s financial maintenance. In January, the Canvas logo moved to the front page of Digital Pedagogy Lab’s site — along with other academic sponsors — as part of the redesign of the overall architecture of the journal.

It is unclear at this time whether Canvas by Instructure will remain a financial donor to the journal in 2016 and on. If they decide to sponsor us again this year, we will include information about that sponsorship on the journal’s site again. For now, Canvas is only providing in-kind sponsorship for Digital Pedagogy Lab Courses, in the form of an instance of their product, Canvas Catalog.

Transparency has always been important to us. As a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, financial transparency is our responsibility. But more than transparency about the journal’s funding, transparency about the journal’s mission is a top priority.

As members of the editorial team at Hybrid Pedagogy we want you to know that we don’t have a horse in the race with Matthew Gold. His is another race altogether: one of gatekeeping, traditional notions of scholarship, and an insular, academic vision of Digital Humanities. Jesse and I spoke yesterday to a group of graduate students and teachers as part of the Digital Currents initiative at University of Michigan. During that talk, I said (and wrote on the pages of Hybrid Pedagogy): 

If it’s not clear, what I’m saying is that the systems of rigor that we’ve created, and that we submit to, and which purport to elevate us —  in fact oppress. The academy, through some trick of mass hypnosis, makes us dependent upon its reputational economy…

Years and years and years go by and the most consistent message we get from the academy is to sit down, and shut up.

And that’s why Hybrid Pedagogy was founded. To say instead, no. Stand up, and speak.

There is a clear and present danger in the way our journal insists on not gatekeeping. It flies in the face of perhaps the most dearly held academic value of all: the hierarchy of reputational control. If, after years of dedicated work, an academic like Dr. Gold is unable to define for others what scholarship is, then what is the benefit of seniority?

My belief is and always has been that seniority, reputation, academic or social capital, should only be used in service to those without them. As a journal, we have never not made clear that we were founded in order to make a space for those voices the academy doesn’t include. That’s the race we have a horse in.

I write this to let you know that this is the risk the journal takes, and to thank you for taking that risk with us.

Jesse and I welcome discussion about any of this.


The following letter was written to the Vice President of Public Relations at Instructure.

Canvas Sponsorship and the Academy at Large

I hope this note finds you well. Thank you for the conversation we had last week regarding a possible change to the sponsorship of Hybrid Pedagogy and Digital Pedagogy Lab. 

I wanted to make you aware of a conversation that took place last night on Twitter between myself, Jesse Stommel, and Matthew Gold (of CUNY). During our presentation at the University of Michigan yesterday, Jesse and I both mentioned the Canvas sponsorship of Hybrid Pedagogy. This came up in the context of how we’ve managed to keep the journal sustainable. As you know, we try to mention Canvas and Instructure whenever the opportunity arises out of our gratitude for your generosity over the years. Acknowledging one’s patrons is good manners.

However, the comment we made was picked up by academic Twitter and used against us. As long as we’ve had this sponsorship, we’ve known that corporate funding of a journal of digital scholarship isn’t looked at favorably. Last night’s conversation with Dr. Gold was perhaps the most intense attack on the journal’s ethos that we’ve weathered. It won’t, I suspect, be the last one. In fact, I expect at some point that there may be blog post “exposés” written about the Canvas/Hybrid Pedagogy relationship.

When Devin Knighton approached Hybrid Pedagogy in 2012 about joining in some kind of partnership, he did so because he believed that Instructure had a stake in conversations about digital teaching and learning. As a company, Instructure has always positioned itself as receptive to the input of the teaching community, and aware of its own limitations as an LMS provider. In fact, after Jesse and I confessed to Instructure co-founder Devlin Daley our own mistrust of learning management systems, he and Devin both felt that the partnership was important. They wanted a relationship with a journal that could be critical about the work done in educational technology.

We have, I think, lived up to that relationship. And we believe that relationship has been mutually beneficial. We’ve worked together at a table where influential conversations about edtech are under way.

This is not a letter to ask you to continue sponsorship of Hybrid Pedagogy in 2016. Rather, it’s just to make you aware that the relationship between Instructure and Hybrid Pedagogy has had an impact. And that impact has created some controversy that we’re working through. The stakes are high for any LMS provider these days — more and more people in education are not only coming out against such platforms, but also against the steady corporatization of higher education. It’s very important to us to maintain a critical distance from every debate, to continue to think about what may be best for the learner, and to, as Jesse has said, make friends as an act of radical political resistance.

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11 Responses
  1. drew viles

    Good manners prompted you to acknowledge your corporate sponsor. And somewhere in the discussion that followed, you mention another person’s bad manners, i.e. someone has been accused of policing you. And, yet, isn’t that what manners always amount to? You police yourself every time you say, “Thank you!” You didn’t self-police and then you did–you acknowledged a patron. That delay in acknowledgement might easily be considered something like a lapse of good manners. You might have acknowledged that you experienced such a lapse. That’s good manners, too! “Look, I made a mistake. I didn’t publicly thank a major donor. Thank you all for your patience with this lapse of good manners.” Or you might just include that on your website. “We are grateful for the generous financial contributions from the makers of CANVAS, which (have) helped make our work possible.” Or you could do both. Corporatization of the academy will. no doubt, continue apace, but I’m with you: let’s not let that development cause us to forget the good habits we’ve carried forth thus far.

    1. Thanks for the reply, Drew. Except I’m confused since you seem to be missing a major point from the piece above, where we describe the various ways that we have always acknowledged our sponsors (both Canvas and our academic sponsors) — including a large logo on the front page of the site that says “thank you to our sponsors for their support” (this is not new). Canvas is not currently giving us direct financial support, but when they did, we also had a longer statement on our about us page (linked above via the Way Back Machine).

      We’ve talked about sponsorship in various other places, like in the program for events, in articles written about events where sponsorship was involved, in the timeline on our front page, in calls for applications for Fellowships funded by sponsors, in presentations we gave, etc. Of course, we’re not perfect, and we are glad for the opportunity to offer even more details. But, no, I would definitely not agree that it is good manners for academics to police one another in this fashion. Ask questions, engage in dialogue, debate, but that’s not what was happening in this case.

      I would also welcome a larger discussion of the issues underlying this: does corporate sponsorship unduly influence the kind of work we’re doing? Would institutional affiliation unduly influence the kind of work we’re doing?

      1. Anne McGrail

        I wonder if we might think about corporate sponsorship in the same way that we think about textbook producers. In our college, we are encouraged to choose a single textbook producer for our students, and then students are required to purchase those textbooks. One of the benefits of this relationship has been that the author of one of these textbooks presented to our faculty a couple years ago after our WPA chose her book.

        One thing that corporate sponsorship can do is to provide channels away from Open Educational Resources, and that does seem contrary to the mission of HP, if not the DPL.

    2. When I first discovered HP, I noticed the sponsorship by Instructure. I was concerned about their potential influence, so I decided to wait for a while, read the journal, and keep track of HP’s activity. I wanted to see by HP’s actions and their publishing just how corporatized HP was or was not.

      After reading and watching, I eventually submitted my work. Later I became involved with the peer editing and revision process. In short, I found no reason to be troubled by Instructure’s funding.

      While I am highly skeptical of a corporate funding model and appreciate concerns about undue influence, I am also willing too review actions and deliverables. If individuals are concerned, perhaps they should review the overall performance and publication history instead of remaining focused on funding.

      I’m curious if these same critics focus equal energy on profiting corporations, like Taylor & Francis, who earn quantities of coin off of academic writing and publications. Which is worse, to take corporate money to publish a journal or to have your scholarship used by corporations in order to profit by selling publications?

      While we should be attentive to corporate influence on scholarship, we should also be careful in choosing our battles. Moving more scholarship into open access publications and away from for-profit publishers seems to me a more worthwhile way to spend our time and attention.

  2. Drew Viles

    It made me happy to once again review your site, having read your response, and to find that you have currently on your website a list of your sponsors–including the makers of Canvas. I did miss this list of sponsors the first time I reviewed your website. You are right that I also missed this fact when reading the two letters posted above. You’re kind to patiently tell me that your journal has seamlessly over time acknowledged its sponsors and contributors. I cannot say that I’m surprised. I can say that I am wrong–was wrong to say otherwise. Would you please forgive my foolishness? As far as a discussion of broader issues, I will say that part of my devotion to college classrooms is the ability that I have to look people straight in the eye and testify that this place values inquiry above all else–that seekers of truth are welcome no matter the content of the truth they share. How have I kept for several decades this conviction that college is a place for honest exploration? I am certain that I owe allegiance for such a conviction more to the traditions of academic institutions than to the practices of capitalistic corporations. And I’ll go further to say that the growing lack of faith that I have in academic institutions directly correlates to the degree to which these institutions have adopted models and practices of corporate capitalism. I am mindful, of course, that someone wise has observed that it is from the converts that the zealots come. It’s possible, therefore, that the academy is possibly home to the world’s most zealous capitalist corporatists!

    1. No worries. I actually added some words after I read your comment, “For the first several years” and “In January” to the narrative just to clarify, because I thought an even more specific timeline would be useful.

      I love what you say about inquiry. And I have somehow kept that conviction that “college is a place of honest exploration” as well. Some days it’s harder than others. 🙂 And I agree that this work is often (usually?) at odds with capitalism. When working with tech in the classroom, and now working as an edtech director, though, I often find myself engaging with corporate tech-makers. I’ve decided to simultaneously keep a certain critical distance but also to be willing to “get my hands dirty” with a tool to better understand it and what work (good and bad) it does in the world. This kind of thing has to be done with a lot of care, which is why I appreciate the discussion here.

      “And I’ll go further to say that the growing lack of faith that I have in academic institutions directly correlates to the degree to which these institutions have adopted models and practices of corporate capitalism.” Yes, I completely agree. Having recently left a position in the University of Wisconsin system, I saw this transformation in full effect.

  3. I really wasn’t aware that you were sponsored by Canvas. To be honest, those things are so common that you kind of just learn to filter them out. So I guess I just missed the logo on the front page and the mention on the about page just because I have learned to filter that out. It really doesn’t bother – I only look into sponsors once I see an article that seems obviously biased or problematic (which with other journals happens frequently). To me, that is the real problem with sponsorship. We all make money somewhere. Our food is not free. We are all in the position to be influenced by money, from employers, from sponsors, or whoever. And money always has an influence. The big question is where we go with that?

    When you say “if that sponsorship would have an impact on the quality or direction of the journal itself” – that is a good thing to consider. What you have here is a beginning, but I would like to see a deeper analysis of all the possible places that money could have influenced you written earlier, and then re-examined every six months or so after that. In other words, publish a post deeply examining all possible problems at the time the money was taken, and then re-examine it often and open. But maybe you already did that? I have to confess I have been held captive in dissertationland and have missed a lot.

    1. Love the idea here, Matt, of continuing to return to this. And we have regularly mentioned our Canvas relationship, in any announcement where that relationship would be especially important to disclose. But it has been piecemeal where relevant. Always felt important to keep nods to this next to the things themselves. After Sean wrote this piece, though, and I worked with him to revise, I do think it this has the potential to open up a useful dialogue (as in the comments here), so I’m certain we’ll come back to it again.

      On the other hand, the expectation that an org like ours would explicitly re-examine every six months sounds like it could turn into the kind of quality assurance process that corporations utilize or the (often purely bureaucratic) reporting institutions and granting agencies require after funding has been given. (Not suggesting that’s what you’re asking for.) What seems more important to me is genuine and continuous engagement with the various issues involved: the corporatization of education, adjunct and contingent labor, the potential dangers of scale and efficiency for pedagogy, etc. And those have been some of the primary topics we’ve published articles about since the journal launched.

      Still, I think we need more on the specific issue of funding models for non-profit journals and presses, as well as the increasing corporatization of educational institutions and over-reliance on volunteer labor for for-profit journals and presses.

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