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Digital Pedagogies

digital pedagogiesThis image, shared from an article at teachthought.com, contends that the digital pedagogue is a particularly open minded individual posited toward inspirational expansion. I, myself, find that I engage with digital interfaces in my classroom and teaching. However, my range of motion therein is limited. That is to say, I know how to make assignments available to my students in a digital realm, but in some ways it ends there. This short quote highlights the principles of the digital humanities that scholars like Jesse Strommel contend are the strengths of a digital pedagogy model in the classroom.

This article highlights four of Strommel’s main points regarding the digital humanities and pedagogy:

1. It centers its practice on community and collaboration

2. Must remain open to diverse, international voices, and thus requires invention to reimagine the ways that communication and collaboration happen across cultural and political boundaries

3. Will not, cannot, be defined by a single voice but must gather a cacophony of voices

4. Must have use and application outside traditional institutions of education

These four principles show how digital pedagogy is less about technology, but more about what technology may have been teaching us since it has come to the forefront of our critical and social engagements in the digital age. This sense of community, openness, plurality, and use not only stands to shift the atmosphere of a classroom, but also aligns with the way we look at (and what we look for in) Literature.

Perhaps, the coolest tool we can gain from conversations surrounding the digital humanities is quite simply a pedagogical model that is both timely and timeless.

 

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Erik Champion: Digital Culturalist

Erik Champion’s WordPress site https://erikchampion.wordpress.com/ displays the form of a true digital humanist. Champion is the current professor of Cultural Visualization at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. His forthcoming work, Critical Gaming: Interactive History And Virtual Heritage focuses on game play and the digital humanities, as well as the intriguing idea of ‘critical play.’ A chapter by chapter rundown exists on the page of the same title https://erikchampion.wordpress.com/2015/01/15/looking-for-suitable-cover-image-critical-gaming-interactive-history-and-virtual-heritage/. Check out the Mindmap at the DH tab, and explore a PDF of Champion’s Doctoral thesis “Evaluating Cultural Learning in Virtual Environments.” Champion is major player in the European digital humanities field with an impressive list of work in the data visulization and digital culture areas. The work in screen warping and biofeedback are worth the visit.

The Trolling Edge

The ‘Web’ is a problematic non-space, this we all know. Or, if you don’t, spend a few minutes reading Youtube comments, another non-space where racial epithets and homophobic speech seem to breed and thrive. At times it appears as if some valve holding back the flow of all the petty self-reflective hate has been cranked wide open. Natalia Cecire tackles this space, and intellectual writing’s place there, in her “Everybody’s Authority,” naming the specific concern among analytical writers that their carefully wrought arguments mix with these comments. A proverbial statement goes as such, ‘when one argues with a fool, at a distance it becomes impossible to tell who’s who.’ And it doesn’t take scads of imaginative prowess to envision an academic hesitating to publish work, real work, and risk even sharing the slightest space with the ever-present storm of irresponsible language. Quoting Jodi Dean, Cecire notes the “[b]loggers’ ability to remove certain physical barriers to access” and the “confrontation with the intractability…of other, less arbitrary barriers” (Cecire 455).

 

Cecire is correct in bringing attention to yet another reason why…well, everyone, not just scholarly writers, should pause before publishing anything that’s separated from anyone at any time by a mouse click, thumb tap, or Enter key. If I, for instance, speak of race, or roll around the age old question of a Mark Twain’s, or Zadie Smith’s for that matter, use of those words that feel like knives in the ear canal, will some bodiless set of ten fingers take me for some Neo National Socialist shining light, because it doesn’t understand what I’m critiquing, how I’m critiquing it, or (stay with me) WHY I’m critiquing it?

 

As Cecire makes a clear, “the fantasy of a universal, context free civility…is ultimately unavailable to the semipublic intellectual” (458). So this is how it is. Just as freedom means risk in the physical world, so goes the non-space, revealing itself to be more and more like the flesh-and-blood world as it evolves. An upside exists. Somewhere, amidst the flow of never-ending 1’s and 0’s, we as opponents to the illness, the anti-knowledge of hatred and persecution, need to work to discover Cecire’s new “poetics” and move forward (458).

 

Works Cited

Cecire, Natalia. “Everybody’s Authority.’ PMLA 130.2 (2015): 453-458. Print.

Not all Digital Pedagogy has to be Digital!

As an ENG 1100 instructor, I feel compelled to share my findings in a new assignment that I tested out on my students this semester. The experience is what follows:

Instead of forcing students to make your everyday, typical PowerPoint presentation for their class project, consider something that is more enjoyable, and engaging.

For an Academic Writing and Reading college classroom, students were given a class “theme” on the first day of class. For this class in particular, the theme was “Animal Aspects.” For their research paper, students chose their own issue within the animal world to research. Some students chose animal testing, poaching, endangered species, and dog fighting. After their research paper was complete, students were asked to participate in a class “Animal Expo Conference” as a substitute for PowerPoint presentation over their findings. For the Expo, students compiled the findings from their research paper into a professional looking pamphlet or brochure for the class. In addition, students made “expo items” similar to those you find at a real expo fair. Some students made topic related food, while others had business cards, wrist bands, and customized pencils to hand out to everyone.

On the day of the “Animal Expo Conference” each student set up their area and prepared a short synopsis of their research and their argument  as to why, for example, “dog fighting must stop.”

Students showed a much higher level of engagement for the project and admitted that they actually had fun.

So, next time you consider assigning your average, run-of-the-mill assignments, consider the alternatives!

Getting Your Intellectual Hands Dirty

In debates about the role of academics and intellectual publishing, a set of buzzwords gets tossed around frequently: insularity, ivory-tower, town/gown. In all of these terms there is the assumption of an inherent divide between the academic and the public, an idea that semi/public intellectual work is seeking to remedy. I would like to posit that to make further progress against this limiting binary, academics must be willing to engage with the public. Note that public engagement need not be synonymous with dumbing work down, nor does public engagement automatically exclude the possibility of publishing within the academic community. However, only once academics are willing to get their intellectual hands dirty will intellectual work start to have more of an impact in the world at large (whether large impact is the desired end goal is a discussion for another day).

Creating this public engagement without sacrificing intelligence is one of the challenges of this movement, but it is a challenge that won’t be met unless ambitions intellectuals are willing to step up, renegotiate the terms of ‘public intellect’ and take success and mistakes in stride. In, “In the Context of Infinite Contexts,” Hua Hsu suggests that, “We must leave behind the old language and precepts and build new relations with the public” (466). What does this look like? We can’t fully know yet, partially because the shifting digital plane alters the way we communicate every day and partially because any bold movement has elements of the unknown, risking the safe status quo for the hope of something better.

The inevitable pushback will come in many forms. In an article urging academics to continue publishing obscure academic work, James Mulholland suggests that his research on British colonial authors that have seen little readership since the 1790s holds value because it, “builds on themes that are important to our modern society, such as the possibilities or failures of cross-cultural dialogue, the relationship between corporations and social communities and the sharp tongue of satire in political discourse” (np). All valid points. What Mulholland fails to articulate is why this work must be cloistered within academia instead of being ported to a semipublic stance. Furthermore, his list of valid points includes few ideas for how his obscure research might spring to life down the road. Instead, his hope hinges on his currently obscure work someday becoming relevant, potentially long after he has passed.

Based on these perspectives, I see little reason why academics should shy away from public engagement. If Mulholland aims for public engagement and fails, so be it. It does not preclude his work from becoming important in a future theoretical scenario. There already exists substantial stereotyping of academics as reclusive, cryptic, and fully happy to stay that way. Unless academics are willing to engage the stereotype and get their intellectual hands dirty, that stereotype will continue to dominate and the chance for impactful academic work will remain marginal.

Works Cited

Hsu, Hua. “In the Context of Infinite Contexts.” PMLA 130.2: 2015. 461-466. Web.

Mulholland, James. “Academics: Forget About Public Engagement, Stay in Your Ivory Towers.” The Guardian. 2015. Web.

Flow of Public Scholarship

publin books image

Does academic writing need to be so academic? This question asks if academic writing needs to cater to only other scholars who could possibly understand academic concepts. This is a question that has been circling around the classroom lately. An issue with scholarly writing is that it’s marginalizing itself by focusing its audience on other scholars who would understand a higher level of writing.

However, all book lovers aren’t always interested in pursuing a degree in literature, so how can the general public also contribute and read intellectual writing without subscribing to a library database? It seems that Sharon Marcus has found a sort of “in-between” platform for intellectual writing called Public Books. In “How to Talk About Books You Have Read,” Marcus claims “Readers outside the academy are clearly curious about what scholars have to say about contemporary books” (475).

This literary platform reviews books, fashion, film, television, emerging trends in environmental history, technology criticism, museums, and music writing by embracing an immense and diverse range of contributors from scholars to journalists to undergraduate students. Marcus’s idea is to treat Public Books as a site for teaching the public more complex and enticing concepts present in aesthetic forms.

“What we might call teacherly writing does not avoid difficult ideas or terms; it explains them. Professors teaching undergraduate courses on the novel don’t drop terms like focalize or free indirect discourse into lectures and expect students to know their meaning; a good teacher denies those terms, illustrates them with examples, and helps students to see how naming these techniques improves our understanding of novels” (476). This seems to be the antidote the Humanities have been looking for to de-marginalize themselves. By providing a digital landscape, Public Books attributes to the Digital Humanities and especially to providing accessible intellectual and scholarly reviews.

http://www.publicbooks.org/ (This is really awesome)

Works Cited

Marcus, Sharon. “How to Talk about Books You Have Read.” PMLA 130.2 (2015): 467-73. Web.

Humanities professors have taken upon themselves a new wave of pedagogy. This, of course, being digital methods of teaching. A collaboration of universities from around the world have created a workshop for teachers who want to incorporate methods of teaching with digital outlets. Their webpage also doubles as a peer review journal for other Digital Humanists. They term Hybrid Pedagogy to explain their combination of critical and digital pedagogy and invite open discussion.

http://www.digitalpedagogylab.com/

Mind Maps

Mind mapping is a creative way to organize one’s thoughts. This skill that many of us learned in elementary school can still be useful in higher education. I often encourage my students to try different brainstorming methods beyond a free-writing exercise that often seems to be the go-to in writing classrooms. However, with the increasing reliance on electronically submitted projects I fear the process of scanning a hand drawn mind map, and converting it into a .pdf keeps students away from exploring this as an option.

Ideament is an app created to bring the mind mapping exercise into the digital world. It allows users to create a mind map, save and export as a .pdf, and also toggle between an outline and a flow chart/mind map; all through the convenience of their iphone or ipad.

Academic Writing- The Symptom of an Aching System?

I recently spent a sunny Sunday afternoon shifting through uncomfortable positions on my couch for three hours, my eyes glued to “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Giyatri Spivak’s seminal work on marginalization in the postcolonial context. It was among the most unpleasant experiences I have had in graduate school up to this point, and at times the article made my blood boil. “How could someone devote their life to writing something this inane?!” Once I had waded through the fifty-odd page article, I completed a worksheet on the article and promptly shoved in a drawer, hoping to never see it again. The article was a parade of buzzwords and a lengthy deconstruction of Marxist terminology in translation. Each line became an active fight for meaning in the midst of buzzwords.

Perhaps the most famous example of the importance of buzzwords in academia is the article “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” Alan Sokal’s 1994 publishing experiment. His suspicion was that publication was based primarily on playing to editors’ notions and utilizing trending academic buzzwords. His article suggests, among other ludicrous things, that the material reality we interact with is ultimately a linguistic construct. However, between layer after layer of buzzwords and heavy handed references to numerous scientists and scholars, the meaning (or rather, lack of meaning) was lost on the editors: the article was published. Similar experiments have tried and had mixed success, but Sokal’s article stands as an indelible mark on the academic publishing racket. Why publish if not for meaning?

What’s scariest isn’t the fact that this article got published. It’s the fact that this article was published before I (now a graduate student staring academic publishing in its joyless face) was born 21 years ago. Over two decades later, the academic publishing field seems like it would welcome another Sokal article (albeit with updated, trendy buzzwords). Why has the academic publishing field eschewed well-written articles with clarity and favored complicated and often boring structure?

Joshua Rothman in “Why is Academic Writing so Academic?” suggests that, “the system that produces and consumes academic knowledge is changing, and, in the process, making academic work more marginal.” He goes on to explain that academics, “have no choice but to aim for very small targets. Writing a first book, you may have in mind particular professors on a tenure committee; miss that mark, and you may not have a job. Academics know which audiences—and, sometimes, which audience members—matter.” The academic career is becoming increasingly niche focused and therefore the writing becomes more ingrained in its own terminology and community—leading it further from breaching the public sphere.

So, is there a balance to be found here? Can (and should) we reverse the trend towards niche writing? Would that decrease the importance of specialization for faculty? Is there value in the ivory tower or should academics make more of an effort to connect what they are doing to the public sphere, to speak out on public issues? These questions will likely always be an ongoing battle in academia, but unless we strive for some form of debate on them, we may see academic writing retreat further and further into arcane and inaccessible realms.

 

Works Cited

Rothman, Joshua. “Why is Academic Writing So Academic?” The New Yorker. February 20th, 2014. Online.

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