Demonstrating the Scholarship of Pedagogy

 

Introduction

This post is the first installment of CIT’s new blog series, “Demonstrating the Scholarship of…,” in which we provide arguments and strategies for individual scholars to link their own particular suite of non-traditional means to these traditional ends. In this post, we will reflect on the mutual interdependence of teaching and research, share ideas for making this feedback loop more rewarding and efficient, and offer arguments for the significance of digital pedagogy as a rigorous and productive form of scholarship.

Four years have passed since Stephen Brier argued in Debates in the Digital Humanities that “teaching and learning are something of an afterthought for many DHers.” Although some of the supporting evidence Brier pointed to still holds true today (for example, pedagogical projects are still not as fundable as “research” projects), others do not (for example, running searches for pedagogy in Digital Humanities Quarterly yields four times as many hits as it did in 2012). And even though much academic work concerning pedagogy occurs as events—conferences, workshops, lectures, symposia, THATCamps, online seminars—the number of articles and books on digital pedagogy published in the last four years has been impressive.

In the interest of time, let’s take just a few examples. Brett D. Hirsch’s edited collection Digital Humanities: Pedagogy: Practices, Principles, and Politics (2014), available in open-access format here, presents case studies to argue, as Erik Shell points out, that successful DH pedagogy uses interdisciplinary collaboration in the service of a clearly-delineated project (e.g., groups create a concrete deliverable rather than individuals developing “skills”). The journal Hybrid Pedagogy, launched in 2011, is already a rich resource containing articles, manifestoes, and case studies that are, in their structure and style, as experimental as the pedagogical strategies covered in it. MLA’s new collection Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities: Concepts, Models, and Experiments complements these works by offering syllabi, assignment sheets, and projects, in addition to a valuable literature review and discussion of the current state of digital pedagogy.

Non-Traditional Means, Traditional Ends

Take the time to understand and articulate how your particular efforts in digital pedagogy meet traditional standards of scholarship: depth, rigor, peer review, metadisciplinary reflection or theorization, and participation in ongoing scholarly debates (both in pedagogy and in your content field). Essentially, how have your efforts to incorporate digital tools, online archives, coding, encoding, visualization, or mapping changed your methods of research? Have they changed what you research or how you research? Have they changed the scope of your research, or perhaps your methods of writing or developing theses, or your methods of acquiring, organizing, or interpreting your evidence?

The simplest opportunity occurs during evaluation season at the end of each course; prepare your students before evaluations are due by specifying what kind of feedback you would like concerning the digital elements of the course. Ask them to tell you what digital projects, tools, or methods have contributed to their knowledge of course content, and use their responses as a starting point for connecting the dots between pedagogy and disciplinary content formation. You should also reflect on the ways in which your digital pedagogical efforts have transformed your knowledge of your content field. Keep a file on your computer, or sticky notes on your desk, that track any “lightbulb” moments that occur while teaching, prepping, or grading. (I generally write these notes on an extra paper copy of the syllabus that I always keep on my desk.)

As you familiarize yourself with syllabi and assignment sheets that other instructors have put online, as well as with articles on digital pedagogy in journals such as JITP, JDH, JoDML, DLS, DHQ, Hybrid Pedagogy, Kairos, and Digital Studies: Le champs numérique, study the ways in which these other digital pedagogues explain, defend, and conceptualize the relationship between digital activities and their course objectives. Assemble and maintain a network of peers in your content field who are also active in digital pedagogy. Although conversations with any other digital pedagogue will, of course, be useful, use conversations with your disciplinary peers to combine pedagogical insights with specialist research. Comparing notes, syllabi, assignment sheets, failures, and successes with scholars in your specialization—as closely allied to your research interests as you can find—can spark productive conversations about your field and non-digital or non-pedagogical research interests.

Finally, on the other end of the spectrum, pay particular attention to any methods or ideas you have incorporated from beyond your home discipline. When incorporating digital maps, for example, have you increased your knowledge of physical or cultural geography? Or of statistics when using data mining? Of graphic design when asking students to create visualizations? Have you become more interested in the academic study of education as you experiment in activity and assignment design? In the classroom, be aware of your students’ majors and use this awareness to ask questions tailored to students who can share particular disciplinary skills and concepts. Consider speaking with colleagues from other disciplines—or asking the colleague to guest lecture in your class, or even team-teach a cross-listed course—to transform these casual overlaps into a more carefully undertaken, explicitly theorized interdisciplinary work.

Impact

You will also need to transform or reflect on this pedagogical work to yield evaluation-friendly nuggets that are similar to the ones you have already developed for your disciplinary research interests. The most traditional way is, of course, to transform these pedagogical efforts into different outputs, particularly those that look good on a CV: presentations, publications, awards, and grants. Of course, not all projects are made equal in the eyes of grant organizations, and digital pedagogy is, for example, specifically excluded from many NEH grant opportunities, though the Mellon foundation has been more open to such projects. Look for awards and grants directly connected to pedagogy, curriculum development, or student research within your own institution.

Presentations and publications are a natural way to apply the insights you have gained from applying digital approaches in the classroom. Presenting at a conference about how your class constructed an archive or encoded a text, then using feedback from the conference to write a journal article, is a familiar way to increase the number of outputs yielded from a single foray into digital pedagogy. Making every academic effort count more than once is already standard career advice, so apply this concept your digital work in the classroom as much as you would a research project. And beyond publication and presentations, you could attend—or better yet, organize—a digital pedagogy workshop at your own institution (perhaps a THATCamp).

You can also prove the impact of your digital pedagogy by using analytics. As much as we might be skeptical of analytics as an alien import from the business world, numbers can be a powerful ally if we actively search for ways to make them speak for us. Share pedagogical materials online, then gather data about how users are interacting with your materials. I use Google Analytics and Academia.edu to track how many people view and download the digital pedagogical materials I have uploaded. Use social media to drive users to your files. These statistics can help you prove the impact of your digital efforts beyond your institution—especially your global impact, as you will quickly learn that North Americans are not the only ones interested in your work.

Combating Counterarguments

  1. Pedagogy isn’t scholarship. Point out that digital pedagogy is a new field, and we are still inventing best practices, so it is ripe for new work finding connections between teaching and research. List the outputs that you have generated from your digital pedagogy, especially publications and grants, and explain how your experiences in the classroom have changed the way you research, write, or publish.
  2. We aren’t education professors. Point out how discussions and activities in the classroom have influenced your content knowledge, showing how students can actively participate in the production of sophisticated scholarly arguments. Discuss the pedagogical research that has influenced you, and name some of the prominent digital humanists who work on pedagogy (e.g, Jesse Stommel, Rebecca Frost Davis).
  3. Digital projects exploit student labor. Point out the connections between the work your students do to create digital projects and the course objectives you have outlined on your syllabus. Use these course objectives to clarify the academic worth of digital assignments.
  4. How could someone who’s not a computer scientist create a digital project of real worth? Point out that the true deliverable for many digital projects is disciplinary knowledge of the “traditional” sort. Discuss the significance of learning from failure, and explain how understanding the imbrication of the digital in education is a matter of process, not product.

 

Verbs and Phrases

You should cultivate a set of ready-at-hand, blurb-friendly ways of speaking about your work in digital pedagogy, ideally with a mixture of insights that other digital pedagogues often use and your own, more specialized (or even controversial) insights. First, refer to the excellent list curated by Rebecca Frost Davis, Matthew K. Gold, Katherine D. Harris, and Jentery Sayers. In addition to familiar terms (collaboration, failure, hacking, multimodal, open, praxis), this list points to important terms that are not as common in the discourse of digital pedagogy (disability, fieldwork, play, prototyping, work).

Interdisciplinarity

Deliverable

Entrepreneurial

Project-oriented

Placement / internship

Public writing / public humanities

Undergraduate research

Active learning

Digital literacy

Digital storytelling

“Forking the digital humanities code” (Bryan Alexander and Rebecca Frost Davis)

Weaving rather than writing (Mark Sample)

Spider webs and beaver dams (Trevor Owens)

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