Update 4/3/12: On Monday, April 2, I gave a talk to CUNY DHI about digital pedagogy, risk, and failure. The second part of that discussion was based on the NITLE seminar and my work with students. Some of the advice and all of the assignments that I discussed are detailed below. Please feel free to comment about any/all of it.


Today, Jentery Sayers and I spent an fast-paced hour talking about digital pedagogy with Rebecca Frost Davis at NITLE. With upwards of 50 participants, an active Twitter backchannel (see Storify version of some of the tweets and Rebecca’s full Storify of the entire tweeted session) and a chat within the seminar itself, there was a lot of technology to read, address, and contemplate with all of our versions of pedagogy. The session has been recorded and is available online.

Seminar Description: As new digital methods of critical analysis reshape academic practices in profound ways, scholars have begun to use digital tools and platforms to rethink their assumptions about what can or should happen in the college classroom. From work in the online archive to encoding texts to multimodal composition, digital tools and methodologies are changing how students learn and how instructors teach.  Many of these developments move beyond the physical classroom into emerging domains for hands-on learning, including the humanities lab, the library, and the open web.  How do these developments lead us to rethink learning outcomes, power dynamics, assessment, etc.?  Where do we draw the line between digital pedagogy and Digital Humanities or should we?  In this seminar, two experienced practitioners of Digital Pedagogy will share their experiences with digital teaching and learning and consider the implications for digital pedagogy.

Instead of affirmatively answering these questions (as with all things DH there is no one right answer), Jentery and I spent some time explaining how and why we do digital pedagogy. Below are some points from my portion of the chat as well as the advice about the labor of digital pedagogy and institutional culture:

My definition of digital pedagogy differs from Jentery’s because of institutional culture: large, state-funded public institution. My talk focused more in literature courses and disciplinary boundaries, though I admitted to working outside the institution (or more specifically the culture of my department) than outside of Digital Humanities. My digital pedagogy borrows from the mainstays of Digital Humanities:

  • collaboration
  • playfulness/tinkering
  • focus on process
  • building (very broadly defined)

Digital pedagogy requires re-thinking curriculum, student learning outcomes, assessment, as Jentery mentioned during his portion of the seminar. It’s not just about the flashy use of tools. The instructor must be committed to revision and perhaps to some struggle along with students.

There levels of scalability for doing digital pedagogy:

  1. an entire course
  2. a single assignment
  3. single day where a tool used in class

What I spoke about were courses that were explicitly NOT Digital Humanities. I have and will teach those, including the School of Library and Information Science Introduction to DH in Fall 2012 and the Fall 2011 Death of Print Culture? I come from an archiving/library background that’s heavily steeped in material culture, history of the book, and print culture so I tend to be visual and textual-based. But, we were there to discuss digital pedagogy. What follows are the different levels of courses that I teach that engage with digital pedagogy. I maintain a list of interesting student projects from all levels of students and my courses — the list and the projects demonstrate to future students what is possible.

  • A single day using digital tools in a non-DH course: use of TaPor to tease out the absence of elephant or tusk in Heart of Darkness inspired a student to write a post-structuralist reading of the novel for her final project in my Introduction to Literary Criticism course. Basically, we relied on a concordance or list to demonstrate this information; the student’s final project then engaged with the initial inquiry — similar to the DH work that I do on other literature. For other tools and their pedagogical uses, see DIRT Bamboo.
  • A student final project using digital tools in a non-DH course: Alison Stephens’ blog on Frankenstein for an undergraduate lower-division British Literature Survey course (required for English majors) was an unprompted use of digital tools. But because this student is multi-lingual, she was able to demonstrate her understanding of the novel by revising and re-mixing it from the point of view of the creature. After a semester of focusing on print culture, she was also able to make commentary on the relationship between a novel and a blog. The instructions for this course’s final project also included an option for writing a long paper or a creative piece accompanied by a rationale.
  • Student collaborative assignment in a non-DH course: I’ve written about this project in my Journal of Victorian Culture piece, but it’s worth mentioning that this particular assignment was a collaborative culmination using MIT SIMILE script/widget, Brian Croxall’s tutorial, and Google Docs. The TechnoRomantics Timeline was the result of literary historical research and just a teeny bit of data entry on the students’ behalf. This is where scaffolding within an assignment is very useful.
  • Another individual but collaborative production of knowledge in a single assignment: My Gothic Novel students created a Glossary in Moodle. Students then commented on each other’s work. As the semester progressed, the entries became more multi-media and used much better citation. In other words, they learned from each other as well as seeing public feedback from me. See entries for ghost and seraglio (behind pw-protected Moodle space). The assignment, of course, comes with explicit instructions.
  • The big One, Scaffolded Project that lasts throughout the semester in non-DH course: TechnoRomanticism Final Projects were a series of projects that spanned the entire semester and were intended to be part of the students’ final projects, a digital edition of a single chapter from Frankenstein. The projects didn’t all turn out the way that I wished. Some failures included needing better documentation of their workflow, teaching them visual literacy and critical analysis, implementing better research questions. Again, I write about this in my “TechnoRomanticism:  Creating Digital Editions in an Undergraduate Classroom.” Journal of Victorian Culture 16:1 (2011 April): 107-112 (unfortunately not open access or online).

Advice for Digital Pedagogy

  • economize across courses: pick one tool or one assignment that can be used across your multiple courses. Don’t do multiple new things in a single semester.
  • leave room in syllabus for a skills day
  • have students work with each other; they’ll teach each other things you won’t know (or don’t need to know 😉
  • if you are new to digital pedagogy, start small with one assignment
  • if you are ready to go bigger, be sure to scaffold your assignments and re-write your grading rubrics
  • assess and revise the department-mandated learning goals (or student learning outcomes) and add them to your syllabus in the appropriate language
  • have students continue to reflect on the process, in the middle, after each skills set — not only at the end of the semester
  • chronicle where you and students didn’t meet the ideas — failure!
  • choose a course that you will be able to teach a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th time so you can revise the syllabus each time with an eye towards these comments and failures
  • keep versions of your syllabi for comparison in your yearly review materials
  • IMPORTANT: assess your institutional culture
    • discuss the change with your chair
    • work with an Instructional Designer if you’ve got one
    • assess the technology available on campus
    • assess student access to technology
    • seek out others on campus working through technology
    • FINALLY, be prepared with an elevator blurb about how technology altered the learning outcomes in the classroom (not just a bag of tricks)