What is Hybrid Pedagogy?

Jesse Stommel

In a broad sense, my own scholarly work is about the (sometimes wondrous, sometimes horrifying) relationship between bodies and technology. As our flesh is made intangible in the digital age, we find ourselves increasingly interested in bodies, dead and otherwise — in cadavers, crime scenes, bodily mutilation, and torture — in shows like Six Feet Under and The Walking Dead, films like Saw, video games like Gears of War, and novels like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. This is, by no means, a newfound fascination, but reflects a far more universal fear: a fear Shakespeare explores in Hamlet, beginning with the ominous words “Who’s there?”; a fear Mary Shelley explores in Frankenstein, wondering about identity and physicality from the first phrase, “I am by birth”; and a fear Herman Melville explores in “The Tartarus of Maids,” where he describes “blank-looking girls” working in a paper factory, slaves to a new-fangled machine. Each author wonders what constitutes a self, of what sort of matter are we made, what it is to be a body, to be human. Each wonders where our (technological and political) machines end and we begin.

The questions of my pedagogical work are inextricably bound to the questions of my literary scholarship. My hypothesis is that all learning is necessarily hybrid. In classroom-based pedagogy, it is important to engage the digital selves of our students. And, in online pedagogy, it is equally important to engage their physical selves. With digital pedagogy and online education, our challenge is not to merely replace (or offer substitutes for) face-to-face instruction, but to find new and innovative ways to engage students in the practice of learning.

At a philosophical level, my own thinking about hybridity is influenced, in part, by the heated discussion of hybridity among postcolonial theorists. In “The Commitment to Theory,” a chapter from The Location of Culture, Homi Bhabha writes,

The language of critique is effective because . . . it overcomes the given grounds of opposition and opens up a space of translation: a place of hybridity, figuratively speaking, where the construction of a political object that is new, neither the one nor the other, properly alienates our political expectations, and changes, as it must, the very forms of our recognition of the moment of politics.

Bhabha’s use of the word “moment” is important here, because it calls attention to the urgency and suspense inherent in the sort of transformation he describes.

In “A Cyborg Manifesto,” Donna Haraway makes an explicit connection between postcolonial theory and what she describes as the colonizing work of machines. She writes, “by the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism, in short, we are cyborgs.” I begin by discussing these notions of hybridity because there is an important way in which our roles as teachers and learners are bound up in who we are as people (including our life experience, cultural background, race, gender, and sexuality). In a recent discussion I had on Twitter, I argued for the importance of us being vulnerable as teachers by risking failure and modeling that vulnerability in our interactions with students. For me, though, there’s a delicate balance between being my performed, teacher-y self and being this more honest, vulnerable self. The same is true for myself as a student. This is just one of the many ways that I am hybrid.

In the book Hybridity, Marwan M. Kraidy writes, “hybridity has proven a useful concept to describe multipurpose electronic gadgets, designer agricultural seeds, environment-friendly cars with dual combustion and electrical engines, companies that blend American and Japanese management practices, multiracial people, dual citizens, and postcolonial cultures.” For Kraidy, and for me, the term is powerful exactly because it resists easy signification.

At its most basic level, the term “hybrid,” as I’m using it here, refers to learning that happens both in a classroom (or other physical space) and online. In this respect, hybrid does overlap with another concept that is often used synonymously: blended. I would like to make some careful distinctions between these two terms. Blended learning describes a process or practice; hybrid pedagogy is a methodological approach that helps define a series of varied processes and practices. (Blended learning is tactical, whereas hybrid pedagogy is strategic.) When people talk about “blended learning,” they are usually referring to the place where learning happens, a combination of the classroom and online. The word “hybrid” has deeper resonances, suggesting not just that the place of learning is changed but that a hybrid pedagogy fundamentally rethinks our conception of place. So, hybrid pedagogy does not just describe an easy mixing of on-ground and online learning, but is about bringing the sorts of learning that happen in a physical place and the sorts of learning that happen in a virtual place into a more engaged and dynamic conversation.

The “hybrid” in Hybrid Pedagogy, though, does not just refer to hybrid learning. Our goal with this project is, rather, to think holistically about the various hybridities of the modern pedagogue, to think about how we live our real/digital lives in both academic and extra-academic spaces. Hybrid Pedagogy, then, is about the intersections of:

Physical Learning Space / Virtual Learning Space
Academic Space / Extra-academic Space
On-ground Classrooms / Online Classrooms
Permanent Faculty / Contingent Faculty
Institutional Education / Informal Education
Garden-walled Academia / Open Education
Scholars / Teachers
Academic Product / Learning Process
Disciplinarity / Interdisciplinarity
Performed (School-y) Selves / Real (Vulnerable) Selves
Teacher, Student, Scholar / Collaborative Communities
Learning in Schools / Learning in the World
Analog Pedagogy / Digital Pedagogy
Use of Tools / Critical Engagement with Tools
Machine and Machine-like Interaction / Human Interaction
Passive Learning / Experiential Learning
Teaching and Learning / Critical Pedagogy

Each of these binaries is currently being challenged by the evolution of educational technology. Our goal is to think critically about both sides of each binary (and not to neatly privilege either) toward the (perhaps distant) goal of a more thorough deconstruction of our pedagogies. Hybridity is about the moment of play, in which the two sides of the binaries begin to dance around (and through) one another before landing in some new configuration. Thus, this chapter (and the work of Hybrid Pedagogy) is not just about what will become of us in the wake of technological and cultural transformation, but also (and perhaps more predominantly) about the process of becoming itself.


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An Urgency of Teachers Copyright © 2018 by Jesse Stommel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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