“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.”
Like Alex, HASTAC V was the first digital humanities-centric conference I have attended. However, I have not had the pleasure of attending any THATcamps yet, so it was the first time I’d shared the same physical space with so many other scholars who are as excited as me about DH. It was invigorating and I left the conference feeling inspired and motivated.
The conference’s theme was digital scholarly publishing and many scholars’ talks focused on how they have been doing digital scholarly publishing already or their vision for why or how the current model of scholarly publishing is flawed and in need of change. Highlights for me include a keynote panel featuring Richard Nash, Dan Cohen, and Tara McPherson as well as Doug Eyman and Cheryl Ball’s discussion of managing Kairos, an online scholarly journal founded in 1996. These talks, both reflective and rallying, felt like exciting calls to action by scholars who have been working to change models of academic publishing for many years, if not decades.
I was particularly enthralled by Josh Greenberg’s keynote talk, “Data, Code, and Research” (video; notes). I’m a big fan of metaphors and Greenberg had one fantastic metaphor that has stuck with me in the month since I heard his talk.
“What if we wrote scholarship like code?”
This metaphor falls flat to people who don’t code, so let me clarify. Greenberg referred to “version control” in his talk, referencing programmer collaborative platforms like GitHub. On GitHub, programmers can share their work so that other programmers can “pull” it down, play with it, improve it, and “push” it back out to the community; or a programmer could “fork” the original code and make something new out of it. Forking would preserve the genealogy of academic work by linking to common ancestors. Rather than producing one publication, scholarship would be tagged for release like software: My Awesome Thesis Version 1, My Awesome Thesis Version 2, etc. Greenberg’s metaphor describes a scholarly culture that embraces collaboration, innovation, and remix. This is an upheaval of the current paradigm of academic work where single-authored scholarship is most valuable, “definitive” works rule, and ideas are personal property. By changing the scholarly workflow as Greenberg proposes, academia can become an even more fertile ground for cutting edge, revolutionary work.
As a master’s student trying to plot my path to and through the digital humanities, HASTAC V was an incredible experience. Though I’ve been following the work of many DH scholars on the web through blogs and Twitter, it was truly powerful to put voices with the names and faces of so many people I admire. Digital humanities as a field can sometimes be difficult to put a finger on and I have been doing my best to follow along using the web, but it has become apparent to me that it is essential to attend conferences, talks, and workshops on DH topics to be part of the conversation. Furthermore, because digital humanities is not a field that is always embraced with open arms in some academic communities which can amount to some frustration, especially for graduate students, conferences like HASTAC are essential resources for learning the arguments that can help us get to do the work we want to do.
If passed, legistlation like SOPA will have a detrimental effect on cultural heritage informatics work. (Photo by kyz; CC BY 2.0)
If you’re reading this, you’ve likely heard of a piece of US legislation called SOPA, more formally known as the Stop Internet Piracy Act. It is less formally – but perhaps more popularly! – known as The Internet Killer. Though SOPA is intended to give the government greater power in halting Internet piracy – the illegal downloading and streaming of copyrighted material – it is a highly dangerous bill that, if passed, will change the web as we know it and, as such, have a drastic effect on the field of cultural heritage informatics.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation describes the bill most succinctly in their one-pager on the topic [pdf]:
The Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA, H.R. 3261) is a dangerous new “anti-piracy” bill being debated in the House of Representatives. Supporters claim that SOPA targets “rogue” foreign websites that encourage online [copyright] infringement, but the bill’s vague language would create devastating new tools for silencing legitimate speech all around the web.
SOPA would authorize the US federal government to exercise DNS blocking which is a web censorship method utilized by the governments of China, Iran, and Russia. This means that the government could create an Internet blacklist and could restrict the entire country’s access to certain web-content based on domain names. Under SOPA, a site could lawfully be blacklisted for simply linking to copyrighted content. Furthermore, SOPA holds website owners accountable for their user’s behavior; for instance, if a YouTube user posts a video that includes someone singing copyrighted music, the government could blacklist YouTube.com for that user’s infringement. This bill affords the government significant control over the flow of information in the US and poses alarming implications for cultural heritage institutions working with the web.
Brandon Butler, writing on behalf of the Library Copyright Alliance [pdf], raises concern over SOPA’s construction of a “willful” copyright infringer and the legal repercussions that libraries could face if the bill passes. Though he expresses concern specifically on behalf of libraries, his concerns are applicable, I think, to a wide range of cultural heritage institutions that utilize the web and digital tools. Butler argues that SOPA expands the meaning of a “willful” copyright infringer to the point where it would increase libraries’ exposure to criminal charges for services that many currently provide to patrons, such as streaming media, photo repositories, and other online services.
Cultural heritage institutions have been able to do some really awesome work in appropriating historical artifacts for access and use through the web. The possibilities for libraries, schools, and museums to provide innovative, media-rich, GPS-based learning tools are growing with the increasing pervasiveness of consumer mobile technology. Many libraries and museums, for instance, run mobile sites or applications rich in photos, video, and sound that make their collections accessible outside of the brick and mortar archive to patrons, teachers, and students across the country. Through the innovative application of web technology, institutions have been able to broaden their audience, make their collections more accessible, and become valued creative forces in the broad scope of the digital humanities and sciences.
Copyright has long been a complicated issue in the domain of cultural heritage, even before the digital age, but SOPA will make it a nearly insurmountable problem on the institutional level for libraries, museums, and schools. With the high legal risk it poses for cultural heritage institutions, it is likely that if SOPA passes there will be a widespread decrease in institutional engagement in the project of building digital cultural heritage repositories, tools, and applications. Innovative and exciting technological work is happening in the domain of cultural heritage and sadly, it appears that one piece of federal legislation, if passed, could halt all of it. When critics call SOPA the Internet killer, what they really mean is that it murders creativity by shackling individuals and institutions who build, make, create, and compose online into unnavigable, high-risk legal quagmires, effectively annihilating innovation and invention.
SOPA represents the US federal government’s continued misunderstanding of the Internet and the utilities and practices surrounding it. Copyright law in the United States has historically been slow to catch up with advancing technological mediums and modes of distribution. SOPA is not an effort on the part of Congress to catch up with us and the powerful digital tools we wield, but instead an effort to hold us back with incredibly arcane, borderline authoritarian legislation. The Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA, H.R. 3261) has not been signed into law yet, but it’s on the fast-track to passing. SOPA has wide-reaching implications for the freedom of speech and access to information and it is in the best interest of the American people that this bill not pass.
In order to even begin to fairly and appropriately legislate the Internet, a paradigm shift in how we think about copyright is needed. Conceiving of digital artifacts and spaces as property has proven to be inadequate both for legislators and digital authors; property, generally a thing that can be physically held and thus regulated easily, gets abstracted to the point of uselessness in online spaces. Instead, it seems more appropriate to think about digital media in terms of access which is focused more on boundaries of engagement and less on property ownership.