Shelly Eversley, Baruch College, CUNY
Krystyna Michael, Hostos Community College, CUNY
Conversations about digital pedagogy tend to revolve around the twin poles of unbridled enthusiasm on the one hand and entrenched skepticism on the other. Despite the institutional investment in the digital humanities evinced by the creation of specialized Certificate, Masters, and PhD programs across the country, including at Northeastern University, Duke University, and the CUNY Graduate Center, digital approaches to other disciplines, as well as digital pedagogy across the disciplines, often remain understudied. And despite possibilities afforded by digital tools for the increased engagement and shared knowledge production in the classroom, many instructors are wary of the challenges new technologies pose to the traditional learning process. In particular, instructors tend to be cautious of the perceived attention-deficit run by students constantly bombarded with fast-moving interactive images. One of the primary benefits of instructional technology, in fact, is probably the very thing that makes some instructors anxious about student attention spans: it is often interactive technology’s ability to pull content out of sequence that activates students’ analytic skills and enables sustained, problem-based concentration. So, for example, something as simple as a word cloud in which the size of each word corresponds to its repetition in a passage of literature can help to illustrate the main preoccupations of the text; the linearity of the text can mask these repetitions, but the instructional technology helps to draw them out.
As the essays in this edition of The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy make clear, one of the benefits of a digital approach to pedagogy is that it can both slow down the learning process for students, as in the example above, and foster critical thinking about the implications, risks, and affordances of technology in the classroom. The characteristic tension in conversations about digital pedagogy between enthusiasm for, and skepticism of, digital tools and methods can obscure serious questions about surveillance, community, and experiential learning that the scholarship of digital pedagogy provides the opportunity to explore. Bringing these questions to bear not only on the types of assignments one designs involving digital tools, but also on the presentation of digital issues themselves, produces more engaging and inclusive curricula and activities that help make students critical digital practitioners at the same time as they learn subject material.
We are excited to share with you Issue Sixteen since it offers a deeper dive into some of the key questions that inform thinking about technology and pedagogy. For instance, Andrew Roth and Alex Christie remind us that failure in DH spaces and curriculums can be a productive site for learning. Their essay, “Beyond the Fear of Failure: Toward a Method for Student Experiential Autobiography Mapping (SEAM),” foregrounds exactly how inevitable technical failures can become important sites for innovative pedagogy. They argue that the seams, or fissures, that emerge when technical tools break down also become the very ties that make faculty and staff collaborations so productive. In their own collaboration, Roth and Christie explain how students practice important skills like problem solving and troubleshooting from an integrated project-based curriculum.
Karen Rose Mathews and Gemma Henderson’s collaboration at the University of Miami’s Lowe Art Museum, “Animating Antiquity: Student Generated Approaches to Recontextualizing Ancient Artworks Using Digital Technologies,” offers a tangible example of the ways technology affords opportunities for students to create knowledge that engages the public sphere. Using 3D models and prints, their students designed new modes for museumgoers to access the feel and function of ancient artworks. In their example of pedagogical innovation, both graduate and undergraduate students were able to create research dossiers as assemblages by integrating multiple experiential modes that could increase learning access.
The digital humanities have provided important sites for innovative approaches to experiential learning and interactive teaching. Jenna Freedman’s zine, “Weigh of Showing,” offers the zine genre as an alternative mode for assessing students’ involvement with course materials. She argues that there are multiple kinds of literacies that the formal essay format cannot always measure. In this, she posits that there are other ways of knowing, and that in other ways of showing, students can explore how they learn not only through writing but also through feeling, seeing, and listening.
Technology foregrounds the manifold forces that are changing the very idea of “the public,” since it opens new spaces for communication and community. In his “Changing Culture, Changing Publics: Redesigning the Rhetorical Public,” Philip B. Gallagher explores the ways in which rhetorical publics are changing to argue how user-based document design should respond to the Public’s new elevated status. He traces a rhetorical history of civic communication responsive to audience expectations, and examines how such communicative practices will need to adapt to the demands of technology and the knowledge communities they produce. As distinctions between private and public continue to blur, this question concerning the redesign of a rhetorical public will be increasingly urgent.
Even as technology offers the potential for more inclusive teaching and learning, it is important to be attentive to the moments when it reifies old patterns and practices of exclusion. Christina Boyles makes this point in “Finding Fault with Foucault: Surveillance and the Digital Humanities.” She argues that, while surveillance studies has done well to demonstrate the ubiquity of surveillance technologies and their erosion of personal rights, the fact that the effects of surveillance are not distributed equally is underappreciated. Indigenous peoples, for instance, have experienced some of the harshest forms of panoptic surveillance in lands claimed by the United States, and our inability to recognize this inequality only works to bolster the logics of conquest and the colonial machine. Her intervention reminds us that, as teachers and scholars, we must be willing to question the culture and the canon in the service of a more just future. This, along with the other essays in this issue, provides new avenues for thinking past old tensions in debates in digital pedagogy by examining the concrete implications of the work we do.