Panel 2: The Digital/Environmental Intervention



Panel 2: The Digital/Environmental Intervention

Adapting to Changing Climates – Towards Teaching in Digital Environments

Danen Poley, Dalhousie University

While not all disciplines stand to benefit from the increasing move to digital teaching environments, the humanities certainly do. By making more texts available in digitized form, students are freed from having to travel to institutions of higher learning to study them. The author defends the opportunity this presents and argues the ethical exigency of embracing this move to the digital. digital environments have the opportunity to reach students in previously impossible ways (more).

Communicating Beyond Borders: The opportunities and challenges of digital communication to further the climate conversation

Ann Dale & Jaigris Hodson, Royal Roads University

Despite near unanimous accord over the imminent and irreversible effects of climate change, these issues are often phrased as a debate within the popular media. This talk will emphasize the role social media can play in this debate and how the media realm can be expanded in new spaces in future years (more).

Online Architectural Education as a Facilitator of a Sustainable Future

Samuel Fardoe, formerly of Curtin University, (speaking on his own behalf)

Online education tends to result in a smaller carbon footprint than equivalent education in person. The benefit of online education can go beyond this as well by providing better learning opportunities than would otherwise be possible. Using architecture as a case study, this paper argues that the greater sustainability of online educational practices helps to foster greater sustainable practices within its students(more).

Q & A

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31 replies
  1. Jaigris Hodson, Royal Roads University says:

    Hello Everyone, This is Jaigris Hodson from the second video. Ann and I look forward to any comments and questions that you may have.

    • Ken Hiltner (UC Santa Barbara) says:

      Ann and Jaigris,

      Wow, what a great talk!

      Over at Q&A for my opening remarks, a discussion is starting to unfold regarding how the science and humanities can work together to mitigate CC, which is an issue that I took up in the talk itself. However, you not only really zoom in on the problem with your discussion of how, for example, “filter bubbles” and the “online public sphere” work (two terms of which I was unaware of before your talk), but also offer a practical advice on how we in the humanities can employee technology to communicate this “wicked” problem via social media. In other words, you are bringing the traditional delivery vehicle of environmental messages, such as Carson’s Silent Spring, into the 21st century.

      This really resonates with me, as it seems like a great blending of the humanities and the sciences. And totally necessary – as the online community of climate change deniers is very active, we also need to take our message online.

      So here is my question – apologies in advance for its being unabashedly self-serving! – how might we go about promoting an online event such as this conference online? How might we blend placed-based and virtual approaches?

      With thanks,


      • Jaigris Hodson, Royal Roads University says:

        Hi Ken,

        Thank you for your question! I think it’s something that we struggle with every day in our practice. As a scholar-practitioner, I often draw on my expertise in social media marketing to try and get my messages out. In this case, I would address the problem on multiple fronts. First of all, I would urge all participants to reach out into their own communities (or bubbles) to promote events like these.

        I would advocate the use of trending topics, or newsworthy events as a way to draw attention to the conference (taking the issue from chronic to acute), and I would consider how we can host some parts of the conference both virtually and in real time through virtual meeting and virtual classroom software. This third approach I think, has tremendous opportunity to blend place based and virtual in an interesting way. Imagine 100 mini conferences or meetings held in participants’ classrooms or homes around the world.

        I think there could be really interesting possibilities or opportunities to create new spaces that bring us away from the walled gardens of Facebook, Twitter and Google, to a grassroots communication movement using digital technologies. This forum is a great start!

  2. Danen, Dalhousie U says:

    Hi Everyone! Thanks for taking the time to watch my talk, “Adapting to Changing Climates.” Here’s a brief bibliography (broken into short sections), which concludes with full citations for the audio-visual components used in this presentation:

    ***Works most referenced during my video***

    Baum, Sandy, Charles Kurose and Michael McPherson. “An Overview of American Higher Education.” The Future of Children 23.1,(2013), pp. 17-39.

    Bell, Bradford and Jessica Federman. “E-Learning in Postsecondary Education.” The Future of Children 23.1 (2013), pp. 165-185.

    Deming, David, Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz. “For-Profit Colleges.” The Future of Children 23.1 (2013), pp. 137-163. “Online Education Degrees Booming.”

    Jenkins, Davis and Olga Rodríguez. “Access and Success with Less: Improving Productivity in Broad-Access Postsecondary Institutions.” The Future of Children 23.1, (2013), pp. 187-209.

    Little, Craig, Larissa Titarenko and Mira Bergelson. “Creating a Successful International Distance-Learning Classroom.” Teaching Sociology 33.4 (2005), pp. 355-370.

    McPherson, Michael and Lawrence Bacow. “Online Higher Education: Beyond the Hype Cycle.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 29.4 (2015), pp.135-153.

    Navarro, Peter. “How Economics Faculty Can Survive (and Perhaps Thrive) in a Brave New Online World.” The Journal of General Education, 64.4 (2015), pp.155-175.

    “Online University in Canada: Challenges and Opportunities.” Human Resources and Skills Development Canada ( .

    “Online Learning in Canada: At a Tipping Point.” Contact North (

    ***Resources to consider for making online courses more than videos and essay dropboxes:***

    Whitley, Cameron. “A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words: Applying Image-based Learning to Course Design.” Teaching Sociology, 41.2 (2013), pp. 188-198.

    Clyde, Jerremie and Glenn R. Wilkinson. “More Than a Game…Teaching in the Gamic Mode: Disciplinary Knowledge, Digital Literacy, and Collaboration.” The History Teacher, 46.1 (November 2012), pp. 45-66.

    Morgan, Eric. “Virtual Worlds: Integrating ‘Second Life’ into the History Classroom.” The History Teacher, 46.4 (2013), pp. 547-559.

    Pomerantz, Jeffrey, & Marchionini, Gary. “The Digital Library as Place.” Journal of Documentation, 63.4 (2007), pp. 505-533.

    ***Further reading on Challenges that I did not have time to discuss in my video***

    Bach, Amy, Gwen Shaffer and Todd Wolfson. “Digital Human Capital: Developing a Framework for Understanding the Economic Impact of Digital Exclusion in Low-Income Communities.” Journal of Information Policy, 3 (2013), pp. 247-266.

    Carracelas-Juncal, Carmen. “When Service-Learning Is Not a ‘Border-crossing’ Experience: Outcomes of a Graduate Spanish Online Course.” Hispania, 96.2 (2013), pp. 295-309.

    Knox, Jeremy. “Posthumanism and the MOOC.” Routledge, 2016. (See:
    McMahon, Rob, et . “Making Information Technologies Work at the End of the Road.” Journal of Information Policy, 4 (2014), pp. 250-269.

    ***Data Used***
    Highlighted & Underlined: The Phi Delta Kappan, 94.3 (2012), pp. 6-7.

    ***Sound Used***
    Opening: Sample from Jonny Greenwood’s “Baton Sparks”
    All Other Sound Effects: Clips from

    ***Physical Image Used***
    Backdrop: “Kundalini Kills (Ego Death),” L. Lamassu (

    ***Digital Images Used (in order of appearance)***
    Future City in the Cliffs – David Noren: (
    Münster Park Sentmaring: Wikimedia Commons
    Billets de 5000: Wikimedia Commons
    Code with Computer: iStock
    Flaming Oil Gusher – still from There Will Be Blood (
    Le Penseur – Rodin: Wikimedia Commons
    Global Market Crash: ShutterStock
    Map of the Internet: Wikimedia Commons
    The Wanderer Above Mass Effect – C.D. Friedrich and Bioware
    Biomechanical Tiger Robot: wallpaperbeta
    Braid, Hourglass Sandcastle – Jonathan Blow: Wikimedia Commons


    • Danen, Dalhousie U says:

      Thanks again for watching my talk, “Adapting to Changing Climates.” As you will have noticed from my talk and my references, my information is focused primarily on Canada and the US, as it is in my own teaching environment that I see these issues needing articulation most clearly: in Canada, we have huge distances between students and universities (ex: my undergrad university is almost 300km from my home town, and my graduate school is almost 1,600km from home), so the possibility for online teaching to reach across these spaces is enormous in Canada (and also highlights other developmental problems, such as poor rural communities and First Nations reserves lacking quality computer access, so that, the people who would benefit most from increased education unfortunately lack the structures to access it). It’s also an issue at Atlantic Canadian universities that online education is being fiercely resisted, and my talk is aimed to address resistance that may not be felt elsewhere (indeed, my research shows many people are rapidly embracing the changes that are being resisted here at Dalhousie). So I’m wondering of all of you: do you see similar challenges (personal and capital) to online ed where you work, and do you see similar opportunities as I outline in my talk?

      – Danen

      • Jaigris Hodson, Royal Roads University says:

        Hi Danen,
        I think your points are really interesting. I work at a university where most of our teaching occurs online. While I had often thought about this development in terms of accessibility, this is the first time I’ve thought about it with respect to climate change. I think online education requires a different skill set from both teacher and learner, and can often be more work than classroom teaching. Perhaps this is why there is resistance. I think that people also worry they will be replaced by AI or large format open online courses. Rather than pretending these concerns don’t exist, I wonder if there’s a way to create a sustainable online education plan that will help relieve the fears that people have.

        • Danen, Dalhousie U says:

          Hi Jaigris,

          Your point about the skill sets is very apt: for instructors with little computer literacy, the challenges of teaching online can be really daunting. I think one answer to that challenge is being met through the proliferation of third-party companies, who can provide technical expertise in filming, programming, etc. and collaborate with instructors to produce online courses (the downside for institutions being increased costs of contracting). Another answer is collaboration among multiple faculty members (many professors could contribute to a single course, each producing a lecture or two according to their own specializations), but every time I have mentioned such collaborative efforts in the past, people raised questions of copyright conflict and so on, so I know that “collaboration” is not a totally straightforward answer.
          As for the large format open courses, it is (at least currently) the case that most of these appear to be handling the base-level, introductory information of degree programs, and instead of worrying about being replaced by these, I think professors could respond by creating increasingly specialized courses and research projects that are relevant to topical events (even if general information is widely accessible, new sets of specialized information will always be a desired commodity). But more importantly, I don’t think instructors will ever be “replaced” by tech, in the same way that live music and theatre performances are still highly valued (AI programs can write musical scores, but that doesn’t stop millions of people from going to shows). Personality is a large part of what makes individual instructors effective, and likewise, having real human contact as an integral part of instruction will continually be valued: even as online courses offer other highly valuable experiences to students, the human experience is something that does not seem to become less valuable. But face-to-face courses are not accessible to everyone, and the cost (environmental and monetary) of travelling to on-site locations will make on-campus educations increasingly less accessible over time, so I think more professors will inevitably need to start teaching online to meet these demands, regardless of fears about replacement.

    • Samuel Fardoe, Curtin University (Formerly) says:

      Hi Danen,

      Great talk! Lots of interesting information and a lot to think about. One thing I took away in particular was the issue of data storage – being an additional 1 pentabyte a day required. It had me thinking – how do we continue to store this data which will consume an ever increasing amount of energy and add to carbon emissions? I came across a fantastic concept by Valeria Mercuri and Marco Merletti. It is to build a data centre in Iceland…

      Check out:

      From the website…

      “Data is proliferating: every transaction, entry, emails, and even every mouse click is stored in a server. Annual global IP traffic will pass the zettabyte threshold by the end of 2016, and will reach 2 zettabytes per year by 2019. Considering this, a problem in the near future will be to find a place to store this information.
      A data center is the physical location hosting different servers used by many types of companies, it is used to store and process all the information we generate every day.
      Today data centers consume a lot of energy and have a large carbon footprint: servers absorb a lot of electrical power and they need to be constantly cooled down to avoid overheating problems.
      The solution for the future is hosting data centers where the power is clean and the costs are low. For this reason some companies have been started to think about Iceland. Iceland is a strategic location for data centers for 3 reasons:
      • Location: its placement between Europe and the U.S. means that companies can run their web services for both continents in one location;
      • Renewable energy sources: Iceland can offer data center services powered by 100% clean energy (hydropower and geothermal) for the same price or less than web services powered by fossil fuel-based grids in other locations;
      • Climate: Iceland’s proximity to the Arctic Circle allows exploiting cold temperatures and a fresh natural breeze that could be used to cool down the servers avoiding the costs of a traditional cooling system.”

      I take heart that this issue is being looked at and find it really interesting that the humanities and sciences can work together to solve some of these issues.

      If data storage becomes an issue we cannot solve do we then need to censor what is stored? This raises a number of ethical issues such as freedom of expression and equity – beyond the scope of this conference but something we might need to think about in the future.

      i also note your point on the time it takes to prepare good content for online delivery. I fear that if the motivation of educational institutions is to save costs by offering online courses this will translate into poor outcomes for students.

      • Danen, Dalhousie U says:

        Thanks for the link, Samuel! I hadn’t heard of this, but it looks like a very thoughtful project, and answers some of the serious ongoing questions about how “green” computer use is (and will continue to be as it exponentially expands). Sustainable skyscraping data centers sound about as ideal as I can realistically imagine.

        Regarding your final point, I have similar fears about the mass production of cheap, low-quality online education — at least in the short term. In the long-run, however, I think that student evaluations and peer evaluations of courses would weed out the poorest quality products (if students can buy an online course anywhere, why would they buy a course that is known to produce poor outcomes for students?). Competition and evaluation are often slow-working mechanisms, but I suspect that in the future, a competitive online market would force instructors to be very thoughtful about their production of online courses, seeing courses as a capital investment.

  3. Jaigris Hodson, Royal Roads University says:

    Hi Ken,

    Thank you for your question! I think it’s something that we struggle with every day in our practice. As a scholar-practitioner, I often draw on my expertise in social media marketing to try and get my messages out. In this case, I would address the problem on multiple fronts. First of all, I would urge all participants to reach out into their own communities (or bubbles) to promote events like these.

    I would advocate the use of trending topics, or newsworthy events as a way to draw attention to the conference (taking the issue from chronic to acute), and I would consider how we can host some parts of the conference both virtually and in real time through virtual meeting and virtual classroom software. This third approach I think, has tremendous opportunity to blend place based and virtual in an interesting way. Imagine 100 mini conferences or meetings held in participants’ classrooms or homes around the world.

    I think there could be really interesting possibilities or opportunities to create new spaces that bring us away from the walled gardens of Facebook, Twitter and Google, to a grassroots communication movement using digital technologies. This forum is a great start!

  4. Jaigris Hodson, Royal Roads University says:

    Samuel and Danen, you both discuss how digital technologies can help us to cut down climate change emissions in education, while making education more accessible for a broad audience. I think these claims have social justice implications as well as ecological ones, however I’ve also noticed that the hype surrounded digital technologies is often unrealized by the reality. What are the main challenges each of you see standing in the way of your vision(s) of sustainability? How can we overcome these challenges? Thanks in advance for your thoughtful responses.

    • Samuel Fardoe, Curtin University (Formerly) says:

      Hi Jaigris,

      I think you raised an interesting point in looking at “social justice”. Putting environmental issues to one side, equity is a real consideration. Australia is large, and is one of the most urbanized nations on Earth. For this reason large numbers live in cities and large towns, which may be adequately serviced by universities. Smaller towns and regional areas may be 1,500 km from the nearest university. Online study addresses this inequity in making education available to all. For people with a physical disability online study may also be the only option to study. For these reasons (aside from the environment) I believe online study has its place as part of the solution in developing an equitable and sustainable future.

      As for reality not matching the hype – I agree. There are great opportunities but to realize these significant resources need to be invested. Curtin University are continually making changes to improve the delivery of the online architecture degree – but it is and will always be a work in progress.

      • Danen, Dalhousie U says:

        I think that the primary challenges are both physical and cultural. The physical challenges of data storage might be met through the Iceland data towers that Samuel linked above, but there still remain problems of both computer access (many remote communities lack the infrastructure for people to take online courses) and computer waste (planned obsolescence often results in people needing to replace computers every 2-3 years). But there’s also a strong resistance from many, many individuals (instructors and students) unwilling to contribute to a cultural shift away from physical travel and face-to-face interaction, and also a strong cultural focus on the *individual* researcher/instructor within the academy (even though TV and Netflix documentaries usually contain ideas from many different specialists, most academic courses are still run by the single voice of one professor). The possibilities currently have advanced beyond people’s willingness to embrace those possibilities collaboratively, so beyond the further advances in sustainable data storage, there needs to be a cultural shift towards embracing collaborative, high-quality (enduring) educational production.

        The question of the “hype” is discussed astutely in McPherson’s article, “Beyond the Hype Cycle,” and I think that part of why online education is not yet living up to its hype is the very nature of hype — getting people excited about the possibilities is always followed by the real difficulty and investment required to get those possibilities off the ground. Much as people were initially disappointed by the “hype” of cars because of undeveloped roads and minimal fueling stations, people are currently disappointed by failure of online education to follow through on its hype because the necessary investments have not been made by enough instructors and institutions. I expect it will be a difficult process, and probably go much slower than people expect (because of cultural resistance from traditional instructors), for online education to be reaching students in economically and environmentally sustainable ways. But like Australia, I know that at least in Canada we really need to find ways to reach students across thousands of kilometers without incurring the costs of human travel.

  5. Jessica George, Indiana University-Bloomington says:

    Thank you for this interesting panel, everyone! I’m hoping to try out some ideas here:

    1) While I am really optimistic about the possibilities of sustainability and access of digital conferences such as this one, I remain skeptical that the online classroom itself is actually more financially (and even environmentally) “sustainable.” In particular, I worry about how this narrative of sustainability might de-value the labor and lengths required to generate an effective digital discussion-based classroom environment. For example, I’m wondering how shifts to online classes might end up relieving universities of proportionally small financial burdens by offloading costs to online instructors (and graduate students and adjuncts in particular), particularly for discussed-based, collaborative classroom environments.

    At IU, we have a fantastic online version of first-year composition, but it works because the instructor and (20 or so) students are all present for a full, 1+ hour meeting using Zoom (a great alternative to Skype). As they should be, online instructors receive equivalent compensation as face-to-face instructors (even though online instructors perhaps invest even more labor into the class because they are spending extra time experimenting and developing new pedagogy for this platform). If replicating the efficacy of face-to-face classrooms in traditionally discussion-led disciplines requires this “live” contact, it may not actually be as cost-saving as it might first appear. I’m wondering if Danen and Samuel have any thoughts on these potential challenges.

    2) Ann and Jaigris, your presentation suggests that there’s a big opening for studies of climate change digital rhetorics in the fields of Rhetoric, Composition, and Communication. (Perhaps this is already happening in Canada but hasn’t yet made it to the U.S.!) For some context: I recently attended the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), and there were a couple of panels on service-learning and sustainability, several on the “hashtag” (from various disciplinary angles) but none on climate change & digital environments. Your presentation has given me a lot to think about regarding this potential intersection!

    • Jaigris Hodson, Royal Roads University says:

      Thank you Jessica, I agree with you. I think that all STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) have much to gain from the humanities. Science communication in particular is, I think, undervalued. In terms of climate change, I think the humanities have much to offer. In my field of digital communication too, social media strategy, visual communication, and persuasive communication could contribute much.

    • Samuel Fardoe, Curtin University (Formerly) says:

      Hi Jessica,

      There is still a lot of doubt as to the value of an online education. i believe many of these doubts will disappear as technology improves and is more widely adopted. The current primary-school age children that may enter university in a decade or so will probably not even consider why the question of “value” is asked. All parts of our lives will have an online component to some extent. In architecture the studio is the area that poses the most challenges – an honestly I am still favouring a face-to-face approach with the technology as it currently stands. Some content is more readily adapted for online delivery (history/theory for example).

      As with cost-saving it seems that academic staff are poorly paid for their time regardless of whether they teach on-campus or online. Having done both my comment is that preparation and marking times are rarely offset by what seems like a good hourly rate for “actual teaching”. I think from a university perspective online study seems like a good business opportunity – reaching more students with less physical space required would seem to improve profitability. A caveat here – staff need to be adequately paid for their time and significant funds need to be invested in developing content that will attract and retain students. Ideas of “gamification” are in their infancy but I don’t think it will be long before students are demanding entertainment as part of the package. Online content will need to be updated regularly and interactivity will need to be improved. This can be time consuming, as i found out in putting together a basic PowerPoint presentation!

      • Jessica George, Indiana University-Bloomington says:

        Thanks Samuel. It’s so interesting to hear your ideas on pedagogy since architecture is so inherently collaborative.

        And I agree with you – it seems like in ten years or so, current primary-age students will not only not question the “value” of online education, as you say, but will likely also know -how- to be successful students and responsible citizens in online environments, since that will be the norm for them.

    • Danen, Dalhousie U says:

      Hi Jessica,

      In regards to your first points:
      The economic benefits are currently being demonstrated by the very few professors here at Dalhousie who have started teaching online. For example, a few weeks ago at DCUTL 2016, I spoke with Gary Allen after his talk (simply titled, “An Online Course with a Large Enrollment”), and he currently just records his live lectures for an Anatomy Intro course, and offers the exact same content online (which is supplemented by animations, automated testing, and adaptive learning software that is all produced by third-party sources): the face-to-face course can only serve 600 students, but the same course course reaches over a thousand online, and is expected to continue reaching more students every year. Because online courses are scalable (any number of students can access the same online space, while physical lecture halls have limited seats), the university can receive more tuition money without paying for more professors (so that’s how it’s economically “sustainable”). In courses where some face-to-face time (via skype, zoom, google-hangouts, etc) is still seen as essential, then small discussion groups could still be run economically by employing TAs (in my department, professors are currently given one TA for courses with 60+ students, and an extra TA for every 30 students beyond that, so likewise each online course could be facilitated by TAs who lead online discussions rather than face-to-face tutorials). At institutions that don’t have an endless supply of desperate (and poorly paid) TAs, I propose that collaboratively run online courses could still reduce costs and provide individualized attention via live discussion sessions (if that were deemed necessary to the course). And if thousands of students and professors cease commuting to campus for class, and instead stay home to use computers (which I still use during a traditional class and which most of my students bring to class anyway), then the reduced travel costs make the scalable online courses *more* environmentally sustainable (even if not perfectly so).

      That said, I also want to point out that I think that the very mindset of “replicating the efficacy of face-to-face classrooms in traditionally discussion-led disciplines” needs to be replaced by the understanding that the different forms of instruction have different strengths and weakness. To counter your question with some reverse points, I would ask: how can traditional discussion-led disciplines replicate the immersive experiences available to online students such as Virtual Reality (how can a face-to-face discussion of a historical moment replicate a simulation of being at the historical moment)? Adaptive learning programs can monitor every student’s reading+study habits to provide personalized feedback+suggestions at the end of every test: how can a traditional face-to-face teacher possibly monitor 100% of the time spent studying of even 20 students? How can a small face-to-face course replicate the large-scale collaborative projects like radio-programs that are produced in some MOOCS? As Samuel pointed, the gamification of education is tapping into possibilities unavailable to face-to-face instructors (can you get your students to read textbooks as diligently as they play Warcraft?) Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that students gain valuable skills and insight from face-to-face discussion, but my point is that the things they can gain online are not necessarily the same things, and we need to see the strengths+weaknesses of both online and face-to-face teaching, and use each form to its own advantages. Right now, my stance on the turbulent development of new teaching media is that neither should be trying to replicate the other directly, but each should be offering students the best education that the particular medium can deliver.

      Finally, I want to also note that despite all my above points, I do still share some of your healthy skepticism about the financial sustainability, because there is the possibility of institutions eventually spending Hollywood film budgets on courses, and online competition could lead to something of an educational arms race that costs far more… However, at least when I look at what is currently happening and what will likely continue developing over the next few years, I expect that courses like Dr. Allen’s scalable Intro to Anatomy class will continue to save universities huge amounts of money by transmitting traditional lectures to thousands of students with no real increase in cost to the institution.

  6. Samuel Fardoe, Curtin University (Formerly) says:

    Apologies first up for the length of my presentation. I had some technical issues which were unable to be resolved prior to the conference start.

    In short, my presentation starts with outlining a rudimentary scientific approach to put some numbers on the quantum of carbon emissions reduced by using an online pedagogy as opposed to having students attend class. From here I delve into the humanities approaches. I identified four areas to consider:

    1. I suggest that an online cohort is more environmentally aware than a cohort of city-dwelling campus-attending students – and that this leads to more sustainable decisions being made;
    2. I suggest that an online cohort is more diverse and argue that diversity improves decision-making;
    3. I outline the content of an online architecture degree – what is taught enables students to make sustainable decisions; and
    4. I suggest that the manner and method of teaching online (separate to the content taught) fosters more environmentally sustainable decision-making.

    Much of what is presented is anecdotal in nature so it would be interesting to know of any other studies that might support or debase any of my suggestions.

    Kind regards, Samuel

  7. Jaigris Hodson, Royal Roads University says:

    Dear colleagues, this is Ann ‘talking’ logged in as Jaigris. Samuel, you raise some very interesting points about the power of online cohorts. In my on-line dialogue work, there is another interesting benefit, in that participants have commented that is provides more time for reflection, separate from traditional visual cues? By being able to sit in your office with your books and reference materials, you can take a pause and pull something off your shelf to support the points you are trying to make. On the negative side, the dominant voice is s/he who types fastest, but the moderator can also pace the speed of the conversation. I have used e-Dialogues with my students and they have two computers side-by-side to bring in additional materials and information. We are now experimenting with a new course, that combines on-line with a face-to-face residence upon which we are hoping to draw upon the best of studio work from architecture. Another project that I have just begun working on is the use of virtual collaboratories that can support face-to-face meetings using the best of new learning technologies.

    With respect to accelerating the up-take of climate innovations, we need to be collaborating more closely with architecture and the humanities, to bring visuals, place-based contexts and arts into on-line communications to engage both the heart and the mind, which leads to greater action on the ground?

    • Danen, Dalhousie U says:

      Hi Ann,

      I think your point about the dominant voices being the fastest typists is a good insight, and it reflects a phenomenon of the traditional classroom, where classes are very often dominated by a half dozen people who are the fastest (and least shy) speakers. And in the same way that a teacher can bring out more voices in a traditional setting by reaching out to the shyer students, so too can a moderator bring out slower voices in a discussion board, and the fact that discussion boards remain open longer is something that I think makes them more accessible to those who need more time to think+type. Even in terms of scheduling, open discussion boards can be far more accessible — personally, I can attest that I have been too busy teaching a condensed course this past week to visit the conference website, but here I am now, responding to your post 5 days later, and binge-watching the other conference videos, so even if I am a bit late to discussions, I don’t feel that all the room for discussion has been taken already by the faster typists.

      I also think that things like the hybrid course you discuss are really exciting innovations (even if they don’t reduce costs or carbon footprint, there is a lot of evidence to show that combining online courses with face-to-face discussions gives students the best of both worlds in terms of their learning outcomes). I have often thought that if I replaced my lectures with online videos and still kept my tutorials, there have been years of my teaching when I could have cut out 12 hours of commuting per week (which really would have reduced my monetary and environmental transport costs — even if that saved time was directly consumed by the additional labor of producing a good digital video).

  8. Samuel Fardoe, Curtin University (Formerly) says:

    Some of the comments could be applied to the use of social media in general – not just online education. When corresponding via the internet, particularly when the media is written, the author can carefully craft a response and reflect prior to clicking “send”. Face-to-face we lose this filter and conversations are more spontaneous. This lack of spontaneity seems to be at the expense of a well-crafted and often politically correct response. In practice we try to use face-to-face in video-conferencing between tutors and students; however, there can be absences and it is much easier to “hide” than when you are in a room with your peers. We also have occasional instances of cyber “bullying”, which also intimidates some students to the point where they will not communicate. All of these are current issues, which can hopefully be addressed by better technologies in the near future. I am also wondering if the extra reflection time is at the expense of “brain-storming” activities which require real-time collaboration to be effective.

    I feel that we are at the very beginning of a period in which online “communities” are studied, and as you say their “power” needs to be understood to be harnessed. Personally i only see an upside in the greater use of online communities and believe that many of the problems we will face need to be solved this way. I think of online communities as an extension of Google (if you will) – a search should connect people with other people that can help you solve problems.

    • Jaigris Hodson, Royal Roads University says:

      Ann here. Samuel, you raise a key point, is there a loss of spontaneity or emergent ideas that can be generated from face-to-face meetings? I think a lot depends upon the moderator, and how actively they are moderating. I think it is possible to have both the extra reflection time and the power of brain-storming in on-line virtual real time conversations. I have now led over 60 of these on-line conversations and am surprised at their ability to generate new ideas and how people seem to spark off one another. The other thing that is amazing to me is the level of trust and mutual respect among virtual strangers coming together who have not met each other. There are two interesting variables here, however. Younger people do not exhibit the same level of trust on-line as older people and I think this is because of differential use of the media, the former have more fluid on-line identities whereas the latter tend to access the internet professionally and not personally? When moderating younger people, it takes much longer to build trust and to have them open up to communicating on-line. The other variable is that academic culture dictates that the written be perfect and there is a loss of spontaneity among them, but when they are deliberatively mixed with community practitioners, civil society leaders and differing ages, the spontaneity is there as the speed of the conversation is so fast if you want to participate, you have to go with the flow. Another interesting point is that younger groups are much faster at the conversational threads than older panels. A last point, one of my students co-led an e-Dialogue as a focus group for her research, and it was on Cosmology, Education and Sustainability: is there a Fit? In that discussion which brought together over 20 ‘experts’, and this will seem odd, a sense of spirituality or connection emerged which I found very surprising. More research needs to be conducted on the role of on-line moderation?

  9. Molly Hall, University of Rhode Island says:


    I have a question about your presentation. I found your comments on online education and the “crisis” in humanities as it relates to economics as well as the ethical imperatives of us as scholars and teachers concerned with what is best for “humanity” both illuminating and timely. My question, however, is: are there any challenges that you believe are posed by digital pedagogy for teachers of the environmental humanities due to the tacit devaluation of material environments such a methodology or format risks reinforcing if left unaddressed?


    • Danen, Dalhousie U says:

      Hi Molly,

      Good question: the ways that physical and digital spaces are framed+valued is an important concern as interactions increasingly move online. My first thought is to note that digital recordings have not diminished the demand for live performances (in theater, music, education, etc), so I’m not sure that the material environments will necessarily be devalued. But beyond that, I think that questions of valuation and devaluation in our capitalist culture are (sadly) more connected to marketing than the inherent nature of things valued or devalued: if online instruction markets its reduced carbon footprint as a selling point, then the very act of communicating digitally instead of commuting physically could be an act that reminds us of the environment that we are impacting less. I agree that there is definitely a possibility for digital environments to ignore the physical, but if valuation of the environment is part of the marketing and the framing of what we do, then digital pedagogy could actually raise the value of material environments in people’s consciousnesses.

  10. Molly Hall, University of Rhode Island says:

    Hello Ann and Jaigris,

    Thank you both for a great talk. Do you think that these “cognitive surpluses” you mentioned can only be harnessed within digital environments and as related to that, since you mentioned the importance of what I think you termed “place” based conversations (?) to compliment digital ones, do filter bubbles exist outside online communities and does this cognitive surplus ever spill over there? I ask as an instructor who teaches hybrid courses. I wonder if there is a way in my classroom to do some of what you describe in a way integrative of digital and in-person classroom communities.


    • Jaigris Hodson, Royal Roads University says:

      Hello Molly,

      Cognitive surplus as described by Clay Shirky is the time we spend participating online rather than passively consuming other media. Filter bubbles exist primarily online due to algorithmic filtering. I’m not sure how to answer your question about hybrid classrooms. I think that one can use the mix of online and in person interaction to inspire new connections, but this fact is independent of filter bubbles.

      • Molly Hall, University of Rhode Island says:

        I guess I was wondering if there was a comparable effect in people’s perceptions of information received through non-digital means. A reductive example would be if I was raised with “conservative ideals” I would necessarily encounter other “liberal” values without going outside of my, could we call it a social bubble, intentionally. Regarding the cognitive surplus, does the motion have to go from passive media to active media, and is there no space for manual intercessions. These inquiries related for me to a hybrid classroom because, while I love the possibilities you both open up in the world of digital communication, I wonder if there is a way to carry over such participation into our face-to-face interactions, and if strategies for getting beyond the filter bubble in the digital realm might have practical application in non-digital social networks.

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