templates v. control

Arola makes several good points about the limitations of Web 2.0. In taking for granted the form/content split, Web 2.0 allows us to use technology without understanding or even thinking about the form our content takes. Sites like facebook highlight what other users (our “friends”) do and offer us some ability to individualize our self-presentations. But that ability is strictly limited. We cannot change the template of our profiles. We cannot move around its elements.

This blog has similar limitations. In individualizing my blog, I was able to pick my own picture and change the colors of the layout. But I could not easily change the fonts or the location of my header picture on the page.

The choice between a content management system–that is easier and more accessible–and a system that allows users to be creators and designers is important. In assigning a digital project in my course, I am not sure how much I want students to learn advanced technical skills. My main concern is that a real emphasis on the technical skills would come at the expense of course content.

At this point, I need to clarify exactly what my course assignment is going to be and explore the templates and resources that students could use in creating their sites. This would also help me clarify which of the Five Resources for Critical Digital Literacy to emphasize in my class. At the least, I’d like students to work on Decoding, Meaning Making, and Using. The extent to which we work on those skills is, however, dependent on the tool we’re using to create their projects and what the project is exactly.

interdisciplinary digital pedagogy

I am an interdisciplinary scholar and though I teach in a political science department, my courses are also somewhat interdisciplinary in their nature. Both my scholarship and teaching encompass the study of politics, critical theory, legal studies, gender studies, science studies, and more. As such, digital work and digital pedagogy fits quite easily into work in my multi- and interdisciplinary areas. Neither interdisciplinary work nor digital work are exactly traditional. Each seeks to shake up traditional scholarship by introducing new domains and methods of inquiry.

—-

In addition to Kirschenbaum and Raymond, I read Schweitzer’s “Women’s Studies Online Cyberfeminism or Cyberhype?” for this week’s seminar. Schweitzer discusses the potential for online spaces and assignments to further a feminist pedagogy that emphasizes collaborative learning. As Schweitzer describes it, feminist pedagogy also focuses on “coming to voice: making ourselves visible, recognizing ourselves as the subject of knowledge production and not simply its object or receptacle, and granting others a similar validation.” She argues that online learning environments and digital pedagogy can be used to further those goals.

Schweitzer details her experience teaching a course with a substantial web presence in addition to the traditional classroom presence. By having a participatory class website in which students were encouraged to add links and resources, the course Schweitzer described furthered her collaborative and participatory goals. She also required students to post reading responses on the course page, which made them public in a way that more traditional assignments are not. The benefit of this approach is that students start to become accountable to one another for their perspectives and learn to engage with others’ perspectives rather than just writing, in an isolating way, for the teacher’s eyes.

Additionally, the course Schweitzer taught included an open online discussion forum that allowed students to expand on discussions in class or raise issues not covered during class time. This was another way students could play a role in determining the scope of the course.  Crucially, the course’s online presence created opportunities for course participation that potentially challenged the exclusions and silences that often characterize discussion and participation in physical classrooms.

In contrast to Schweitzer’s feminist perspective on digital pedagogy, Raymond offers an analysis of a simulation exercise in a political science course. Based on his own experience of running a simulation exercise, Raymond concludes that simulations may not enhance student learning and that educators need to think more deeply about the pedagogical purposes of simulations. Nonetheless, Raymond’s article suggests that digital projects such as digital simulations can extend the work traditionally done in political science by getting students to engage in games of strategy and power as players. Rather than only reading about power and strategy, students can engage as simulated political players.

In both the context of political simulations and feminist courses with an online presence, the limitations of technology and the way it is used in practice need to be evaluated. Any political simulation is obviously limited by the very fact that it is simulated. What aspects of the messy and complicated political world are not represented in the simulation? What does the design of the simulation assume about politics and power? While Schweitzer describes the online space of her classroom as providing a space that does not replicate the marginalization and exclusion that often happens in physical classrooms, online space is not untouched by the same relations of power that often play out in physical space. How can online tools be used in a transformative way and not in a way that reproduces social hierarchies? The point I’m making here is simply that there is nothing inherently good or bad about technology. In incorporating digital projects into courses it is imperative to remain reflective about how technology is being used.

my project and the digital humanities landscape

This week’s readings, as my fellow seminar participants have pointed out, were pretty academic and were afflicted with some of the shortcomings of much scholarly writing. Nonetheless, the articles, especially the Svennson piece, did provide me with a stronger understanding of the diversity of Digital Humanities and a set of terms to conceptualize and categorize Digital Humanities practices. Thus, I’ll try to respond to this week’s reflection questions: “How might these texts inform your conception of scholarly work in the digital? Where do you imagine your planned digital project engaging the primitives and fitting into the landscape?”

Svennson’s Modes of Engagements are most applicable to my planned digital project. He breaks down the Modes of Engagement in the following way: Tool, Study Object, Expressive Medium, Exploratory Laboratory, and Activist Venue. My proposed digital assignment would mostly engage the digital as a tool and expressive medium (though I’m not clear on the exact division between these two modes of engagement). Part of the motivation for including an online and digital assignment in my course is to create different (more creative?) opportunities for students to engage with course content and express their own analyses on issues of gender and politics. Although I have not settled the details, the project will ask students to use digital technology at least as a tool to disseminate information and as an expressive medium.

There is also the possibility that the students’ digital project will involve the digital as an activist venue. In fact, my interest in the possibilities of digital pedagogy stems in part from the activist or transformative potential of technology. I always ask students to develop their critical thinking skills and analyses of the political issues we discuss. Despite the fact that many of my students refine their beliefs or come to a new consciousness regarding the issues we investigate, their critical stances are disconnected (at least when it comes to course assignments) from any sort of larger political activism or engagement. Though requiring students to publish something online is a minor kind of engagement, I think that it will slightly change students’ orientations to the issues. Making resources and their own analyses of issues like sexual assault, pay inequality, and such publicly available is perhaps a step toward a more robust political engagement. As I design my project and refine the details, I want to keep this activist possibility in mind.