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.

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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.

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