As you know, Digital Pedagogy Lab 2020 offers a bit of a teaching and design challenge. As an international event that normally relies on a cohort approach to learning, and that positions itself as a kind of “summer camp” by its immersive nature, the Lab going online is at least daunting. How do we build a sense of community, sustain it, and also create a feeling of intimacy and productivity when all of our cohort members will be learning alone? And in time zones as distant as Eastern European Summer Time (UTC +3) and Australian Eastern Standard Time (UTC +10)—with faculty who are largely located in North America? Creating a cohort asynchronously, and making the event feel like an experience, isn’t your everyday design challenge.
Below, I’m offering a few suggestions for how to get started with your design, along with some suggestions for what you might expect to encounter during the week of DPL 2020. I’m also going to list some possible tools you could consider using beyond the tools I’m providing.
Begin Your Design
To get started, my first bit of advice is to visit your classroom. As I’ve noted before, the classroom space is a Ghost website / blog. Ghost is one of the simplest blogging platforms out there, but with one of the more attractive front-end experiences. Posting on Ghost is literally as easy as clicking the + sign next to “Posts” in the admin panel. If you write your post in something other than the Ghost platform, cutting-and-pasting works brilliantly from just about any document. You can write in HTML if you wish, or markdown; you can add images and videos very easily; and for the more SEO-savvy, it’s easy to edit the meta data for each post as well.
So, to start with, I’d recommend creating a “Welcome” post for your course. This can be a quick hello, a summary of what you’ll be working on during the week, etc. Make it your “syllabus” for the course, if you like. Mostly, just get some experience using the platform.
Your Ghost classroom is where participants in your course will be directed to look for materials, updates, etc. I can also, if you like, make it available to all participants in your course to blog there, too, thus giving them the freedom to contribute content and co-create during the week.
Get to Know Discourse
Discourse is a discussion platform, and the one that DPL will be using for the event. You are absolutely free to use another platform for asynchronous discussion, but this one is available to you if you wish.
Each course has a discussion forum of its own. You can get to it by linking from the main page of your course (for example, change.dpl.online, visual.dpl.online, community.dpl.online). I recommend you visit your course’s discussion forum and create a “welcome” topic where you can ask folks to introduce themselves, pose a question or problem to get the week started, etc. As with Ghost, the point is to get acquainted with the platform.
Think Outside the Room
If there’s anything that the pivot to online learning has uncovered, it’s that there are lots and lots and lots of ways to interact and teach digitally, remotely, and asynchronously. Teachers I’ve spoken with in North America, the UK, and Australia are encouraging practices like:
- Field trips
- Craft projects
- Writing on paper
- In-home or on-the-web scavenger hunts
- Synchron-ish listening to podcasts (everyone listens, and then comes together to discuss)
- Youtube video exchange (you post a video, I post a response, and so on)
- Prompted video-making, like the “Where does learning happen?” exercise from MOOC MOOC (see “Video Gallery” toward the bottom of that page)
- Round-robin story writing in Google Docs or by email
- Twitter chats using a particular hashtag
All alongside the usual recommended readings, the occasional synchronous video conference, and discussions in the forum.
The point is to think about the embodied nature of learning, even at a distance. On-ground, the Lab is a very physical experience: the usually crowded classrooms, delicious food and regular coffee breaks, music playing from the golf carts going to and fro across campus, the heat of the summer, and more. So, the challenge this year is to think beyond the room. Find out where your participants are, ask them to make a “DPL space” in their homes, encourage people to create their own DPL swag… Get people talking about and working in the spaces where they are, and not just on the screen.
Which means, too, that you do not need to be with them 100% of the time, or 8 hours a day, or even regularly. What everyone who participates is hoping for is a welcoming, enjoyable, relaxed, informal, and also intense, critical, and unusual learning experience. That depends on our ability to teach through the screen.
What to Expect
In a lot of ways, I don’t know what to expect from this year’s participants. But I can share what I know about online experiences like this, and the general nature of visitors to the Lab.
Almost all online experiences like the one we’re embarking on see a certain amount of attrition. You will know before the event starts who is in your course, and how many people you’ll be working with. However, even small groups may lose participants as the week goes on. Don’t be alarmed by this if it happens, and don’t feel like you’ve done something wrong. Learning from home can be lonely work, and it can also be distracted work. While I’ll be encouraging participants to tell their families they are “going” to Digital Pedagogy Lab and to offer them whatever sort of additional space and time they can afford, they will nonetheless be attending from locations that are not as immersive as the on-ground Lab experience.
DPL participants are curious, creative people who are looking to expand their understanding of pedagogy and education in many of its forms. If you are able to give them the chance to dig in deeply, they will dig in deeply. Even if there is attrition, those who remain will be looking to you for ways to stay engaged. My recommendation would be to find ways to open communication to as many as you can, give them multiple points of entry and ways to participate, and don’t be afraid to reflect with them on how things are going. You will likely change direction more than once during the week, so open communication with everyone in your course will be really helpful.
Some Additional Tools to Consider
Alongside your Ghost classroom and your Discourse discussion forum, you may use any tools you wish to make your course what you want it to be. We are currently looking into alternatives to Zoom, but rest assured some kind of video conference tool will be available. Other tools you could consider:
- Hypothes.is: this tool allows for social and collaborative annotation of any text or page on the internet. It can be very useful in creating dialogue or conversation around recommended readings, for example. Users have to register for an account. You can create a group for your cohort, making it easier to keep track of and respond to annotations.
- FlipGrid: FlipGrid is a Microsoft platform designed to provide an active “classroom” space for students and teachers. It can be used as an alternative to a discussion forum, and can be a good place to post videos, etc. There are free educator licenses available. The content on FlipGrid is not open access, whereas your Ghost classroom is.
- Google Docs: Most of you are already familiar with Google Docs, but it’s worth mentioning here. I’ve used this platform for everything from collaborative writing exercises to peer review to group brainstorming. Users do not need a Google account to participate.
- YouTube / Vimeo: I’m just naming these two platforms because if you want to create videos to include on your Ghost classroom site, they’ll need to be housed somewhere besides Ghost (videos will be embedded on a blog post, but not hosted on your site). There are a variety of privacy options available.
- Slack: This team communication tool allows for synchron-ish communication that can feel much more like banter and conversation than chatter in a discussion forum. Digital Pedagogy Lab has a Slack team already, and I’m happy to provide you with a channel or channels for your course.
Whatever tools you decide to you, just one word of caution: be sure that you are familiar and comfortable enough with the tool to make it easy for participants in your course to adopt it, and be sure it makes sense within the context of your course.