What Else Is Possible? – A Pedagogy of Hope

Hope for Poor

As educators we should encourage active reflection, asking students to think about what they produce, while they produce, and certainly after production concludes. But we should also encourage students to consider what else is possible beyond reflection. Our classrooms are full of opportunities and emerging trends, and assessing the possibilities of where learners can take their new-found skills will also give weight to the importance of emerging knowledge. An intellectual catalyst, propelling students into the next cognitive level, while actively reflecting and connecting to present practices, has a positive component that could feed future projects. “What else is possible” with their newly-created skills and understandings? What else could they hope to discover? We could ask ourselves this as well, helping to revive our own teaching practices.

It is within this phase that I create meaning for what is to come. The meaning is never static and is always generative, propelling ideas to elicit growth. I find myself assessing possibilities while I create a course, conclude a study, or complete a project. There is no finality to my actions because my planning and teaching is always in the midst of possibilities and hopes of enlightenment. I’d like my students to experience this as well. Their learning narrative must continue beyond structured class time. Their in-class discoveries must encourage and sustain outside inquiries. In short, their possibilities for expanded growth must be endless and hope-filled.

The best explanation I have come across for the need to assess possibilities comes from Tracy Bowen and Carl Whithaus, authors of the “What Else Is Possible” phenomenon (Multimodal Literacies and Emerging Genres):

“what else is possible” sketches an outline for pedagogies of hope, difference, and challenge to the status quo. Within college writing courses, the emergence of a wide array of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the past twenty years has opened up new possibilities for the types of compositions that students create.

Many educators that I follow on Twitter are already living in the “what else is possible” space, encouraging others to partake in the gray, in-betweenness of instruction, and hoping for impact-filled results. It is a daunting yet rewarding activity comprised of existing knowledge, real-time research, and fluid reaction. I was preparing for an upcoming course on digital storytelling (read “Using Digital Storytelling in the Classroom“) and stumbled across William Ian O’Byrne’s (@wiobyrne), Assistant Professor of Educational Technologies at UNH, #WalkMyWorld project. Professor O’Byrne and other researchers will be using the #WalkMyWorld project to explore the use of digital texts to connect, collaborate, and share. The project is gray in and of itself, encouraging and constantly asking “What Else Is Possible?” I am assuming the researchers will use the morphing effects of social media toward a target to explore future possibilities. Not knowing the future applications of the project creates an exciting unknown, serving as an active example of Bowen & Whithaus’ need for assessing possibilities.

There is no doubt that a hopeful approach to instruction can be used in any grade level and with any level of experience. Although initially unsettling, the excitement of exploring emerging knowledge is enticing to most learners. Simply provide students with the space to reflect and the opportunities to learn from their own creations, experimenting with making meaning without having the meaning defined preemptively. (I’ve found the latter to be the most important component.) Question and assess the possibilities as the effects are experienced. In this manner, new media and new genres will continue to emerge and revitalize learning for both the student and the educator.