Critical Digital Pedagogy
S E A N M I C H A E L M O R R I S
D I R E C T O R , D I G I TA L P E D A G O G Y L A B
I N S T R U C T I O N A L D E S I G N E R , M I D D L E B U RY C O L L E G E
The invention of the learning management system
was a mistake.
We need a critical approach to instructional design
that inquires deeply into our assumptions about
current methods for online teaching and learning.
It would be a mistake to think that what I do is
digital, because what I really do is human.
Technology dominates almost any discussion of
learning and teaching online.
“I watched the videos alone. I struggled. I paused,
rewound, and replayed. I learned alone.” ~ Audrey
Watters, “The Early Days of Videotaped Lectures”
“Presence is perhaps the most obvious issue to
address when working at a distance, but it’s not
always the simplest to address.” ~ Amy Collier
How can we connect with students—how can we
teach the way we want to teach—when this digital
interface is in the way?
The digital isn’t magic. It isn’t mysterious. It’s regular
human communication astride a new medium.
The use of digital technology to widen the
parameters of human interaction and knowledge
production is still in its most experimental stage.
“This isn’t about the machine – the machine is just
the door to a classroom.”~ Bonnie Stewart, “How to
Teach Online: a Story in Two Parts”
For all the things we can learn about technology, all
the tools we can master, the techniques we might
employ, digital pedagogy comes down to teaching.
Teaching online and in hybrid spaces must be
considered an academic field in itself; it is an
academic pursuit. Digital teaching and learning
The seat of critical digital pedagogy is one of inquiry
and observation. It is mindful of all the variety of
dimensions the digital has in our and our
T H E P R O M I S E S O F E D T E C H
“Streamlining the world's largest education system.”
Flexible. Customizable. Grows with your institution.
Molds to your needs.
Improves student writing. Delivers feedback that
engages students and drives success.
Fosters critical thinking.
Helps you save time and stay connected.
Streamlines your classroom. Unifies schools in
a culture of collaboration.
Look beyond the tool to how we use the tool. Look
beyond how we use the tool to how the tool uses us.
Look beyond how the tool uses us to how we can
resist, hack, change, or simply “prefer not to.”
The literacies that are required to understand how to
communicate online brush up against the literacies
that are necessary to discern truth from falsehood,
fact from alt-fact.
A critical digital pedagogy is one where learning and
teaching online provides the material from which
students can forge themselves into ethical subjects
in the context of their lives as hybrid learners and
complicated human beings.
“The vocational promise of critical digital pedagogy
is evident, but how will it be realized? In other words,
how do we tone down the hype and get to work
realizing the praxis of digital pedagogy?”
Critical instructional design is an early, emerging
attempt to get at some concrete methodologies for
creating agentive spaces in online and hybrid
The ubiquity of the LMS must be dealt with … by
fully understanding it.
Learning and teaching online is not duplicative of
learning and teaching on ground.
Digital spaces are not private spaces.
Digital spaces are not automatically equitable
Critical instructional design requires a willingness to
course correct, to pivot, often out of an empathetic
response or a flash of new understanding about how
students encounter the digital.
Learning is not efficient.
“The push for ‘harder evidence’ often pushes out
the kinds of learning and evidence that come from
post-structural, phenomenological, and critical
approaches.” ~ Amy Collier
Today most students of online courses are more
users than learners … the majority of online learning
basically asks humans to behave like machines.
Rigor in a digital learning environment emerges
when that environment is:
Critical instructional design moves toward realizing
the possibility for learning that blends a new form of
rigor with agency through a practice of inquiry,
empathy, and emergence.
"I am hopeful, not out of mere stubbornness, but
out of an existential, concrete imperative."
~ Paulo Freire