Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute 2016 – Notes from the Design Track

Inspired by the reflections shared by Audrey Watters and Lee Bessett Skallerup, I am sharing my notes and thoughts on last week’s Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute hosted at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA. It was an amazing week and I feel lucky (The Luckiest, as I told Sean and Jesse) to have the opportunity to be part of the edifying and growing #digped community.

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 8.29.58 PM(click here to view slides from the week—not much there because we mostly did not use slides)

Description & outline of the track


In the DPLI design track, we will explore the following questions:

  1. What are the problems with our current approaches to design?
  2. What are the challenges instructional designers face in higher education today?
  3. How are the strategies and approaches to instructional design working for us? For teachers? For learners?
  4. What role can an instructional designer play beyond traditional notions of design?
  5. Given all of this, how do we approach designing for our learners and teachers?


In teams, participants will undertake a design project to design some part of next year’s DPLI. They will explore design strategies for understanding, divergence, and emergence to develop and explore their design ideas. Participants will also contribute to an instructional design wikity that will remain as a resource to participants and to others outside of the track.


Learning design patterns as an alternative model of course design, Mike Caulfield

Unpleasant design and hostile urban architecture, 99pi

The 2016 Manifesto for online teaching, multiple authors

Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities Keyword Design,  Jennifer Sheppard & Kristin Arola

Conversations: Instructional design, trust, and discover, Sean Michael Morris & Joshua Eyler)

Not-yetness and learnification, Amy Collier


Monday – What is design? Design as understanding, divergence, emergence (not checklists, steps, best practices, or rubrics). Design rules for the week: Take notice & play

Tuesday – Design patterns, unpleasant design, unintended consequences of design

Wednesday – Design as a moral activity. Working with empathy maps and point of view statements. Listening as an act of design.

Thursday – Emergence. Presentations from groups on their designs for DPLI.

Friday – I like, I wish, What if…

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 9.56.52 PM

Sample activity

Design carousel – modeled after the Gamestorming Carousel activity, this was designed to encourage inclusion of all voices in the room, both as an opportunity for introductions and as a chance to converse about important topics related to design. I wrote the following questions around the room on the white boards and people were asked to convene around a question to discuss & write ideas in response to the questions: 1) Why does design matter? 2) What are your new and enduring questions about design? 3) How does instructional design differ from other forms of design? 4) What does design look like in 10 years? 5) Where and to whom do you look for design guidance and ideas? It was such a productive activity and it set a good tone for the rest of the week by inviting all voices and all experiences to the conversation. Pictures from the boards after:

IMG_5420 IMG_5415 IMG_5416 IMG_5417 IMG_5419

The keynotes 
(my god, these were some good keynotes! Videos linked below)

Tressie McMillan Cottom – What is Critical in the Corporate University?

Cathy Davidson – Educating Higher: Transforming Higher Ed for the World We Want

Martha Burtis & Sean Michael Morris – Critical Instructional Design

My intention
(this is the text from a short talk I did on Thursday, when Lee Skallerup and I were asked to set the intention for the day)

“For a shy introverted person like me, weeks like this are a real roller coaster. You spend the days and weeks leading up to the  event riddled with anxiety and nervousness; the first couple of days of the event feeling like the floor is really the only safe space for you, exhausted; and toward the middle and last few  days, as you find your stride, as relationships solidify and trust builds, you begin to hope that weeks like this will never end. And then someone asks you to get up in front of everybody on Thursday and help to set the intention for the day, and the cycle restarts all over all. I’ll be on the floor in about 3.5 minutes. 

Your mileage may vary on these feelings, but I think it may be safe to say that the last full day of a week like this bring a new set of hopes and longings.
Hope that the things that stirred you this week, the things that brought you excitement, the times of joy will stay with you as you return to your institutions, to your inboxes. Hope that the relationships you started or built on this week will continue to fill your cup anew with hope as you return to your institutions, your inboxes. 
I recently gave a talk on love and risk in education and argued for embracing of more risk and more love in education. Weeks like this one, hearing your stories of your institutional contexts, your work, your classes, I am reminded how much risk we already have in our work, our classes. Being asked to embrace that risk or even welcome new risk may seem like too much to ask. But this week has been all about embracing new and existing risks. Putting yourself out there to be part of a community we call #digped, being exposed to new and sometimes paradigm shattering ideas, being encouraged to both experiment with and deeply question new tools. We take on that risk in a week like this largely because, I conjecture, of the community around us. Others who are willing to take those risks with us. Others who will be there, who will love us and care for us when the risks become just a little too unsettling. For many of us, that’s the eternal value of a community like this and what we miss the most when we leave. It’s up to each of us, and as a community, to continue to invest…no invest is not the right word because investing expects a measurable return…to give unabashedly with care and love through this community to support each other in their risks…and as Audrey said yesterday, to remind each other that we are not alone.
This is where I return to those emotions I described at the beginning…nervousness, exhaustion, longing. I believe I may have just described the life of the academic. Rinse and repeat. Nervousness, exhaustion, longing…and often, maybe not often enough, joy. You are not alone and you go back to your institutions and experience new cycles of these emotions.
I want to end with a quote from Parker Palmer’s book, The Courage to Teach: ‘As good teachers weave the fabric that joins them with students and subjects, the heart is the loom on which the threads are tried, the tension is held, the shuttle flies, and the fabric is stretched tight. Small wonder, then, that teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the heart–and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be. The courage to teach is the courage to keep one’s heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able so that teacher and students and subject can be woven into the fabric of community that learning, and living, require.’
Today and tomorrow, work on weaving even more deeply to the fabric of this community. Help make this community a place that, even where we are no longer here, together, we can continue to take risks knowing, of course, that we are no longer, we are never, alone.” 

The week’s end

It’s always hard to say goodbye to people after an intensive week like this. People in my track were so open, so willing to share their stories, their dreams, their fears, their opportunities. I learned from them more than they ever could have learned from me.

As I said in the intention on Thursday, it takes me a few days to build up trust with people but, once I have, it’s hard to let them go. I am so glad that I ended the week in the exact same way that I ended the week at Digital Pedagogy Lab 2015…with Legos. There are few better ways to restore the soul than through play, especially when it’s play with dear loved ones, like Sean Michael Morris, Jesse Stommel, and Joshua Lee.


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