Category Archives: Week 1 Posts

You and I, Face to Face

The identity of the Center for Innovative Pedagogy is wrapped up in modality. Our mission statement starts with facilitating conversations, and we’ve tended to interpret that as literal, in person, synchronous conversation. That’s true for my professional identity as well. I’ve often described my job as “buy faculty members lunch and get them talking.”

So 14 months of social distancing really requires some reflection not just on practice, but on our identity. I expect this lens of thinking about modality touches every aspect of our program, but the one taking up the most of my attention right now is the future of our department’s conference.

We actually pulled off 2 conferences in 2021, both fully online. Teaching and Learning Beyond 2020 was a 2-day event in January, with participation from a number of consortial partners. Talks were delivered live, recorded and archived to YouTube. The Q&A following the presentations was not recorded. The What Works conference in March was actually a replacement event from a planned retreat for our Natural Sciences division. Using a “modality” lens, the important things to note are that this “conference” met on three successive Thursdays around lunchtime, and while the keynote was live, the talks were all prerecorded and released in advance. We met only for discussion. (So we might call it a “flipped” conference.)

We talked about both of these events as our “first annual” conference, and both were pretty successful, so I think I’m on the hook for another one next May.

In a lot of ways, I want to go back to hosting a big event on campus. I want to order catering and have swag printed up. I want to gather people together and hear the spontaneous conversations that happen in the hallways. I think my faculty are looking forward to that too.

On the other hand, I really want to keep including colleagues in other locations. It was a thrill to have presenters from other schools in Ohio and Michigan and Indiana, one presenter in India and some registrants from Europe. (I’d like to get Wisconsin and Egypt on that list next year!) We have an opportunity to keep the Kenyon community in conversation with the broader community, and I’m not confident I can get that if I have to ask people to come to Gambier, Ohio. For that matter, I’d like the conference to be accessible to the Kenyon faculty member who doesn’t have childcare, who has a doctor’s appointment, who just doesn’t want to burn the gas and time to come to campus that day.

I’m really tempted by the challenge of pulling off a “hyflex” conference. But thinking back to pre-pandemic events, I can’t recall a single one where the online experience was anything close to the in-person. The last thing I want to do is replicate the experience of an in-person conference where someone turns a webcam on in the back of the room. And while hyflex might be a viable modality if you’re creating a community of learners for a semester, I’m actually pretty doubtful that we can replicate all that technical and social knowledge in a 2-day event.

So if I’m worried about the people who can’t make it to a face-to-face event, and I’m even more worried about the way people can get lost in a hyflex event, it seems that the right direction is to pursue an excellent, inclusive, engaging online event. (Many thanks to my colleagues Jen Lisy and Michelle Nobel at Ohio Wesleyan University for helping me see this.) I’ve had some good experiences in the last year, and I’d love to hear about yours.

Comments and an ethos of care

Arrrrrgh! I’m trying to get all. the. things. in this post and make it perfect which is exactly what I’ve been telling people not to do…

I’ve been thinking a lot about a recent interview with Sherri Spelic on my friend Terry Greene’s podcast. Among the many interesting things in that discussion is the discussion of using “an ethic of care” in thinking about blogs and comments. (This is about 20 minutes into the episode.)

I think “care” is a challenging concept in online spaces. Well, it’s challenging in face to face spaces too, but there’s all that additional information available to us (whether or not we use it) and context is usually more apparent than it is with the written word. Online it can be harder to know whether to press or alter an approach to a discussion, which seems to lead to this a lot:

“Duty Calls” by Randall Munroe, CC-BY-NC at

Sherri talks about the power of a good comment to show care, which can feel a little lost now that we’ve entered the world that says “smash that Like button” on one hand and “don’t read the comments” on the other. But in an ideal world, we’d think about all the social cues embedded in a comment – starting with “I heard you” and continuing through “and it was important enough to talk back” and then the actual content of the comment (and the cues in how it’s phrased). I think this is an important way of thinking about commenting – that it’s not just an intellectual engagement of one text with another, but a society-building (or society-breaking) act between people.

Commenting is, of course, different on different platforms. Blogs and discussion forums tend to support longer responses, and longer discussions in those responses. Slack and Twitter lend themselves towards more conversational modes, where there might be more room for back and forth. Facebook’s commenting feature is a stinking mess, in my opinion, promising conversation but not really delivering it for any sustained or large discussion.

(We’ve also got everything from Twitter’s heart button to Facebook’s 6 allowable emotions to a full complement of emoji available in Slack, which include a lot of those cues and are sometimes sufficient, but for the moment I’m going to declare them all to be not full comments.)

Another thing I find myself thinking about is the way that different platforms map onto different spaces. A person’s blog is their own space – the comment there is kind of like the comments you might make in a person’s home. This, of course, is a group blog, but it’s still ours. A discussion forum in a class ideally belongs to the class, with some direction from the professor. Comment sections on news sites and YouTube and such are clearly the public square at best (perhaps a public restroom at worst).

Twitter is an interesting space to read because it’s a public space where it only takes a little work to discern multiple groups – multiple “publics” – in operation. You’ll even see people moving among those publics as different parts of their identity prompt them to Tweet about different things. As I think about the way I navigate those spaces on Twitter, there are places where I’m pretty vocal (ed tech Twitter, mostly) and people I talk to pretty frequently. But I also keep an eye on some places (and topics and people) where I’m still learning, and I try not to insert myself in those conversations because I can create a lot more value by listening instead of talking. (I’m a talkative extrovert and this is a lifelong struggle for me, just applied to a new domain.)

OK, this post has been open for days, and it’s time to just hit publish, but I did happen to find one more relevant thing. (Which probably reinforces a bad habit, but there it is.) We’re doing a summer book club on Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi, which presents the research on stereotype threat and discusses ways to mitigate it for better learning. In a footnote, Steele says

Reducing the threat a person sees in a setting may err in the direction of encouraging too much trust. But it may be worth the risk. I say this because it is hard to believe, in light of the central message of this book, that learning, achievement, and performance can be optimized without trust in the setting… If one has to err, in light of our research over the years, I would thus err in the direction of urging greater trust, rather than greater vigilance.

This is specific to Steele’s argument, of course, but I think it’s useful to this discussion. The Internet and higher education are both facing massive crises of mistrust right now. Some of that mistrust is very fairly placed and I don’t mean to minimize that. Still, as we move toward the pedagogy and scholarship weeks, I think it’s a worthwhile challenge to keep thinking about what we can do – as individuals, in classes and in our fields – to set up structures which normalize and reward appropriate trust, and protect those who extend it.

Which may be a lot of words to say “what we can do to care.”

A few thoughts on blogging

I posted a version of this to the Moodle site, but I thought it was good enough to make public.

From talking to a couple of you, it sounds like there might be a little technostress going on from trying to introduce so many tools at the same time. So first of all… yay! If you’re stressed out from looking at everything at once, then you’re interested and working ahead. That’s good, right?

For this week, the only technology we’re looking at is blogging. (There was some technical stuff here about blogging which I’m leaving on Moodle. It was very “click here”-ish.)

You might be thinking “well, great, Joe, but what do I write”? Our general guidance for this week is “reflect on your readings and/or your visitor-resident map.” Beyond that, it’s a matter of finding your style. I’ll share 3 things that I think are key – one that I think I’m good at, one that I think I’m getting better at, and one which is really hard for me.


Links are how a document knows it’s on the web. I’m borrowing that turn of phrase from Kenyon student Daniel Olivieri. (See what I did there?) So my first piece of advice is to link liberally. Link to the article you’re reflecting on. Link to another piece it reminds you of. Link to an explanation of a disciplinary concept you’re applying. Link to a place where you’ve got a digital presence, or directly to your presence on that platform. Link to someone else’s post on DigPINS that interested you.

Of course, that’s a style choice, and it doesn’t fit every possible kind of blogging you might do. But I do believe that links are the difference between a document that’s really “in the web” and one that’s just published electronically, so I encourage you to think about them.


This is the one I’m trying to get better at. I’m a pretty textual guy and if you look at my blogging, you’ll see a lot of walls of text. But there are lots of ways to leaven your writing with images, from literal illustrations or figures to images which you use to make a point, or enhance a theme, or just make a joke.

Bob Ross at his easel
Let’s add a happy little image right here.

Again, that’s a style choice, and you can use as many or as few images as you like. Without getting into the “click here” or the copyright discussion right now, I’ll say that you can insert images with a button on WordPress which says “Add Media”, and you can either use URLs for images on the web, or upload images to be hosted on our site.

Just hit publish

This is the one I’m just bad at. As you can see from this message, I like to write a lot of things and have them relatively polished before I release them. That’s my style, and I’m OK with it. But the risk of writing small numbers of long posts is that I have a bunch of half-finished blog drafts or ideas instead of an active blog, and that’s kind of a shame. There are a number of more successful bloggers who are more prepared to stop a post abruptly, and then pick up the idea in a new post later on. Remember, you can write a second post, or you can engage us in the comments to flesh out an idea… but only if you hit publish on the first post.

I have more thoughts, but I should take my own advice and just hit publish!


OK, one more thing. I do believe that when you use images from the web, you should cite them. So the picture of Bob Ross is taken fromĀ Wikipedia.