Teacher of the Ear 018 — Scholarly Communication
with Hannah McGregor
This is Teacher of the Ear: a show exploring conversations of learning, teaching, and technology, listening for ways to empower educators and champion student agency. It’s the aural side of Hybrid Pedagogy. I’m Chris Friend from Kean University.
In August 2021, the Digital Pedagogy Institute took place online, hosted by the University of Waterloo, University of Toronto Scarborough, Ryerson University, and Brock University. I was one of two plenary speakers at that event. The other was Hannah McGregor. Her presentation asserted that scholarly podcasts are a form of pedagogy. Immediately, I knew I wanted to have her on this show. Then, at the end of the Q&A session, with only a handful of minutes to go, I asked a question along the lines of this: “How can podcasts be best positioned as scholarship in the tenure and promotion process?” Hannah’s response further convinced me to ask for an interview. I’m rather sad the Q&A was not recorded because I would love to share with you her bemused-yet-exasperated response. It was something along the lines of, “I only have five minutes? Darn you, Chris!”
So with today’s episode, I make sure Hannah has more than five minutes. In this conversation, we do talk about how podcasts can be positioned as scholarship, but along the way we challenge the nature of scholarly communication; analyze scholarly publication as a system; question the relationships among teaching, scholarship, and service; and imagine how un-grading principles could apply to tenure and promotion evaluations. It’s a doozy, and it was super-fun talking with her.
Without further ado, here’s Hannah McGregor, Assistant Professor of Publishing at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Hannah: I am a like a material culture scholar by training. My interest is in the kind of dull infrastructure that makes things work. I am really fascinated by the way that like, you know, why do magazines look the way that magazines look? Well, it's actually this really boring practical material consideration of what print technology looked like at the turn of the century and how people were.
I love understanding that stuff, and I think a lot of how the world around us works is buried under layers and layers of being excruciatingly boring, so like policy matters so much, and so I I really love understanding that stuff I don't like the process of working to understand that stuff, but I like having understood it, if you know what I mean. And I'm always trying to teach my students.
Like this week, in in both my graduate and my undergraduate classes, this is supply chain week, so this is the week where I try to convince them that the supply chain is like really interesting.
Chris: How'd that go?
Hannah: It's such a hard sell. It's still so hard, so, but I really I'm just like and it's the same thing with thing like things like metrics, right? Like, it's so boring it's boring on purpose, the same way that like terms and conditions are boring on purpose. And so it's hard, it's hard to convince people to get excited about it, but it matters.
It's helpful this year that the supply chain is broken and that that has been in the news so people are interested in that conversation and it particularly it is extra broken when it comes to books because there's a worldwide pulp and paper and lumber shortage and that, you know, there's there's all kinds of reasons for that, but then that that can be a jumping off point to get us to where I actually want to always get us to. Which is, how could we imagine this system otherwise?
So this is the way that it works now. Where are points of intervention and you can't find points of intervention if you don't understand the system.
Same goes for scholarly communication, right? If you want to figure out how podcasting can fit into the system or be a point of intervention into the system, you do actually have to understand how the system works in the 1st place
Chris: So you are trying to actively and intentionally and deliberately use podcasting as like a mechanism to break the system.
Hannah: Absolutely all I want to do is break systems.
Chris: Awesome, I'm on board.
Hannah: It's all I’m interested in it just want to break things.
Chris: Where do I sign up? Actually, that's kind of a serious question, so.
Hannah: You sign up in your heart is actually the answer. You just commit to being somebody who rather than looking at systems and saying oh that's just the way it works, looks at systems and says OK, where is the where's a pressure point right? OK. Where can I apply pressure to this system in a way that will shift something?
Chris: Okay, so I feel like we need a little like drive-it-home, exemplary moment or something like that. How does podcasting do any of that?
Hannah: Oh my goodness, I mean it can…and it doesn't necessarily. So let me let me back up here. I came into scholarly podcasting, sort of backwards. The way I think a lot of people come into scholarly podcasting, which is I started doing it for fun. A lot of us start doing it for fun. And that fun is maybe because we are seeking out more opportunities for collaborative thinking with other people in our fields, or that we come, we just want an opportunity to work through ideas out loud in some format, rather than only ever you know, writing in articles, completed thoughts, or we have a sense of wanting to be in dialogue with a community that is not the community who reads scholarly journals and so we know podcasts are a way to reach them, or maybe some combination of all three.
Ian Cook who is a collaborator of mine. He's, uh, an anthropologist interested in podcasting. He's got a book on the way out where he interviewed, like over 100 academic podcasters about why they make podcasts. And I'm I'm really interested to get more into that, like, how do people actually think about doing this work?
But for me it was fun and it was friendship like I wanted to make a podcast with my friend and we were having a good time. Bringing that goal in immediately began to shift my sense of what research outputs are for. So as soon as I started thinking, what motivates me to make this podcast? Pleasure was the first one. Fun, friendship, sense of connection, sense of community. We began to build up an audience. That audience began to push back against some of our thinking. Respond to us. Challenge our ideas.
I started to think of my work in terms of community accountability, in terms of accessibility, in terms of speaking to multiple audiences. So all of these senses of what I wanted to do and why got shifted away from the locus of a line on my CV, a job tenure and promotion, all of these sort of conventional goals, right? That say I am producing scholarship for in a sort of traditional model of the academic career.
Chris: In your talk at DPI you posited a question that I, I think three of us confessed in the text chat that we had applauded out loud in our respective homes, like to no one in particular, but our cats or whatever you said something like what would happen if we re-imagined research as being in service to our teaching, not the other way around.
Hannah: Yeah, yeah.
Chris: And if the point of the institution, that's how you said it, that the point of the institution was to teach, and the research was there in service to the teaching, rather than the purpose of an institution being to do research and teaching is in service of that, or is secondary to that and not only do I love that priority, and I will cheer for that every time I hear it.
Hannah: Yeah, I mean it is right that whole idea of, I have to teach so that one day I get to stop teaching, which is kind of at the heart of a lot of that logic of how we progress through the academic career is like I've.
Chris: You're rewarded by teaching less.
Hannah: You're rewarded by teaching less and you earned the right to teach less by teaching a bunch? I think treating teaching like the drudgery one must do on their way to something better, just is a fundamental betrayal to what universities are supposed to do, which is that they are supposed to be places that share knowledge with each other, that we share knowledge with students, and students share knowledge with us, that we share knowledge with the community, and the community shares knowledge with us, right? That we are supposed to be places where knowledge like is developed?
Yes, sure, sometimes I sit alone in a room and think hard about things. That's great. But it's you know if I think hard alone in a room and nobody ever hears it.
Chris: Does it make a publication?
Hannah: Not publication it just it doesn't make a public right like it doesn't it sort of move the world in some way and so, if we are shifting what we think our job is to. That, like we participate in the making of publics, we participate in the formation of communities of thought. We participate in the development of a space to have the conversations we think really matter. Right, if you figure out like what is the thing I'm actually trying to put into action in the world. What am I trying to, to not like check off and accomplish like a list of tasks, but like what kind of space am I trying to make?
Then kinda actually the whole research/teaching/service division just stops making any sense. Because those are all those are just like 3 different, but also deeply overlapping, activities that are arguably in service of the same goal, just like what is what is that goal?
Like that is the question I keep going back to like what are we saying, what are you doing this for? And if it's because you want a swanky office…wrong job path.
Chris: I want to go back 'cause you used a phrase a couple of times that I've not heard before, and I'm wondering if you could either explain it and talk through it or something like that. You mentioned the idea of creating a public. And at several times you used the word public in the plural, that there are multiple publics that we should be creating, and I've not heard of that before. Can you explain how it's possible to create a public 'cause doesn't it already exist? What am I missing?
Hannah: Uh, the public. As a hypothetical construct exists, it is an imagined thing and in publishing as a field, we talk a lot about you know what is, what is publishing doing? When you publish something, what are you doing? And one of the ways that we conceive of it is exactly this, right? Creating a public.
And that goes back to early theorists of the emergence of the public sphere, and how much the sort of emergence of the public sphere built on. Some was built on the emergence of new forms of print culture, right? So we look back to like the rise of newspapers and the way that folks would gather in coffee shops and and sit and talk about what they had all read in the newspaper.
So a public is a community of people who may or may not know each other, might be total strangers, but understand one another to be part of the same community, often in relation to a shared text that they are engaging with and so when you look at sort of these early theorists of the public, they're talking primarily about like a singular public, and the public is in opposition to like the government, right? So like here are the people who are in charge of making decisions, and then here's this imagined thing called the public that can exert pressure against political figures, that can have an opinion. You can have a thing called public opinion which begins to actually have like material consequences, and the reason why the public can develop an opinion is because they are all reading the same thing and talking about it.
Chris: So I think I'm hearing two things from you, I'm going to check myself here. One, you're saying that publics create themselves. They're not something that can be created by authors, publishers, what have you. And at the same time the people who create the distributed texts are almost envisioning that public before they distribute the text, and they are generating the public. like that's that's what it is in my head. You're saying that they make the audience after they make the text. And that they don't actually make it that the audience itself kind of self organizes in response to the text that has been written to this audience that didn't exist until the text existed and thus prompted the generation of the audience.
Hannah: Let me let let's get real specific here. Let's think about so. The first podcast that I made, Witch, Please.
Witch, Please now has a like micro public, right? Which is to say it has an audience, a community of folks who regularly listen to it, who respond to it who don't necessarily know each other but identify themselves as part of this community of people with this shared text that unites them through a sense of identity. People that public was not, did not exist in that exact form prior to the existence of the podcast. But that podcast did not step into a void, right? You don't start making something out of nothing. You make it out of conversations that are already circulating, ideas that are already in the ether.
Rachel Malik has this great article I come back to over and over again called Horizons of the Publishable, where she argues that publication — the possibility of publication — always sort of imaginatively precedes actually making something.
Whether you're making something for an audience of like two or two million, you're always making something with an audience in mind. You always have the possibility of that public in your head. Right? You're not inventing that public so it is. And this gets at the beautiful back and forth that is what it means to make something, right? That you sort of, you create something not out of the ether, but out of a sense of the audience you would like to reach. A sense of the conversation you want to participate in and then you put it onto the world.
And if you are lucky and strategic and, you know, all of these things. (Publishing success is always a combination of luck and strategy.) Then people respond to it and they start doing stuff with it. And how people respond to it and what they start doing with it is like so out of your control.
This is something all teachers know that you can teach exactly the same course exactly the same way 100 times, and it's going to be different every time because you cannot control the way people respond to ideas. You cannot control the way that people develop communities. You cannot control like a classroom as a micro public and that micro public is going to be different every single time. Even if you are feeding the same input into it, because it's not a one way channel, it is a conversation. It is a give and take. It is the responsiveness that develops when you sort of draw people into a conversation about something.
And that's the case — we see this with creators all the time are always like so mad when people are not responding to their stuff the way they want them to respond.
Hannah: It’s just not, that's just not how publics work.
Chris: So with what you were saying, it sounds to me like you're suggesting that creating a podcast and creating a class are kind of in in functional ways the same, and that in both cases we are making a a micro public and and that we have certain controls over certain aspects of it, but not all, and that sort of thing so.
Hannah: Yeah, and you start off right with this imagined right? You know when you're first designing a class and you're imagining you people might be, and so you start off making this thing kind of, uh, with this imagined audience. But then you start actually putting it into the world, and then the real audience is there and they start pushing back?
Chris: Reacting in the way that makes sense for them and they exert force on the shape that that class is taking.
Hannah: Exactly, and if you are really stubborn and want to have like the worst semester ever, you can absolutely refuse to shift anything in relation to how people are responding to you, but like chances are a good teacher you are, you know, adjusting as things go because this is your public.
Chris: And being responsive to the audience that has developed in in response to the material that you have started with. In your talk at Digital Pedagogy Institute you didn't say you didn't talk about how to use podcasts in a classroom. You didn't talk about podcasts as the projects of a class or as the way that our pedagogy can be applied. You were presenting podcasts as a pedagogy themselves. And finding ways to have teachers make a space where students are able to be in control of their own learning. And I was hearing that in what you were just talking about, which is what makes me think, okay, now is the time to hand that soapbox and step back and just let her go.
Hannah: Uhm, yeah. Student agency. It's so powerful and it's so hard to create in a classroom because you are entering into a space that is just full of folks who are so used to all of their agency being stripped away.
Chris: And talking about systems being set up a certain way, this entire system is set up so that we are the people who have we, the teachers have all the agency when we walk into the room and that's the way it's expected to be.
Hannah: Yep Yep, Yep, and trying to I'm doing either un-grading or contract grading all of my courses this semester and the the first few weeks are always about trying to shake students out of the, Was I supposed to…?, Did you expect me to…?, Would I like…? Coming up to me and apologizing for a thing being late, I'm like I don't care. I don't just know I just don't but like that's you know there's a lot of unlearning to be done around student agency in a classroom.
Podcasts are absolutely pedagogical.
They are a publicly facing medium that is often—frequently—about explaining things to people. You know, not every podcast is pedagogical, but podcasts have a pedagogical potential that is at the heart of a lot of the most successful examples of of the genre.
I am interested in using podcasts for scholarly communication. I'm interested in podcasts counting as publications, being considered real research. The more I work on scholarly podcasts, the more convinced I am that a good publicly oriented scholarship always has a pedagogical drive.
And this is something that I that I had kind of like I was increasingly convinced of it as I was working on podcasts and kept thinking like God, the thing I'm doing here is an awful lot like teaching. Like, wow, this just feels an awful lot like teaching, Like, I like put together some ideas, I do my best to articulate them, I put them out into the world of my public, people come back with questions, with points of resistance, with requests, I engage with them. Sometimes a listener will sort of push me on an idea and I'll be like I love that you come on the podcast. Now what we're doing next is I'm talking to you about that idea. And we're going to keep building and you know.
Or, you know, maybe I'll just respond to you on Twitter. Or maybe I'll respond to your email. Or maybe you'll take up your question and address it on air. And the way I think about what I'm doing is going to keep shifting as I as I listen to you talk, you know, respond to me, but then I'm going to keep trying to learn more so that I can keep offering you something that I think is going to be helpful to you as we work through these ideas together.
This is just teaching. This is just exactly what teaching feels like and there was something inside me and that something is the voice of an institution that has taught me that my love of teaching makes me a less serious scholar. Which is something I've heard over and over again, right?
Chris: Yep, if you're if you're a real scholar, you care about research, and if you can't do that then you then you teach.
Hannah: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And that's manifested in the department that I work in, where there are like there are more teaching faculty than research faculty. And those teaching faculty are paid less are like considered, you know, don't have access to sabbatical.
Chris: They're supported less…devalued.
Hannah: Yeah, supported less yes? 100% yeah. And and so so you know there's this voice in my head being like. No, you cannot admit that podcasts are teaching because then the thing that you're doing that you're trying to fool everybody into thinking this research suddenly just becomes more pedagogy. And it's like.
Chris: He's less valuable.
Hannah: Well then you're you know you are un-serious and it was, as is always the case. It was just some like feminist interlocutors pushing back against that thinking that was that breakthrough for me. So part of it was a peer review from Anna Poletti of Secret Feminist Agenda, saying, you know you are positioning this podcast as research, but I think what it's doing is public pedagogy, and I think that's a more exciting feminist intervention, ultimately. That actually centering pedagogy as the work of the university is more profoundly feminist than than just saying like, “research can be public.”
And then a conversation I was having with Brenna Clarke Gray who is a pedagogy scholar and and education technologist at at Thompson Rivers University who you know, said the same, the same thing essentially, but specifically said a public intellectual who's not interested in pedagogy is just a pundit. Right? Which is it's all about that like, is it unidirectional or are you building a public in which there is a sense of accountability in which there is a sense of responsiveness, in which there is a sense of I-ship, right?
So like my job, what I'm trying to do in podcasts is not punditry. I'm not interested. In a soapbox. I'm interested in a conversation. Like, that's what excites me. That's what's great about teaching, right? What's great about teaching is the conversation.
Chris: It's not feedback, it's the interaction. That the collaborative building of spaces, yeah.
Hannah: That's nicely and what's great about podcasting is the conversation, the interaction, the collaborative building of spaces. Like and that's what's great about the very best conferences, and it's what's great about you know all of the most exciting places where our work happens are about the creation of communities of dialogue.
But “communities of dialogue” aren’t on any tenure and promotion checklists I’ve ever seen. And since tenure is more or less the holy grail of academic careers, if something doesn’t make the list of expectations, it’s essentially irrelevant. What usually is relevant comes from metrics: publication counts, citation scores, and influence ratings.
Sherri Spelic (who was the guest in episode 17, which you should totally check out after this one) had this to say about metrics when she wrote Author, Audience, and Parts of Speech in November 2016:
In digital media we like to let numbers and metrics tell the story — the story of reach, of clicks, of views, visits and referrals. These metrics are then readily folded into narratives about popularity, trends, importance, because in the economy of attention, these things matter. These metrics tell us many things but they fail to tell us as writers and as people enough of what we really need to know: Whom did I reach? What was it that resonated? Where was I misconstrued? Then, going a little deeper: What is in this piece for me? What lessons do I want to keep for myself? What would I do well to let go of right now?
The information that we most often crave about audience typically reaches us through other avenues.
If the public work of scholarship is to create communities of dialogue, yet that’s not on a T&P checklist, and if numbers don’t actually tell the story of audience we want to hear, it sure sounds to me like something’s broken. I think we need to talk…about metrics.
Hannah: We're going to have to talk about metrics, and that's great. I love talking about metrics, but also it's sort of the worst part of this.
Chris: I have the benefit of seeing your face as you say that and I still can't tell if you were being sarcastic there, do you love talking about metrics?
Hannah: I do. I do love talking about metrics. So here's another thing the university is really good at. We talked about how the university is really good at extorting labor out of people in the promise of a possible future imagined ideal life. Another thing the university is really good at is taking anything that is resistant to it and eating that thing in a process that is often known as interpolation. But that is basically about… There's this great piece called The University in the Under Commons by Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, who are Black scholars talking about the possibility of doing resistant work within the university as an institution. And their argument is that the university is an institution that gets stronger the more you critique it, because its value is tied to its identity as a space where critique happens.
And so the more you critique the university, it's like, fools, you're only making me stronger, right? Like shoot, we're just using the wrong weapon. This is critiquing university and it's like perfect, great you're, you're just thank you, thank you for that.
Chris: Thank you, bring yes, bring me more.
Hannah: Thank you for doing that intellectual labor. The more you critique me, it's the stronger I get and and they have this idea of the of the Under Commons, which is basically a space where people sort of slip into the institution and steal from it and that's sort of the radical potential of what you can do in the university mostly has to do with stealing from it.
Chris: Theft, yeah.
Hannah: But this argument that the university is really good at absorbing critique and just making itself stronger through that absorption I think really holds true with the possibility of podcasting. Which is: There is nothing inherent about podcasting as a medium that makes it resistant to metrics, to the neoliberal logics of the institution, to, you, know, being reduced back into listener count, download numbers, proof of impact, citation rates, all of these sort of numerical ways that we count and value the output of scholars.
There's nothing about podcasts that ultimately at the end of the day is going to resist that and it is, I think, a fool's game to pretend that in fact there is any medium or any technology that will save us from late capitalism and neoliberalism.
Chris: Think we could agree to that yeah, yeah.
Hannah: Right, yeah, yeah right so it's not going to be like…podcasting is not resistant to metrics. In fact, we can see the way that sort of podcasting as a as a trade as an industry is developing is that it is in fact very quickly developing increasingly granular metrics largely for selling ad space. That that same logic can absolutely be imported into the university very easily, and so I think that there is this this temptation for podcasters and I fall into this myself.
I just I just applied for tenure and my tenure application is full of download numbers like it absolutely is. Because there is this temptation to say like, OK, you know my citation metrics for my published articles are like oh, six. That one got cited 6 times. That's like my most cited piece ever. It's like, six…cool, but
Chris: It's exciting, it's exciting.
Hannah: Look how much bigger this number is. Right? Like this got cited 6 times, but episodes of Witch, Please have been downloaded 2.5 million time. Like, that is a bigger number.
Chris: Objectively, yes.
Hannah: I'm not a scientist, but I'm pretty sure that's a bigger number, so that bigger number, very exciting, nice to put on a CV, looks great. As soon as we let podcasting just become another way in which numbers indicate our success or the value of our work, we have lost. What I think podcasting offers us is an opportunity to reconsider what we value in what we do.
We're going through this moment right now in my department. Our most recent collective agreement has specified that the university can no longer use student evaluations in the merit reviews of instructors. Which is great, right? It's supported by research that those evaluations for the most part only indicates student bias against particular kinds of faculty. We can still do them right? We can still use student evaluations, but there they'll only be for faculty’s personal use for course development and they cannot be used in merit reviews anymore
And so that invites the question: How would we like our teaching to be evaluated?
Because that is, you know, for some of us it's a significant part of our work, and for some of my colleagues, it's all of their work. So that gives us the opportunity to step back and say, OK, how do I want my teaching to be valued? Well, what does teaching success look like for me? What does it mean to me that I have done a good job? And how would I like other people to see that I have done a good job?
So will it be people coming to my class and observing me teach? Will it be people looking at the work my students produce? Will it be people, you know, looking at my syllabus, will it be me doing narrative self reflection where I talk through how I have adjusted my course this year over year? What will it look like for me to actually articulate to you? What matters to me about teaching and how I know I have done a good job?
Podcasting is structurally akin to not using student evaluations anymore, which is to say it's a shift in an established system that has given us a little gap through which we can rethink something about that system. Right, so it's nothing inherent about the medium, but the opening up of a small space to step back and say what matters to me here. How do I know if my publication has been a success? And how would I like my colleagues to look at my publication record and see its success, right? If I stop just thinking according to the like, totally dehumanizing metrics of: How many articles did you publish? How many times did they get cited? How high profile was the journal that you published in? That stuff, and start thinking like, What do I actually want my work to do?
Chris: Yeah, you're talking about un-grading the Academy.
Hannah: Yeah, yeah.
Chris: Because you just mentioned that then when you.
Hannah: Yeah, I've never thought about it that way.
Chris: I'm great, it's fun.
Hannah: That's great.
Chris: Yeah, because you have students come up to you the first week of class when you say I'm I'm on grading this semester, students struggle with the whole, How do you want me to do this? What do you want out of this? Do you say it's good? And we have to unlearn that and say no, how do you know what's good, and what are you attempting to do with this assignment, and where will success be measured in your head? And how will you know that you've achieved that? You're just trying to do that on an institutional scale, or no across academia. You're trying to say that institutions are need to un-grade.
Hannah: Let's write an article called Un-Grading the Academy.
Chris: I am totally in for that.
Hannah: Great, I'm writing this down right now. That was great framing. I absolutely just, you just blew my mind. You're absolutely right, it's exactly applying that logic of like we know. Again, it's like how do we rethink all of the structures of the Academy when we take pedagogy seriously? Well, here's something when we take pedagogy seriously, we start rethinking evaluation and start thinking you know, how do I actually create spaces in which learning can happen rather than people just trying to check off a bunch of boxes. And like psychically, determine my secret desires, which is what students are mostly trying to do so, like if I.
Chris: That's what the T&P process is. At most institutions we're trying to psychically divine what the T&P committee wants us to do.
Hannah: 100% and it's full of all of the same kinds of hidden curriculum, tacit knowledge that we all we know is all like a huge structural barrier to access to nontraditional faculty and non traditional students. And un-grading, like the premise of of divorcing learning from these kinds of metrics, is a school of thought that came out of pedagogy and that we can then draw it into the rest of our practices as scholars and be like, actually yeah, let's un-grade everything.
Hannah: Oh great. What a great breakthrough. That’s thrilling.
Chris: I'm excited.
You've been hearing Teacher of the Ear, a production of Hybrid Pedagogy.
Just because the show is over doesn't mean the conversation ends. Everyone who contributed to this episode is accessible through Twitter, and so is the show itself. Along those lines, @TeacherOfTheEar and @chris_friend would like to thank @hkpmcgregor for chatting with me for today's show. Special thanks also to Sherri Spelic (@EdifiedListener) for recording her quote. Our new theme music is by Blue Dot Sessions. Speaking of new, we’re now hosted on Anchor.fm, and you can subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts.
So that’s it for this episode of Teacher of the Ear. But the full catalogue of episodes, including show notes and complete transcripts, lives at hybridpedagogy.org/podcast. That’s hybridpedagogy.org/podcast.
I’m your host and producer, Chris Friend, from Kean University in Union, NJ, where the weather feels two months too early for my native-Floridian sensibilities, which is both lovely and terrifying. Until next time, I’ll go find a coat, and let’s all keep our ears open for more ways to empower educators and champion student agency.
Thanks for listening!