In this issue of the Journal of Interactive Technology & Pedagogy, we sought to continue the conversations taking place in our general issues while likewise providing a special forum for instructors to reflect directly on the experience of teaching amidst COVID-19 and its rippling aftermath.
The pandemic brought to the forefront for many the importance of considering how digital technologies shape teaching practices and afford opportunities for learning that do not and need not replicate “analog” modes of instruction. This very set of concerns has driven the JITP editorial collective from the founding of the journal, and we therefore felt duty-bound to create a space for authors to share their creative and critical reflections on this potentially decisive moment in the development of online and distanced modes of instruction. We intended for this issue’s featured section to not only serve as a reminder of the resilience of teachers and students working and learning through the crisis, but also as an opportunity to rethink the structures of mentorship and teaching that drew many instructors to the academic context in the first place. In this regard, a broader question that is implicit through many of the articles in this issue is whether the conventional structure of the academy is tenable when public health—the very fabric of society—unravels. We hope this issue provides an opportunity to rethink existing instructional practices and improve upon them.
The articles in this issue touch on a variety of themes related to online communication, digital privacy, pedagogy of culture and representation, as well as online collaboration. Sean Molloy and Carissa Kelly consider assignments in which students create YouTube videos as a way of thinking about writing to various audiences in “Classmates, Family, Friends, Followers, Allies, Opponents, Enemies, Bosses, Trolls, Haters, Users, and Google: Understanding Digital Audiences On YouTube.” The authors explore how students can mobilize YouTube to transform essays into an audio-visual medium and expand possibilities for communication across space and time. Through publicly hosted video essays, students can reach larger—though not always friendly—audiences well beyond their instructor and, through this, participate in diverse cultural conversations across social media.
Charles Woods and Noah Wilson argue in “The Rhetorical Implications of Data Aggregation: Becoming a ‘Dividual’ in a Data-Driven World” that social media users do not have “meaningful access” to privacy policies (and thus to the platforms governed by them) if they lack a genuine understanding of the ways their data is aggregated and used by platform providers. Using key insights from contemporary scholarship on the politics of algorithmic user profiling, the authors provide guidelines for a scaffolded assignment sequence that begins with rhetorical analysis and then uses peer collaboration to understand and integrate key concepts.
In “Experiential Approaches to Teaching African Culture and the Politics of Representation: Building the ‘Documenting Africa’ Project with StoryMapJS,” Mary Anne Lewis Cusato and Nancy Demerdash-Fatemi propose a digital solution to the problem of U.S. student reliance on stereotypes and misinformation about Africa and African peoples and cultures. Through a creative collaboration between two courses, students confronted biases and misrepresentations permeating Western perceptions of Africa. Here, collaboration serves as a way to challenge student assumptions and produce a better collective understanding.
Spencer D. C. Keralis, Courtney E. Jacobs, and Matthew Weirick Johnson showcase the platform TimelineJS in “Collaborative Digital Projects in the Undergraduate Humanities Classroom: Case Studies with Timeline JS,” highlighting the intuitive aspects of the technology, and exploring how it can enhance student learning experiences in classes like a World Literature survey by providing a way to actively and collaboratively engage with primary source material. In its multimodal functionality, TimelineJS is a unique learning tool for both processing and presenting information, the authors argue, and students can use it to think about the temporal and spatial relationships between moments in history and in fiction. Many of these themes, particularly that of collaboration, are echoed in the dialogues driving our editing process at the JITP. Our open review process establishes conversations among authors, reviewers, and editors, providing mentorship and opportunities for reflection.
Forum on Teaching in the Time of the COVID-19 Pandemic
While the articles included in the forum for this issue cover a range of topics, two distinct themes emerged from the submissions. First, any semblance of instructional continuity has clearly depended on maintaining social engagement and support for students while teaching in remote and online learning environments. Second, our online pedagogies, even when cobbled together in the midst of crisis, should be used as opportunities to interrupt the reproduction of social inequality. These concerns emerge in large part from the growing general consciousness about social injustices spurred by the continued development of movements like Black Lives Matter (BLM) and others, forcing a general reckoning with questions of racism, policing, and oppression beyond the public denialism that has long characterized mainstream discourse.
Maintaining social engagement and support online
Many instructors faced the reality of teaching during a period of intense emotional and psychological trauma, as the height of the pandemic has claimed the lives of friends and loved ones. Our daily routines have been upended, and commonplace social practices of care have moved out of reach, prompting extended periods of isolation and leaving little time for the work of grief and mourning. Like never before, instructors of all educational levels had to consider techniques for encouraging social engagement, not only as a means of learning content but also as a means of coping with the trauma inflicted simply by living during a pandemic. Several of the authors in the forum describe approaches they have adopted to foster resilience among students, like developing tools to promote online engagement, relationship-building, and coping strategies.
Adhering to social-distancing practices also created challenges in providing students real-time feedback for effective learning. In “Assessing the Effectiveness of Using Live Interactions and Feedback to Increase Engagement in Online Learning,” Beth Porter, John Doucette, Andrew Reilly, Dan Calacci, Burcin Bozkaya, and Alex Pentland describe the use of an in-browser video chat app that provides metrics of users’ participation, and discuss the implications and current limitations of using the app to promote engagement, feedback, and learning even when collaborating across distance.
Salome Apkhazishvili, Serene Arena, and Renee Hobbs explore how teacher professional development can take place in online environments in “The Help Desk as a Community-Building Tool for Online Professional Development.” The authors found that relationship-building strategies that emphasized participants as co-learners empowered instructors with a sense of interconnectedness, agency, and community—as well as the technical and pedagogical support—during the dramatic pivot to online learning.
Recognizing the trauma students were likely to face during the pandemic, Antigoni Kotsiou, Erica Juriasingani, Marc Maromonte, Jacob Marsh, Christopher R. Shelton, Richard Zhao, and Lisa Jo Elliott describe a collaborative and interdisciplinary process of creating a mobile app for students to track their emotions and develop coping strategies in “Interdisciplinary Approach to a Coping Skills App: A Case Study.”
Teaching toward social justice
The COVID-19 crisis not only necessitated that we as educators consider how learning can take place through technology, but also, in its clear interconnection with crises of racial and social justice more broadly, the need for antiracist and social-justice–informed pedagogy has become even more urgent. Many of the authors here look at how we can move from thinking theoretically about questions of inclusivity to designing digital classrooms, courses, and assignments that put these theoretical concerns into concrete practice, centering trauma-informed pedagogy and racial justice.
In “‘The Future Started Yesterday and We’re Already Late’: The Case for Antiracist Online Teaching,” David L. Humphrey and Camea Davis note the potential for educational technology to serve as a tool of academic liberation, while critically evaluating not only the shortcomings of purely technical fixes in achieving this aim, but also how the use of such technology can serve to maintain control and reinforce existing oppressive societal structures. The authors direct attention to the conspicuous absence of antiracist pedagogy in mainstream theories of online learning, and call for a shift that centers antiracist pedagogy to the benefit of all.
Also noting the inequities that became even more apparent amidst the pandemic, Michael Mandiberg considers how feminist theories of care might help us in achieving these goals.In their piece, “Trauma-Informed Pedagogy in the Digital Media Pandemic Classroom,” Mandiberg brings the insights of trauma-informed pedagogy to bear on the use of technologies like Adobe Creative Cloud technologies and their web-based clones.
These adaptations seeking to humanize the differently technologized pandemic classroom have a great deal to offer to broader projects of rethinking the current structure of teaching and learning from pre-K through college. Mary Frances (Molly) Buckley-Marudas and Shelley E. Rose describe one such model of post-pandemic pedagogy that aims to do just that: in “Collaboration, Risk, and Pedagogies of Care: Looking to a Postpandemic Future,” the authors describe their work founding the Cleveland Teaching Collaborative and, as the title implies, three primary pedagogical thematics that may help set the stage for important changes in the future of education.
Although this is one of many forums for reflection on teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic, JITP has sought to provide creative and research-based ways to incorporate and center digital technologies in responsive and responsible pedagogy for nearly a decade. Whether included in the special forum on teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic or not, many of the articles included here consider the ways instructors can craft or maintain more equitable digital spaces for students’ individual and collective reflection. The pandemic forced many instructors to adopt instructional technologies for the first time or reevaluate tools they were already using, driving us all to consider which platforms and methodologies are most accessible and useful for this new and not-so-new world of teaching. Such considerations have shed light on larger pedagogical practices that will continue to inform and change our approaches to teaching in the future, asking us to reimagine our classrooms both within and outside of emergencies like this.