08 Aug 2019 - Courtney Floyd

Forecasting for Inclusivity: A "Manifesto"

Do you remember cootie catchers (aka fortune tellers, salt cellars, chatter boxes, and I don't know what-all else)? I made these a few times when I was growing up (probably inspired by that one Arthur episode), and suddenly remembered them this week. I'll get to why I remembered them soon, but first: a better description.

Cootie catchers are folded-paper toys which can be used, much like Magic 8 Balls, to "predict" the future. The folding process makes them into puppet- like objects which open and close, revealing their inner contents. They are usually decorated on the outside with numbers or colors, which are then used to determine the number of times the cootie catcher is opened and closed, which in turn determines which flap one gets to lift. The fortunes, of course, are waiting under those flaps.

A very large cootie catcher with blue, yellow, purple, and pink written on its sections, over patterns of the same colors.
A very large cootie catcher with blue, yellow, purple, and pink written on its sections, over patterns of the same colors.
Cootie catcher with one open flap.
Cootie catcher with one open flap.
Cootie catcher with all flaps opened, beside box of crayons.
Cootie catcher with all flaps opened, beside box of crayons.

So much for the what. Now, for the why:

I've spent the last four days talking and thinking about inclusive design at Digital Pedagogy Lab (DPL) in Fredericksburg, VA, with instructional designers, faculty, librarians, and archivists from all over the world.

If you aren't familiar with Digital Pedagogy Lab, you can read more about it here. But, in brief, it's a five-day gathering in which attendees choose an intensive track, or course. Options this year ranged from Digital Scholarship to Play to Inclusive Design––just to name a few.

Kevin Gannon, whom the Twitter users among you will probably know as @TheTattooedProf, facilitated the Inclusive Design track this year, and had us read the University of Edinburgh's 2016 Manifesto for Teaching Online in preparation for our time together. Almost inevitably, then, we spent some time in this course writing and / or creating manifestos of our own.

"How will your manifesto manifest?" Kevin asked us, early on. The question was a particularly generative one for many of us. When I can, I'll link to a repository we're creating with shared examples from the course––you'll see what I mean.

Miniature origami
Miniature origami "fortune tellers" spelling out "manifesto?" in front of a large origami "fortune teller."

My "manifesto" manifested (as you may have guessed by now) as a very large cootie catcher, accompanied by a number of very small cootie catchers. This manifestation of my thoughts about inclusive pedagogy and design was largely in response to the riveting and powerful keynote, "A New Jim Code? Race, Technoscience, and Liberatory Imagination In Everyday Life," Ruha Benjamin gave at DPL on Monday night (see embedded video below). Benjamin's words about patterns, imagination, and the future stuck with me throughout the week, reverberating in conversations and shaping my approach to "manifesto" writing. If you have the time, you should listen. But I'll share some of her key points below.

Throughout her talk, Prof. Benjamin urged us to recognize that racism isn't a passive force, it's productive in that it works to build things, to imagine futures. Race and technology, she argues, are coproduced. But if racism imagines some futures using tech, we can take to imagination (which Benjamin calls a "field of action") to imagine antiracist futures.

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Part of actively imagining anti-racist, inclusive, equitable futures is recognizing, creating, and disrupting patterns:

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(I had to stop tweeting to just take this in, so I'm glad @Chess_Ess captured the slide!)

I wanted to think through the interconnections between patterns, prediction (which I'm flagging as a mode of imagining the future), design, and technology (from folded paper––which IS technology, after all––to the digital tools with which we work).

Initially, my manifesto manifested as a following list (drawn from my past teaching philosophies and diversity statements as well as the wisdom of others, Ruha Benjamin especially this week!). As I continued thinking and tweaking, I separated the list into paired principles and practices for inclusivity (replicated below):

A manifesto for inclusive digital pedagogy / design

  • Enclosure. Embrace. Both are implicit in the concept of “inclusion.” But embrace without consent is assault. Enclosure without consent is imprisonment. To be inclusive without harm, we must first recognize that “inclusion” can itself be weaponized. 
  • We will use our tools (digital and otherwise) to open up space for informed consent and refusal (for agency and choice) in and beyond our classrooms.
  • Learning requires discomfort, but we should be less worried about whether our students are uncomfortable enough to learn and more worried about whether were uncomfortable enough to teach. Put differently: making sure our students are truly included requires us to move beyond the comfort zones of familiar pedagogical strategies, familiar content, and familiar classroom performances.
  •  We will use our tools (digital and otherwise) to disrupt, displace, disorient, discomfit our own pedagogical predilections and presumptions.
  • If, as Ruha Benjamin argues, “imagination is a field of action,” then we cannot imagine inclusion on our own. Doing so is imposing our imagination of what inclusion means on others. The imagination of inclusive pedagogy must be a communal imagining.
    • The communal imagining of inclusive pedagogy has to include students as well as educators (faculty, instructional designers, etc).
  • We will use our tools (digital and otherwise) to make connections (networks, forums, threads) in which brave collaborative, communal imagining is made possible. We will resist the (digital) learning that has been imagined for us, without us.
  • Inclusivity is a practice, not a task. It is ongoing. It is iterative. It is situational. But it cannot be bounded––it cannot stop at the ‘walls’ of our classrooms. It has to extend all the way through field and discipline, into the academy.
  • We will use our tools (digital and otherwise) to extend the realm of the possible for every learner we encounter.

This is more or less what I've written inside the flaps of the giant cootie catcher. I could have just presented this as a linear list, but I wanted to disrupt a design so common that it doesn't feel like design (the list, the manifesto) and actually require the people who read this manifesto to encounter design as design. More, I wanted them to encounter a design which may not entirely work for, or include, them and which requires a different sort of engagement than linear text on its own. I wanted to think about how imagining can be a sort of fortune telling, how it can predict. I wanted the kitschiness of paper fortune telling to destabilize the militancy of the manifesto as a genre. I wanted to foreground the ways in which technology can be productively (mis)used, its patterns turned upon themselves. Because there is something powerful about the moments when someone uses technology in an unexpected way, reimagining its purpose, making it their own. (Books, like cootie catchers, use folded paper––or did historically––to enable the imagination of worlds, the dissemination of ideas.) I wanted it to be ephemeral, a product of this moment and not a document for all time.

So, this, right now, is my manifesto for inclusive design and pedagogy. It's not all-encompassing, it's not exactly what I envisioned, but I hope that it will help me start conversations. Because that's what manifestos are for, right?