What Might Digital Wisdom Be and How Could It Help Us?

I’m appreciating Adam Copeland’s piece at Hybrid Pedagogy on “digital wisdom,” which he describes as “a pedagogical approach to technology and the classroom that does not stop at whether or how students may access digital devices in my classroom, but seeks also to address why it is important that students critically engage these very questions.” He offers four “pillars” that he uses in his own considerations of how to craft assignments for his students, each an important reason why he would choose a particular tool, design an assignment in a particular way, or engage students from a particular perspective.

This advice runs parallel to the “not digital pedagogy, just pedagogy” discussion we’ve been seeing lately (e.g.: here, here), in that Copeland’s conception of digital wisdom is a call for us to “move away from easy answers” and move toward pedagogical goals that deepen and expand our students learning.  He links to a range of assignments by himself and others that address his pillars – forming collaborative relationships with peers, preparing for citizenship, encountering difference and disagreement, and welcoming complexity – in concrete but theoretically informed ways, which is a particularly helpful approach for teachers interested in getting started with digital pedagogy.

I would like to push back a little on the way he sets up this helpful discussion, though, because for me, a term like “digital wisdom” can be used even more powerfully than just “the why” of asking students to engage a particular question.  By drawing on the term wisdom, we have an opportunity to activate ancient conversation about the role of practice and the practical – the how – in serving as not only a counterpoint to the why, but also an important aspect of its foundation.  Aristotle called it phronesis, others have used metis, but when we use terms like judgment, prudence and (practical) wisdom, we refer to that process through which we learn from our practices; the how deeply informs and ultimately serves as the foundation for the why. This process, of formulating a why, crafting a concrete how that hopefully enacts that why, and then reflecting on the nature of that enactment and usually making practical changes to the how in light of that reflection, is the very practical and grounded nature of the practical wisdom that pedagogues perform on a regular basis.

Through this process, we come to see ways that the why and the how are intricately linked, and we come to understand both more deeply than dogged application of the why to the how without such process will overlook. Copeland’s argument is crucial to the direction we all must turn in the future, as it recognizes the need to look past the newness and shininess of digital tools to the ways they can help us deepen student learning.  But if we’re not also closing that experiential learning loop ourselves, we’re missing out on significant opportunities to deepen our own learning.  Digital wisdom should be more than the why – it should be the why informed by the constantly developing nature of the relationship between the why and the how.


What Might Digital Wisdom Be and How Could It Help Us?

I’m appreciating Adam Copeland’s piece at Hybrid Pedagogy on “digital wisdom,” which he describes as “a pedagogical approach to technology and the classroom that does not stop at whether or how students may access digital devices in my classroom, but seeks also to address why it is important that students critically engage these very questions.” He offers four “pillars” that he uses in his own considerations of how to craft assignments for his students, each an important reason why he would choose a particular tool, design an assignment in a particular way, or engage students from a particular perspective.

This advice runs parallel to the “not digital pedagogy, just pedagogy” discussion we’ve been seeing lately (e.g.: here, here), in that Copeland’s conception of digital wisdom is a call for us to “move away from easy answers” and move toward pedagogical goals that deepen and expand our students learning.  He links to a range of assignments by himself and others that address his pillars – forming collaborative relationships with peers, preparing for citizenship, encountering difference and disagreement, and welcoming complexity – in concrete but theoretically informed ways, which is a particularly helpful approach for teachers interested in getting started with digital pedagogy.

I would like to push back a little on the way he sets up this helpful discussion, though, because for me, a term like “digital wisdom” can be used even more powerfully than just “the why” of asking students to engage a particular question.  By drawing on the term wisdom, we have an opportunity to activate ancient conversation about the role of practice and the practical – the how – in serving as not only a counterpoint to the why, but also an important aspect of its foundation.  Aristotle called it phronesis, others have used metis, but when we use terms like judgment, prudence and (practical) wisdom, we refer to that process through which we learn from our practices; the how deeply informs and ultimately serves as the foundation for the why. This process, of formulating a why, crafting a concrete how that hopefully enacts that why, and then reflecting on the nature of that enactment and usually making practical changes to the how in light of that reflection, is the very practical and grounded nature of the practical wisdom that pedagogues perform on a regular basis.

Through this process, we come to see ways that the why and the how are intricately linked, and we come to understand both more deeply than dogged application of the why to the how without such process will overlook. Copeland’s argument is crucial to the direction we all must turn in the future, as it recognizes the need to look past the newness and shininess of digital tools to the ways they can help us deepen student learning.  But if we’re not also closing that experiential learning loop ourselves, we’re missing out on significant opportunities to deepen our own learning.  Digital wisdom should be more than the why – it should be the why informed by the constantly developing nature of the relationship between the why and the how.

Digital Pedagogy Metis in Online Discussion Forum Advice

I’ve experimented for years with various online fora as tools for fostering student discussion beyond the classroom walls, with mixed success.  I’ve tried both optional and required assignments (certain numbers of posts and/or replies, etc.), with quantitative (points/grade) and qualitative (comments from me) evaluation schemes.  And I have tried them in a range of different kinds of media studies course, from topical surveys to upper-level seminars to skills-based production courses.  One thing I’ve realized is that the kind of practical advice Heather Van Mouwerik offers in her Inside Higher Ed piece, “Fostering an Active Online Discussion,” might be the most useful in terms of identifying and alleviating individual and group roadblocks to implementation.

For example, as a response to the deafening “crickets chirping” scenario she describes, Mouwerik suggests five practical guidelines for helping to nurture an online discussion forum, including being “the active participant you want your students to be” and redirecting any questions from students to the forum.  These tips clearly come from practical experience working with many course-based forums with her students.

Such metis – practical wisdom or prudence – is a crucial part of digital pedagogy today, especially when the technology behind each tool becomes less and less difficult to wrestle with.  You can learn the abstract theory of how to use this or that tool as well, but it is in its practical application in actual classrooms and/or with actual students that use of a particular tool shifts from an abstract exercise to a pedagogical practice.


Digital Pedagogy Metis in Online Discussion Forum Advice

I’ve experimented for years with various online fora as tools for fostering student discussion beyond the classroom walls, with mixed success.  I’ve tried both optional and required assignments (certain numbers of posts and/or replies, etc.), with quantitative (points/grade) and qualitative (comments from me) evaluation schemes.  And I have tried them in a range of different kinds of media studies course, from topical surveys to upper-level seminars to skills-based production courses.  One thing I’ve realized is that the kind of practical advice Heather Van Mouwerik offers in her Inside Higher Ed piece, “Fostering an Active Online Discussion,” might be the most useful in terms of identifying and alleviating individual and group roadblocks to implementation.

For example, as a response to the deafening “crickets chirping” scenario she describes, Mouwerik suggests five practical guidelines for helping to nurture an online discussion forum, including being “the active participant you want your students to be” and redirecting any questions from students to the forum.  These tips clearly come from practical experience working with many course-based forums with her students.

Such metis – practical wisdom or prudence – is a crucial part of digital pedagogy today, especially when the technology behind each tool becomes less and less difficult to wrestle with.  You can learn the abstract theory of how to use this or that tool as well, but it is in its practical application in actual classrooms and/or with actual students that use of a particular tool shifts from an abstract exercise to a pedagogical practice.

Workshop 2015 Session Notes: Student-Created Video

One of our first two sessions this past weekend was on student-created video: digital stories, video essays, remixes and other motion-picture media students create as an assignment or exercise in a course.  Since that is an area of expertise for me and I was facilitating the session, it probably turned into more of a Q and A than we intended. But to be fair, there are a number of issues, some conceptual, some logistical and technical, that are important to address, so I completely understand the desire to mold it in that way.

We started by talking about what brought each of the participants to the session, and out of that introductory conversation came some useful comments.  Some participants felt that student-created video assignments are valuable because students feel the process of creating a video is more fun than writing an essay.  One question to consider in response to this suggestion is whether this sense among students will be a lasting one, especially as faculty become more comfortable with assigning video projects and genres of scholarly video production like the documentary and the video essay become more established.  Others felt this could also be a detriment, in that the “cute” factor as one participant put it can be more of a driver of the video quality than the intellectual ideas the assignment was supposed to encourage.

We moved from there to a range of concerns participants had with these kinds of assignments.  There were three core issues we discussed during the session:

  • How much tutorial time and effort is necessary with students today to ensure they have the tools available to make a competent video?
  • What about evaluation of video work? Rubrics or other methods of assessment?
  • What is the legality of posting student work online, both in terms of the fair use of copyrighted material and of their own rights to protect their work?

Regarding the first set of questions, I shared that I’ve written a piece for the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) Teaching Dossier called “Production as Plug-in” in which I lay out a number of ways to approach the issue, depending on what your pedagogical goals are. We talked about my argument there in broad strokes, but briefly, my experience is that how much tutorial you build into your course schedule depends both on what your objectives are for your video production assignment and what your comfort level is with guiding your students through that work.  Though you by no means must be an expert, there is probably a minimum amount of assistance you should at least know where to point them to for most projects.

Regarding the second set of issues, we discussed that the key is keeping the focus always on what it is you want your students to practice or develop through the assignment, and crafting your criteria around that.  I did do a little research after the session, and there are some tools out there that are pre-built – edtechteacher.org and EdTech Central both have some good links to others’ rubrics for video projects – and some good advice on engaging the rubric-creation process in more depth so as to create your own if you’re interested.  I don’t use rubrics but I give my students a list of “evaluation criteria” phrased as questions that, if answered in the affirmative, constitute successful completion of the assignment.

Finally, regarding the last set, we talked about how the legality of posting work online is a contentious one, as I’m sure most readers will be aware.  As we discussed in the session, the issue of copyright goes “both ways” so to speak: concerns arise both about the use of others’ material in student projects, and about how free others will be to use student-produced material in their projects.  The latter question is actually easier to address because copyright law stands clearly on the side of the creator.  So assuming the student produced the material entirely on their own, they retain the right to decide who can copy it and who cannot. Enforcing that right is the harder part of that battle, but the volume of new material being produced every day is so great (even just to one sharing site) that students’ projects are adrift in it, so the likelihood of another finding and using a student’s work illegally is also quite low.

Most thorny is the question of whether and when a student is legally allowed to use another’s material in a project for a course.  Such “fair use,” and the nuances of the federal act and the case law that surround it, are both too voluminous for this post and not fully in my area of expertise.  In my field of media studies, we are lucky to be able to build on the work of several scholars who do have that expertise, and who have been working for the last few years to develop a set of “best practices” for working with copyrighted content in video production.  The best statement of those practices currently is a document also produced by SCMS, and while it is oriented toward media studies faculty and courses, it can be generally useful to others as well.

Given the brevity of the session and the scope and depth of these topics, we really only were able to touch on them at the workshop.  But we’re likely to have additional lunch or Saturday morning workshop sessions in the future, so if you’d like to see something like this topic discussed in the future, let us know here in the comments below. 🙂

DP Activity: Wikipedia Assignment

Here’s a potentially useful activity using Wikipedia, from a post over on The Conversation by Ellis Jones.

What I like about this “adopt-a-theorist’s-Wikipedia-page” assignment is that it gets students thinking about the way scholarly work often both is produced and managed: collaboratively and as a process over time, as opposed to solitarily and all at once in a moment of inspiration.

In addition, through engagement with existing pages on Wikipedia over time, students also get to engage with “others who share their interest in improving the quality of information available on a subject they care about.”  Since this happens within the Wikipedia interface, students have the opportunity to enter into dialogue both with the received wisdom Ellis refers to regarding the limited nature of the site’s usefulness, and with their own potentially ingrained notions about the site’s accuracy and efficacy at a given moment in time.

This kind of assignment could be effectively used in a wide range of disciplines, and if even a few students in each course take it seriously and do the work diligently, we all benefit from their contributions to the site down the road.

Draftback and Writing Visualization

FiveThirtyEight points to a neat little Chrome extension called Draftback that can “play back” any document composed in Google Docs.  As the author indicates, it does this by treating your writing as data, with each individual character entry or deletion (which are already tracked by Docs) being sequenced and played back by Draftback.

This could be a useful way to help students visualize the process of their writing.  What about a workshop session like this?

  • Students write drafts of their essays in Google Docs.
  • They share them with a partner or small group (or the professor) before class.
  • Their group watches each draftback animation and notes places where the author made specific structural, thematic, or grammatical choices that contributed significantly to the current draft, as well as speculate about other directions the draft could have taken if different choices had been made.
  • Then in class, groups conduct a mini-workshop with each essay, drawing on the specifics of the draftback animation for details in their constructive criticism.

This approach could help students understand more concretely the nature of writing as process in addition to product, which is something students often struggle with but that can help immensely in both improving their writing and increasing their confidence in their own writing ability.

Do I Really Need (to Manage My) Email? Follow-up

Thanks to those who were able to make it in to the Google Hangout version of my talk today.  Lots of good questions and comments about what works and what concerns you about using email as a tool for communicating with students (and others).

Here is the Prezi I used in the first half of the talk.  It’s fairly basic, but if you missed the talk entirely, it can give you some of the main points.

If you’re interested in learning more about GTD, Inbox Zero, or the Trusted Trio methods of email management, hit those links where you’ll find some short explanatory videos that lay out each method and their similarities. As always, there’s also plenty more out there that a little googling can help you unearth.

I also mentioned Boomerang, Better Gmail, and Gmail Meter, so if you’re interested in any of those, by all means, check them out.  Again, they’re aimed squarely at Gmail, but I do recommend working it into your routine if you can.

Speaking of that, I said I’d share with you my own routine, but time and my laptop battery life colluded against it, so it makes sense to share it here.  I operate day-to-day on a modified version of Inbox Zero, at least in principle: I shoot to clean out my inbox every time I open it, I do right now everything I can, I tend to write much shorter responses as I showed you, and I’m fairly ruthless about archiving old things.

A couple of things I also do that aren’t related Inbox Zero but are helpful to me:

  • I use the star function in Gmail (like flagging in Outlook) as a kind of “hold” folder, sloughing off emails that will take a while to deal with OR that I know I’ll need for reference in getting other work done that I can’t do right now.
  • I have my AC email forwarded to my gmail, so the two accounts are blended together seamlessly on my end.  This means I never have to use an app other than Gmail for my email.
  • I manage a few other Gmail accounts as well – one for the Johnson Center (acjohnsoncenter@gmail.com) and one for the Media Studies program (acmediastudies@gmail.com). This allows me to move files around, post things, and send out messages to folks using those different “voices.” I do not have these forwarded to my main account, as I use them relatively infrequently, but I could very easily do that as well.

There are probably other elements of my procedure that I’m not thinking of at the moment or that I intended to share in the talk today but did not.  Feel free to drop a note, question, or idea in the comments. 🙂

Several Points of Contact in the New NMC Horizon Report

nmc_itunesu.HR2015-170x170This year’s New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report just came out last week, and there are some intriguing points of intersection with the trends they identify and digital pedagogy practices and initiatives we’re interested in @AC.

For example, NMC identifies six trends accelerating higher ed tech adoption in the next few, including “Increased Use of Blended Learning,” “Redesigning Learning Spaces,” and “Increasing Cross-Institution Collaboration.” Each of these figures prominently either in the structure of the Mellon Digital Pedagogy grant itself and as a topic of conversation at Johnson Center workshops and lunches, around campus, or both. Of the challenges impeding adoption, “Improving Digital Literacy” and “Teaching Complex Thinking” are both issues we have been dealing with for several years if not longer.

Among the other developments highlighted, flipped classrooms and makerspaces are both concepts that have been much discussed of late. Makerspaces, in particular, are an early focus of this blog, and chemistry professor Andy Carr’s flipped classroom experiments are supported directly by the Mellon Digital Pedagogy grant.

I’ll have to agree with NMC that these issues will be prominent ones to watch at we move deeper into 2015.

ICYMI: Professional Development Blogging

ICYMI – In Case You Missed It – Lee Skallerup Bessette did a nice rollup of professional development blogs by academics in The Chronicle‘s Prof.Hacker column last week.  There are probably one or more blogs linked there that would be helpful to you as you think about pedagogy (digital or otherwise).  Check it out.

css.php