HFT Summer Academy, technology

HFT Week Two: Digital Tools and their Considerations

Because all teaching online relies upon one or another digital tool or platform, there is no digital pedagogy that isn’t a mediated pedagogy. The tools we use online, or to make our classes hybrid, have been designed by technologists with certain assumptions integrated into the code. For example, in Zoom (with which we are all too familiar now) the host has certain capabilities and administrative rights not given to other participants. So, in a class, the teacher has a control over the “classroom” that students don’t—they can mute students, turn off the chat function, record the session, remove students from the room, and more.

Similarly, in order for it to function the way its designers intended, a learning management system like Canvas must assume that all students are essentially the same—that their experiences of education are the same, their access to technology the same, and that their social and cultural backgrounds, their mental and emotional diversity, their gender expression must all be similar enough as to not interfere with learning. The environment of Canvas is standardized because there’s an assumption that learning outcomes can be standardized, that learning and learners can be, too.

This doesn’t mean that we have to teach that way. In Zoom, we can make students co-hosts of a class session, giving over some of the control of the room to them. In Canvas, we can create groups that allow students to start their own conversations, create their own content, and more. We can also perforate the LMS in other ways—through our choices around grading and assessment, how we use prompts in discussion, whether quizzes are timed or can be taken again and again. In other words, we can humanize digital learning despite the pedagogies that might be baked into the platforms we have to use.

But there are other considerations besides how we grade or don’t grade participation, for example. We must also be aware of the ways that educational technology, when it assumes it understands students, omits certain groups, effectively silencing them or cutting them out of the educational experience. In one of this week’s readings, Chris Gilliard writes that “If we emphasize the consequences of differential access, we see one facet of the digital divide; if we ask about how these consequences are produced, we are asking about digital redlining. The comfortable elision in ‘edtech’ is dangerous; it needs to be undone by emphasizing the contexts, origins, aims, and ideologies of technologies.” Sometimes, it’s not how we use technology that can be the problem, it’s that we use it at all.

This week, we’ll be looking at a variety of digital tools. You will be able to go about this in a few different ways (see below), but the point of this week’s work is not to learn how to use educational technology, it’s to ask after the when, why, and whether of moving pedagogy to a digital platform.

Suggested Path through This Week’s Work

Some folks have expressed concern over having too many and too flexible paths through this summer academy. If you would like a bit more direction, my suggestion would be:

  1. Start by working through Module 6 in the HFT Summer Academy Canvas course and complete the activity there (see below).
  2. Read through those recommended readings from this week that seem to pique your interest (these readings are also available in Module 6 in Canvas).
  3. Contribute to or take a look at the HFT Show and Tell Google Doc.
  4. Register for and attend office hours on Friday at noon Mountain time.

All of the following readings are open access and available for annotation. This week, you should try to consider annotation of these readings part of your work for the week. So, if you haven’t already, please be sure to jump into the HFT Summer Academy Hypothesis group.

Week Two Activity 1: Looking Closely at Digital Tools

For this week’s first activity, I’m going to suggest you move into Canvas, looking at Module 6. This module discusses some of the ways we can look at the when, why, and whether of digital tools, and also gives you some suggestions for how to inspect platforms you may be using or are thinking about using for your online or hybrid class. The tools in the Canvas module are not necessarily part of your current toolbox, but they are a good starting place for looking critically at tools and platforms.

Note: I’m aware that folks are having some trouble accessing Canvas through CU Online Open, so I suggest entering through the CU Denver Passport portal, and clicking on Canvas in the list of resources there.

Week Two Activity 2: Show-and-Tell

For this activity, please jump into the HFT Show and Tell Google Doc. Here, you can share tools that you find especially helpful. I’ve already included a few there for your consideration, and to get the ball rolling.

Blog Comments

Finally, if you feel so inclined, please respond to the following questions in the comments below: What is your relationship to digital technology? Do you have a good sense for what tools are in your toolkit? How do you (plan to) teach students to use the digital tools you use in class? Do you have any burning questions about using certain technologies that this community might help to answer?

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

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About Sean Michael Morris

Sean Michael Morris is the Director of Digital Pedagogy Lab and Senior Instructor in Learning, Design, and Technology at the University of Colorado Denver.
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