I teach in a Criminology and Criminal Justice program that offers a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a 4+1 accelerated program allowing students to obtain their BA and MA in five years. To make our programs more accessible to students, we offer all of our graduate courses online every other semester. This means that I teach two versions of the same set of courses each year—one f2f and one entirely online.
The thought of adapting f2f courses for an online setting can be overwhelming. Creating online courses is, undeniably, a lot of work. Yet, with the goals of equity and parity in mind, over the past three years I have adapted my courses through a number of small teaching adjustments so that my in person and online courses are near mirror images of one another. I did not accomplish this by asking how I should teach my f2f courses online. Instead, I took a step back and asked, how should I be teaching—period.
Enter digital pedagogy. As Jesse Stommel explains, digital pedagogy has been defined in numerous ways. Broadly understood, it simply refers to using “electronic elements” in education. Stommel goes on to note that “[this framing] dissects the notion of an educational technology, turning the discussion to a consideration of the smallest possible element that might influence teaching and learning: the electrical impulse. At this level, we’re not talking about how we might use WordPress in a composition class…but about how the most basic architecture of our interactions with and through machines can inspire new (digital or analog) pedagogies.”
So, what are the small changes that have revolutionized the way I teach? While there are many, from relying upon course blueprints and other “best practices” in transparent teaching to using Prezi as a central means of interactive content delivery, perhaps the most valuable—and simple—change I’ve made has been to embrace the hyperlink. Yes, that sometimes underlined, often glowing blue, word or line of text that leads you from where you are to where you could be. While using hyperlinks to teach is in no way novel, the functionality this unassuming tech tool provides is definitely impressive.
Through the hyperlink, my teaching comes alive. Hyperlinks add a built-in layer of interaction—a bit of engagement through nudging—in the f2f and online environment. They serve as a lure, a call and response, an invitation. They transport us in and out of time and space, inviting us to ponder a theory or journal article, examine a YouTube video or Instagram Feed, respond to a Doodle poll or Twitter conversation, or create a blog post or Spotify playlist. At times, hyperlinks prompt us to venture out into the community to engage in—and report back about—conversations, observations, and interventions. Oftentimes, hyperlinks become a choose your own adventure, leading us down paths of learning and exploration we might never encounter were we restricted to the confines of classroom walls or Learning Management Systems. In practice, this means embedding hyperlinks to course activities, assignments, and content into my class communications, lectures, and syllabi. Thus, whether taking my courses in person or online, through various hyperlinks, students engage in a collective learning experience that spans the “real” and digital.
Using hyperlinks not only brings my f2f and online courses inline with one another, but it makes my life easier. Hyperlinks facilitate simple course alterations and updates, allowing me to easily swap out course content, activities, and learning tools to reflect more current information or try out new learning strategies. This practice has also (unintentionally) resulted in the added bonus of using a diversity of open access content in my courses, reducing the amount of course content students must purchase (i.e. books and textbooks).
Certainly, crafting my courses for f2f and online consumption wouldn’t have been impossible without embracing digital pedagogy, but it would’ve been a lot more difficult. Ultimately, adopting small changes through digital pedagogy has reminded me that course development need not be a finite process. Students and instructors alike benefit from course change, growth, and transformation over time. Digital pedagogy facilitates the inclusion of new and invigorating content in tandem with developments in the field, and creates space for adaptations and advancements in both technology and teaching. Moreover, it also allows for trial and error. As Stommel stresses, “Digital pedagogy calls for screwing around more than it does systematic study,” affording all of my students and, just as importantly, me, the ability to benefit from “unlearning, play, and rediscovery.”