Classroom2.0: Critical pedagogy v. edu-branding

Every day I read the tweets of fellow educators it’s clear that the battle for technology adoption is still going strong. It’s also clear that endless panics – moral and otherwise – are a part of the problem. Just today, wired educator and author Will Richardson described the challenge of teaching critical (technological) literacies without access to the tools and services our students actually use:

“Instead of teaching it, we block it. What are we afraid of? It’s not predation, though we continue to use that as the “Be Very Scared of Social Networks” part of the limited online safety curriculum that most schools do have. It’s all about reputation, and there a lots of folks out there right now damaging their reputations on Facebook, many because they don’t know any better.”

I’m with Will 100% and feel this literacy extends to video games and virtual worlds as well. For example, as a media teacher, it’s difficult to address questions of representation and racism in Grand Theft Auto or the violence of first person shooters without the actual texts.  Because Facebook, World of Warcraft and Xbox are all, quite properly, primary media texts rich with opportunities for inquiry-based learning. They are also corporate spaces and products with enormous ideological, social and cultural consequences, which leads me to the question of HOW we’re teaching with technology – not just the what or why (which we’ve all more than spoken to).

Advocacy or promotion?

The good news is, there’s no shortage of open pedagogy circulating throughout the web. The bad news is there is still a profound absence of critical inquiry, equity, diversity or inclusion in the form of a digital critical pedagogy. Sign in to Twitter and you’ll read far more chatter about the latest apps than discussions of the more grounded challenges for today’s learners.

For some time now I’ve been arguing that genuinely “emergent” pedagogy has little if anything to do with technology. That the vital priorities for digital education concern largely social, cognitive and civic engagement – not the absence or presence of a particular device in your classroom. This informs how I use technology in my own classroom and my desire for a more expanded notion of what we call “classroom2.0” beyond products and panics.


Learning v. branding: “Buy in” is not our goal

There’s a great episode of the Simpson’s called “Bart Gets a Z” in which the aging, but caring, teacher Mrs Krabapple is replaced by the younger, hipper and totally wired young teacher Mr. Vaughn. At first, Mr Vaughn wows the kids with his cool talk, trendy gadgets and fun attitude, “why talk when I could text!” Eventually the students figure out there’s something missing in the classroom: real teaching and learning. It turns out that the cool Mr Vaughn really hates children and just wants to party.

While there’s much to object to in the show’s caricatures of teachers and teaching, the episode raises questions about wired teaching – good and bad. For me, Mr Vaughn represents all that is FAIL about classroom 2.0. Namely, mindless (versus mindful) use of technology and questions about ethical and relevant priorities for teachers and teaching.

What is missing for me from the culture of classroom 2.0 is an emphasis on reflexive or critical inquiry. It seems some of us are still too busy advocating for technology adoption (read; promoting) to stop and ask questions about the commercial, ideological or social implications. Though I emphatically enjoy all of the same tools, services and media as many of my students, I am nothing if not critical in my use.

It’s really not that hard to engage the brave new world with critical pedagogy. It’s exactly the same as the old critical pedagogy – only we’re looking at a different object.  We can ask the same questions and seek to achieve the same goals – as long as we don’t lose sight of them. We can seek to transform our classrooms as long as we do not forget to transform our students and ourselves in the process.

Further exploration

Here’s the kind of question we can ask of any technological service, gadget or text. You may break it apart into one or more questions (all of which speak to the same analysis):

Q: How does this [social network, video game, website, video, brand, gadget, etc] reinforce OR challenge the dominant ideology? Who enjoys power here? Who doesn’t? Who is present (or absent)? What is the cost of use (i.e., time or money or both)? What kinds of choices do I have (why do I have some choices but not others – what choices would I like to have)?