Talking about Digital Pedagogy
“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
— Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Education has begun to embrace the digital environment, but institutions and instructors are faced with the decision to accept (or not) the possibilities that this new space offers to “practice freedom”. On its surface, one may wonder why a university or instructor would not choose freedom, but this question requires the deconstruction of everything we thought we knew about instruction from the definition of a “course,” to the roles of teachers and students, as well as the location of authority. Digital pedagogy forces us to examine each of these ideas, including the very concepts of “digital” and “pedagogy”.
In a recent article in the Digital Humanities Quarterly, Paul Fyfe asks if digital pedagogy must be practiced in an electronic environment and urges us to move beyond the notion that digital pedagogy is solely concerned with technology. Two problems attend this association: (1) technology can make it easier to teach in less, rather than more, engaging ways (i.e., the overuse of PowerPoint), and (2) the use of technology as another tool to do what was already done, thus removing the productively disruptive possibilities inherent in many technologies. Therefore, educators need to consider which electronic elements they will include in their course design, how they might be used to rethink the way teaching and learning take place, and how they might apply digital pedagogy even in “unplugged” classes. At its core, digital pedagogy is about hacking – altering, adapting, and making use of technology or “features of a system.”
A teacher is not necessarily a pedagogue, and someone who specializes in education understands the institution but not necessarily pedagogy. So what is pedagogy? It is the study of learning understanding the elements of timeliness, mindfulness, and improvisation that instructors consciously use to facilitate meaningful exchanges in (and outside) the classroom. According to Sean Michael Morris, author of “Decoding Digital Pedagogy, Pt 1: Beyond the LMS,” “pedagogy experiments relentlessly, honoring a learning that’s lifelong.” Digital pedagogy, in particular is important, not just because education seeks to embrace and utilize the digital world, but also because it is open to improvisation, to trying new things, and to inviting students into the process of crafting the instructional approach in this new space.
The Location of Authority
The digital environment forces us to rethink where authority lies and consider how we might move beyond the “flipped classroom” toward participant pedagogy, in which students are actively engaged in shaping instructional methodology. For this to happen, however, instructors must be willing to enter the classroom as participants as much as students must be willing to take ownership of their own learning. Once teachers and students are able to negotiate the location of authority and co-create a community of learners, they are equipped to address the subject matter with creativity, flexibility, and address the products of their study and collaboration to a larger audience beyond class participants. At that point, digital learning expands the original boundaries of the course to have farther-reaching outcomes than individual students’ grades. What began as an isolated college course becomes meaningful on a grander scale because of it lives in a digital landscape.
How, then, do we become digital pedagogues?
- Devote time to “researching, practicing, writing about, presenting on, and teaching digital pedagogies”
- Forget what you thought you knew about teaching
- Continually challenge yourself to seek out the new, the novel, and the unknown in your field, the usage of technology, and interrelated ideas in other fields
- Engage your students in the process of crafting your pedagogy
- Be open to change, to flip the classroom, and to take your instructional methodology into new, potentially uncharted, places.
The power of digital pedagogy lies in its innovative and disruptive nature, which urges scholars to re-examine educational structures long taken for granted. Courses burst out of their original containers as students and teachers alike discover links between and among various bodies of knowledge, thereby undermining arbitrary disciplinary borders. Most importantly, digital pedagogy compels practitioners to search out new ways to engage students in the creative analysis of subject matter and together with them “discover how to participate in the transformation of [our] world.”
 Paul Fyfe, “Digital Pedagogy Unplugged,” Digital Humanities Quarterly (online journal) 5, no. 3 (2011) http://digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/5/3/000106/000106.html (February 16, 2013).
 Sean Michael Morris, “Decoding Digital Pedagogy, pt. 1: Beyond the LMS,” Hybrid Pedagogy (online journal) http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/Journal/files/Beyond_the_LMS.html (March 5, 2013).
 Jesse Stommel, “Decoding Digital Pedagogy, pt. 2: (Un)Mapping the Terrain,” Hybrid Pedagogy (online journal) < http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/Journal/files/Unmapping_the_Terrain_of_Digital_Pedagogy.html> (March 5, 2013)