Practice and Reflection: The Affordances and Issues That Accompany Pedagogical Innovation
Tyler Fox, University of Washington
Carlos Hernandez, Borough of Manhattan Community College
All instructors, no matter the discipline nor the level of instruction, have a near-endless supply of woeful stories that recount how their best-laid lesson plans failed when it came time to actually teach them. It therefore behooves every instructor to study, slowly and carefully, how pedagogical theory can be best made manifest in our pedagogical practices. The Journal of Interactive Technology & Pedagogy has a strong tradition of articles that focus heavily on pedagogical theory. Issue Nine, by contrast, concerns itself largely with praxis. It features articles that scrutinize attempts to actualize theory and invite, thoughtfully and meaningfully, technology into the complex reality of 21st century instruction. The articles presented herein are deep dives into the chaotic system that is the classroom: they are proof-of-concepts, experiments, and instructional meditations. They document their attempts to improve instruction by means of novel uses of technology, greater metacognition, and/or political awareness of students, and review, unflinchingly, both the successes and where they see need for improvements. They do not shirk away from offering up to readers the questions that remain unanswered after less-than-ideal results.
As a general issue, the topics and techniques the authors of Issue Nine employ are manifold. But perhaps the heart of our issue is the affordances and costs of digitally-enabled reflection. Digital tools offer collaboration, anytime access, and intuitive experiences (at times), and open new modes of analysis for both students and practitioners. Our authors offer a number of suggestions and modalities for teaching such practices: informal video reflection, collaboratively constructed learning environments, collaborative annotation, broad approaches to digital humanities, and an in-depth analysis of Twitter feeds from three conference panels. The breadth and depth of technical possibility is ripe for new forms of reflection. Yet, they also raise questions about the broader political economies that undergird these tools. Our authors employ various digital tools in order to encourage students to rethink the purpose of the classroom and confront the myriad design challenges that effort entails.
We find a prime example of these design vs. implementation issues in Kimberly Mair’s article “Participatory Culture and Distributed Expertise: Breaking Down Pedagogical Norms or Regulating Neoliberal Subjectivities?” In a junior-level course titled “Digital Culture and Society,” Mair attempted to, in her words, “disrupt conventional assumptions of the economy of knowledge in the classroom by positioning the students as collaborative knowledge producers.” In two different iterations of the course, she has two very different experiences. Students in her first class more engaged and ready to interrogate knowledge production and the agendas of Neoliberalism; students in the second class seem much less eager to engage those questions. Mair must ponder the question of why different groups of students interact so differently with the same material, even while she argues for the unambiguous value of a decentered pedagogy that requires students to interrogate knowledge and examine how it is used and valued.
A “best practice” becoming more prominent in pedagogical literature centers around the idea of “authenticity.” Two articles in Issue Nine explore “authentic learning,” which seeks to take problems found in the “real-world”—with all their concomitant, messy complexity—and introduce them into the classroom as challenges for students to overcome, using the paradigms, concepts, and methods of the course’s discipline(s). In the cases discussed within these articles, the online tools and video served as the “authentic” tools in question. In “Designing ‘Authenticity’ in Digital Learning Environments,” Allan Johnson describes a year-long study across two different English courses meant to document how well students tackle “authentic” problems using the tools of Web 2.0. One finding from the student evaluations demonstrates how much student perceptions of the role of these technologies cast an interesting pall over learning: the effectiveness of these tools in the classroom environment are influenced by students’ preconceptions of the tools themselves. Specifically, some students believed those tools were for “entertainment” purposes even after using them for a semester in a college course. Similarly, in “Reflecting on Reflections: Using Video in Learning Reflection to Enhance Authenticity,” Emma J. Rose, Jarek Sierschynski, and Elin Björling try use video as a means of creating less academically mediated and more “authentic” responses from students in a summer camp for underrepresented middle- and high school students. Again, the researchers run up against the reality of pedagogical practice when they find that the participants’ “own assessment of their experience did not include an expression of awareness of these changes.” In both articles, we see researchers finding interesting points of success in their experimental use of technologies, but those successes are colored and finally limited by numerous factors, not the least of which is student buy-in.
When courses use the subject of the Digital Humanities itself, the number of tools, pedagogical approaches, and theoretical frameworks available are so numerous that navigating the design and implementation of such of course comes with additional problems that the instructor must negotiate. How much should we assume students already know? What theories, literature, and technologies would best serve as the scaffolding tools that will lead to deeper, more meaningful learning? In “Teaching Literature Through Technology: Sherlock Holmes and Digital Humanities,” Joanna Swafford introduces us to her pedagogical mantra of “Read, Play, Build” as one viable approach. Theoretical readings, meticulous hands-on instruction, and project-based assignments provide a careful introduction to current digitally supported methodologies: visualization, archiving, markup, mapping, and more. Swafford’s approach ensures that “students receive both theoretical and practical experience with each methodology and can see first-hand its strengths and weaknesses” and serves as one potential model for anyone interested in designing an introduction to digital humanities level course. Such an introduction, however, requires guided and supported use of tools, as the author notes: “Students from the so-called ‘digital native’ generation are often anything but.” It is a reminder that the adoption of tools always requires on-the-fly shifts in the classroom.
Emily Schneider and Stacy Hartman also discuss pedagogical shifts required to incorporate online, social-annotation tools into sustained practices of teaching and learning. In “Making Reading Visible: Social Annotation with Lacuna in the Humanities Classroom,” they provide an in-depth overview of new software for annotation and its impact on both teaching and learning. The authors note that for any tool to inspire change, it must be “intentionally integrated into pedagogical practices.” Instructor teams must review annotations before class, requiring new workflows for students, teaching assistants and instructors. Yet, the instructors report that student thinking is “rendered visible” prior to class, increasing teacher engagement in the course and quickening the pace and depth of discussion. As with many contemporary technologies, there are multiple, concurrent shifts at play. In addition to the technical shift of new interfaces, interactions and affordances, the act of annotation undergoes a shift from the private to the public. This shift, regarded by the authors as largely beneficial, does create new learning challenges that must be addressed. They note that, “From the student perspective, shifting to social reading can demand higher levels of self-awareness than what students are used to from solitary reading practices…. Self-regulation must be taught and practiced.”
The shift from private to public is the focus of our last article as well. It is the least like our other articles in that it concentrates not on the classroom, but on the state of our profession as academics using technology in real time to conduct the business of our disciplines. Shawna Ross explores, in an information-rich series of web pages, the Twitter stream from two different panels at MLA in “A Bechdel Test for #MLA16: Gendered Acts of Care on Academic Twitter.” Ross positions “carework” (Lauren Klein’s term) as the central tenet for understanding how tweeters—composed “largely [of] a community of women who, donating their attention to this task, may be performing this labor at a certain personal cost”—engage in the task of “support[ing] other scholars, whether that scholar is a panelist, another audience member, or someone not present at the conference or that particular panel.” She concludes that the 2016 MLA passes both the Bechdel test for representation of women and (albeit with lesser surety) the DuVernay test for representation of race. Her closing advice for academic tweeting provides guidelines that may help foster a better system of care for ourselves and others: fearlessly citing ourselves, for instance, and putting Twitter aside so as to engage a debate in the moment, rather than preserving it for posterity, are just two suggestions.
We hope that you find within these articles insights that encourage reflection, both public and private, in the classroom and in discussion with your academic colleagues, in theory and in practice. You may even find a new tool or approach that can spur new pedagogical praxis in the coming academic year. If nothing else, we hope this issue will encourage more scholars to experiment with new technologies with equal parts bravura and forethought.
About The Authors
Tyler Fox is Lecturer in the department of Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington. His research and art focuses on the ways in which nonhuman relations shape our experience of, and relationship to, the surrounding world. He received a PhD from the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University.
Carlos Hernandez is an Associate Professor of English at BMCC and a member of the doctoral faculty in the Interactive Technology and Pedagogy Program at the Graduate Center, both at CUNY. He is a writer of SFF fiction, a game designer, and a digital humanist with a focus on game-based learning. @writeteachplay