I’m presenting at FemRhet 2017 in October on Ozobots and writing process. I love the idea of makerspaces, programming robots, but I want to be able to use the technologies available to meet the needs of composition learners. I want to use technology and colorful markers to help students engage with learning about their own writing process to facilitate transfer. So these theories of teaching composition tend to influence how I make meaning. I’ll come back to my coding bots, but I want to detour to theory for a minute.
Critical Digital Pedagogy, as discussed by Hybrid Pedagogy authors and recently in an post by Sean Morris titled “Reading the LMS against the backdrop of critical pedagogy, part one”, argues for critical engagement with digital technologies to understand/question in what ways power and control are reinforced. Difficult, but worthy questions about the digital technologies we use.
In Morris’ recent article, he encourages readers to question the tools provided by Learning Management Systems. Ultimately asking, in what ways are the tools provided data collectors instead of learning facilitators? Page views is an excellent example. LMS, like the one I use for my courses, tells me (the course shell owner) which students have visited a given page. I can even build alerts when students haven’t visited a page and they should have – or haven’t logged in to the system and they should have. But, and this is an important point made by Morris, content page view in no way indicates learning.
However, dismissing the page view also dismisses the students who did learn by engaging with the page and the page content. Dismissing the page view ignores the ways lack of page view can be an early indicator that a student needs help. Ultimately, critical digital pedagogy should ask us to consider all the alternatives, not just the ones that allow us to dismiss corporate technologies adopted and funded by universities to manage students.
Do LMS have issues? Yes, of course they do.
Do faculty often adopt tools and systems without critical engagement? Of course they do, but not everyone.
Morris calls for stepping back and analyzing the tool. I agree, we need to choose tools that meat pedagogical goals, not ones that are available, easy, or used by everyone. But we also don’t need to use tools in the way they are designed! We instructors and students are the ones asking these hard questions, so why do we have to answer philosophically? Why can’t we decide to subvert the use instead to meet our pedagogical needs?
Wholesale dismissal reduces the productive conversations that could occur from the questions Morris (and other critical digital pedagogy, critical pedagogy theorists) poses. And this is my struggle with critical digital pedagogy – instead of arguing for engaged pedagogical praxis that open classroom space for students to critically engage with digital systems, critical digital pedagogy dismisses the systems as anti-teaching. At one point Morris discusses, in an off-hand reference, that design can be subverted, but not time is spent on that discussion. The article focuses on raising questions about tool design, discussing the student behavior tracking (Skinner and behaviorism, yay), then dismissing LMS. Fine, the systems have issues, but students are real people, with real lives. Asking students to manage a myriad of new systems every semester as they navigate higher education seems cruel.
In this way, critical digital pedagogy ignores the humans using the systems, and the pedagogy of the teacher.
Which brings me back to my robots. I love Ozobots because they move, they dance, and they light up. These sensory cues offer real connection to represent writing and writing process differently. To create a path for the robot, students must draw a line (or use a code sequence) for the robot to follow. The students use different colored markers in wavy lines, circles, script, and so much more to find ways for the Ozobot to drive through their representation of the writing process.
Ozobots were designed to teach kids to code, to teach them in a fun way that involves colors and markers so young kids could engage with the ideas. The ozobot website typically offer mazes to help young students engage with STEM based fields. I critically engaged with coded design, and decided the robots offer so many more possibilities. In subverting the robot design I create space for students to engage with writing process, to use colored markers (college students LOVE markers!), to work together to develop a path for the robot to embody their very real, lived struggles with writing. They have moments of catharsis, moments of transfer, and, importantly, so many moments of fun when they engage. This was made possible by critical pedagogy. This was made possible by subverting designed usage, and considering the ways students could engage differently to support better writing learning. When students present their maps they discuss the real struggles to use markers and a robot to represent their processes – they engage with subverting the technology.
As I continue to read critical digital pedagogy as I prepare my materials for my Ozobot presentation I continue to become frustrated with the missing human element in so many of these discussions. Why can’t we subvert from inside the system? Why can’t we allow technology management to be a little easier for our stressed out students? With questionable job prospects, increasing hours worked while attending school, and huge student loans, is critical digital pedagogy from within the system really such a horrible thing? #subvertthesystem