Almost two months ago I was invited to talk about “triggering events to promote cognitive presence” for the Human MOOC. I spent the time talking about the Summer of Oblivion, a ds106 course I taught during the Summer 2011 at UMW that went off the pedagogical rails in the best of all possible ways. Special thanks to Robin Bartoletti and Whitney Kilgore for running the session, and Dave Hallmon and Maha Al-Freih for driving the twitter play-by-play.
I framed the discussion around the idea of “pedagogies of uncertainty,” a phrase I took from Ray Land after hearing him talk at Elon University back in 2011. I was presenting at the same conference as professor Land, and his framing of threshhold concepts was perfect to help make sense of what it is we were doing in ds106. We were working to dislodge assumed roles of authority, identity, and agency by creating a character, Dr. Oblivion, to teach this online course. Oblivion went missing, the TAs became power hungry, and the course started to teeter on the brink of disaster. In fact, it was a part of a larger narrative that students began to both engage in and rebel against at once, laying bare some of the assumptions we approach online learning with. Last semester’s work with Noir 106 was a another twist on that approach wherein students created and explored their own online fictional environment, taking ownership of the narrative arc of the course.
In fact, I just gave a presentation at VCU ALTfest with Paul Bond titled “Building the Plane in the Air (and letting students chart the course).” This talk outlines how we’ve come to embrace a pedagogy of uncertainty over the course of our numerous teaching experiments the last few years, effectively designing our syllabi around serendipity, student agency, openness, and uncertainty. It’s been some of the most fun I’ve had in the classroom, and possibly the coolest part is I’m not doing it alone. I’ve yet to teach a class by myself since the Summer of Oblivion, which speaks volumes about the importance of collaborative teaching when it comes to uncertainty and decoupling the classroom from a strict relationship between faculty and students. For example, the Summer of Oblivion had several different “faculty,” “TAs,” and other “authority figures,” but none of them were reliable or stable.
Anyway, this is yet another opportunity I’ve been afforded to talk about Dr. Oblivion and the Summer of Oblivion, the thing I may be most proud of during my time at UMW. And let there be no mistake, it took all of DTLT and many, many more folks to make it great. I was just one of the players in a course that ran off the pedagogical tracks 🙂