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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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Digital Zombies is in some ways a game, and in other ways it is a digital tool for teaching historical research methods. Headed by Professor Juliette Levy at UCR, this project deals with topics such as human-kind’s control of nature and, naturally, zombies. Students develop creative projects and accomplish various tasks by performing research in physical and digital collections. The goal is to get students to think differently about their own historical research methods, as well as different perspectives enabled by digital platforms.

Interestingly, the term “digital zombie” is a name for someone so involved with social media and digital technologies that they become fixated with a “faux reality.” It is also used to describe students who only use sites like Wikipedia and Google to do research, often using digital sources indiscriminately, without ever coming in contact with physical sources.

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.

Starr Sackstein combines drawing and literature in her classroom. In her article, “Make it Visual: Students Draw Austen’s characters,” she believes that the process of students drawing what they read “connect them to the work and allow them to make meaning on their own.” Through drawing, we can bring literature to life in the classroom. Sackstein argues that “Too often students are accustomed to teachers having an expectation of what they are supposed to learn about a text that they don’t know how to approach a text on their own. They never learn to trust their gut when they read.” Arguably, drawing can bridge this gap in literary studies.

More literary teachers should consider incorparting Sackstein’s methods into their own classrooms.

Is There a Book in This Class? Literary Studies without Literature

One fascinating element of Digital Humanities are that they constantly strive to reinvent the way humanists work, often by using visual, aural, and other nontraditional methods and approaches. In doing so, DHers often push the boundaries of long-established fields, including literary studies.

An idea I have been mulling over lately is: can you teach a literature course without books? Yes, this includes eBooks, tablets, computers, etc. Say for example you showed movies, went to plays, and talked about books without actually reading them (something many people already do in literature courses). Could you theoretically teach without reading? Without speaking?

Literature is one of the few areas where no one in the field can precisely define what they study. The above questions, much like DH and multi-media projects, ask instructors and critics to really think about what literature is, what a “text” is, and what is essential to the classroom.

 

 

Bridging the Gap through Newspapers

As most DHer’s are aware of, there has been a constant debate over how much control computers and the digital world have on innovative learning. Some believe that students should be able to learn without the overwhelming force that the digital world has. Thus, teachers have been creating new ways in which there is a happy marriage between the traditional forms of pedagogy, and the digital.

Instructors such as Mark Sample argue that we need to teach students about writing, research, revising and engagement without using the essay that, in some, does not allow the student to learn everything that they should. Sample urges the notion of “public writing” and “creative analysis” where students post blogs online that contain more than just text (images, sounds, objects, etc.).

In order to move away from the casualness that blog posts typically have, student and/or class newspapers might be the solution. There are multiple websites that offer free templates for newspapers in which users can create their own traditional-looking newspaper and both post it and/or print it for public display. Because blog posts are typically not printed out for public consumption, the newspaper format allows the student to go through the revising, editing, and formatting processes much more seriously, because, once the newspaper is printed and distributed, it cannot be edited like the casual blog post. However, newspapers can still contain images and creative qualities that the former essay cannot. Therefore, the newspaper might just be the bridge that the print and digital world need.

Here are some websites that can be used to create newspapers:

http://www.newspaperclub.com

http://www.makemynewspaper.com/

http://crayon.net/

Works Cited:

Sample, Mark L. “What’s Wrong with Writing Essays.” Debates in the Digital Humanities (2012): n. pag. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.

Visual Humanities

You’ve heard the cliché “A picture is worth a thousand words,” plenty of times. The power of imagery in conveying information is undeniable, and the digital era has equipped us with new, more powerful tools for visualization. The modern field of digital humanities provides us new ways to both learn and teach information using visual mediums to express data. Reading about a historical event or enjoying a novel is one level of learning; surveying an interactive map, reviewing original historical documents, and constructing a context for the material builds on the initial level to create a much richer learning experience. Efforts to integrate visual elements into teaching are increasing as both interest in digital humanities grows and visualization technology becomes more accessible. In one recent example, “the ASHP [American Social History Project] staff helped pioneer a set of active learning strategies to improve history teaching, emphasizing, for example, the uses of primary source documents and visual source materials available online as a way to encourage students’ deeper immersion in historical thinking and history making” (Brier 2012). Other digital humanities efforts include digital reconstructions of a gallery Jane Austen visited, maps that track the travels of famous people and fictional characters, and an archive that collects all known documents of William Godwin and the Shelleys, to name a remarkable few.

Perhaps most incredible is the visual flexibility that digital humanities offers. Text maps can chart the frequency of words or phrases within a single book or across thousands (or even millions, given the computing power). An interactive map can explore a single room or an entire continent. An interactive timeline can examine a single person’s life or a full epoch. All of these methods of visualization are open to exploration through the innovation of digital humanities. However, the digital humanities present a way of thinking about visualization that does not have to be confined to digital mediums alone.  Indeed, as Paul Fyfe suggests about using ,“One might offer maps, statistical surveys, journalistic exposés, impassioned editorials, urban sketches, snippets of fiction. Students could gather, assemble, and present to the class the critical narratives they collaboratively determine and argue. Discussion could proceed about how to present, exhibit, or visualize those relations” (10). In this sense, the tools that digital humanities offers us are not purely digital. Instead, the ways of thinking about visualization that digital humanities presents can be applied in studies both at and away from the computer.

Works Cited

Brier,Stephen. “Where is the Pedagogy? The Role of Teaching and Learning in the Digital Humanities.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. Online.

Fyfe, Paul. “Digital Humanities Unplugged.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 5.3, 2011. Online.

Walking Ulysses is one of many online tools designed to help readers better visualize literary works by using maps. Developed by Boston College, Walking Ulysses lets you follow maps around historic Dublin, tracking characters and events from James Joyce’s 1922 novel Ulysses. You can read overviews, toggle between historic and contemporary views, and precisely measure the distances characters travel.

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