Digital Pedagogy and Transformative Digital Humanities


The following are notes from a brief talk I was invited to give recently at UCSB for their annual Research Slam, #SyncDH.

Some context:

Coming back to my grad school institution, I reflected on my own experience as a student there, and I planned this talk to help those grad students with little to no pedagogical training. For example, in my time at UCSB, I had two days of TA training, and then anything I learned by osmosis from observing faculty or TAing for them. I was very fortunate to have worked some amazing teachers, but teaching, as I have learned the hard way, is not something I was born doing well. I takes a lot of work, a lot of risk, and occasional failures.

For this talk, I reflected on some experience I’ve gained over the past year as the Digital Scholar for the Digital Liberal Arts Program at Whittier College, where I hold an alt-ac position supporting digital pedagogy and research at a small liberal arts college and Title V minority serving institution in South Los Angeles. I should say that I’ve worked with faculty in a range of different departments across our liberal arts curriculum on designing large semester-long projects and small one-off digital activities, so these are some observations gained from that experience thus far.

The presentation itself was about 10 minutes long, so I simply prepared some bullet points for the talk which are shared below along with the slides.

What is digital pedagogy?

Brian Croxall and Adeline Koh, organizers of the #MLA13 Digital Pedagogy Unconference, explain it broadly as “the use of electronic elements to enhance or to change to experience of education.” (citation)

The most important aspect is “pedagogy”. 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)

It’s not just about using technology or digital tools. We’re not looking for new tools to do the same old job. Instead, it’s important to reflect on those tools, why we bring them into our classes, and what they add to the process of learning. Likewise, I would suggest we consider what it is about the digital that we want to infuse in our classes: networked connectivity, modularity, collaboration, etc.

Ideally, there are a few ways that digital pedagogy can improve our teaching:

  • Interactivity – social and active learning
  • Brings together theory and practice (Freire and bell hooks)
  • Reflexive and critical
  • Encourages experimentation, creativity, play, problem solving
  • Helps students develop information literacy

Why might you want to take up digital pedagogy in your own classes? 

  • 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
  • Students are given the opportunity for/to:
    • Collaboration – collective intelligence
    • Communication – learn effective skills to produce content, revise, and share
    • Problem solving
    • Project management skills
      • Delegating duties
      • Problem solving
    • Learning Information literacy
      • Work with your librarians! They know stuff and are so helpful!
        • Copyright
        • Creative commons
        • Open access
        • Fair use
        • Public Domain
    • 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

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. This is education that is democratic and non-hierarchical, in classroom that are perforated, bringing contemporary issues, non-students and instructors, etc. into the classroom.

How do you do it?

  1. You can 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 of Gauchospace, here, try adding a discussion board, or a gallery, or a small wiki assignment.
    • Live-tweet a film screening
    • Create a timelineCollectively map historical locations
    • Make a video essay
    • Design an infographic
    • Build a blog or website
    • Edit Wikipedia
    • Produce a digital book in Scalar
  2. Learn the tools and skills you ask your students to learn. Create your own example (video, digital book, etc.), and then you can teach and troubleshoot with your students.
  3. 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
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 GradHacker and ProfHacker on the Chronicle.

I always come back to my own institutional context, a teaching college where 60% of the student body is students of color, many first-generation, working-class students. Always keep your students in mind. How can we best prepare them for the future? What skills do they already bring to your class? They’re not just media consumers. 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.

**For a more extensive discussion of digital pedagogy I’d recommend checking out the work ofLisa Spiro, whose blog posts and presentations have been infinitely useful. Her presentation “Digital Pedagogy in Practice” is especially helpful.

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