In April of 2021, we hosted an online engaged learning experience at the 4Cs conference. This is my (Mimi) reflection on the session.
In the moments leading up to our session, we wondered if anyone would show up. Not only were we prerecorded, we were also scheduled for a Saturday afternoon at 5:00 pm. Would anyone take time out of their Saturday to come to a virtual session? As the clock counted down to the 00 mark, no one was present. Our host began to introduce our session and then stopped because no one was there. After just a couple of minutes, participants began to appear. We got so excited as we greeted each person by name in the chat. Because we had a prerecorded session, we could discuss and interact in the chat without worrying about what was going on in the presentation.
The first portion of our session was introduction and a presentation of our individual pedagogical stories. We gave the participants five minutes to write and it felt odd to sit there on the other side of the screen not knowing if they were doing what we asked them to do. In a physical session or classroom, the instructor can observe, move about, and check in with the temperature in the room. In this case, the active participation happened outside of our physical space with no way of knowing what was going on in the rooms behind the screen.
When it came time to use the JamBoard, I wondered whether we would have any participation. Not only is JamBoard an unfamiliar technology, we were also asking them to diffract (an unfamiliar term) and make connections. I worried that no one would interact in that space. But they did. Watching the participants of our session, who were anonymously in the JamBoard, was exhilarating. Seeing the connections people were making and how they were responding to each other meant that we could see some of their thinking happening in real time. As an online activity, it exceeded our expectations as some of the participants were vulnerable, snarky, and kind. What a gift to be part of this writing process.
In brainstorming what we would do for our proposed engaged learning experience, we considered some of our favorite posthuman pedagogical elements: post-its, poster board, movement in the room, etc. The constraint of the online format combined with the impetus to be prerecorded helped us challenge our vision for what this could become. In a moment of clarity of what posthumanist praxis looks like, we let go and let the actants in the session act; we diffracted with them; we allowed new spaces, words, ideas, shapes, identities, to come into being. What a pleasant and inspiring surprise.
Mimi: For my own part, I can see the potential for this kind of experience in a classroom. Under the pressure of standardization and conformity, this kind of pedagogy is revolutionary. Students trained in memorization, regurgitation, and epistemological boundaries have the potential to be inspired by their intra-actions, if we just let them. A goal for writing teachers, I think at least for many that I know, is to give students an opportunity to embrace writing as an act of social engagement and of individual development. How can this goal be accomplished if content knowledge takes privilege over randomness, engagement with multiple actors, and creativity? Sometimes the most generative writing takes place when the writer listens and responds to a multiplicity of beings. We saw that happen as the JamBoard became its own pond, rippling, waving, and changing pattern as each individual dropped their pebbles in.