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.