[Image Description: A man in a top hat, with sideburns, a handlebar moustache, and a pince-nez, is holding an old-timey contraption with a very large hearing trumpet to his left ear.]

In this keynote given at the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute at the University of Mary Washington Sean Michael-Morris talks about the act of radical listening and its capacity to amplify voices that have been silenced; about the universalising (and dehumanising) assumptions underpinning the origins of instructional design and its contribution to today’s sterile and depoliticised online learning environments; and, of the messy, hopeful, riotous, entangled, and subversive act of learning.

Learning is a subversive act.

It is not an act of recall. It’s not an act of imitation, regurgitation, repetition. It’s never passive.

Learning is a subversive act, and so must teaching be — not out of compulsion, but from logical necessity. If learners are to move from what-we-know into what we do not yet know—from recall to emergence—or more importantly, from oppressed to liberated — then teaching must also deal in what we do not yet know. It must deal in the stuff of real struggle.

Emergence isn’t pretty. It’s not a flower opening. It’s rough, complicated, unruly, embarrassing… and in that way full of wonder.

“To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin.” ~ bell hooks

Learning is not safe. In fact, to learn is to take a risk, to become an aerialist, to put your head in the lion’s mouth. Learning is a death-defying act. And though it takes place largely within the confines of silent classrooms and sterile learning management systems, within the mind of the learner, riots can occur.

How can we orient classroom encounters (online or otherwise) away from being ‘user spaces’ (characterised by instruction, direction, quantified learning objectives, conditioned recall and application) towards being ‘learning spaces’? How can we listen better and listen with a silence not born of apathy or indifference but one which is pregnant with hope, which yearns for justice, and which is attuned to the murmurings of difference?

What would your course look like if you rewrote its learning objectives as per Sean’s (only half-in-jest) suggestions below?

At the end of this course, you will:

  • Give tongue to interesting thoughts of your own soul;
  • Gain from dialogue the power of truth;
  • Abhor and detest your enslavers;
  • Understand how the silver trump of freedom rouses the soul.

Pssst. The keynote is great and worth a read. And if you like the keynote and are curious about Sean Michael Morris’ work, check this out: ON LOVE, CRITICAL PEDAGOGY, AND THE WORK WE MUST DO


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