Digital Pedagogy as Transformative Digital Humanities
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting Fresno State University to give a talk at Manning Library to a digital humanities focused Faculty Learning Community about digital pedagogy and digital humanities. Many thanks to David Drexler for the invitation, and to John Beynon and Kathee Godfrey for their hospitality!
I’m sharing the talk and slides below. I spoke mostly from notes, so I’ve tried to recreate it as closely as I can from memory (with some added references). A note of preface: this talk was written for a community is just getting started with dh, and the talk is aimed at people who have never heard of dh, but also was meant to be practical and helpful for those who are already in the field and looking to bring digital methods into their classes.
In any case, enjoy!
Digital Pedagogy as #transformDh
- What is the Digital Humanities?
- Digital Pedagogy, #transformDH, and Transformative Digital Humanities Praxis
- Getting Started
- Additional Resources
What is Digital Humanities?
This is somewhat of a loaded question, but the definition that I’ve heard Miriam Posner and others use, that I like, goes something like this: Digital Humanities is the scholarly endeavor of using digital tools and methods to answer humanities questions.
Digital humanities has been described as a “big tent,” an inclusive umbrella under which many activities and people can be labelled “dh.” (Melissa Terras gives a nice definition and critique of big tent dh here, and Patrik Svensson has written broadly on the topic.) Despite this big tent, dh is known for its large projects. Often big, multi-year grant-funded public humanities projects, featuring collaborations with different institutions and campus units.
Here, shared several examples of long-standing (and some newer) dh projects:
The English Broadside Ballad Archive under the direction of Patricia Fumerton at UCSB. This project has won numerous grants, and is a long-running project involving the work of multiple faculty members, archives (across nations), and has funded many an English grad at UCSB.
The Women Writers Project at Northeastern, and formerly of Brown, which is under the direction of Julia Flanders. This is a massive, multi-pronged project that recuperates, contextualizes, and encodes the work of pre-Victorian women. Though the project shares many materials, their archive and resources are primarily accessible through a subscription.
Six Degrees of Sir Francis Bacon, directed by Christopher Warren at Georgetown, visualizes social networks of Early Modern Europe, with the support of the institution and Carnegie Mellon Foundation.
The Negro Travelers’ Green Book, headed by Connie Geer and Matthew W. Shepard, and hosted by the University of South Carolina Libraries, Digital Collections, and African American Studies Department. This project maps locations present in the Green Book, which documented safe locations for black travelers in the mid 20th century. This project is possible through institutional support and staffing.
In addition to these higher profile projects, there are many projects on shoestring projects. These are often labors of love for those involved, and are created to address social issues or concerns. These are almost always created as public humanities projects as platforms for public education.
Projects aside, there has been a lot of controversy about the digital humanities.
Some have been saying it’s the savior of the humanities:
- Diversifies the way we do our research
- Allows us to reach new audiences (public, interdisciplinary collaborators, etc.)
- Brings money into disciplines that are facing retrenchment
- Opens up new job opportunities for our humanities PhDs (alt-ac, industry)
While, others have been vocal in their critique, often to help shape and mold the practices and methods of the community:
- It’s too neoliberal with is entrepreneurial emphasis on seeking grant funding (several of these critiques are referenced here)
- It’s unsustainable (reliance on soft money, contingent labor of grad students, and temporary staff)
- Too focused on building projects and tools
- Uncritically perpetuating problems of the academy in their quest to innovate or “save the humanities”
- Not theoretical enough (especially in its use of technology and tools)
- Exclusive, plagued by cliquish behavior and in-fighting
Before I go into the main part of this talk, I should preface this talk with a bit of background about me:
I have a PhD in English from UC Santa Barbara, where I studied digital humanities, Asian American, transnational, and global literature & media. Aside from my training in writing composition instruction done in a separate MA program, I don’t have much formal training in pedagogy. Very few graduate students in the humanities receive any pedagogical training. Much of what I will speak about comes from my post graduate school experience working in a library as an academic staff member supporting digital pedagogy and research at a small liberal arts college. Here, I also teach my own courses in Asian American and digital literature. I also serve as the co-facilitator of FemTechNet, a distributed network of scholars, artists, activists teaching and producing resources for teaching feminism and technology. My experience then, comes from a few different perspectives that inform my take on digital pedagogy.
Digital projects can be fancy, get you attention and funding, but ultimately, most faculty in higher ed are not going to be receiving thousands or millions in grant funding to take on digital projects of this scale, we won’t have a wealth of time to travel to or attend workshops to learn new digital skills, to hire technical labor. Our bread and butter is in the daily work of teaching. Teaching is also the one place where we can purposefully weave digital methods and tools into our daily practice to help students engage with course content, reinforce content, etc.
So … Digital Pedagogy. What is it and where does it fall into the umbrella of digital humanities?
Brian Croxall and Adeline Koh, organizers of the Modern Language Association Digital Pedagogy Unconference in 2013, explain it as “the use of electronic elements to enhance or to change to experience of education.” (citation)
If we focus on the “pedagogy” of that phrase…
Jesse Stommel of Hybrid Pedagogy states: “Pedagogy is not synonymous with teaching or talking about teaching, nor is it entirely abstracted from the acts of teaching and learning. Pedagogy is praxis, the place where philosophy and practice meet.” (citation)
Digital pedagogy then, should not be additive.
It’s not just about using technology or digital tools.
- Digital Pedagogy is about:
- Interactive learning – social and active learning
- Brings together theory and practice (Freire and bell hooks)
- Reflexive and critical
- Encourages experimentation, creativity, play, problem solving
- Develops information and digital literacy
We’re not looking for new hammers to hit the same old nails. Instead, digital pedagogy must be self-reflexive.
IF we bring tools into our classrooms, as part of activities, for group projects, as elements of assignments, etc. and we don’t always need to bring tools into our classes, we must always ask a few questions before we do so:
- Is this even necessary?
- Why do I want to bring this into my classes? Purpose of the tool/activity?
- What does it add to the process of learning?
Why might you take on digital pedagogy then?
In my own teaching, and in working with faculty, I would say there are many potential benefits to taking on digital pedagogy in your own classes (or in working with faculty). But, as with all things, it depends on many factors. I would say, however, that there are many potential pros to digital pedagogy if it is undertaken thoughtfully/
- Improve student participation, interest, and ownership of work
- Give them choices and make them responsible to one another
- Encourage undergraduate research and student/faculty collaborations
- Collaboration – collective intelligence
- Communication – learn effective skills to produce content, revise, and share
- Problem solving
- Information & digital literacy
- This is where librarians are super important! Work with your librarians! You know stuff and are so helpful!
- Copyright & Copyleft
- Creative commons
- Open access
- Fair use
- Public Domain
- This is where librarians are super important! Work with your librarians! You know stuff and are so helpful!
- Project management skills
- Delegating duties
- Problem solving
- Community engagement (but discuss with offices of service learning on your campus so you design classes that are beneficial to students and the communities or community orgs)
- Gain awareness of contemporary issues, work toward social justice, public engagement
When we get to the end there, and examine the potential for digital pedagogy, it starts to look an awful lot like critical or radical feminist pedagogy:
- Democratic and non-hierarchical
- Perforated – brings contemporary issues, community, non-students and instructors, etc. into the classroom
- Gives us the chance to have students interrogate the tools they use, the history of them, the politics embedded in their becoming and their use (the Internet, their phones, proprietary software or platforms)
#transformDH and Digital Pedagogy
As a graduate student, I co-founded the #transformDH collective with a handful of other graduate students working at the intersections of critical race studies, gender & sexuality studies, and digital studies. I’m now the Digital Scholar at Whittier College, where I’m the co-coordinator of the Digital Liberal Arts program, where I support digital pedagogy and research, and where the early work of #transformDH still informs the work I do with faculty and staff across the campus.
In a forthcoming “manifesto”/reflection co-written with Moya Bailey, Alexis Lothian, Amanda Phillips, and to be published in Debates in DH 2016, eds. Matt K. Gold and Lauren Klein, we identify the following key claims as constitutive of #transformDH:
- Questions of race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability should be central to digital humanities and digital media studies.
- Feminist, queer, and antiracist activists, artists, and media-makers outside of academia are doing work that contributes to digital studies in all its forms. This work productively destabilizes the norms and standards of institution- ally recognized academic work.
- We should shift the focus of digital humanities from technical processes to political ones, and always seek to understand the social, intellectual, economic, political, and personal impact of our digital practices as we develop them.
These tenets that guide my work, and the work of many who see themselves as somewhat marginal to digital humanities, are essential to how and why we may bring digital elements into our classes.
At my own home institution, we have a very different institutional identity than previous universities I’ve worked at (UCLA, UCSB): We’re first and foremost a teaching college. Though officially secular, we are still Quaker in practice, with a commitment (at least among faculty and staff) to social responsibility and community. We pride ourself on the diversity of our student body, which is 60% students of color, 20% are 1st generation students, and 1/3 of our students are Pell grant eligible. Most of our students hold jobs, if not multiple jobs. Increasingly, our faculty and our administration are reflecting this shift in our student body; they are increasingly less white, less male. Our faculty are aware and sensitive to the notion that we should endeavor to be a Hispanic Serving Institution, and not just a Hispanic enrolling Institution. Across the board, faculty and staff care a lot about issues of race, of gender, of equity.
With this in mind, I firmly believe that in our teaching, we can mobilize digital pedagogy for these transformative purposes.
So, I’ll repeat. It’s not just about tools, it’s about how you use them. Why you use them. Where they come from. How they change or improve learning. How to empower students to go out there and be fearless. To know that they can learn, can teach themselves any digital skill and then use it for good.
Digital Pedagogy: Getting Started
Now that you have an idea of what digital pedagogy is. How can you do it or work to support it? Some things I would encourage all faculty and staff to make sure they do:
- Start small. You don’t have to design fully online classes or convert entire courses into flipped ones! Toe-in-the water assignments or in-class activities. If you’re used to using Moodle, Blackboardm or Canvas, try adding a discussion board, a gallery, or a small wiki assignment. (Lisa Spiro – https://digitalscholarship.wordpress.com/2013/03/04/digital-pedagogy-in-practice-workshop-materials/)
- Live-tweet a film screening (or Etherpad, if you want to stay off proprietary software)
- Collectively map historical locations
- Create a timeline
- Learn the tools and skills you ask your students to learn. This sounds like a given, but I cannot tell you how often faculty expect academic staff to take on this work for them. Create your own example (video, digital book, etc.), and then you can teach and troubleshoot with your students. This is especially important at resource poor institutions where staff end up taking on a lot of extra work to help support innovative teaching.
- Scaffold Everything: break up assignments and build your way up to a larger projects. Guide students to be critical readers of media and help them to gain skills needed for their assignments and for the future: writing, editing, citation, hyperlinking, annotating
- Evaluation – Assessment should be secondary to learning. Design rubrics to fit your class and its learning goals! Tweak existing rubrics, or design them collaboratively with students to meet the specific goals of the course. Have students assess their peers and each other.
- Take risks and allow for failure – Know that there is always a learning curve and that as a class you are experimenting and learning together. Learn from those mistakes and issues and revise the activity for next time
- Share your successes and failures, and ask for advice and assistance – there’s a large community of people working and developing their own teaching who share and build together. Add your voice to the conversation, and learn from the work of others! Use twitter, search blogs, scour Grad and ProfHacker on the Chronicle
And always come back to my own institutional context. What are the strengths and weaknesses of your institution? Always keep your students in mind. They are not digital natives. That is a myth. They’re also not just media consumers. How can we best prepare them for the future? What skills do they already bring to your class? They’re already using social media, producing content, circulating and sharing media – but we can help steer them to do this same activity critically, responsibly, and with purpose.
From Environmental Science to Child Development to English, I’ve worked with Faculty to develop scaffolded assignments using Piktochart (other options include Powerpoint) to translate dense information into visual arguments. This activity is actually deceivingly difficult, and I help faculty to break this project up, starting with a research paper (with citations) and then work to condense that information. I suggest including in-class close-reading activities of effective (and less effective) infographics, and building in peer-review workshops so students can get feedback on their work. As with writing, students need to understand that communicating through visual rhetoric is also a process.
If your institution has an institutional subscription (ask your librarians!) to PolicyMap or SocialExplorer (SocialExplorer also has a limited free edition), students and researchers can very easily map narratives and arguments onto geospatial visualizations using social science data, census information, etc. Alternatives include MapStory, which doesn’t require an institutional license, and doesn’t have its own data sets built it, but which may be more helpful for students working on regions outside the US.
I love pairing with librarians and archivists to bring archival materials into a classroom. It helps students to understand the materiality of history, and gives them experience in working with primary materials. The National Archives have resources on doing this with collections (both visual and textual) of digitized materials curated around historical period. The University of Iowa also made their DIY History project open, which allows students and community members to contribute to transcription efforts that will make the institution’s digitized (but not machine readable) materials accessible to larger publics.
Lastly, the Domain of One’s Own project, which started at UMW, is expanding to a range of different campuses, and allows instructors to teach students digital literacies, and to give them the space and the opportunity to take ownership of their online identities, curate their digital content, and interrogate the tools and platforms that they use.
Facebook Group: DigLibArts, Digital Learning Professionals in Higher Education