#DigPINS Week 3: Where does your Pedagogical Authority come from?

Let’s set the record straight: I do not have a Masters or PhD in Instructional Design.

So, how can I claim Pedagogical Authority with faculty members or my peers who do?

That’s what I would like to reflect upon during Week 3 of #DigPINS. Yesterday, I was a part of a conversation with a subset of Pedigo.me, which is a group of instructional designers and other folks who have a ton of Authority for doing online learning and related work. In our discussion of pedagogy and digital pedagogy and even critical digital pedagogy, the following question came up (I’m paraphrasing): “Do you think that it is OK to do the work that we do, without being steeped in, and deeply understanding, learning theory?”

As it turns out, nobody wanted to argue the point that you didn’t need to understand learning theory or the history of research on learning theories (or at the very least, what good teaching and learning practice looks like). But, multiple folks on the call went so far as to say that their work in learning design was predicated upon the authority they claim from their education on the subject, specifically their advanced degrees (Masters/PhD) in learning theory, Educational Technology, or Instructional Design.

Now, I have always struggled with the idea that going through a Masters program or a particular series of study that is credentialed by an outside institution as the ONLY way to claim authority. (I’m sure my bias is showing here a bit.)

I understand that is the way that a lot of the world works, and that you can claim authority by the education that you accrued from an institution recognized for doing that work. The system of authority is well worn and can be leveraged successfully by many. You took classes in “this topic” and all of “those classes” added up to “such and such degree” in “this concentration”, and you were able to claim that authority. You were able to say to the world that “this institution” will vouch for me, “this place of learning” said I know how to do something and I have demonstrated it to them sufficiently to put the degree on my resume. And in some ways, you are saying that others should listen to you based upon “this credential.” That is the root of a certain type of authority.

And yet, I cannot do that.

So, my Pedagogical Authority has to come from somewhere else. I could say that I know “what is best for learners” or I know “what is best for teachers and faculty members”, but unless I can draw upon a separate authority, those are just words. Essentially, I must rely on a form of validation that is not externally established. I must carry it with me.

So, I would propose that an alternative Authority comes from two things: Expertise and Experience.

Expertise is the ability to demonstrate that you have a particular skill set.

Experience is the actual work of demonstrating that skill set.

Authority, of this type, should come from the combination of your expertise and your experience. I have expertise in instructional design, and I have experience helping to create courses or helping to develop effective facilitation techniques in the classroom and online. I have both expertise and experience for participating and leading online forums, online classes, and on my communities. I have expertise in building things online. Lots. of. Things.

I do not have credentials that say that I do those things. I do not have an engineering degree that says I can build apps or make the next great VR experience. I do not have an instructional design degree that says I know how to make a good course or use universal design for learning. And yet, some folks to grant me the authority to do those things (and pay me for them, actually). They have validated my expertise and provided the opportunity for me to gain more experience. They believe I have sufficiently demonstrated my expertise and shared my experience such that I can engage in the work that I do.

So, I guess I have the authority without the credentials.

As I see it, the credentials simply short circuit the expertise and experience argument. They serve as a substitution for experience and demonstrated expertise. Those with credentials don’t have to share their portfolio to prove they can do the work, but I do. I have to provide examples of the ways in which I have transformed learning environments or made important contributions to the cannon of learning. I have to look at job applications for the line that reads, “substitute an advanced degree for x years of experience in the field.” And, I have to be okay with that being enough.

And yet, in many ways, I feel like some folks use the advanced degree as a crutch. It is a reason not to share a portfolio of work. To “hide behind the transcript” and not have to actually implement the things learned in a PhD program or show that they make sense in the classroom or online space. Now, I don’t want to discourage people from going for higher degrees or disparage people who are doing research or those who choose to demonstrate in a formalized way and cultivate their expertise, backed by an institution of learning. But, I do want to be able to claim my own hard-won Pedagogical Authority and speak to Faculty members, and to even peers, who have those credentials. I want others to be able to see that I have done my research, I have gone through the process of teaching and learning, for myself.

I do not claim the same authority that you have as a PhD holder. But, I do claim authority. It is not the authority of formal research into Learning Theory. But, it is the authority of applied and action research. I do not claim the authority of learning in a graduate level classroom. I claim the authority of applied learning, on the job.

More than that, I claim the authority of passion. I claim the authority of Geeking out about obscure corners of the internet and READING AND ANNOTATING ALL THE THINGS. I claim the authority that can only come from years of demonstrating value to others. It is the years of folks wanting, needing, and using the things that I have created that allows for me to claim Authority. I hope that works for you…

With all of that said, I’d love to ask:

From where do you claim your pedagogical authority?

Leave a Reply