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Against Scaffolding: Radical Openness and Critical Digital Pedagogy

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Keynote at WILU2019, The Workshop for Instruction in Library Use

Scaffolding can create points of entry and access but can also reduce the complexity of learning to its detriment. And too often we build learning environments in advance of students arriving upon the scene. We design syllabi, assemble content, predetermine outcomes, and craft assessments before having met our students. We reduce students to data. And learning to input and output.

Radical openness isn't a bureaucratic gesture, isn't linear, offers infinite points of entry. It has to be rooted in a willingness to sit with discomfort. Radical openness demands educational institutions be spaces for relationships and dialogue. bell hooks writes, “for me this place of radical openness is a margin—a profound edge. Locating oneself there is difficult yet necessary. It is not a 'safe' place. One is always at risk. One needs a community of resistance.” For hooks, the risks we take are personal, professional, political. When she says that “radical openness is a margin,” she suggests it is a place of emergent outcomes, a place of friction, a place of critical thinking.

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Against Scaffolding: Radical Openness and Critical Digital Pedagogy

  1. 1. Against Scaffolding: Radical Openness and Critical Digital Pedagogy Jesse Stommel @Jessifer
  2. 2. “A class is … an independent organism with its own goal and dynamics. It is always something more than what even the most imaginative lesson plan can predict.” ~ Thomas P. Kasulis, “Questioning”
  3. 3. In my first teaching job 19 years ago, I was given a stock syllabus and told I couldn’t change anything.
  4. 4. That stock syllabus had one blank line for me to write my name. I couldn’t help but feel interchangeable. A cog in a machine I didn’t yet understand.
  5. 5. Learning can not be reduced to or packaged as a series of static, self-contained content. Rather, learning happens in tangents, diversions, interruptions — in a series of clauses (parentheticals) … and gaps.
  6. 6. Scaffolding can create points of entry and access but can also reduce the complexity of learning to its detriment. We design syllabi, predetermine outcomes, and craft rubrics before having gotten to know the students. We reduce students to data.
  7. 7. Scaffolding is too often a mechanism of control under the guise of care — with too much of the work done presumptively, sometimes patronizingly, in advance of students arriving upon the scene.
  8. 8. “Any effort on my part to scaffold (and effort to scaffold learning at all) would be colonial, patriarchal, and disempowering. Instead, I wish to lay upon the table before you the works which can — do, should, maybe will — inform what each of us also brings.” ~ Sean Michael Morris, “Subversion and Instructional Design”
  9. 9. The scaffolding process “enables a child or novice to solve a problem, carry out a task or achieve a goal which would be beyond his unassisted efforts. This scaffolding consists essentially of the adult ‘controlling’ those elements of the task that are initially beyond the learner’s capacity, thus permitting him to concentrate upon and complete only those elements that are within his range of competence.” ~ David Wood, Jerome S. Bruner, and Gail Ross, “The Role of Tutoring in Problem Solving” (1976)
  10. 10. We haven’t been nearly imaginative enough with outcomes. I want outcomes like “for us to have an epiphany” or “for students to do something I couldn’t anticipate.”
  11. 11. Scaffolding, at its worst, breaks learning up into neat and tidy chunks, discrete linear steps, without being responsive to the specific contexts, backgrounds, and experiences of students.
  12. 12. “Where the human tutor excels or errs, of course, is in being able to generate hypotheses about the learner’s hypotheses and often to converge on the learner’s interpretation. It is in this sense that the tutor’s theory of the learner is so crucial to the transactional nature of tutoring. If a machine program is to be effective, it too would have to be capable of generating hypotheses in a comparable way.” ~ David Wood, Jerome S. Bruner, and Gail Ross, “The Role of Tutoring in Problem Solving” (1976)
  13. 13. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire argues against the banking model of education, “an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor.”
  14. 14. In place of the banking model, Freire advocates for “problem-posing education,” in which a classroom or learning environment becomes a space for asking questions -- a space of cognition not information.
  15. 15. A few approaches for scaffolding with students 1. student-designed rubrics 2. leave blank space on the schedule, syllabus, lesson plan for students to fill 3. have students do lots of metacognitive work, process letters, self- evaluation, public blogging 4. have students read and discuss articles about metacognition, learning, grading, outcomes, etc 5. design learning spaces together with students
  16. 16. The bureaucracies of schooling flatten students, reducing them to rows in a spreadsheet and their work to columns.
  17. 17. Photo by flickr user www.GlynLowe.com Ranking. Metrics. Norming. Objectivity. Uniformity. Accreditation. Measurement. Rubrics. Outcomes. Quality. Data. Performance. Averages. Excellence. Inflation. Mastery. Standardization. Rigor.
  18. 18. An “objective” system for grading was created so systematized schooling could scale. And we’ve designed technological tools in the 20th and 21st Centuries that have allowed us to scale further. Toward standardization and away from subjectivity, human relationships, and care.
  19. 19. Photo by flickr user in pastel Prior to the late 1700s, feedback systems in Education were incredibly idiosyncratic. Throughout the 19th Century, they became increasingly comparative, numerical, and standardized.
  20. 20. Photo by flickr user Shelly The first “official record” of a grading system was at Yale in 1785. The A-F system appears to have emerged in 1898 (with the “E” not disappearing until the 1930s) and the 100-point or percentage scale became common in the early 1900s. Letter grades were not widely used until the 1940s. Even by 1971, only 67% of U.S. primary and secondary schools used letter grades. (Schinske and Tanner)
  21. 21. Google Trends shows increased search volume around the term “grades” over the last 14 years. It also shows an increasingly furious pattern of search-behavior centered each year around the months of May and December, like a heartbeat beginning to race.
  22. 22. “Research shows three reliable effects when students are graded: They tend to think less deeply, avoid taking risks, and lose interest in learning itself.” ~ Alfie Kohn, “The Trouble with Rubrics”
  23. 23. Some Data About Bias in the Classroom: • Black girls are twelve times more likely than their white counterparts to be suspended. • While Black children make up less than 20% of preschoolers, they make up more than half of out-of-school suspensions. • Teachers spend up to two thirds of their time talking to male students; they also are more likely to interrupt girls. When teachers ask questions they direct their gaze towards boys more often, especially when the questions are open-ended (In STEM fields). ~ Soraya Chemaly, “All Teachers Should Be Trained to Overcome Their Hidden Biases”
  24. 24. 62% of higher education faculty/staff stated they’d been bullied or witnessed bullying vs. 37% in the general population. People from minority communities are disproportionately bullied. (Hollis 2012) 51% of college students claimed to have seen another student being bullied by a teacher at least once and 18% claimed to have been bullied themselves by a teacher. (Marraccini 2013)
  25. 25. “Today’s college students are the most overburdened and undersupported in American history. More than one in four have a child, almost three in four are employed, and more than half receive Pell Grants but are left far short of the funds required to pay for college.” ~ Sara Goldrick-Rab and Jesse Stommel, “Teaching the Students We Have Not the Students We Wish We Had”
  26. 26. “The reason we are talking about basic needs today is because the students brought it to our attention. A student spoke up, ‘the reason I am not succeeding in college is because I haven’t eaten in two days.’ In fact, 1 in 2 of your students are experiencing food insecurity. In the last 30 days.” ~ Sara Goldrick-Rab, Dream 2019
  27. 27. This means we can’t presume to know the reasons students are distracted. Or craft laptop policies that make it impossible for disabled students to receive accommodation without their disability made visible to an entire classroom. Or throw students (with nowhere else to go) out of their dorms over the holidays.
  28. 28. “You cannot counter structural inequality with good will. You have to structure equality.” ~ Cathy N. Davidson
  29. 29. “We need to design our pedagogical approaches for the students we have, not the students we wish we had. This requires approaches that are responsive, inclusive, adaptive, challenging, and compassionate. And it requires institutions find more creative ways to support teachers and prepare them for the work of teaching. This is not a theoretical exercise — it is a practical one.” ~ Sara Goldrick-Rab and Jesse Stommel, “Teaching the Students We Have Not the Students We Wish We Had”
  30. 30. When at least 50% of the teachers in higher education have no direct preparation for the work of teaching, the conversation about what higher education is for should begin there. And not from a place of demeaning those (or any) teachers.
  31. 31. By “pedagogy,” I mean something broader than just preparing graduate students to teach university classes. I also mean preparing them for public scholarship and leadership roles in labs, non-profits, libraries, etc. Work that moves beyond important disciplinary content to consider how our study of that content gets shared with others or inflected in the world.
  32. 32. “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, anti-intellectualism, and deflection of fact and care; in a society still divided across lines of race, nationality, religion, gender, sexuality, income, ability, and privilege, teaching has an important (urgent) role to play.” ~ Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel, An Urgency of Teachers: The Work of Critical Digital Pedagogy
  33. 33. To innovate, at this particular moment, we don’t need to invest in technology. We need to invest in teachers.
  34. 34. Tools are made by people, and most (or even all) educational technologies have pedagogies hard-coded into them in advance. This is why it is so essential we consider them carefully and critically —that we empty all our LEGOs onto the table and sift through them before we start building. Some tools are decidedly less innocuous than others. And some tools can never be hacked to good use.
  35. 35. Radical openness demands our schools be spaces for relationships and dialogue. Far too many tools we’ve built for teaching are designed to make grading students convenient— or designed to facilitate the systematic observation of teachers by administrators. These are not dialogues.
  36. 36. “Spaces can be real and imagined. Spaces can tell stories and unfold histories. Spaces can be interrupted, appropriated, and transformed through artistic and literary practice.” ~ bell hooks, “Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness”
  37. 37. bell hooks means something very specific when she talks of Radical Openness, and so far the Open Education movement has failed to tread that particular water.
  38. 38. bell hooks writes, “for me this place of radical openness is a margin—a profound edge. Locating oneself there is difficult yet necessary. It is not a 'safe' place. One is always at risk. One needs a community of resistance.” For hooks, the risks we take are personal, professional, political. When she says that “radical openness is a margin,” she suggests it is a place of uncertainty, a place of friction, a place of critical thinking.
  39. 39. Radical openness isn't a bureaucratic gesture. It has to be rooted in a willingness to sit with discomfort.
  40. 40. A discussion of pedagogy needs to include a critical examination of our tools, what they afford, who they exclude, how they're monetized, and what pedagogies they have already baked in. But it requires we also begin with a consideration of what we value, the kinds of relationships we want to develop with students, why we gather together in places like universities, and how humans learn.
  41. 41. Critical Digital Pedagogy: 1. centers its practice on community and collaboration; 2. must remain open to diverse, international voices, and thus requires invention to reimagine the ways that communication and collaboration happen across cultural and political boundaries; 3. will not, cannot, be defined by a single voice but must gather together a cacophony of voices ; 4. must have use and application outside traditional institutions of education.
  42. 42. Photo by flickr user Fio For education to work, there can be no divide between teachers and students. There must be what Paulo Freire calls “teacher-students.” Specifically, he writes, “no one teaches another, nor is anyone self- taught.” So, “teacher” becomes a role that shifts, and learning depends upon a community of teacher-students.
  43. 43. “Critical formative cultures are crucial in producing the knowledge, values, social relations and visions that help nurture and sustain the possibility to think critically, engage in political dissent, organize collectively and inhabit public spaces in which alternative and critical theories can be developed.” ~ Henry Giroux, “Thinking Dangerously: the Role of Higher Education in Authoritarian Times”
  44. 44. We need to stop having conversations about the future of education without students in the room.
  45. 45. “We need more, not fewer, ways to listen for the voices of students reflecting on education. We need more, not fewer, ways to include students in conversations about the future of teaching and learning in college. These conversations cannot begin by sending a signal to students that their voices don’t matter.” ~ Sara Goldrick-Rab and Jesse Stommel, “Teaching the Students We Have Not the Students We Wish We Had”

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