I am also interested in the neurological and spiritual impacts of technology. There was lots of buzz in the past year about Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, or at least his Atlantic article, “Is Google Making us Stupid?”. As a religion scholar, I am also interested in recent conversations about whether Google is also making us “spiritually stupid,” making us too distracted to participate in corporate rituals or private meditation. My dissertation focuses on contemporary hermits who live alone and spend much of their time in contemplative prayer, but most are also online quite a lot. So, I am interested what all of us can learn from them about setting boundaries and developing discipline with how we engage technology. I would enjoy discussing with others how you deal with this yourself, and also how this fits into your teaching. As I use more and more technology in my courses, I want to be intentional about helping students develop healthy habits.
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I currently teach environmental ethics. As I work to engage with technology more directly in the classroom, I also feel responsible for interrogating the social and environmental impacts of our classroom technologies and personal gadgets. These connect us to all sorts of global problems, including pollution, toxic waste, and child labor. I would be interested in sharing ideas about how to raise these critical ethical questions.
Here’s what I’m trying. I have assigned my students this semester to watch Annie Leonard’s “Story of Electronics,” to listen to a Fresh Air podcast featuring the Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network, and to read a short article, “High Tech Wasteland.”
Another way I approach this is by having my students consider how our learning depends on all sorts of technologies and infrastructures that connect us to the broader world. They contribute to a blog that investigates aspects of life on campus we take for granted, so, for example they trace the source of our power, water, and food. They track where our waste flows, including e-waste, recycling, food waste, construction waste, etc. All this helps us remember the ways we are always engaged with a world beyond the classroom, even when we feel isolated in a physical or virtual academic bubble.
Lately, quite a few people have been asking some version of the question, “What is the relationship between digital pedagogy and DH?” The most recent example that comes to mind is Alex Reid’s post “The Digital Humanities Divide.” There Reid notes that, even though some rhetoric and composition specialists have been studying how writing and writing pedagogy have evolved in the wake of digital technology since the PC arrived on the scene nearly 30 years ago, one isn’t likely to find computers and composition studies in DH journals or at DH conferences. In addition, although the panel, “Where’s the Pedagogy in Digital Pedagogy?,” that a couple of my colleagues organized for the MLA this year was included in lists of the conference’s DH sessions, I think a number of people might argue that digital pedagogy isn’t *really* DH at all. I’ve certainly seen at least one or two grant descriptions that specifically exclude “primarily pedagogical” applications from the kinds of projects that might be eligible for funding. This last may be due more to a perception that there are separate sources of funding for pedagogical projects, rather than a perception that DPed is not DH, but it has contributed to my own uncertainty regarding how the two are related.
From the way some of the other proposals are shaping up, I think we might use some of our time at THATCamp SE to reframe productively this discussion by considering the question, “Can we put DH into our DPed?” I know that a number of us are pushing the boundaries of assignment design in order to engage students in what Bruno Latour might call “compositionism,” and what I tend to think of as doing things *with* objects of study or creating our own new objects of study, alongside the more traditional (at least in the lit classroom) activity of writing *about* literature. In my own classes, I’ve had my students use Media Wiki to create a collaborative repository of community knowledge. I’ve also worked closely with a couple of colleagues to design an assignment where students used a digital learning platform that I helped build to create digital critical editions of short texts. Some of my other colleagues have given their students assignments that involved creating aesthetic or useful objects, both real and digital, and writing about them. Might we argue that DPed is related to, even if it doesn’t exactly fall under the umbrella of DH because it involves students in using digital technologies to build things?
I don’t know, but I think the question could lead to a useful, not to mention exciting, exchange of ideas. The many questions we could ask and discuss include the following: Should digital humanists be concerned with ensuring the resources they create are accessible to the average student at Small State U as well as fortunate scholars working at elite institutions? What pedagogical and ethical issues do we confront when we think about involving students in the work that goes on at DH centers and on DH projects? As Roger has asked, what place, if any, should building have in a classroom centered around humanistic inquiry? Finally, and this is my own particular hobby-horse, to what extent should intellectual property controls be relaxed to accommodate innovative educational uses of pre-existing work? In addition to Roger’s proposed session, I also think this topic complements and might be folded into or combined with the sessions that Pete, Miriam, and Michael have proposed.
As part of my job, I speak to a lot of grad students about what tech projects they’d like to see happen. Increasingly, students are describing something like this: “I work with a text that I know better than anyone else. I’d like the ability to add video, text, and audio annotation to the text — like a multimedia annotated edition.”
The technology to make this happen does exist. A recent Chronicle article describes something similar, and this company is working on “books” that are perhaps even more advanced than my students are imagining.
The problem is, as far as I can tell, creating these multimedia ebooks requires comfort with XML. Much as I’d like for every grad student to possess this knowledge, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
So in this session, I’d love to hear ideas for ways to create multimedia ebooks that might be accessible to the tech-curious grad student who is nonetheless not prepared to invest the time in learning XML. Perhaps these techniques already exist, or perhaps we need to build them ourselves.
- Adobe InDesign is (purportedly) one way to create multimedia epubs, but my experience with it suggests that learning to create epubs in InDesign is little easier than learning XML
- The Anthologize plugin for WordPress seems to offer intriguing possibilities. WP is a CMS that many students are already comfortable using, and they’re comfortable embedding video in posts. Perhaps Anthologize could be extended to handle video and audio.
- I asked a question on this topic over at DH Answers and got some really good responses.
- I found the Wikipedia article on epub helpful in understanding the standard
Course management systems put educators and their students within electronic reach of each other, but are rarely enjoyable to use. Systemically applied platforms like ULearn (formerly Web CT) and Blackboard seem clunky and outdated. The open-source Sakai Project provides interesting options, but must be customized by the institution and sometimes loses pedagogical effectiveness in that standardization. Textbook publishers like Bedford/St. Martin’s, Pearson/Longman, and Cengage all develop more usable tools tailored to individual disciplines, but those tools are often bound to the use of a particular textbook and cannot remain open for student use indefinitely.
Currently, I am researching alternatives to current course management systems. I want to learn about and help build a pedagogical landscape that jumps the fence of institutional and commercial boundaries and involves dynamic research capabilities and collaborative components. I have been teaching with a digital course space for three years, but I want to grow past it. At THAT Camp I would like gather data on what the best digital teaching environment might look like if it could harness other applications on the web, while still offering a few uniquely useful and adaptable tools within its framework.
Philosophically, this discussion might veer into evaluating the dissolution of boundaries around learning institutions. As we contemplate the impact of new digital systems, we might wonder how much teaching and learning can or should happen on the open web — outside of a log-in screen or behind the digital fence of a school. I would love to hear discussion. Functionally though, I would like to learn about what things are currently missing from course management systems so that, collectively, we can imagine a new one(s). Even more specifically, I want to discuss how new uses of social media tools and re-imagined assessment methods can augment an online course landscape.
Well, I’ve been pondering this little bit for a little while. Feel free to comment, critique, rebuild…
This session idea was inspired by a few things coming out of the recent “Rise of the Digital Humanities” MLA 2011, and two related discussions/provocations.
- The first is by Alan Liu (“Where’s the Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?”). Liu argues that “[h]ow the digital humanities advance, channel, or resist the great postindustrial, neoliberal, corporatist, and globalist flows of information-cum-capital, for instance, is a question rarely heard in the digital humanities associations, conferences, journals, and projects with which I am familiar.”
- The second is an interesting provocation by fellow THATCamper and Brittain Fellow Andy Famiglietti (“What Does it Mean to do the Humanities?”) in which he poses a question about the model of teaching values: “as much as I like this definition [humanities teach important artistic, cultural, and critical values], I don’t always sleep comfortably with it. It seems to imply that, without the organized study of the humanities, cultures would lapse into collections of mechanistic drones, unable to consider questions of truth or beauty. This simply isn’t true. I’ve seen the inside of technical cultures, geek enclaves and hacker freeholds and they are full of wonder and poetry. Algorithms for decrypting DVDs transformed into epic poems. Romantic jokes about the Fibonacci sequence. Furthermore, again, ask any anthropologist and cultural value is what they do. What’s our niche?”
I think that Famiglietti’s question can open a fruitful discussion for how digital applications can transform or redefine what the humanities do. If, as Bruno Latour recently argued in “An Attempt at a ‘Compositionist Manifesto’,” critique “ran out of steam” because “it was predicated on the discovery of a true world of realities lying behind a veil of appearances,” what can the emphasis on building and creating in the digital humanities do to address the issues Liu presents above (474-5)? Or, alternatively, do the digital humanities need to identify with something essentially “humanistic” or have something to do with “cultural criticism” in order to be worthy of the name? If not, what’s the niche of the digital humanities? What do digital humanists do?
Latour, Bruno. “An Attempt at a ‘Compositionist Manifesto’.” New Literary History. 41 (2010): 471-90.