As an instructor in a technical field – film and video production – the notion of digital pedagogy is always at hand. I not only want my students to learn technical and conceptual skills, but to develop a comfort with learning new tools and with learning how to teach themselves new tools. So, even in my film theory-based courses, I employ digital tools to support learning.
I also absolutely support the notion of play and tinkering Jesse Stommel outlines as key parts of education (which I also expand on in the article “Teaching Avant-Garde Practice as Videographic Research” forthcoming in the journal Screen) and which he connects directly to digital pedagogy. What is sometimes lost, however, in discussions of digital pedagogy, is what exactly are students learning? What do we hope they will come to understand, or what skills will they build, or what connections will they make because of their engagement with digital tools?
Certainly, philosophies of digital pedagogy encompass both teaching AND learning. Absolutely. And Stommel’s work on the subject is very committed to student learning.
My own goals for integrating digital tools are also rooted in student learning – I intentionally choose software or online service that allow students to perform a work of film analysis or close textual reading that otherwise wouldn’t be possible and that involve a very flat learning curve.
But, more often than I’d like, I find that the main skill my students develop is learning the tool, sometimes at the expense of the concept I want them to develop. In the worst cases, the students struggle so much with the technical aspect of the assignment that there’s little room left for the conceptual or analytical portion.
Although I want students to develop digital skills in general in preparation for living and working in a digital world, in the classroom, I don’t want the means for learning to stifle the learning itself.
As Stommel notes, his approach to digital pedagogy is rooted in critical pedagogy, which is about education as a form of liberation. Yet, because of the digital divide and other inequities our students bring to the classroom (and that we as instructors sometimes, often inadvertently, replicate in the classroom), digitality can easily produce the conditions of exclusion rather than inclusiveness.
That leaves a couple options: either skip the digital tools or, preferably, include the process of learning digital tools as a learning outcome in itself and design the course with that learning outcome in mind.
I’m not saying anything new here, I realize, but when we consider the liberating potential of digital pedagogy, I think it’s imperative that we return to the core goals of what we want students to learn in our courses. Often, we skip over the process of learning a tool as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. If we choose to integrate digital tools, especially with a student body who might come to us with a considerable range of technical skills, we must build in the digital learning as a foundational element of the class, made transparent and explicit, with the appropriate supports in place.