In the Spring of 2013, Pete Rorabaugh and I conducted a four-part workshop series on hybrid learning and critical digital pedagogy for Emory’s Center for Interactive Teaching. Below is our overview of the series, linked to the working Google documents we created for the first three sessions. The final session was a “show-and-tell” where participating graduate teaching assistants and faculty shared their own work in the classroom.


The use of “hybrid” in educational circles requires some immediate unpacking. Like “postmodern” or “canonical,” it has accumulated several interpretations, some of which are contradictory. Hybrid education takes on an economic focus when it’s used to equate to seat time: half in the classroom, half in an electronic space. This application represents an administrative priority that, while not unfounded in our current economic climate, can be more useful for the university’s bottom line than for student learning. A reliance on economic hybridity results in a neoliberal environment where an educational commodity, the “curriculum,” is “delivered” to the most students possible at the lowest overhead cost to the institution.

Within higher education circles, “hybrid” assumes several, often widely divergent interpretations. Significantly, in some administrative formulations, “hybrid” has often come to mean simply achieving a reduction in face-to-face time in the classroom through the integration of an online component. Left unexamined, this overly-simplistic formulation of “hybrid,” although it may serve the university’s economic interest by reducing instruction costs in the immediate term, may only incidentally serve–and may in some circumstances actively impede the achievement of–pedagogical goals like improving student learning outcomes.

Critical pedagogy–a discipline evolved from the work of Paulo Freire and rooted in a progressive consideration of how the social, political, economic, and developmental circumstances of students influence learning–offers another lens through which to understand hybridity. For example, from a social perspective, as individuals in a wired culture, our identities have already become hybrid, through our use of social media like Twitter and Facebook to our negotiation of news media, from our online shopping to our digital expressions of creativity or political activism. Similarly, influenced by this general social turn to hybridity, our learning practices in every class are increasingly hybrid as syllabi, research methods, and scholarly communication happen in the physical world and on the screen. A definition of hybridity grounded in the principles of critical pedagogy subordinates purely economic concerns about the costs associated with delivering education as a commodity, to concerns about how technology might be used to increase students’ engagement and their social, economic, political, and intellectual agency. More specifically, “hybrid” classes are those that introduce learners to the modes of collaboration, knowledge sharing and production, identity building, and socio-political activism that digital media afford.

Session 1: Hybrid Tension | Economy and Pedagogy

In this first session, we will introduce our rationale for a hybrid pedagogy that uses technology to reconfigure the boundaries of classroom practice in the service of authentic learning. We want to engage attendees in a discussion on a) the importance of negotiating and maintaining an online identity; b) stereotypes and commonly held beliefs about online teaching practices; and c) the activities and practices in the remaining three sessions.

Session 2: Hybrid Engagement | Mass Collaboration Strategies and Tools

The second session will involve hands-on demonstrations of some concrete strategies for leveraging social media tools like Twitter, Google Docs, and public blogs to create hybrid classrooms that disrupt the boundaries that usually separate the physical from the virtual, the community from the academy, the classroom from the workplace, and the student from the teacher. Attendees will be invited to generate and discuss ideas for integrating mass collaboration in a course they are currently teaching or plan to teach.

Session 3: Hybrid Regulation | FERPA, EULAS, Copyright, and Open Access/Open Source

In the third session, we will look at the potential obstacles posed to hybridity by a regulatory framework that often presumes a clear distinction between the work of the classroom and the work of the “real world.” We will also examine how administrative interpretations that emphasize blind obedience to, rather than informed compliance with the law can deprive both students and teachers of significant pedagogical agency. We hope to engage participants in a consideration of how we might reform institutional practices in order to give students and instructors more freedom to make ethical, responsible decisions regarding their own and others’ privacy and intellectual property.

Session 4: Hybrid Response | A Pedagogical Show-and-Tell

For the fourth and final session, attendees will take complete charge of the agenda and bring assignments, questions, and artifacts to present and discuss.

Image “All Toylike” used courtesy of a CC license by Torley on Flickr.