Digital History Fellowship | DH Now: EdTec and DH Pedagogy

To supplement our practicum work as DH Fellows, we were asked to survey the current state of the field of Digital Humanities by serving as Editors-at-Large and Editors-in-Chief for Digital Humanities Now. Each week we reviewed blogs, articles, projects, reports and other web-based content and nominated the best materials to be posted on the DH Now website. Because of my interest in history education, I was continually drawn to content that focused on the growing “EdTec” sector and/or the pedagogy of digital humanities for undergraduate and K-12 classrooms.

It is no surprise that technology is changing the way teachers teach and the way that students receive, manipulate and submit content; however, this change is happening in different ways than advocates of EdTec originally promised. EdTec was supposed to bridge divides, disrupt systems and create new and better pedagogy. Instead, the current state of the field finds educational technology largely controlled by for-profit companies, teachers threatening to quit when forced to “teach online,” previously used content and pedagogy simply put in digital form, greater division among more and less well-to-do students, and data privacy issues that result in students no longer being able to experiment with content online in an educational setting without risk to their own name and future. Despite this admittedly gloomy outlook, two topics have emerged as positive directions in which the field seems to be moving.

First, many in education have embraced the wider “maker movement” which provides students opportunities for hands-on learning and encourages the growth of problem solving skills through “tinkering.” Many Digital Humanists have gotten on board, emphasizing computer coding as a type of “making” which offers students the same creative process of discovery through debugging, with each error or bug not a mistake, but a clue to what is not working and why. This push for “making” is joined by conversations about how best to provide students with this type of learning. In other words, how do teachers balance free rein with guidance and support while encouraging creative problem solving?   

Secondly, as Brandon Locke suggests, because many students use the Internet as their source for news and a place to make their own views known, it is often wrongly supposed that they have “the inherent ability and tools to work critically and develop digital content.” As a result, many professors have been incorporating critical engagement with the digital world into their classroom curriculum as a way to teach digital literacy, persuasive writing and analysis of arguments. Another recent focus of this type of teaching is empowering students to thoughtfully and effectively make their voices heard through digital tools. 

The following articles have shaped my thinking about education and technology in the digital humanities during the past year:  

Digital Humanities Pedagogy as Essential Liberal Education: A Framework for Curriculum Development by Brandon T. Locke (Fall 2017)

In this article, Locke describes the challenges of his work as the Director at the Lab for the Education and Advancement in Digital Research (LEADR) at Michigan State University. He notes that while students are already familiar with digital technology, they have more often been merely consumers of it, often lacking training in critical thinking and analysis in the digital realm. He finds it is best to introduce digital components and projects to undergraduates through the time-honored framework of a liberal arts curriculum, arguing that all digital skills have “parallels in liberal arts classrooms…such as effective persuasive writing, critical analysis of arguments, and techniques for research and information source analysis.” Furthermore, he advocates for an integration of digital skills into liberal arts classes as  “an opportunity to promote the continued strength of a skilled, literate, critical culture.”

Three Myths About Education Technology and the Points of Light Beyond by Justin Reich and Mimi Ito (October 30, 2017)

In this article, the authors dispel three popular myths about educational technology: first that it will disrupt systems, second that it will democratize education and third, that it can help bridge digital divides through greater access. Instead, the authors believe that educational technology is most often adopted to add efficiency to existing systems, that digital tools (even free ones) often create further division between more and less affluent students and that issues of access “will require reckoning with the social and cultural contexts in which disadvantaged students live.” They suggest that progress could be made by working to close the gap between the creators of the technology and the community of learners, allowing the creators to better understand the needs of the learners and adapt their products to be more sensitive to the local conditions.

The Importance of Student Privacy in Big Data by Jade E. Davis (November 6, 2017) 

It is now clear through several recent data privacy scandals that corporate companies can run algorithms on data gleaned from social networking and other types of online platforms in order to determine information about individuals and their networks. Davis is troubled by what this means for digital media use in the classroom. She writes that “One of the things I would always tell my students is to experiment in class, with thoughts, with expression, and with projects because the classroom is one of the few places you can try something and fail with limited implications on their actual life.” But because of the data these educational experiments are creating, that may no longer be true. Davis reminds her fellow teachers that “we have to do our due diligence in considering the implications of the choices we impose on our students as we integrate digital media into our learning spaces.” 

The rhetoric and technology of collaboration: How digital technologies transform our collaborative work and pedagogy by Jason Tham, Jeremy Rosselot-Merritt, Katlynne Davis, Eduardo Nevarez and Chakrika Veeramoothoo (November 27, 2017)

In this article students in the Rhetoric and Scientific & Technical Communication program at the University of Minnesota provide reviews of four popular collaboration tools:, Facebook Messenger, Scaler, and WebEx. The reviews evaluate each tool’s features and design, consider the tool’s rhetorical implications on communication, work, and pedagogy, and finally, provide pedagogical recommendation for how teachers can best use these tools in their classrooms. 

Making Is a Stance Toward Learning: Combining Learner Agency with Tinkering, Debugging and Project-based Learning by Howard Rheingold (February 12, 2018)

Rheingold writes about the current educational climate which encourages children in a type of learning that is all about getting the right answer by doing the right procedure. Instead, he encourages the use of coding, tinkering and debugging, where it is expected that one’s project will not work correctly the first time. He writes that “messing, tinkering, building projects that actually interest learners is about developing skills of autonomous learning, cultivating an appreciation for and fluency in using learning communities and experienced guides, and practice at thinking big.” While teachers can be there to guide and encourage, “making as a stance toward learning” makes use of students’ systematic problem-solving skills and puts the students at the center of the learning process.

Ethical Online Learning: Critical Pedagogy and Social Justice by Sean Michael Morris and Lora Taub-Pervizpour (February 16, 2018)

In this keynote address, the authors lament the current climate of the educational technology field, stating that most technology simply “digitizes ineffective aspects of education’s yesteryear.” Most teachers compelled to teach in an online environment must “adapt or die” and simply transfer their material to a new format instead of coming up with something new. The authors are also concerned that online courses and curriculum developed by outside companies and organizations with simply become plug-and-play, with little to no differentiation based on the context of the student population. They also explore ideas for how teachers can give voice to students in an online environment. Finally, they implore teachers to become “active voices in what education looks like in a digital world” and to “consider ourselves agents, advocates for teaching and learning that we know to be pedagogically sound.”

Creativity is Fundamental for Lifelong Learning by Mimi Ko Cruz (April 2, 2018)

Cruz shares her thoughts about Mitchel Resnick’s latest book Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play. According to Resnick, creative thinking is a fundamental part of life, from school to the workplace to the community and asserts that “new technologies are offering new ways to help young people develop as creative thinkers.” Cruz highlights Resnick’s section on learning by coding, discussing not only how programming languages like Scratch allow young people to create interactive stories and games but also how coding can show a child’s line of thinking. Excerpts from the book also emphasize the need for a careful balance of mentoring and guidance through the tinkering process.

Open Pedagogy: The Time is Now by Thomas Peace (April 23, 2018) 

Peace shares his thoughts on the open access movement as it relates to teaching. He asserts that teachers should no longer require students to purchase textbooks as “there is ample secondary and primary material available online, and through our institutional libraries,” in addition to open-access textbooks that it is “unnecessary to charge students money for course materials.” Nevertheless, he wants students to know that “although they do not need to pay for their course materials, there are costs involved in their production.” He writes that “Open cultures work because users are willing to also be contributors.” Because of this, he requires his students to give back to the intellectual community by writing or editing Wikipedia articles or participation in an online transcription project. 

Preparing Youth for Online Civic, Political Action by Mimi Ko Cruz (April 30, 2018)

In this article, Cruz points to a collection of new Teaching Channel videos created by the Civic Engagement Research Group at UC Riverside. These videos offer ideas and examples for how teachers can prepare students to be informed and active voices in today’s digital age. Erica Hodgin and Joseph Kahne, two of the developers, note on the Teaching Channel blog that “While your students may know how to text and tweet, they don’t all know how to take advantage of the opportunities available in the digital age to learn about issues they care about, to understand a range of perspectives, have their voices heard, and create change. By integrating digital civic learning experiences in your classroom, you can play an important role in supporting your students to be thoughtful and effective participants in our democracy.” 

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