Defining Digital Pedagogy

As a person who does research at the intersection of composition studies and digital media, digital technologies are often a focal point in my class. Almost all of the writing courses I’ve taught have featured technology as a theme, a subject of inquiry, or a methodology. My interest in writing and composing is inextricably linked to my interest in technology, how we as users write because of, with, or in spite of technology, how technology similarly writes narratives and pathways for users, how technology and users do not occupy not discrete, permanent positions of object and subject.

This is all to say that I think about digital pedagogy. I think about it a lot. In my appointment as the graduate coordinator for the second-year writing program, I am jointly responsible for training new instructors. I also oversee the hybrid version of the course. I think about why and how we (“we” at many levels including individual instructors, the writing program, the department, the profession) include technology and digital issues in composition classrooms, how we are training these instructors to use technology in their classroom, what resources we are providing instructors, what resources these instructors provide their students, what students are learning and retaining in their classes, etc.

As I’ve reflected on these critical questions as an instructor, an administrator, a hopeful future faculty member, I’ve decided (for the moment) that digital pedagogy isn’t really anything different from good pedagogy When we use the term digital pedagogy, what does the digital signify that is different from what we know about pedagogy? At its best, I think that digital pedagogy is just good pedagogy plus.

I understand pedagogy to be a practice of facilitating and enhancing student learning. My pedagogical practices for any class include setting course learning objectives and designing assignments and a course sequence that create opportunities for students to practice these learning objectives. But beyond that, I strive to practice a pedagogy that is critical, current, compassionate, and courageous:

Critical: Being critical is often perceived as negative; however, I think of it as self-reflexive. It’s a process of constantly checking in with myself and my students, to make changes when something isn’t working, to recognize the what is working and why.What am I trying to teach students? How is it relevant to their lives? Is the way I’m approaching the topic the best way?

Current: The learning and personal needs of students change on a daily basis. The skills and literacies that students need to succeed change, although at a slower pace, and often the learning objectives handed down from administration change at a glacial pace. If my job is to prepare students, I want to be able to offer them a relevant education or a way to make my course relevant to their own personal or professional objectives.

Compassionate: A compassionate pedagogy recognizes the positionality of individuals within a larger institutional, social, and political context. Every semester, I have students who go through hell. Often, I can’t do anything about this. But there are smaller microaggressions that occur, that I myself may be guilty of, that I can work on rectifying.

Courageous: It can be difficult to practice this sort of pedagogy in a university system that relies on adjunct labor, that is increasingly unaffordable and inaccessible to a variety of students, that is subject to scrutiny and critique. It takes courage for individual instructors and at the programatic level. It takes courage for students to participate in a course that looks and feels different from anything that they have probably experienced in a classroom before.

I think about being critical, current, compassionate, and courageous when I design my syllabus, when I order books, when I go to class every day, when I grade stacks of (digital) papers. The digital aspect of pedagogy helps me try to be these things and adds an additional dimension to these aspirations. Students should be critical of how technology positions them as users, consumers, and producers. I am also critical of how technology meets learning objectives and whether or not using technology adds anything to the student learning experience. Technology helps me with the desire to be current, so I can bring new technologies that students are using into the classroom so that together we can examine or use the technology to develop composition-related literacies. With technology, I am able to be a more compassionate instructor. I can use open source and Creative Commons materials so that my students don’t have to worry about buying expensive, out-dated textbooks that they will get pennies back on. I like to think that I’m courageous because of digital pedagogy. With my students, we are able to expand our inquiry beyond the four walls of our (very ugly) brick classroom, to make the class relevant, to critique our position in that brick room, to work towards change.

In short, digital pedagogy is just a small piece of my overall pedagogical approach. It’s how technologies can be used as a tool, a subject of inquiry, or a method to develop students’ multiliteracies. Digital pedagogy is pedagogy: critical, contemporary, compassionate, and courageous, plus technology.