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Theory

Pedagogical Commitments

We come to this project with a few explicit pedagogical commitments:

  1. Access and community engagement
  2. Students are not “digital natives”
  3. DHSS develops 21st-century competencies
  4. Digital literacy includes embracing copyright
  5. You have to be open to learning too!

Access and Community Engagement

… digital humanities should promote traditional humanistic values such as access to knowledge and civic responsibility by embracing collaboration, cross-disciplinary, innovation, participation, and openness.
Lisa Spiro. (2012). ‘This is why we fight’: Defining the values of the Digital Humanities. In M. K. Gold (Ed.), Debates in the Digital Humanities (p. 23). Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.)

As a project co-chaired by the Office of the Vice Provost Academic at York University, we see DHSS as facilitating greater opportunities for access and community engagement in classrooms. By engaging in DHSS, a body of scholarship designed for democratized public access, students’ work can go from the walls of the classroom to the fora of public online space; and in these online spaces, an audience larger than just the professor or TA can see, learn from, and interact with students’ learning. With DHSS, students can come to understand that academic work is not just an opportunity for academics to talk to each other, but a collection of opportunities that invite, even require, greater audience for developing and interpreting meaning. In this way, DHSS assignments can provide greater access to academic work and digital materials than traditional assignments are are designed to do.

Concurrent with the greater opportunities for access, by presenting course content as work that that is public-facing, students can be introduced to new ways to demonstrate their learning as members of different communities. With public-facing work, students can identify different audiences to present their work to, which may include their own extra-curricular communities. This may even spark interest in working with these communities to create new, or deeper, layers of meaning within their academic work. In this way, DHSS can invite opportunities to work outside the classroom with community groups to collaborate on sharing content, mobilizing stories, and developing new materials. The possibilities for creating a course that is designed around greater access and community engagements is thus rich with DHSS and built into options in our Assignment Guides.

 

Students Are Not “Digital Natives”

We may live in a highly technologised world, but it is conceivable that it has become so through evolution, rather than revolution. Young people may do things differently, but there are no grounds to consider them alien to us.
Sue Bennett, Karl Maton, & Lisa Kervin. (2018). The ‘Digital Natives’ Debate: A critical review of the evidenceBritish Journal of Educational Technology, 39(5), p. 738.

Despite their ubiquitous use of digital technologies, today’s students are not “digital natives” with an innate understanding of the use and power of digital technologies (see, for example, Paul Kirschner and Pedro De Bruyckere’s 2017 article “The Myths of the Digital Native and the Multitasker“). Research shows that students use technology in higher-education to organize and manage the logistics of studying, not necessarily to augment or invite new ways of seeing learning materials (Henderson, Selwyn, & Aston, 2017). This does not mean students are not interested in these activities, only that they are not doing them innately. In fact, when asked, Cathy Davidson, formerly of Duke University, found that students wanted to develop digital literacies such as:

  • Using online sources to network, knowledge-outreach, publicize content, collaborate, and innovate
  • Collecting, managing, and interpreting multimedia and online data and/or content
  • Appreciating the complex ethics surrounding online practices

Professors, however, have to guide students in explicitly developing these skills and knowledges in their courses. Thus, we’ve built into our Assignment Guides invitations for students to network, to augment, to collaborate, to innovate, and to see the complexity of online materials by learning experientially with digital technologies. This means we have flagged the moments in which you can be explicit in exploring these ideas with your students in the process of students’ assignments, not just the products. We have also flagged when there will be a learning curve in a tool or technology and therefore have focused on how your students, and yourself, can come to understand the DHSS assignment holistically in terms of tools, content, and aims; but neither your students – nor you – need to know the more advanced technologies to do this work.

 

DHSS Develops 21st-Century Competencies

The digital humanities should not be about the digital at all. It’s all about innovation and disruption.
Mark Sample. (2009). “What’s Wrong With Writing Essays.” SampleRealityparas. 6 & 7.

We would be remiss not to acknowledge the resistance amongst faculty members toward, what has been called, the “professionalization” of the Humanities and Social Sciences, and the ways DHSS have been brought (unjustly?) into this conversation. We hope that this Instructor’s Guide does not read as a manual for skills but rather as a helpful guide for thinking through new ways of meaning making by explicitly incorporating the digital into the process and product of your students’ assignments.

Twenty-first-century competencies are, and will continue to be, key elements of your students’ education. After an international literature review, the Ontario government identified that four main 21st-century competencies that employers are looking for are:

  • Critical thinking
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity and innovation

These competencies are built into each assignment featured in this Guide in explicit and implicit ways. You can also hear their presence in how our students talk about their experiences with DHSS. In this way, DHSS is not about training students for work, but about providing greater opportunities for students to explore and solve “messy, complex problems – including problems we don’t yet know about – associated with living in a competitive, globally connected, and technologically intensive world” (Ontario, 2016, p. 3). These problems may be professional, but they may also be academic and/or personal. Developing students’ digital literacies can help them understand content in the networked ways they already, and will continue to, interact with the world. This allows them to use, develop, innovate, and disrupt knowledge, not just process it.

 

Digital Literacy Includes Embracing Copyright

“The effective use of copyrighted materials enhances the teaching and learning process.”
Renee Hobbs. (2010). Copyright Clarity: How fair use supports digital learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, p. 5.

Students’ digital literacy skills include understanding and respecting copyright law and other rights related to creation and distribution. Your role as a professor is to also understand and respect copyright legislation, but more importantly model how copyright, like the ethics review process, is meant to create more ethical relationships amongst those who create and those who use information. Issues with copyright and other considerations (intellectual property rights, creative commons licensing, traditional knowledge, community consultations, etc.) should not be seen as a barrier for engaging in DHSS, but rather as an opportunity to understand copyright laws in situ and identify legal and ethical sources that can be used in the classroom. Our Assignment Guides use digital materials that are selected appropriately but also invite the creation of digital materials that can be shared in public spaces. Thus, these student-created work, including their digitization and final assignments, can invite opportunities to discuss copyright by using your students’ own rights as creators as fodder for the discussion.

 

DHSS Supports Faculty Learning

These assignments will not run on auto-pilot. To engage in DHSS in your classroom requires that you are open to learning, along with your students, about the processes and products of DHSS. We see this as an exciting opportunity for collaboration, experiential learning, and critical thinking, and we hope you do too.