Issue Nine

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Table of Contents: Issue Nine

Tyler Fox and Carlos Hernandez

Participatory Culture and Distributed Expertise: Breaking Down Pedagogical Norms or Regulating Neoliberal Subjectivities?
Kimberly Mair

Designing ‘Authenticity’ in Digital Learning Environments
Allan Johnson

Reflecting on Reflections: Using Video in Learning Reflection to Enhance Authenticity
Emma J. Rose, Jarek Sierschynski, and Elin Björling

Teaching Literature Through Technology: Sherlock Holmes and Digital Humanities
Joanna Swafford

Making Reading Visible: Social Annotation with Lacuna in the Humanities Classroom
Emily Schneider and Stacy Hartman

A Bechdel Test for #MLA16: Gendered Acts of Care on Academic Twitter
Shawna Ross

Issue Nine Masthead

Issue Editors
Tyler Fox
Carlos Hernandez

Managing Editor
Laura Wildemann Kane

Anne Donlon
Kiersten Greene
Andrew Lucchesi
Benjamin Miller
Michelle McSweeney
Luke Waltzer

Style and Structure Editors
Benjamin Miller

Staging Committee
Anne Donlon
Kiersten Greene
Kimon Keramidas
Benjamin Miller
Sava Saheli Singh
Luke Waltzer

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Practice and Reflection: The Affordances and Issues That Accompany Pedagogical Innovation

Tyler Fox, University of Washington
Carlos Hernandez, Borough of Manhattan Community College

All instructors, no matter the discipline nor the level of instruction, have a near-endless supply of woeful stories that recount how their best-laid lesson plans failed when it came time to actually teach them. It therefore behooves every instructor to study, slowly and carefully, how pedagogical theory can be best made manifest in our pedagogical practices. The Journal of Interactive Technology & Pedagogy has a strong tradition of articles that focus heavily on pedagogical theory. Issue Nine, by contrast, concerns itself largely with praxis. It features articles that scrutinize attempts to actualize theory and invite, thoughtfully and meaningfully, technology into the complex reality of 21st century instruction. The articles presented herein are deep dives into the chaotic system that is the classroom: they are proof-of-concepts, experiments, and instructional meditations. They document their attempts to improve instruction by means of novel uses of technology, greater metacognition, and/or political awareness of students, and review, unflinchingly, both the successes and where they see need for improvements. They do not shirk away from offering up to readers the questions that remain unanswered after less-than-ideal results.

As a general issue, the topics and techniques the authors of Issue Nine employ are manifold. But perhaps the heart of our issue is the affordances and costs of digitally-enabled reflection. Digital tools offer collaboration, anytime access, and intuitive experiences (at times), and open new modes of analysis for both students and practitioners. Our authors offer a number of suggestions and modalities for teaching such practices: informal video reflection, collaboratively constructed learning environments, collaborative annotation, broad approaches to digital humanities, and an in-depth analysis of Twitter feeds from three conference panels. The breadth and depth of technical possibility is ripe for new forms of reflection. Yet, they also raise questions about the broader political economies that undergird these tools. Our authors employ various digital tools in order to encourage students to rethink the purpose of the classroom and confront the myriad design challenges that effort entails.

We find a prime example of these design vs. implementation issues in Kimberly Mair’s article “Participatory Culture and Distributed Expertise: Breaking Down Pedagogical Norms or Regulating Neoliberal Subjectivities?” In a junior-level course titled “Digital Culture and Society,” Mair attempted to, in her words, “disrupt conventional assumptions of the economy of knowledge in the classroom by positioning the students as collaborative knowledge producers.” In two different iterations of the course, she has two very different experiences. Students in her first class more engaged and ready to interrogate knowledge production and the agendas of Neoliberalism; students in the second class seem much less eager to engage those questions. Mair must ponder the question of why different groups of students interact so differently with the same material, even while she argues for the unambiguous value of a decentered pedagogy that requires students to interrogate knowledge and examine how it is used and valued.

A “best practice” becoming more prominent in pedagogical literature centers around the idea of “authenticity.” Two articles in Issue Nine explore “authentic learning,” which seeks to take problems found in the “real-world”—with all their concomitant, messy complexity—and introduce them into the classroom as challenges for students to overcome, using the paradigms, concepts, and methods of the course’s discipline(s). In the cases discussed within these articles, the online tools and video served as the “authentic” tools in question. In “Designing ‘Authenticity’ in Digital Learning Environments,” Allan Johnson describes a year-long study across two different English courses meant to document how well students tackle “authentic” problems using the tools of Web 2.0. One finding from the student evaluations demonstrates how much student perceptions of the role of these technologies cast an interesting pall over learning: the effectiveness of these tools in the classroom environment are influenced by students’ preconceptions of the tools themselves. Specifically, some students believed those tools were for “entertainment” purposes even after using them for a semester in a college course. Similarly, in “Reflecting on Reflections: Using Video in Learning Reflection to Enhance Authenticity,” Emma J. Rose, Jarek Sierschynski, and Elin Björling try use video as a means of creating less academically mediated and more “authentic” responses from students in a summer camp for underrepresented middle- and high school students. Again, the researchers run up against the reality of pedagogical practice when they find that the participants’ “own assessment of their experience did not include an expression of awareness of these changes.” In both articles, we see researchers finding interesting points of success in their experimental use of technologies, but those successes are colored and finally limited by numerous factors, not the least of which is student buy-in.

When courses use the subject of the Digital Humanities itself, the number of tools, pedagogical approaches, and theoretical frameworks available are so numerous that navigating the design and implementation of such of course comes with additional problems that the instructor must negotiate. How much should we assume students already know? What theories, literature, and technologies would best serve as the scaffolding tools that will lead to deeper, more meaningful learning? In “Teaching Literature Through Technology: Sherlock Holmes and Digital Humanities,” Joanna Swafford introduces us to her pedagogical mantra of “Read, Play, Build” as one viable approach. Theoretical readings, meticulous hands-on instruction, and project-based assignments provide a careful introduction to current digitally supported methodologies: visualization, archiving, markup, mapping, and more. Swafford’s approach ensures that “students receive both theoretical and practical experience with each methodology and can see first-hand its strengths and weaknesses” and serves as one potential model for anyone interested in designing an introduction to digital humanities level course.  Such an introduction, however, requires guided and supported use of tools, as the author notes: “Students from the so-called ‘digital native’ generation are often anything but.” It is a reminder that the adoption of tools always requires on-the-fly shifts in the classroom.

Emily Schneider and Stacy Hartman also discuss pedagogical shifts required to incorporate online, social-annotation tools into sustained practices of teaching and learning. In “Making Reading Visible: Social Annotation with Lacuna in the Humanities Classroom,” they provide an in-depth overview of new software for annotation and its impact on both teaching and learning. The authors note that for any tool to inspire change, it must be “intentionally integrated into pedagogical practices.”  Instructor teams must review annotations before class, requiring new workflows for students, teaching assistants and instructors. Yet, the instructors report that student thinking is “rendered visible” prior to class, increasing teacher engagement in the course and quickening the pace and depth of discussion. As with many contemporary technologies, there are multiple, concurrent shifts at play. In addition to the technical shift of new interfaces, interactions and affordances, the act of annotation undergoes a shift from the private to the public. This shift, regarded by the authors as largely beneficial, does create new learning challenges that must be addressed. They note that, “From the student perspective, shifting to social reading can demand higher levels of self-awareness than what students are used to from solitary reading practices…. Self-regulation must be taught and practiced.”

The shift from private to public is the focus of our last article as well. It is the least like our other articles in that it concentrates not on the classroom, but on the state of our profession as academics using technology in real time to conduct the business of our disciplines. Shawna Ross explores, in an information-rich series of web pages, the Twitter stream from two different panels at MLA in “A Bechdel Test for #MLA16: Gendered Acts of Care on Academic Twitter.” Ross positions “carework” (Lauren Klein’s term) as the central tenet for understanding how tweeters—composed “largely [of] a community of women who, donating their attention to this task, may be performing this labor at a certain personal cost”—engage in the task of “support[ing] other scholars, whether that scholar is a panelist, another audience member, or someone not present at the conference or that particular panel.” She concludes that the 2016 MLA passes both the Bechdel test for representation of women and (albeit with lesser surety) the DuVernay test for representation of race. Her closing advice for academic tweeting provides guidelines that may help foster a better system of care for ourselves and others: fearlessly citing ourselves, for instance, and putting Twitter aside so as to engage a debate in the moment, rather than preserving it for posterity, are just two suggestions.

We hope that you find within these articles insights that encourage reflection, both public and private, in the classroom and in discussion with your academic colleagues, in theory and in practice. You may even find a new tool or approach that can spur new pedagogical praxis in the coming academic year. If nothing else, we hope this issue will encourage more scholars to experiment with new technologies with equal parts bravura and forethought.

About The Authors

Tyler Fox is Lecturer in the department of Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington. His research and art focuses on the ways in which nonhuman relations shape our experience of, and relationship to, the surrounding world. He received a PhD from the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University.

Carlos Hernandez is an Associate Professor of English at BMCC and a member of the doctoral faculty in the Interactive Technology and Pedagogy Program at the Graduate Center, both at CUNY. He is a writer of SFF fiction, a game designer, and a digital humanist with a focus on game-based learning. @writeteachplay

Image courtesy of Flickr user Andrea Hernandez

Participatory Culture and Distributed Expertise: Breaking Down Pedagogical Norms or Regulating Neoliberal Subjectivities?

Kimberly Mair, University of Lethbridge


While participatory pedagogies and inverted classrooms contest the norms and forms authority that operate in the conventional classroom and attempt to respond creatively to the challenge that Web 2.0 presents to higher education, they may also reinforce the requisite affect and rhythms of production that are characteristic of flexible labor. Drawing upon observations from a course on digital culture delivered in an inverted and participatory classroom, this article discusses the effectiveness of experiential, decentered, and collaborative classroom environments for meeting the demands of early twenty-first century higher education but examines contradictions inherent to these critical pedagogies. This paper argues that the intensive labor and constant affect-based interactions that participatory pedagogies demand may inadvertently undermine their critical force by enacting forms of neoliberal governance. The discussion concludes with provisional thoughts about how to navigate these contradictions by building a critique of the pedagogy into the course structure.



Critical pedagogies that emphasize performative and participatory activity are effective in breaking down and contesting the norms and forms of authority operative in the conventional classroom that otherwise tend toward passive absorption and recall on demand. The move away from both older banking (Freire [1970] 1997, 61) and newer information exchange models in education is even more urgent when we take seriously that “knowledge and information in their exchangeable form are easily accessible on the internet and Wikipedia,” an observation that prompted Groot, Pape, and Vilvang (2015) to ask: “What, then, is the singular project of higher education that stands out from a mass of knowledge traders?” (1). For them, that project would entail the generation of “movements of thought,” in which “it is not a stable piece of information that moves from point A to point B” (1), but one that engages directly the problem of “how to make different modes of thought resonate, how to think with another thinking” (2).

In preparation for a third-year undergraduate course entitled Digital Culture and Society, I attempted to shape its curriculum into a metaphorical platform for experiential engagements that would disrupt conventional assumptions of the economy of knowledge in the classroom by positioning the students as collaborative knowledge producers who each bring plural knowledges into the space for reworking, rather than as receivers of ostensibly crystallized, knowledge. Since I gave the course a thematic focus on Participatory Culture in Web 2.0, I wanted its form to make operative the social processes of concern in the course, such as shifts in communicative practice and values, the withdrawal of the singular author or originator of knowledge claims, and so forth. Making such processes operative indeed made space for “movements of thought” (Groot, Pape, and Vilvang 2015, 1). I noted how easily the values of critical pedagogies, such as those central to the inversion of classrooms, synthesized with the unique concerns of the course topic of digital culture, as these are in many ways consistent with the emergent norms of Web 2.0 culture and its “central cultural logic” of sharing (Shifman 2014, 19). Yet, over the duration of the course, I became aware of inherent contradictions in the participatory and performative potential of inverted pedagogies.

Concerns have been raised about inverted models, particularly in the context of fiscal pressures on education that may emphasize technology as a solution to increased demands with fewer resources, while de-emphasizing the value of immediate engagement with instructors. As Harden (2015) has observed, however, the critical focus of inverted models does provide “means for educators to resist that outcome” (378). Perhaps this danger pivots on where the imperative to invert classrooms emerges, with the institution or with the educator, and whether it is administratively or conceptually driven. But, my immediate concerns depart from the possible administrative exploitation of what are meant to be critical learning models that, done well, are usually more, not less, labor intensive. That these learning models are more labor intensive, not only for faculty but for students as well, is my point of departure. With the learning strategies and forms that my course implemented, student labor was both extensive and sometimes invisible as work. I argue that, as much as these forms rework and disrupt conventional classroom practices, they may inadvertently contribute to the regulation of subjectivity in preparation for entrenching flexible labor arrangements. Following this, I will conclude with a brief preliminary reflection upon how I have attempted to activate this critique as part of the content in a subsequent offering of this course. Before developing my critique, I will situate my discussion in the course’s pedagogical underpinnings.

Participatory and Web 2.0 Cultures as Content and Pedagogy

The course’s thematic focus on Participatory Culture in Web 2.0 culture followed Henry Jenkins’ work in both of its streams: fandom studies and participatory classrooms. Henry Jenkins, Wyn Kelley, et al (2013) advocate the “participatory classroom,” which acknowledges the emergent shift from the expert paradigm of one-directional knowledge transfer to a collaborative model of knowledge production known as distributed expertise (188–189). Distributed expertise anticipates that each participant has knowledge and experiences to contribute. It favors course designs that enable and encourage the active mobilization of each participant’s expertise in both learning and teaching, although the latter often occurs through informal mentorship—a central value of some fandoms [1] and one that is consistent with the positive popular discourse of so-called Web 2.0 culture generally.

The respective characteristics of Web 2.0 culture and participatory culture overlap but are distinct (Hadas 2009, 1.2). Web 2.0 culture denotes the practices that emerge from the platform infrastructure of the Internet that provides sites to be filled with users’ content and generates sharing and interactivity that the read-only websites of Web 1.0 were not equipped to support. The ideological promise of Web 2.0 culture, however, recasts consumers as participants and creators and, therefore, it elides the distinction between producers and consumers (Hadas 2009; Jenkins [1992] 2013). More significantly, the discourses that surround Web 2.0 culture suggest a democratic communicative sphere by emphasizing its ostensible decentralization. Tim O’Reilly, who acknowledged the “interactivity, flexibility, and participation” (Coleman 2013, 207) of platform-based applications on the Internet by proposing the name Web 2.0, stresses its potential to foster “collective intelligence” (Hadas 2009). Web 2.0 also purportedly has the capacity to endow the speculative “noosphere” of the fused global mind (Manivannan 2012) with a “perfect memory” (Mayer-Schönberger quoted in Manivannan 2012). Tensions reside here due to the broad signifying force that the name Web 2.0 has taken on in a “constant conflation” of technologies and practices that “obscures the sociology and history of some digital projects” (Coleman 2013, 208). While the appeal to the supposed decentralization of Web 2.0 is often challenged (Mayorga 2014; Shifman 2014; Lanier 2011), Coleman asserts the distinction between “corporate-owned, proprietary platforms” and free software development or collective projects (208). So, while the promise and potential of so-called Web 2.0 cannot reside above critique, Coleman reminds us to give attention to which efforts and technologies we mean and how they operate “ethically, politically, and economically” (209) when we use this term.

The concept of participatory culture, however, speaks to long-time fandom practices, involving both affective and critical reading (Jenkins [1992] 2013, 277–278); the production of “borderlands” between texts and everyday life (3); cultural activism; aesthetic production that blurs the creator-consumer distinction; and the making of alternative communities (278–282). It long precedes the advent of digital platform infrastructures, but its characteristics overlap with the creative, non-hierarchical promise of the Web 2.0 culture of sharing. Jenkins and Kelley, et al (2013) outline the characteristics of a participatory culture as follows: “low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement”; mutual “support for creating and sharing”; “informal mentorship”; members’ belief that their contributions are significant; members’ feelings of social connection that extend to contributions made by members of the group (8).

In several respects, contemporary understandings and practices of participatory culture, now extending to more anonymous and ephemeral digital communities, rely upon the technological infrastructures of Web 2.0. Paul J. Booth’s (2012) study of video mash-ups forwards that today’s remix culture relies heavily on the use and re-working of different texts and genres to produce cultural “rupture” (5.4). In the context of the digital sphere and its reconfigurations of communication, participatory culture promises to re-work cultural logics and social arrangements, giving the impression of control to participants who make up networked communities. This control, however, is highly dependent upon the digital spaces in which activities occur. Financial and digital capitals, as well as membership in new social arrangements, are unevenly distributed (Mayorga 2014).

Having made this distinction between these overlapping concepts, I will elaborate how they inform and mirror my pedagogical assumptions in the design of this course. Like digital spaces and networks, classrooms are marked by uneven distributions of various capitals, and while a participatory course design does not level this terrain, it does make interventions into models of teaching that appeal to the image of a knowledge economy. As with Freire’s critical use of the word “banking” to describe one-directional teaching strategies, a course that is designed to participate in the knowledge economy assumes its material in terms of units possessed by teachers or books, consumed by students, and then exchanged for credit in examinations and assignments. A course that approximates a participatory culture emphasizes experiential learning by having students engage directly in the processes relevant to the course topic rather than primarily consume course materials that explain them. By focusing on processes, knowledge is then understood as ways of thinking and making rather than information or facts that are today readily available, and even debated, without classrooms of higher learning.

In this course, students’ experiences were supposed to be much like those in Web 2.0, as students ‘shared’ their ideas and took control of their activities through the collaborative production of their term projects. Groups were also to approximate participatory culture by fulfilling the characteristics outlined above. Although I assigned scholarly literatures, the experience of working in this way was intended to be a central ‘text’ of the course by which emergent social arrangements, communicative practices, and values in digital culture could be felt and negotiated rather than merely read about. Finally, this pedagogical approach assumes that learning is not an interior process but happens through active meetings among thinkers, objects, and environments. Having elaborated the critical pedagogical assumptions that draw from inverted models as well as from the scholarship on participatory classrooms and distributed expertise (Jenkins and Kelley et al., 2013) that guided the development of this course, I will provide some details about it before moving on to my critical observations about the contradictions presented with this approach in terms of its inadvertent complicity in preparing students for neoliberalism’s flexible labor arrangements.

The Participatory Course and Fan-Fic as Scholarly Activity

I responded to the official course title of Digital Culture and Society with a thematic of participatory culture, using scholarly readings to emphasize the following in the content: oscillations between materialization and dematerialization (Hayles 2012); new modes of communication; emergent norms and values; and new forms of subjectivity that are tension-ridden between, on the one hand, Barry Wellman’s concept of “networked individualism,” concerned with self-branding and production of social connectivity and communion, which is often used to describe contemporary social production (Shifman 2014, 30, 33–34), and, on the other hand, the economy of unreality that David Auerbach observes on 4chan message boards, which minimizes identity, trading subjects for knowledges and experiences (Manivannan 2012). In the course’s formal organization, I primarily used an inverted, or ‘flipped’, classroom model. I did minimal lecturing each week. Lectures focused on the most challenging aspects of theoretical matter in scholarly literature, and students were required to engage with learning materials and do preliminary work outside of class. Given its thematic, the course was participatory in its content and form. Mirroring the conceptual content of the course, students engaged directly in creative fan culture production in collaborative groups online outside of class time and face-to-face in the classroom over a period of three months.

Fandom production that values free space to create resonates with the ways in which communication ideally occurs in Web 2.0. The perceived gap between students’ routine communication practices and the scholarly conventions expected in the academy has perhaps never been greater. Instructors can build upon the ways that students communicate, and students can also be positioned to see how their communicative practices implicitly cross into scholarly conventions. I suggest that fandom practices, such as fan-fic, offer a productive meeting ground. Fandom strategies displace the authority of primary texts and offer creative license to students making their own texts using informal types of citation through intertextuality. More crucially, fandom strategies encourage active reading and re-writing practices that extend or question, fill in gaps, and posit cultural critiques of dominant narratives (Jenkins [1992] 2013). I used fan-fic prompts from the second class meeting on to unsettle classroom routines, initiate collaborative work, develop relationships, and explore assigned texts.[2]

The novel S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst (2013) provided a common point of departure for the collaborative projects. S is an example of an ergodic novel because it requires unusual and laborious reading practices. It was particularly relevant to the course because it demands reading practices that mimic and amplify the non-linear experience of reading online, while calling for supplemental searching that crosses into other media external to the book to meet its intertextual knowledge requirements. Yet S also exaggerates the sensorial experiences of reading a material, hardcover book. The book is heavy, difficult to handle, and its specifically placed interleaved objects will fall out if the reader is not careful with every movement. The pages are artificially aged and seem to have been treated with the subtle scent of old books. Its content is broadly concerned with communication technologies and reading as authorship.

The students’ ongoing task was to work intertextually between scholarly literature, the novel, and their experiences of participatory culture in various modes. Many of their assignments, including the central collaborative project, demanded that they relinquish attachments to individual ownership and authorship of their production. In a limited sense, their contributions were ideally anonymous, as on 4chan, but not quite, obviously. I gave no specifications about what the final products should be. In terms of content, they were simply instructed to respond to S., while drawing from the conceptual materials in weekly academic readings. Evaluation was process-based and focused on groups’ routine practice of the principles of a participatory culture, as observed on their discussion and planning blogs and in participatory group time, for which they had between fifty and one hundred minutes per week over the term.

In addition to the attempt to subvert conventional authority emanating from the instructor and from assigned texts by animating participation in active knowledge production and contestation, the submitted assignments were creative, and relied upon popular cultural texts as well as on experiences. One aspect of Henry Giroux’s notion of border pedagogy as a “counter-text” (1991, 52) to traditional forms of pedagogical authority involves the treatment of official texts and popular cultural texts—not as the conduits for knowledge transmission, but as objects of study in themselves. Border pedagogy also enables students to “create their own texts” (54) under “conditions that allow students to write, speak, and listen in a language in which meaning becomes multi-accentual, dispersed, and resists permanent closure” (52).

The participatory modes operating within and outside of the classroom produced a high-level of solidarity among the students, and fostered intense friendships among many of them. Of the six groups, social connectivity was indeed achieved in all but one group that organized their activity with a means-ends logic. Having individual work from the students in the course from which to draw comparisons, the scholarly and creative quality of the works produced were, in most cases, higher than what would have been produced by individuals, as they were marked with the different strengths and interests of each group’s various members, which had dialogical mobility within the strongest groups over the duration of the term.

Despite the successes of the course, it became evident to me that the participatory modes of learning embedded into the course design presented inherent contradictions. While the pedagogical practices associated with distributed expertise and participatory collaboration break down the norms and forms of authority operative in the conventional classroom, they also appear to contribute to the regulation of subjectivity in preparation for immaterial and flexible labor arrangements. I observed that these strategies encourage practices that are consistent with the policy and human resource buzzwords of “creativity,” “participation,” and “community” that art historian Claire Bishop notes have been borrowed from 1960s discourses and deployed in service of self-sufficiency in the so-called “new economy” (2012, 14).

Do Participatory Classrooms Produce Post-Fordist Laborers?

Alexander R. Galloway has argued that, in post-Fordist arrangements, we can no longer distinguish between leisure and labor activities. Drawing upon Galloway’s observation, as well as Tim O’Reilly’s uncritical concept of “algorithmic regulation,” which denotes a process by which algorithmic adjustments respond to immediate data that evaluate whether algorithmic outcomes are aligned with preferred ones, Steve Holmes (2014) addressed the practice of bitcoin mining as a “hybrid game-like” environment that directly “participate[s] in structures of knowledge/power” that appropriate not only game play, but also browsing activities, social media posting, blogging, and so many of the routine activities that many of us do in daily life. He shows how these leisure activities are submitted to the surveillance of algorithms and become acts of immaterial labor that convert “play into [someone else’s] profit”. Holmes’s aim is to extend critiques that focus on game play that simulates other environments to show that “global communications networks have converted all of space and time to gamespace” and produce a sort of “algorithmic subjectivity” that responds to neoliberal demands both economically and at the level of conscious desires. It is a surveilled and regulated subjectivity, but it gives the appearance of individual agency. While we learn from Holmes that the mining of crypto-currencies brings into sharper focus the relationship between leisure and labor—a relationship which is more subtle in the context of browsing on Google Books, being engaged in what Mayorga (2014) describes as the “playful labor of participation in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms,” or even in gaming where informal markets flourish—this presents an intractable contradiction to the subversive potentials of new modes of communication in digital space, as well as to the emergent values that are associated with these modes.

These participatory and inverted pedagogical tactics also creatively blur the lines between leisure and labor for students. While this animates the class and the course material, it also normalizes patterns of self-exploitive labor (Bishop 2012, 236) for the precariat of the new economy. Related to this, the participatory principles of social connectivity and mutual valuing of contributions make affect, an integral aspect of what mobilizes the emergent flexible immaterial laborer, central to the student experience. When the collaborative groups achieved strong social connectivity, something that could only be accomplished through sustained attention to the building of relationships, their work sometimes appeared less like work and perhaps felt like mere play or social activity. Sometimes, their work took the form of care and mutual support, as a couple of students encountered personal life challenges and sorrows over the course of the term, which seemed to become part of the groups’ interactions. Given that the participatory form of the work was so relationship-based, personal grief could not be tidily externalized, as it is in most conventional classrooms. At the same time, the digitized, inverted learning arrangement that supported these participatory collaborative projects could, in fragmentary and undifferentiated time-space, intrude upon the most precious aspects of whatever could be said to be left of personal time or existence in always unanticipated moments. As Italian Autonomist scholars have been warning, work time in post-Fordist arrangements is increasingly separated from the physical laborer: “When we move into the sphere of info-labor, Capital no longer recruits people, it buys packets of time, separated from their interchangeable and contingent bearers. De-personalized time is now the real agent of the process of valorization, and de-personalized time has no rights” (Berardi 2009, 192). But, while time is separated from the physical laborer, work is not. The present structure of labor, Marazzi (2008) observes, is one that aims “to fuse work and worker, to put to work the entire lives of workers,” including or especially their “emotions, feelings, their after-work lives” (50), under the relentless demand for the worker “to respond to unforeseen and unforeseeable situations, emergent situations, those situations which make any sort of planning impracticable, assigning a central role to occasionality” (51).

I saw students attempting to respond to the paradox presented by the simultaneous separation of time and fusing of work. It was common for students to log on to group blogs well into the night to produce complex contributions and detailed, personalized, and affirmative responses to other contributions that had accumulated over the day. This was, after all, what I had hoped for, but I did not anticipate the ways and extent to which it would draw students into the temporal rhythms and the hijacking of care that is characteristic of the new shape of labor. Alternative pedagogical models are indeed grounded in critical perspectives, but the practical effects of their forms may support kinds of learning and practice contrary to the critical spirit of such models.

Bishop (2012) observes similar political ambiguities in the rise of post-studio participatory art since the 1990s. Some of the observations that Bishop makes about participatory art resonate with the kinds of pedagogy I am describing. She notes that both contemporary participatory artistic and curatorial production re-work conventional ways in which artistic production and consumption have been conceived; involve “post-objects,” which are situational, process-based, and conceptual; and disrupt the positions of artist and spectator to make all positions into those of participation (2).

Participatory and creative pedagogies can make similar interventions into knowledge formations. First, participatory classrooms overturn the expert model of knowledge production that assumes only an elite few possess knowledge to be imparted to others (Jenkins and Kelley, et al 2013). Second, these pedagogies involve process-based collaborations that are assumed to translate into flexible skills and knowledges that extend beyond the classroom context, rather than conventional pedagogies that focus on completed assignment-objects. Third, in some ways, they flatten and disrupt the positions of instructor and students and make them all participants (with the significant exceptions of course design and evaluation).

On the surface, these interventions into the dynamics of one-directional models seem positive, but Bishop argues that artistic practices are increasingly blurring with those of formal social institutions under the demands of the current neoliberal political context of fiscal austerity, privatization, and individualism. She considers how public arts funding criteria, coupled with the receding of social institutions, has meant that art is increasingly evaluated and publicly supported in terms of its achievement of a desired “social task” previously pursued by social services agencies, education departments, and so forth, rather than by its achievement of formal aesthetic properties. One of her concerns about the assumption that artistic production ought to fulfill social tasks is that it relies upon “‘post-political’ consensus” (277) to legitimate art. Bishop remarks that:

this is a story that runs in parallel with the rocky fate of democracy itself, a term to which participation has always been wedded: from a demand for acknowledgement, to representation, to the consensual consumption of one’s own image – be this a work of art, Facebook, Flickr, or reality TV. (277)

Similarly, participatory pedagogies and their collaborative assignments may rely upon a student-driven consensus that hastily resolves contradictions (Marlow 2012), erases dissent, and produces difficult contributions as refuse rather than as potential generations of “movements of thought” that provoke us “to think with another thinking” (Groot, Pape, and Vilvang 2015, 1-2).

Activating Critique within the Course Structure

Having acknowledged the unwitting complicity of this course design with the regulation of “good” neoliberal subjects, the outstanding task is to discover how to turn that complicity into an object of critical interrogation, without losing the animating potentials of alternative learning practices. This is one of the ubiquitous tensions that university workplaces present to instructors: how to assert a boundary between work and life while still activating your care in your work. For instructors, one way of activating care (but not necessarily boundaries) is to experiment with learning models, but when that experimentation seems to support the most exploitative aspects of contemporary work conditions in the structure of student learning, this calls for further intervention. A possible route for navigating this contradiction would be to retain the form of the course but to activate the critique within its content—it is after all inherent to the topic of digital culture—to prompt engagement with the ways in which the course has enacted forms of neoliberal governance and normalizes flexible rhythms of labor.

In a more recent iteration of this course, I incorporated this critique by assigning texts that underline the connections between digital leisure and flexible labor to show how activities in the course participated in the simulation of neoliberalism that Holmes discusses. For instance, since collaborative groups communicated outside of class time using a free blog platform that featured advertising space, which would be populated if their sites attracted enough visitors, they were prompted to consider how their posts to each other could make profit for other organizations. Further, not only did groups use texting and social media to keep in touch between meetings, several incorporated Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram into their final projects. All of these forms of communication, whether used instrumentally or aesthetically, provided opportunities to examine the production of value and leisure-labor blur, as well as the de-differentiation of labor and subjectivity in new flexible forms of production.

Relative to the students in the first version of the course, for whom I initiated the critique only in the closing reflections at the end of the term, students in the second version, for whom this critique was part of their curriculum, seemed unmoved by it. The first class was reflective about the critique; the second class seemed to ask: So what? Many of the latter stressed the convenience of working in groups using plural digital platforms, even when their communications and work unpredictably crossed well into the evenings and weekends. It is unclear what contributed to the difference in the responses, other than that, in general, the first class was more diversely digitally immersed and thus more attuned and invested in the implications than the second one. While student life is generally marked by fragmented time, the force of the critique relies upon students to imagine their indefinite futures structured by this de-differentiation between labor and affective subjectivity. Yet, this de-differentiation may be pervasive enough that it now appears neutral. If so, this neoliberal commonsense poses a unique challenge to animating this critique.

If flexible forms of teaching and learning respond to the demands of early twenty-first-century education by engaging emergent modes of communication and production, they also enact the “friendly” relations of power of those modes, which are affect-based and threaten to exploit students’ social bonds or to coerce students into performing bonds that they may not feel. Perhaps this critique of the pedagogy could be forceful if it were initially displaced from the students’ immediate experiences by putting the fictional novel and fan-fic writing exercises to use. Since the critique is also relevant to the protagonists in the novel S, it could be explored creatively through collective writing exercises that respond to key moments in the narrative. In a follow-up reflective exercise, students could be prompted to examine the similar structure of their own activities in the course. While it may seem counter-intuitive to build in a critique of pedagogy as it is delivered, it offers a rare experiential opportunity to examine contemporary neoliberal conditions that seem natural and convenient.


This work would not exist without the highly engaged students of the Digital Culture course. I wish to thank the University of Lethbridge Teaching Centre, especially Victoria Holec and Bernie Wirzba of the Learning Environment Evaluation Project. Finally, I am grateful to the editors and reviewers for constructive suggestions and feedback.


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Booth, Paul J. 2012. “Mash-up as temporal amalgam: Time, Taste, and Textuality.” In “Fan/Remix Video,” edited by Francesca Coppa and Julie Levin Russo, special issue, Transformative Works and Culture 9.

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Hadas, Leora. 2009. “The Web planet: How the changing Internet divided Doctor Who fan fiction writers.” Transformative Works and Culture 3.

Harden, Joel D. 2015. “Learning without Sages?: Reflections on ‘Flipping’ the University Classroom.” In Neoliberalism and the Degradation of Education, edited by Carlo Fannelli and Bryan Evans, special issue, Alternate Routes: A journal of critical social research 26: 376-389.

Hayles, N. Katherine. 2012. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Holmes, Steve. 2014. “Rhetorical Allegorithms in Bitcoin.” Enculturation: a journal of rhetoric, writing, and culture 18.

Jenkins, Henry. (1992) 2013. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Updated Twentieth Anniversary Edition. New York and London: Routledge.

Jenkins, Henry and Wyn Kelley, eds. 2013. Reading in a Participatory Culture: Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom. Edited with Katie Clinton, Jenna McWilliams, Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, and Erin Reilly. New York and London: Teachers College Press; Berkeley, CA: National Writing Project.

Lanier, Jaron. 2011. You are not a gadget: A Manifesto. New York: Vintage Books.

Manivannan, Vyshali. 2012. “Attaining the Ninth Square: Cybertextuality, Gamification, and Institutional Memory on 4chan.” Enculturation: A journal of rhetoric, writing, and culture 14.

Marazzi, Christian. 2008. Capital and Language: From the New Economy to the War Economy. Translated by Gregory Conti. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).

Marlow, Jennifer. 2012. “Wiki Wars: Conversation, Negotiation, and Collaboration in Online Spaces.” Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy 2.

Mayorga, Edwin. 2014. “Toward Digital, Critical, Participatory Action Research: Lessons from the #BarrioEdProj.” Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy 5.

Shifman, Limor. 2014. Memes in Digital Culture. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press.


[1] Hadas has challenged the simple conflation of participatory culture and fandom by acknowledging multiple logics in fandoms. Notably, Hadas has observed a discourse of “organized-community” that appeals to “the rhetoric of private enterprise and stresses the importance of norms and standards” that stands in contrast to a discourse of “free-space” that calls for constructive and supportive contexts for production and mentorship (1.2).

[2] The second offering of this course included exploration of the similarities and differences between these strategies and academic conventions.

About the Author

Kimberly Mair is Associate Professor of Sociology and a Teaching Fellow (2016-17) at the University of Lethbridge, Canada. Her research is concerned with the aesthetics of communication and social theory. Her book Guerrilla Aesthetics: Art, Memory, and the West German Urban Guerrilla was recently published by McGill-Queen’s University Press.


Designing ‘Authenticity’ in Digital Learning Environments

Allan Johnson, University of Surrey


This article reports on a study into the integrative use of social media tools to create an ‘authentic digital learning environment’ for undergraduate literature teaching at City University of Hong Kong. An authentic digital learning environment is one that is created—rather than adopted or adapted—by student cohorts. The findings of the study suggest that the use of digital media in the classroom can create higher levels of student engagement, but only when it is embedded systematically in module design. This article outlines the rationale for moving to a digital learning environment composed of social tools, thereby situating learning in a context that is more authentic to students while seamlessly integrating digital literacy education into traditional subject areas.

Introduction & Context

This research commences from a position held by Laurillard (2012) that teaching is a design science and, as such, can be described, created, and evaluated through consideration of the patterns which contribute to the complex relationship between learning and teaching. These patterns can become even more apparent in digital pedagogies, where the correlation between content and form is often highly significant. This investigation studied how learning activities conducted in ‘authentic digital learning environments’ impacted student experience in an English literature course in the Department of English at City University of Hong Kong. An authentic digital learning environment is one that is created—rather than adopted or adapted—by student cohorts. In practice, this means that the functions normally fulfilled by a learning management system (LMS) such as Blackboard or Moodle (e.g. content delivery, lecturer-student communication, student-student communication, work submission, assessment) are accomplished inside an environment that students incrementally and collaboratively build through their sustained connections within web 2.0 tools such as Twitter, WordPress, and RSS.

Proprietary LMSs have been shown to be important tools for enhancing student learning, particularly in literature and language studies (e.g. Gimmel, 2007; Levy, 2009; Lancashire, 2009); however, they are specific only to educational contexts (and particularly to higher education contexts) and students will ultimately leave them behind following graduation. This research examined the impact of learning activities and materials that are assigned, created, and assessed within an environment that more closely mirrors students’ own authentic engagements with collaborative technology. The findings from this study suggest the importance of full integration between material design and implementation in digital pedagogy, and underline the importance of holistic instructional design with equal consideration of task and material creation.

Authentic tasks & authentic materials

Previous research has focused on ‘authenticity’ as a quality of the discrete learning task or assessment tool (Cronin (1993), Young & McNeese (1993), Lebow & Wager (1994), Herrington & Herrington (1998), Oliver & Omari (1999), Barab, Squire, & Dueber (2000), and Herrington, Reeves, and Oliver (2006)). Lombardi (2007) defines authentic learning as the focus on ‘real-world, complex problems and their solutions, using role-playing exercises, problem-based activities, case studies, and participation in virtual communities of practice’ (2). This type of engaged, participatory learning task can lead to what Ramsden (1992) refers to as ‘deep learning’, a mode of learning marked by long-term retention and genuine critical application of concepts, ideas, and theories. This interest in ‘authenticity’ as a possible attribute of a learning task or assessment tool supports learning that operates within meaningful and consequential learning contexts by situating the task as the elemental feature of teaching.

A related use of ‘authenticity’ in pedagogical design comes from Lave & Wenger (1991) and Wenger (1998), whose influential ‘situated learning’ and ‘communities of practice’ models emphasize the need for learning, teaching, and assessment methods that replicate the demands of the professional environments students will ultimately enter. These understandings of authentic tasks and authentic materials reflect Piagetian models of constructivist learning in the way they seek to encourage learning that centers on and bolsters schemata, that is, the patterns of knowledge that students construct and continue to build on through the educational process. Because LMS bear little resemblance, particularly in terms of information architecture, to software that students will be likely to use in their professional lives (e.g. Customer Relationship Management software [CRM], Project Management Information Systems [PMIS], and Content Management Systems [CMS]), there is the suggestion that alternative, authentic modes of learning management which mirror those used in professional environments can benefit student experience and achievement.

Although the majority of research on authenticity in pedagogical design underlines the significance of authenticity in assessment and learning tasks, a further body of research in the field of English language teaching portrays authenticity as a feature of learning materials and content delivery. In modern language education, ‘authentic materials’ are examples drawn from the real world such as magazines, newspapers, and advertisements, which provide language learners an unmediated exposure to the target language. In this context, authentic materials can be contrasted with ‘graded materials,’ readings which appear in textbooks and other prepared course documents which have been designed specifically—in terms of vocabulary, complexity, and grammatical formation—to be appropriate for the student group and learning objectives. As Berwald (1987) and Peacock (1997) argue, authentic materials are an important element of student motivation because they give examples of how the language is used outside of the constraints of the classroom. Bardovi-Harlig et al. (1991) point out the importance of authentic materials in developing pragmalinguistic competencies and Gilmore (2007) underlines the importance of the coherence of authentic materials in developing discourse competencies. Gilmore (2007) also reminds that authentic materials can present a greater challenge to students than graded materials, a challenge which may have significant impacts upon learning goals and objectives.

Both of these strands of investigation—on authentic tasks and on authentic materials—have described ‘authenticity’ as a feature of isolated patterns of pedagogy rather than part of broader holistic systems of learning and teaching. The desirability of what may be termed ‘authentic’ learning is restrained to one aspect of learning and teaching design. Neither of these views on pedagogical authenticity unite both task and material to consider an authentic learning environment that supports and engages students in ways that reflect genuine uses of both course content and the application of course content to life beyond the lecture hall. It seems clear that the advances of web 2.0 connectivity has made this style of learning and teaching possible in a way that it never has been before.

Digital writing and assessment in English as a Second Language (ESL) contexts

As Berwald’s (1987) and Peacock’s (1997) comments on ‘authentic materials’ suggest, the relationship between material design and teaching design is a critical element of modern language education. Conducting this study on ‘authentic learning managements systems’ in Hong Kong—a semi-autonomous Cantonese-speaking region, which Schneider (2011) describes as ‘a classic ESL country where knowledge of English is typically associated with middle-class identity and a modern, international outlook on life’ (p. 139)—brought a number of pedagogical issues to the fore. Literature is an important part of the ESL classroom, and can provide a unique and distinctive development of both linguistic and cultural competencies (Lazar 1990; Nance 2010). However, the teaching of literature in ESL contexts generally minimizes the uses of writing tasks. Language teachers’ weariness over the use of literature—and, particularly, writing about literature—seems well-founded. A point that Dixon made in 1983 seems to remain true for many ESL literature students: ‘often, it seems, they are learning to substitute intellectual sophistry for the effort to give authentic articulation to their literary response’ (p. 219). Brown, Bull, and Pendlebury (1997) suggest that ‘a good case could be made for arguing that [essays] are the most useful way of assessing deep learning’ because they require students ‘to integrate knowledge, skills and understanding’ into a cohesive written work (p. 58). While it seems that the university essay is a good way to assess student work and, indeed, a key element of the learning process of students, Bourdieu and Passeron (1977) famously point out in Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture that the essay is a privileged, institutionalized genre, one that reflects little of the type of writing that students will undertake in their future professional lives. Educators thus might be wise to consider the strength of alternative forms of written assessment, a shift with significant applications in ESL learning and teaching contexts.

Authentic digital learning environments

Instructional design for distance, blended, or distributed learning must recognize the relationship between learning and teaching, and integrate learner, task, and technology into a coherent design system (Herrington, Reeves, and Oliver, 2006). Jenkins (2009) further develops this point:

Rather than dealing with each technology in isolation, we would do better to take an ecological approach, thinking about the interrelationship among different communication technologies, the cultural communities that grow up around them, and the activities they support. (7)

Although some work has been done on the importance of student customization in instructional design (Vovides, Sanchez-Alonson, Mitropoulou and Nickmans, 2007; Mason & Rennie, 2008), the majority of research has focused on social media tools in isolation and their particular implications within the classroom. The view has almost universally been that social media tools can provide important learning opportunities as long as their uses are appropriately aligned with course learning objectives and intended outcomes. For instance, Facebook can help to better engage students in learning because of its familiarity and ubiquity, but students can still be hesitant to ‘friend’ lecturers or to open up a largely private digital network to classroom purposes (Bosch, 2009; Irwin, Ball, and Debsbrow, 2012; Lee, Teng, Hsueh, and Li, 2013). However, other research (e.g. Sapargaliyev, 2012) suggests that students show little engagement in closed Facebook groups for learning materials, and can be resistant to the use of Facebook in learning and teaching because of privacy concerns (e.g. Wang, Woo, Quek, Yang, and Liu, 2012). The uniqueness of Twitter inheres in the fact that it offers the potential for a greater amount and greater variety of teacher-student, student-teacher, and student-student interaction in lectures (Tyma, 2011; Andrade, Castro, & Ferreira, 2012; Tiernan, 2013). And as Lowe & Laffey (2011) and Rinaldo, Tapp, and Laverie (2011) point out, the use of Twitter can be especially relevant in fields such as marketing where students will likely be using Twitter in their future jobs.

Social networking can play a significant role in the development of community and a shared community of inquiry (Sinnappan & Zutshi, 2011) and lead to a participatory culture that extends beyond the classroom (Jenkins, 2009). By their very nature, social media tools are not isolated, but are defined by their relationships and connectivity as much as by their individual affordances. As this article defines it, authentic digital learning environments are the spaces that are created when students collectively and consistently interact through web 2.0 tools such as Twitter, WordPress, and RSS. When this type of engagement is embedded systematically within module design, the authentic digital learning environment fulfills nearly all roles of a traditional LMS and does so in a way that can lead to new learning opportunities for students.


This research took place in an English literature course called Literature in Our Lives at City University of Hong Kong during Spring 2014. Literature in Our Lives is an introductory General Education course available to all students at the university. There were 56 students enrolled in the course, which was delivered through a 3-hour weekly mixed seminar/lecture. Before this course began, students all had at least one semester experience of using Blackboard to handle class discussions, file sharing, announcements, and work submission. Literature in Our Lives moved away from Blackboard to locate all discussions, file sharing, announcements, and work submission in authentic digital tools best suited for these purposes, including WordPress and Twitter.

Students completed approximately 3,000 words of assessed writing during the semester which was uploaded to individual portfolios in the form of weekly responses to the primary texts. Students were given basic training on WordPress during the first lecture and many participants would go on to use this platform for their blogs, although a small number of alternative blogging sites and CMS were also used. Examples of student work each week was re-blogged on a private module website and students had the option to make their own blogs either public or assessable only to me and their classmates. To facilitate peer-to-peer review, students were required to find and comment on two other pieces of work each week. Because of the authentic deployment of these written responses, students had to share links to their writing to the target audience of class peers through tools such as Twitter, Facebook, RSS or semi-structured blogging circles. In addition, they had to work in groups to produce a creative reimagining of one of the primary texts on the courses. These took the form of films, websites, eBooks, animations, and poetry which could be integrated into their personal blogs for final assessment.

At the beginning of the semester a survey was administered which asked students to evaluate the differences between Blackboard and social media for educational purposes; a similar survey was delivered at the end of the semester to gauge students’ perceptions following the course. Both surveys relied on an array of structured and unstructured question types. At the end of the semester, small discussion groups were held with students in order to observe reactions to the use of an authentic digital learning environment, and student writing and communication within this environment was analyzed with reference to the stated intended learning outcomes for the course.

Findings & Discussion

Two surveys were delivered to the 56 students in Literature in Our Lives to measure their perceptions of integrative social media usage in the classroom at the beginning and end of the semester. Both surveys included two questions which aimed to gather insight into students’ comparative understanding of the affordances of traditional LMS and social media: 1) ‘Which of the following functions in Blackboard do you believe are better than other social media websites?’ and 2) ‘Which of the following functions of social media websites do you believe are better than Blackboard?’ For both questions students had a list of six affordances and were able to select multiple answers:

  • Group Collaboration
  • Class Communication
  • Notification of Grades
  • Work Submission
  • File Sharing
  • Announcements

Results from the first survey at the beginning of the semester demonstrate that many students possessed a clear and well-defined understanding of the potential role of digital media in education. Respondents considered Notification of Grades, Work Submission, and Announcements as tasks best achieved by LMS and Group Collaboration, Class Communication, and File Sharing as best achieved through social media channels (Table 1).

Table 1: Results from survey conducted at the beginning of the semester in bar chart format as described in the body of the essay.

Table 1: Beginning of Semester: Which Platform is Best?


While File Sharing received a close split of 16 responses favoring social media and 14 responses favoring LMS, the spread was much more pronounced for several categories: for Group Collaboration, 28 respondents chose social media versus only 2 for LMS; for Class Communication, 27 respondents chose social media versus 3 for LMS; and for Work Submission, only 4 respondents chose social media while 27 chose LMS.

Following a semester of using social media as an integrated element of learning design and assessment, the second survey captures several changed perceptions. Most notably, by the end of the semester an equal number of students indicated that social media and LMS were most suitable for Work Submission, suggesting a growing awareness of how social media could be used effectively to submit work for assessment (Table 2).

Table 2: Results from survey conducted at the end of the semester in bar chart format as described in the body of the essay.

Table 2: End of Semester: Which Platform is Best?


The majority of students selected fewer categories than in the first survey, showing a more focused indication of their preferences. Although the preferred channel of engagement in the remaining categories remained the same as in the first survey results, the data further emphasizes student perceptions that Notification of Grades is still best achieved through LMS (zero students selected social media in this category) and reflects a growing awareness of using social media for File Sharing (16 against 14 at the beginning of the semester as opposed to 14 and 6 at the end). Students perceptions on the educational use of social media is thus not altered dramatically by its inclusion in teaching design; however, there is evidence of modest shifts in perception particularly related to the possibilities of submitting work through a social media channel.

Furthermore, the survey results do not suggest that students found the increased use of social media to be detrimental to the learning environment, and further focus group discussions suggest that students found the use of an authentic digital learning environment to be a positive experience that improved both engagement and content understanding. As one student described:

I do believe digital media can change students’ perspective on as well as approach to literature and most importantly, help them make sense of the art of reading so that it no longer seems like a daunting process.

There were, however, a number of objections. One student suggested that ‘digital media is for entertainment’ while another student felt that the walled structure of LMS played a significant role in gaining and maintaining student attention:

Blackboard, even though a bit bland, keeps the students focused on their tasks rather than wasting time reading about Kayne West and Kim Kardashian’s wedding plans.

Several students sensed that the ubiquity of Blackboard within higher education is a key element of its value: ‘I think Blackboard is still a major platform in education, but if more courses are using digital media, it could be more convenient.’ This point was echoed by other students, who thought there might be a tipping point for the wide-scale move away from propriety LMS, although perhaps that tipping point has not yet been reached.

Serendipitous & Collateral Learning

This data does not represent significant shifts in student perception of social media as a learning tool; however, the assessed written work indicates some advances in metacognition. There can be a secondary objective in pedagogical design that moves beyond the intended learning outcomes. Literature in Our Lives was not digitally-themed in its content, and it was important that the digital components didn’t overpower the literary studies focus. While the topic of the learning objectives in literature pedagogy is far beyond the scope of this article, this research does flag a number of interesting points about the particularities of literature education within a digital environment, and particularly within an ESL context. These relate largely to the way in which students behaved within the authentic platform utilized, and the serendipitous or collateral learning that their work demonstrated.

In their portfolios, several students began to take on unique private personas: one student signed off posts like a letter with ‘Lyterally Yours’ (Figure 1)—a pun on ‘literal’ which draws attention to the role of the reader and critic in literary analysis—and another began a tagging convention using ‘Say Me’ and ‘Say You’ to distinguish between posts determined to be more reflective versus more analytical (Figure 2). In both cases, the students’ behavior in the digital environment reflected a unique understanding of the role of the critic in literary studies and the relationship of the critic both to literary history and to a present audience.

Figure 1: Example of student blog post which signs off ‘Lyterally Yours’ like a letter

Figure 1: ‘Lyterally Yours’ and the relationship between reader and writer.


Figure 2: Close-up of navigation pane of a student blog which uses ‘Say Me’ and ‘Say You’ as category structure

Figure 2: Category structure that reveals relationship between critical and reflective approaches to literary analysis.


Student use of tagging and categories also reflected unique collateral learning effects that registered their individual understandings of the literary texts in a critical/analytical matrix not otherwise observable in a formal essay.  Eleven students organized their posts into the three genres of ‘Fiction,’ ‘Poetry,’ and ‘Drama’ through either top-level navigation, or tagging, a seemingly obvious and appropriate information architecture, which, nevertheless, represents an important awareness of genre form in an ESL literature course (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Example of top level navigation menu in a student blog which is divided into Fiction, Poetry, and Drama

Figure 3: Top level navigation that reflects interest in genre.


Tagging conventions also regularly revealed interesting insights. For example, one student used the tag ‘sexual awakening’ for posts on Brokeback Mountain, Interpreter of Maladies, and As You Like It, indicating a clear sense of comparison between these three works which appear on the surface to have little in common (Figure 4). Another student was evidently drawn to the role of history within the texts studied, using ‘past’ and ‘present’ as a tagging convention; both tags appear, appropriately, in a post on The Cherry Orchard (Figure 5). In total, 21 students expressed metacognitive awareness of the relationship between texts through tagging conventions and information architecture.

Figure 4: Example of a tagging cluster on an individual student post which include the tag ‘sexual awakening'

Figure 4: Tagging conventions that reveal relationships between literary texts.



Figure 5: Example of a tagging cluster on individual student post which include ‘conflicts, ‘past,' and ‘present’

Figure 5: Tagging conventions that reveal relationships between past and present.


Whether these digital performances reflect new learning created by the platform or record learning that would have otherwise gone unnoticed remains unclear. However, while operating in this way students were able to demonstrate skills and competencies that would have gone unnoticed in a regular delivery, and were rewarded for them appropriately. They were able to demonstrate the way in which they thought about literature using affordances unavailable outside of an authentic digital learning environment. Perhaps unexpectedly, three students turned their blog into a professional portfolio, which included relevant sections on education and work experience and portrayed the blog entries as evidence of high levels of English-language proficiency. What began as a form of written assessment had thus been made truly authentic with relevance and meaning in the professional world.

Conclusions & Recommendations

Jenkins (2009) emphasizes the need for a participatory culture in social media, with students learning how to effectively and productively participate in the vast digital world around them. Within such a learning environment the design of content delivery, collaboration, and assessment allows for and rewards collateral and serendipitous learning. Using tools that already exist within the frame of reference for the student and are perhaps already being used by them is (as research on authentic tasks and authentic materials has demonstrated) messy, unpredictable, and potentially frustrating for student and teacher. However, it remains a necessary component of helping students understand how the content they are studying relates, even if only superficially, to a world that continues to exist outside of the lecture hall. While propriety LMS have been shown to be valuable tools in education, there is evidence that authentic digital learning environments—comprised of tools that students will continue to use beyond graduation—allow them to perceive new connections between content material and lead to helpful collateral and serendipitous learning which can contribute to final module assessment and professional development.


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About the Author

Allan Johnson is Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Surrey and previously Assistant Professor of English at City University of Hong Kong. He is the author of Alan Hollinghurst and the Vitality of Influence (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) as well as articles and chapters on an array of modern and contemporary writers including James, Stoker, Conan Doyle, Shaw, Forster, Woolf, Eliot, Cather, Waugh, Doctorow, and Hollinghurst.

Figure 2: An image of a student sitting in front of a camera with hands clasped together in front of her face.

Reflecting on Reflections: Using Video in Learning Reflection to Enhance Authenticity

Emma J. Rose, University of Washington Tacoma
Jarek Sierschynski, University of Washington Tacoma
Elin A. Björling, University of Washington Tacoma


Reflection is commonly used in the classroom to encourage students to think about and articulate what they have learned. However, when students produce reflections they typically create a written text for the instructor, outside of the classroom and as a summative retrospective account of learning. In this paper, we present the details of how we implemented Ecological Momentary Reflection (EMR), a video enabled reflection within the classroom environment to help students assess their perceptions of self and learning across time. In this paper, we recount how we implemented EMR in an informal learning environment and provide our own assessment of its effectiveness. We argue that using video makes the reflection experience more authentic and meaningful for both student and teacher.


Reflection is commonly used in the classroom to encourage students to articulate what they have learned and to aid them in thinking about how they have learned. Traditionally, students reflect on their learning process through the act of writing. According to Yancey, written reflections benefit students by helping them remember details of how they completed an assignment, as a generative process to create meaning for future writing, and as a way to develop authority and expertise (Yancey 1998). While written reflection has its strengths, it also has some inherent limitations. Written reflection is typically geared toward oneself and is often produced as a text for the audience of the instructor — perhaps limiting the student’s authenticity.

Moreover, writing is a form of culturally constructed expression with its own peculiarities (see, Chafe 1991; Chafe & Tannen 1987) that simultaneously differentiate and distance written texts from more direct or immediate forms of communication such as speech, sign or gesture. Even though texts are a profound means of representing human thought and introspection, the process of writing a text can become an impediment to self expression. For example, when writing skills are underdeveloped, not available, or stymied by other factors, writing can be limiting rather than productive. Additionally, much of the writing process relies on drafting and revising, a reiterative process aimed at clarifying expression and distancing the writer from the initially captured “raw” and momentary expression. At the same time, it can be argued that the strength of writing as a reflective tool lies precisely in a symbolic and temporal chasm between the individual and experience that nurtures reflection.

Given the benefits of the reflection process, and the inherent downsides of written expression, we wanted to explore a mode of reflection that could be incorporated authentically into the context of science learning in an informal setting, in this case during a summer STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) camp for teens. We ground our use of the term, authenticity, in Buxton’s (2006) framework for authenticity in science education. He conceptualizes a youth-centered model that focused on the lives and learning of underserved and marginalized youth and thus on equity and social justice (see Medin & Bang 2014; Barron, Mertl & Martin 2014; Barton 1998; Barton & Young 2000; Nasir & Cooks 2009). These youth-centered models view authentic science learning and knowledge as a sociocultural process situated in lived experiences, such as cultures, identities, communities, homes, and the wide range of informal environments where learning occurs. Implementing a reflection method that leverages the experience of the community and captures reflection in context was synergistic to the authentic, youth-centered model of learning at the heart of the summer STEM summer camp experience we were investigating.

To create an integrated and authentic notion of reflection in the learning environment, we introduced an exercise that asked students to record a series of videos. Adding video to the reflection process helped students see that their thoughts about themselves and the STEM subjects have changed. This activity also layered an additional element of a shared and community based reflection to the learning experience. Furthermore, the video reflections provided instructors and program directors with an authentic representation of the students’ struggles and triumphs throughout the duration of the camp. These factors helped students see their own learning and helped instructors in getting feedback on the course to inform future improvements of the camp.

In this article, we provide our own reflection on the process of introducing a new method of reflection into a learning environment. The aim of this article is to introduce the concept of Ecological Momentary Reflection (EMR) and to recount its effective use in an informal STEM learning environment. We propose that the addition of momentary, that is in the moment, video to capture real-time student reflections in the classroom provides an authentic reflective practice leading to valuable insights for both learner and instructor. First, we articulate the context of the learning environment where we implemented EMR. Second, we define reflection as a pedagogical practice and how it is used in writing and how video can support reflection on practice. Third, we provide details of how we implemented video reflection in the summer camp, a method we are calling Ecological Momentary Reflection (EMR), and invite educators and researchers to consider this method of reflection in their own teaching environments.

Context: Informal Learning in a STEM Summer Camp

Every summer at a Pacific Northwest University, middle and high school students come together for a summer camp that is focused on learning about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). The STEM camp mission is to encourage and increase diversity in STEM fields by providing informal learning experiences for students (grades 7-12) that remain underrepresented in the sciences. Underrepresented groups included low-income, minority, female and potential first-generation college students, among others. The campers who attend the STEM Camp tell us they are drawn to it year after year because it is fun, and ‘you get to do things’. Participants build robots, design video games, wade out into the muddy banks of our local waterways to collect water samples, and more. It is a break from school and existing social pressures; it is a safe place. Students make new friends and deepen existing relationships as they interact with their peers, some who return each year.

Informal learning is a broad concept that refers to any learning that occurs outside of the formal realm of school (Dierking et al. 2003). Informal learning includes people engaging with their environment in a variety of contexts and settings. Learning experiences that are designed for broad audiences (i.e., museums, summer camps, etc.) are considered types of informal learning both inside and outside of the STEM disciplines. In these settings, informal learning tends to be momentary, unplanned, problem-based, learner-centered, driven by individual interests (National Research Council 2009). Many STEM summer camps can be categorized as informal learning environments in that they promote experiential learning and exist outside of the realm of formal schooling. The camp instructors include current college students or professionals such as educators or scientists from the local community. The authors of this article were involved with the STEM camp in the roles of faculty mentors to the instructors.

It is within this informal learning setting that we implemented EMR as both a pedagogical tool and a research method aimed to enable students to reflect on their changing identities as well as their relationship to STEM subjects. In the Summer of 2015, we conducted an IRB approved research study where we used EMR with 9th grade participants in the STEM camp. The students spent three weeks designing a video game using Kodu, a visual programming language. In this paper, we focus on the promise of EMR for use as a pedagogical tool in the classroom.

Reflection as a Pedagogical Practice

Reflection is a common pedagogical practice where students are asked to think about and articulate what they have learned. Reflection has long been viewed as synonymous with thinking and learning (Dewey 1933). Moreover, reflection is considered a core element of metacognition. Metacognition, a multifaceted term connected with reflection, refers to knowledge about, and the regulation of, cognitive processes such as self-regulated learning (Brown, Bransford, Ferrara, and Campione 1983; Flavell 1979; Zimmerman 2002). In other words, metacognition is a student’s awareness of how to learn and also an awareness of herself as a learner. Metacognition is also connected to students’ ability to transfer their learning across contexts (Bransford, Brown & Cocking 2000). In K-12 settings, both elements of metacognition, knowledge of strategies associated with specific academic tasks (such as reading, writing or math) and self-regulatory strategies (such as self-monitoring or self-evaluation) are commonly used in teaching and learning tasks. There is a rich variety of established pedagogical approaches that apply metacognitive strategies for learning. For instance, in writing, students use think-aloud and self-questioning strategies (Scardamalia, Bereiter & Steinbach 1984). In reading, students self-monitor to check for comprehension through questioning, summarizing or making predictions about a text (Palincsar & Brown 1984). In math, students can use self-assessment to evaluate their own mathematical capabilities (Schunk 1996). These strategies have been associated with increased achievement and also with higher self-efficacy (see Schunk 1996). Furthermore, reflection often occurs as an important process in the development of expertise. Looking at how expert practitioners engage in their work, Schön observes: “Reflection tends to focus interactively on the outcomes of action, the action itself, and the intuitive knowing implicit in the action.” (Schön 1982, 56).

According to Yauncey (1998), reflection is both a process and product and the product that is created is available to the world and is therefore a social act. She states, “because it works both inside and outside, reflection-in-presentation is personal, but it’s social as well” (Yancey 1998, 94). However, in the writing classroom, a reflection tends to be a written text, constructed by a student for the instructor and often disregards this social aspect referred to by Yauncey. When produced for the sole audience of the teacher, written reflections can pressure students to attempt to perform the type of writing expected by the teacher: demonstrating what they should have learned rather than reporting on what they actually learned (Jenson 2010).

Ecological Momentary Reflection

Our goal in implementing video enabled reflection in the classroom was twofold. We wanted to see how students’ ideas about and in relation to STEM were impacted by their experience in the STEM camp. But we also wanted students to see how their perceptions and attitudes may have changed over time. We wanted the reflections to be as natural, immediate and embedded as possible within the practices of the camp. We wanted the reflections to be as close to the learning experience as possible, both in terms of the timing of the reflections and where the reflection would take place. In other words, we wanted them to be momentary (i.e. quick and timely) and also ecologically valid (i.e. within the environment where learning is taking place). This rationale for this embedded aspect of the reflections was driven both by our research focus but also by past experience.

The design of our reflection method is drawn from an approach used in behavioral health, medicine and psychology known as Ecological Momentary Assessment or EMA (LaCaille et al. 2013). In EMA, research participants provide feedback on symptoms, feelings, or other measures in real time and these assessments are often repeated over time. This real time reporting is enabled by a variety of technologies, such as mobile phones. As proponents of EMA report, its strength is in the authentic context where the research takes place and the ability to capture data as it happens (Shiffman, Stone, and Hufford 2008). Additionally, EMA has been proven an effective method to capture change within individuals and avoids the “pitfalls and limitations of reliance on autobiographical memory” (Shiffman, et al. 2008, 7).

Based on our previous experience in the STEM camp, we had limited success with interview methods with students. Although we had seen the students’ progress in a variety of ways, their own assessment of their experience did not include an expression of awareness of these changes. We also felt that the interview environment seemed superficial and separate from the classroom activities, likely influencing the authenticity of the students’ responses.

As a result, we designed our methodology to be informed by the concept of reflection and also containing the ecological and momentary characteristics of EMA. Because of our use of video to capture student reflections in the moment we named this method Ecological Momentary Reflection (EMR).

Implementing EMR in the Classroom

In the summer of 2015, we worked closely with the 9th grade cohort of the STEM camp program and their instructors to implement the EMR method. We explained to students that they were creating the videos for themselves but also for each other as a way to reflect on their learning and to capture their experiences at summer camp. Therefore, students were aware there was a larger audience for the reflections. Students were also told that highlights of the reflections would be compiled and they would watch this highlight compilation together on the last day of the camp. They were given digital copies of their personal reflections, their group videos and a copy of the final edited compilation to take home with them as a keepsake from their camp experience.

Students created three video reflections during the three-week summer camp: an introduction, mid-point, and final reflection. For the first reflection, students created an introductory video. They were asked to introduce themselves, talked about their hobbies or interests, and reflect on how they felt about STEM and about themselves. In the second video reflection, students were given two photographs of themselves from previous days at camp that captured them engaging in one of the main STEM camp practices, in this case coding a video game on a computer. Students were asked to reflect upon what they were doing in the photo, how they felt looking at themself and what the photographs reflected about them as individuals. In their final reflection, which took place at the beginning of the third week of the camp, the procedure was slightly different. Students watched the previous two reflection videos and were then asked to respond via video to the experience of watching themselves and how they changed over the course of the summer camp. The specific wording of the prompts is shown in Table 1 below.

Topic and timing Prompts
Video reflection 1: Introduction (Day 1)


Introduction reflection

1.     Who are you:
What do you like to do? What makes you special?

2.     You and technology:
Do you think of yourself as a technical or computer person? Why or why not?
Do you think other people in your life (friends or family) see you as a technical or computer person? Why or why not?

3.     Complete this sentence: By the end of STEM camp this summer I expect….

Video reflection 2: Photo reflection
(Day 8)
Photo reflection

During one of the early days when students start coding they will photographed while they are working. The photograph will serve as part of the prompt:

1.     How would you describe what you are doing in the photographs? How does this fit into the rest of your life?

2.     Can you talk a little about what you feel and think when you look at these photographs?

3.     What do these photos reflect about who you are?

4.     What can somebody looking at these photos learn about you?

5.     CHALLENGE—Come up with your own prompt (question for self) related to the photos and try to answer it.

3. Video reflection 3: Wrap up (Day 14_) Final reflection:

After watching the video of yourself from the start of the program, answer these questions:

1.     What do you think after watching that video?

2.     Do you see yourself any differently from when you started STEM camp?

3.     Have you learned anything new about yourself?

4.     What was the best and worst parts of STEM camp?

5.     What surprised you about this experience?

6.     Please complete the following sentence. “After participating in STEM camp this year, I feel that I… “

To create an appropriate space for the video reflections, we used a small, quiet, private room just outside of the main classroom where students were spending their days. The room was equipped with a GoPro Hero 4 camera and students could move or adjust the camera based on their comfort level (Figure 1 shows the room set up).

Figure 1: An image of a small room with two empty chairs and a table. On the table is a video camera on a tripod, and a list of questions that contain the prompts for the video.

Figure 1: Video reflection room set up with camera and prompts.


Our motivation for creating a private space adjacent to the classroom was to give students a place to be able to quietly reflect while still being close to the camp setting. Giving the students a private space, but one that is still connected in time and space to the learning environment maintained the ecological soundness of this method. Figure 2 shows a still photo from a student’s video reflection showing the setting where students made their recordings.

Figure 2: An image of a student sitting in front of a camera with hands clasped together in front of her face.

Figure 2: A still from a student’s video reflection.


In addition, we had anticipated, and hoped, that this mode of reflecting: speaking to a video camera, might emulate current, culturally appropriate and familiar practices. We took our inspiration from the many examples of young people posting reflections or product reviews on YouTube from their bedrooms. We often referred to the small room where the videos were being made as our “reality show confession booth.” This idea seemed to resonate with the students and they seemed very comfortable expressing themselves in front of the camera.

Assessing EMR

In order to retrospectively assess how EMR worked within this setting, our team applied thematic analysis (Guest et al. 2011) of the following qualitative data: (1) student video reflections (2) field notes, memos and reflections from the research team, and (3) data from personal interviews with the two instructors of the camp. The qualitative data was reviewed, coded and discussed by the research team to uncover common themes throughout the data. These data were discussed in relation to the researchers’ experiences of using standard textual reflections.

Theme 1: Initial Reticence, Overall Enthusiasm

During the creation of the first video reflection in week one, some students mentioned that they felt a little awkward creating the video diaries. In contrast, in the last video reflection, students commented that they looked awkward in the first video or remembered feeling awkward at the time. Although there was this initial reticence regarding the first video recording, students also described how much more comfortable they were recording their last reflection. Most students were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the experience of having done the videos in retrospect. They mentioned how they enjoyed using the cameras, interviewing one another, and taking the cameras on their field trips. This enthusiasm was palpable when the students were showed the highlight compilation of their summer experience.

“Anyway, I really liked that video. I’m feeling good because it’s kinda like the whole three weeks packed into one little video and it kinda shows my progress, like what I thought before and what I think now. And it’s kinda different to think that like in the beginning, I didn’t think I could do it, and I know how to get it done.” – P6

As one instructor noted, “we even asked them if they liked [it]… and they all responded with an overwhelming “YESSSS!!” (Solis-Bruno 2015).

The instructors in the program while supportive of EMR, had a variety of questions concerning the feasibility of this technology. However, they helped to creatively embed the videos reflections into the environment and the curriculum. They were also helpful in communicating the purpose of the videos in a student-centered way by referring to it as “the documentary.” Similar to the students’ experiences, instructors grew to value this novel method. By the end of the program, they reflected that the felt EMR was highly valuable for the students and both instructors said they would incorporate video reflection in this way in future classes (Solis-Bruno 2015; Jordan 2015).

Theme 2: Seeing Themselves

In the previous year of the STEM summer camp, we had asked students to think about how they had changed over the three-week experience in a series of semi-structured interviews. Overall, students in previous years did not express seeing much change in themselves over the short experience in the camp. However, students who used EMR were able to visibly see themselves in retrospect and comment on the changes in their learning. They compared their feelings about technology, coding, and engineering over the three-week period and were able to see for themselves how their thoughts had changed. These “a-ha” moments were the most visible during the second and third video reflections when students were looking at pictures of themselves or looking back at their previous videos.

During the second video reflection, we gave students photographs of themselves at work during the camp. Figure 3 shows an example of a photograph that was used as a prompt. In this video reflection in particular, students expressed surprise and amazement at seeing themselves from this outside perspective.

Figure 3: An image of a student sitting in front of a computer, designing a video game.

Figure 3: A photograph of a student that was used as a prompt in the second video reflection.


Many said they had never seen themselves in this way before. They described seeing themselves as focused or that they looked like someone who was programming. Many mentioned that their families would be surprised to see the person they saw in this picture: someone who was focused and working hard.

“I think that I look determined. I feel- I feel pretty good with um the fact that I can do this … like knowing that I can do this kind of stuff, that’s cool.” – P2

This reflection in particular points out the strength of the Ecological Momentary Reflection (EMR) method, and when combined with photographs, gives students an external or third person view of themselves.

In the third and last video reflection, many students had revelations and moments of surprise as they looked back on their previous videos. Several of them provided very clear and impassioned reflections on how this experience had fundamentally changed the way they saw themselves in relations to STEM topics. One student said that before the camp, she had seen herself as an “artsy” person and now she saw she was equally strong in things like engineering. Given the goals of this STEM summer camp learning experience, this student’s shift is encouraging.

“After watching the video that I made felt really confident in myself and I felt like …[I’m] doing what I’m supposed to in MSL.” – P3

“I see myself as more of a techy person I guess I… I realized that I really like technology and I really enjoy programming these games that we’ve been doing.” – P1

Several students had noted during their reflections that they had been struggling with some aspects of the coding tasks they were doing in the camp. These struggles were temporary frustrations and only moments in time. All of the students successfully completed a working, playable video game during their time in the camp. Watching themselves talk about these struggles in the video reflections allowed them to see how they had been able to overcome them. Therefore, they were able to talk about their resilience in terms of overcoming these challenges. Being able to see how they overcame challenges and that they could overcome these challenges, enables students to see that with hard work and by asking for help they can succeed, which enables the development of a growth mindset (Dweck 2006) and grit (Duckworth et al. 2007).

Theme 3: Broadening the Notion of Audience

In contrast to the other types of reflection done in classroom settings, that tend to be solely focused on writing, we saw how the addition of the videos helps to broaden the notion of audience. The expectation and the format of the videos implied an external and broader audience than just the student and instructor. This expectation had been communicated as part of the video project and it was clear that students were thinking broadly about audience. Students had mentioned their family members in the reflections and also used the pronoun, “you”, in their reflections to invoke the audience of ‘us’ (the faculty advisors, instructors, and their peers in the course). One student’s final reflection seemed like a dedication to his peers, as he proclaimed “how cool you guys are.” According to the instructors, some students wanted an even broader audience, and were disappointed that the compilation video was not played at the end of camp celebration for their family and friends (Jordan 2015). Evidently, they were proud of not just the accomplishments of the products of the summer camp, but also the process in which they discussed their learning through the video diaries.

Theme 4: Logistics, Implementation and Technical Challenges

When introducing any new pedagogical method that incorporates technology in the classroom, there is much to learn for future iterations. We learned a great deal about implementing EMR and areas for improvement in the future, both for the STEM summer camp learning context and beyond. One of our concerns at the beginning of the study was that students entering and exiting the main classroom to record the video diaries would be disruptive to the learning environment. However, the instructors stated that they did not feel that the activity was disruptive. They stated that from their perspective, the process of making and viewing the videos was highly valuable for the students (Jordan 2015; Solis-Bruno 2015). The lack of disruption could be attributed to the nature of the informal learning environment, which can be less structured than a formal school-based learning situations. However, we assert that the EMR method would complement a learning environment that is project or inquiry based.

One technical challenge we encountered in the study was audio quality. We were using GoPro Hero 4 cameras and while the video is of very high quality, the audio was not. With that video camera in particular, an external microphone would greatly increase audio quality. In addition, the battery life and size of the video recordings were limiting factors. An additional technical challenge is the storing of video files. It is important to set up an appropriate technical infrastructure for the video files to be securely stored but still accessible to the students and instructors.

The Promise of EMR

As we reflect on our experience with EMR, we turn to its strengths and promise for use as an authentic reflection tool to augment and make visible learning that occurs in informal and formal settings. We assumed that EMR would be congruent with teens’ “selfie” culture. While students at first were reticent to film themselves on camera, they did grow more comfortable over time especially in the impromptu videos, like the ones on the field trips. Given its basis in Ecological Momentary Assessment, EMR creates a fitting and even attractive tool for student engagement. It helps to capture learning both in the environment it is taking place and also the moment it is happening. In this way, EMR captures a fleeting moment of the student’s experience and enables reflection on that otherwise inaccessible moment, allowing students to witness their thinking across time.

EMR appears to be an effective tool for student reflection. The strong theme of Seeing Themselves supports the use of EMR as an effective reflecting process in a learning environment as it allows students to see themselves from as an outside observer. EMR also overcomes some of the limitations of written reflection that can influence students to perform in an academic manner and conceptualize the teacher as the sole audience for the reflection.

One of EMR’s strengths is broadening the audience of reflection and going beyond the idea of the reflection being produced by one student for one teacher. Requiring students to produce reflections for themselves but also their peers strengthens the learning environment. The majority of students were interested in keeping their videos and also their photographs from the prompts as keepsakes. Consequently, using student-centered technology, methods, and artifacts as tools for thinking not only provides students with more meaningful learning experiences, but also promotes recurring and persistent practices of reflection.

The benefits of EMR as a technology far outweigh the drawbacks. It leverages a technology that is familiar, yet novel or unexpected in a classroom setting. The video camera engages students in a way that is low risk yet high reward. While there may be challenges to videos, there are too with written reflection, such as the varying literacy skills available to a student. We conclude that the technology is congruent with tools and technologies that many adolescents are already familiar and comfortable with.

In conclusion, the common themes that emerged from our data highlight how using EMR in the classroom can support authentic reflection that enhances students’ learning experience and educators’ assessment of student learning and the learning environment. EMR departs from static written reflections and instead provides students a way to see and reflect on their own thinking and learning as it is happening.

Thus, EMR is a promising method for reflection in any complex learning environment by capturing real-time learning, maintaining ecological validity, and allowing for authentic and powerful reflection. We highly encourage others to explore this technology in their classrooms.


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We would like to express our deep gratitude to Amanda Figueroa and DJ Crisostomo in the Student Transition Programs at the University of Washington Tacoma for their leadership and making the MSL program such a transformative learning experience for the students of our community. We also wish to thank Luis Solis-Bruno and Stephanie Jordan the instructors of the 9th grade cohort of MSL in 2015 who were so welcoming to us and embraced the idea of using videos. In addition, this work would not be possible without the amazing teens in the MSL program who shared their experience with us through their video reflections. Finally, we would like to thank special issue editors Tyler Fox & Carlos Hernandez for bringing this special issue to fruition.

About the Authors

Emma J. Rose, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences at University of Washington Tacoma. Her research is motivated by a commitment to social justice and a belief that the way technologies are designed ultimately shapes our world. Her research interests include the practice of user experience, how people use expertise to overcome resource constraints, and the development of technical identity. She tweets @emmarosephd.

Jarek Sierschynski, Ph.D. is a learning scientist and assistant professor in Education at University of Washington Tacoma. His work examines definitions of STEM, scientific practices and technology integration by focusing on complexities inherent in cultural tools used by historically marginalized communities. Recently, he has been investigating how students think about their identities in relation to science and technology. His current project involves the design of an informal learning environment in which technology serves youths as an identity, cultural and scientific resource.

Elin A. Björling, Ph.D. holds both a professional research scientist position for the Office of Research and a clinical faculty position in the school of Nursing and Healthcare Leadership at University of Washington Tacoma. Over the past two decades, Elin has studied adolescent health utilizing mixed-methods in community based project designs. Her recent research has focused primarily on using an Ecological Momentary Assessment approach to study stress in adolescents. She tweets @elinbjorling.

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