What’s Love Got to Do with It? A Framework of Caring Pedagogy and Student Engagement

Concurrent Session 4

Brief Abstract

What if we already have what we need to be truly connected in our educational encounters – including engaging students? What if connection and engagement does not require technology? What if all we need is love? In this session we will consider the idea of caring pedagogy as an expression of that love.

Sponsored By


Cindy Jennings is Director of Learning Technologies and Cp-PI of a Department of Education Title III Strengthening Institutions Grant (Awarded 2014) at the University of South Carolina Upstate. Under her leadership, this department serves to support digital pedagogy and learning with technology in a variety of engagement modes including face-to-face or fully online environments; blended, hybrid or flipped modes. Further, the department provides instructional design support and guidance for individuals and groups to enhance student engagement; guide in thoughtful technology selection from a critical pedagogical perspective. The department offers instructional design support for individuals and groups and a year-round program of formal and informal development opportunities. Follow the Department of Learning Technologies at USC Upstate hashtags: #DLTUpstate, and #su2sup for the active learning initiative. Cindy's work life in higher education began over 35 years ago with a first teaching position in nursing as a new graduate school grad. Cindy taught at that first institution long enough to earn tenure and be promoted for the first time; then relocated to the beautiful foothills of the Appalachians where she has been with her family ever since. Cindy has had the good fortune to work at her current institution for the past 31 years where she has continued to teach, and has had wonderful opportunities to branch out into MANY other things from support for continuing her education (towards an entirely new direction - where the current teaching with technology focus comes from), to helping create a whole new major/degree program in informatics. Cindy has participated in faculty governance and has served in university administration. Cindy holds a Master's Degree in Education with an Educational Technology emphasis; a Master of Science Degree in Nursing with and Education emphasis, A Post-Master's Certificate in Nursing Informatics; A Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing, and an Associate in Arts Degree in Nursing. Cindy writes and shares aspects of her work on her blog at: https://odnett.wordpress.com/

Extended Abstract

In our continual quest for solutions and systems and strategies and ways to learn better and work smarter and in a more connected way - with technology – those very technologies we so ardently seek are really not the answer. And in spite of other sobering critiques of all that is wrong with technology and how it is altering our ways of knowing and being we continue to invest in them at a heavy, heavy cost of financial and human resources. But what if we already have what we need to be truly connected in our educational encounters – including engaging students?

This session is NOT about chasing elusive innovation or new and different things on the cutting edge. We will consider an essential we have at our disposal – free to all – for really, truly establishing “engagement” in all of its forms. This is a decidedly non-technology-focused conversation at the same time that this message of the centrality of love is key to how we think about the technology we use, especially why we use it.

In our opening activity for the session we’ll recall and tell stories together of our “Best Teaching Day Ever.” We’ll look for the elements of love in that best day. We’ll think about and posit reasons the elements of a best teaching day don’t happen EVERY teaching day. Why? Is it the missing love? By the way, did your best teaching day include technology? How?

Why Love/What’s Love Got to do with It?

In 2016, my good colleague Gardner Campbell proposed a taxonomy of student engagement that included love at the center. Let’s hear Gardner describing the centrality of love in his own words (we’ll hear a clip from his presentation at the University of North Florida’s 3rd annual Academic Technology Innovation Symposium, November of 2015). In that presentation, Gardner quite eloquently speaks about things that evince love like devotion to the health of the class, about learning being so much more than compliance and about helping students recognize each other. He proposes a model that is not hierarchical, one with love at the center and the foundation of a community of teachers and scholars

Further, he reminds us of a most striking (but largely overlooked) idea that we are in fact with our classes and courses of study asking students for a part of their lives! Student engagement then is about devoting some of our limited time to a part of our lives to a shared learning experience. Student engagement is about spending part of your life. Gardner’s framework also includes the additional elements of interest, connection and discipline. Philosopher Eric Fromm (1956) described love as an art, something needing to be practiced. So when we practice love, what is involved? Anthropologist Michael Wesch (2014) describes learning as soul-making. Professor Wesch describes his own experience of actually getting to know his students (that practice of care) by inviting them to lunch, one-by-one.

A Pedagogy of Care – A Framework Built on a Foundation of Love

I want to take these ideas of love a bit further, and propose a framework for caring pedagogy built on a foundation of love. According to philosopher Nel Noddings (n.d.), “… the establishment of caring relations will accomplish everything that must be done in education, … these relations provide the foundation for successful pedagogical activity”. Professor of philosophy Milton Mayeroff (1990) wrote: “To help another person grow is at least to help him to care for something or someone apart from himself, and it involves encouraging and assisting him to find and create areas of his own in which he is able to care…learning is to be thought of primarily as the re-creation of one’s own person through the integration of new experiences and ideas, rather than as the mere addition of information and technique”. So, let’s consider Gardner’s admonition that we remain mindful that classes and courses ask students to give a part of their very lives, and add that integration of new thinking is more than information and technique, protects against fear and builds souls. Let’s put them together, and add generosity as suggested by David Wiley, hospitality suggested by Parker Palmer and soul-making suggested by Michael Wesch. Mayeroff  further includes patience, honesty, trust, humility, hope and courage as ingredients of caring.

Our session conversation will move to a Think, Pair, Square, Share asking participants to consider the various provocations presented and translate them to practical application by suggesting to each other and our session community “how” we can enact love and care in the classroom. We will utilize a collaborative Google doc to compile and share our thinking and the session resources for future reference.

Pedagogy of Care in Online Learning Spaces

To this point, we have mainly considered how the student engagement taxonomy relates to love and care in the physical. The next logical step is to reflect upon how love and care can be evinced in online spaces. We will return to one of the session's original premises, that technology selection and use should arise from a position of love. Our framing quesion: How can the technologies we use actually support connection, and care and love? We will close with a similar exercise to Think, Pair, Square and Share ideas for bringing the elements we have discussed into digital classrooms.


Campbell, G. (2016). A Taxonomy of Student Engagement. Gardner Writes: http://www.gardnercampbell.net/blog1/?p=2511

Fromm, E. (2013 Amazon Kindle Edition, 1956 Original Publication Date). The Art of Loving.

Jennings, C. (2015). Learning does not come first. First Comes Caring, Odnett: https://odnett.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/learning-does-not-come-first-first-comes-caring/

Mayeroff, M. (1990). On Caring, Harper Perennial.

Noddings, N. (n.d.). Caring in Education, Infed: http://infed.org/mobi/caring-in-education/

Palmer, P. (2007). The Courage to Teach, 10th Anniversary Edition. Wiley.

Wesch, M. (2014). Learning as Soul-Making. Digital Ethnography, http://mediatedcultures.net/presentations/learning-as-soul-making/

Wiley, D. (2015). The Deeper Ethics of Education and Open: Generosity, Care, and Relationships. Iterating Toward Openness: https://opencontent.org/blog/archives/3732