Imagining better pedagogies is the first step in creating powerful learning environments. As you will see in the pages of this collection, it is far from the last step. It’s certainly a good place to start, though. In March of 2021, Hybrid Pedagogy put out a call for chapters for a Critical Instructional Design Reader. That call asked the questions:
“What if technology had misled us, distracted us from what’s actually important for teaching online? What if technology has so far interpreted instruction for us—even from the days of correspondence courses—making the page, digital or otherwise, a surrogate for our pedagogies? How do we reclaim the relational, communal, intimate side of teaching when glass and pixels and apps stand between? When we undertake the work of defining and investigating critical instructional design, we must shift our focus from the screen to the student, from best practices to humanizing pedagogies.”
Submissions from North America, Europe, Africa, and Australia came in with a wide scope for how and why a problem-posing approach of critical pedagogy can be applied to online classes. We heard from instructional designers, educators, and students themselves. It also quickly became clear that while the COVID-19 global pandemic did not instigate these conversations, it certainly poured gasoline on the fire of implementing them. Care in online classes began to become a mainstream conversation among all kinds of educators as the pandemic created new tensions and exacerbated old ones at a literal global scale.
As the editors were sifting through the submissions we noticed two related, but divergent streams emerging. One stream was focused on creating environments and experiences grounded in care and compassion. It includes conversations of the logistical hurdles of building intentional hospitality into online experiences, but also the rewards of learners being empowered in the experience. The other stream focused on applying the ideals of critical instructional design to the course design process. These chapters challenged the assumptions of linear, western approaches to higher education and pushed the boundaries of what online learning can look like. The editors made the decision to gather these chapters into two sibling collections: Designing for Care and Towards a Critical Instructional Design. The collection you are reading is the Designing for Care edited collection.
Designing for Care
When we talk about designing for care, we are talking about creating, crafting, and teaching our online courses (and all of our courses increasingly mediated by technology) in the intentional narrative of a shared humanity. It’s not feminine, masculine, or even gendered work. It’s the work of treating people like the fantastic, curious, unpredictable, capable, and multi-layered people they are. It’s refusing to see people as one dimensional, regardless of any system-assigned labels like student, teacher, instructional designer, disabled, at-risk, first-generation, or whatever. It’s not just being compassionate towards our learners. Being kind to our learners is great, but designing for care is the intentional framing of course design and teaching through a structure that demonstrates care towards all those involved.
There is certainly a resistance to care in education. It’s easy to dismiss care as a factor in the classroom to the realm of small, liberal arts classes in small, liberal arts colleges. It’s also lazy thinking to do so. Perhaps the opposite of designing for care is designing for efficiency? Not caring is an amazingly efficient practice. There’s no lying awake at night thinking about learners, there’s no worries about the zoom screen that is not nor will ever be “camera on,” there’s no need to critique or, heaven forbid, change course design practices. Not caring is amazingly efficient. It’s also not an option for educators who take a “problem posing” approach to humanizing online learning.
In the following chapters of this collection you will read how many people across many institutions have worked to design their online learning to be more humanizing to both the learners and the instructors. Some of these designs are theoretical, and some are grounded in practical application. Some worked splendidly, and some had aspects that fell painfully flat. You will hear from people who have been teaching and learning online for decades, as well as people whose first online learning experience came from being forced into a remote teaching context as COVID began raging globally.
This is a wonderfully wide collection of voices from various parts of the world. As editors, we made it our work to create a platform for the authors to share their stories in their voices. One thing you might notice about how we chose to share stories is the vocabulary and spelling of certain words. We have authors from Australia, Africa, Europe, and North America all sharing their work. We decided that changing the spelling of words to be the Americanized versions seemed to work against the value of letting people share their own stories in their own words. It might be a “little” thing, but it didn’t feel right to change these so you will see spelling variants throughout the collection. That choice was intentional.
Flow of the Collection
The collection is not sorted into themes but there is a narrative flow to the chapters. They are arranged to weave back and forth between the more personal and the academic-leaning writing to create a reading experience that is constantly moving you forward through the twists and turns of the story. No matter the flow, you can still absolutely read them as individual pieces in any order you find helpful.
Click, Click, Connect begins our collection by reminding the reader of the real and felt consequences, both of the learners and the instructors, of a course design grounded in care. These short vignettes tell the stories of our design choices. Not every learner will notice or appreciate this approach, but for many learners designing for care leads to empowerment and a better future.
Intentionally Equitable Hospitality centers values rather than focusing on predetermined, measurable outcomes, and how those values are not neutral. This chapter gives direction on how to create brave spaces for blended connections while decentralizing power in online learning.
Humanizing Online Learning begins by posing the question of, “What does the experience of humanized online learning feel like for instructors and students?” From there they use stories and practical approaches to give examples of designing for care and connection that push the reader to change their design so that it flows from compassion first.
Developing Critical Student Autonomy focuses on partnerships between instructors and learners and how learner autonomy can shape the experience of a course. This chapter is co-written by the instructor and a learner from the course under examination, which provides an amazing window into the perspective of both groups involved. It also shows how to both talk the talk, and walk the walk of instructor-learner partnerships.
Designing for Inclusion is a case study on Including All Citizens in not just an individual course, but in a university program that gives learners with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities the right to an inclusive, flexible, and transformational college education. You will hear from both the instructors guiding the program, and from some of the learners who have lived the program as they share their stories and offer guidance on implementation.
The Straight and Narrow is a bit of an exercise in wordplay, but wordplay that cuts to the bone in a bouncing, three column arrangement.
Access Alone isn’t Enough brings the reader face-to-face with the realities of the digital divide, that our learners do not always have access to high-speed connections or the latest and greatest gadgetry. But that doesn’t confine us to the realm of Microsoft Documents and plain-text for helping our learners develop more modern digital skills. We can use a careful and caring design to help close some of those opportunity gaps that plague teaching and learning technology.
Sharing Instructional Design is a co-written piece where the process of sharing instructional design between learners and instructors is detailed (and annotated) around a Digital History and Memory course. Sharing design also requires sharing power, and the authors do not shy away from addressing the tensions that can create for everyone involved.
Feeling (Un)Seen is the final chapter in the collection and it gives practitioners a window into the experience of instructors and learners with both hidden and “legible” disabilities. The author challenges educators that designing for the maximally able-bodied person forces learners with disabilities to engage in the often painful work of outing themselves to a culture that tends to exclude and erase them. Designing for care is an approach that creates experiences that provide the flexibility for learners to make themselves only as legible as they choose to be to the university.
Thank you for listening to the voices of the people and the communities who are here to share their work in designing for care with fellow critical instructional designers and educators. We hope this work is both inspirational and challenging to your course design and teaching approaches. If you enjoy this collection, please consider checking out the sibling collection, Towards a Critical Instructional Design.