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Mute as Bottles—A DPL Reflection

Evelyn Helminen blog post about Digital Pedagogy Lab


I was just looking over my notes from Digital Pedagogy Lab.

Evelyn's Digital Pedagogy Lab Hashtags

I don’t take notes the same way that other people do. A few years ago, I brought an unlined artist’s sketchbook to a conference, and found myself illustrating my notes. I only recently started calling myself an artist, but I’ve never identified as a good doodler; I’ve always been embarrassed of the quick sketches that come out of my brain. However, it was freeing to me, after years of taking notes in a “College Ruled” notebook in school, to be able to draw little pictures, write in bubble letters, turn my notebook sideways, write big, write small, frame my words, and generally allow my left brain to take control over my note-taking. I’ve given myself permission ever since, to do my own version of “sketch-noting.”

Evelyn's Digital Pedagogy Lab Notes, Notebook

It was interesting, then, to look back at my illustrated DPL notes to see what stood out to me. I was in the “Writing About Teaching” track led by Jesse Stommel, and we were given hours of time to get away just to write. I chose, for the most part, to use my pen and notebook instead of my laptop, so I was able to see a very visual representation of my time at DPL. Thirteen out of twenty-two (13/22) were solid pages of writing. The rest were visual notes.

So for my DPL Reflection, I’ve decided to share excerpts from my notes:


Part of the reason I chose the “Writing About Teaching” track was because I love to write, but I haven’t had a lot of exposure to what it means to “write about teaching.” 1

I’m not a teacher, per se. I lead workshops all the time, and I do plenty of 1:1 consultations, but I don’t stand in front of a class on a regular basis, and I don’t do any lesson plans or grading. I’ve been out of school for over a decade, and in my professional life, I’ve never had to do academic research or publish journal articles. I write for fun—fiction and non-fiction—blogging, private journaling, noveling, occasional poetry and song-writing.

Evelyn's Digital Pedagogy Lab Notes, Writing About TeachingSo I didn’t feel like I had a firm grasp on what kinds of writing teachers do.

I started making a list based off of our discussions during the week:

  • Syllabus
  • Letter of introduction/invitation
  • For tenure
  • Report cards
  • Journal articles
  • Keynotes
  • Course descriptions
  • Lectures

It had never occurred to me that this is all considered writing. I was starting to understand.


Audre Lorde, The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action

It was a powerful essay, more so because we took turns reading it aloud. All the different voices in the room mixed with the voice of the author to give a complex piece of writing even more nuance, such as when one of the white males in the room said the words,

“Because I am woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself – a Black woman warrior poet doing my work – come to ask you, are you doing yours?”

After reading it aloud, we had some silent time to identify the passage(s) that stood out to us the most. I was drawn in by the very first line, and decided to write it down in my notebook. Originally I chose it because I was struck by the end of the sentence, but as I wrote, and reflected on what it was saying, I realized there were several parts that were powerful.

Evelyn's Digital Pedagogy Lab Notes, Bruised

The sentence was: “I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”

I was immediately glad that I had decided to write the entire sentence, instead of just underlining the last three words in the text. Read it slowly aloud several times, emphasizing different points and you’ll see what I mean.

Another passage that resonated with the group was, “…if you don’t speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth from the inside.” I wanted to try to draw that. Here is my hilarious attempt:

Evelyn's Digital Pedagogy Lab Notes, Punched in the mouth

And a few more:

Evelyn's Digital Pedagogy Lab Notes, Rob Ourselves
Evelyn's Digital Pedagogy Lab Notes, Choke
Evelyn's Digital Pedagogy Lab Notes, Mute as Bottles

“We can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles.”

“All the endless ways in which we rob ourselves of ourselves and each other.”

“Waited for someone else’s words… the weight of that silence will choke us.”

I forgot how interesting essays can be. We don’t really take time to read them anymore, as regular people. I definitely recommend reading this one, if you’re interested in delving into something designed to make you think.


I have always thought a shitty first draft was…shitty. Meaning: hated by all. No one wants to read a first draft, so it better d#$n well be revised before you let anyone else lay eyes on it. But my mind was opened to a different interpretation of Shitty First Draft. I learned that there is honesty in the first draft, a type of rawness that you just don’t see with polished writing. Some people actually enjoy reading your incomplete thoughts and your unedited ramblings.

Wow. Paradigm shift!

We also discussed questions like, What is good writing? What is writing for? What is “done” writing? What is writing? As usual, with this type of granular focus, we didn’t come to any mind-blowing conclusions. The consensus was that it’s all about your frame of reference, and words are simultaneously important and they don’t matter. 2

Evelyn's Digital Pedagogy Lab Notes, Shitty First Draft


I have a lot more notes and bits of writing from DPL, some of which make me laugh, some of which make me cringe, and all of which help me remember the intense and interesting week I had in Fredricksburg, VA. I have a much better appreciation and understanding of the different types of writing there are. And, as a weird side effect from being surrounded by it for a whole week, I feel slightly more comfortable talking about “pedagogy.” 3


Evelyn's Digital Pedagogy Lab Notes, Uncomfortable

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