Introduction: Teaching Digital Media

By Ellis, Jacqueline; Garvey, Ellen Gruber | Transformations, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Introduction: Teaching Digital Media

Ellis, Jacqueline, Garvey, Ellen Gruber, Transformations

New technologies often inspire utopian hopes: the bicycle will allow women and men to travel everywhere, unfettered; telephones will erase distance and do away with drudgery. More recently, computers and now digital resources promise to open the world's libraries to all, and to make all knowledge available to everyone to learn with. And yet we are all aware of the digital divide-the line between the 60% of CUNY honors college students who did not own computers before the school gave them one, and those born with a silver mouse in their hands. The digital divide flickers through the articles in this issue on Teaching Digital Media, most obviously in the contrast between the world of elite universities, replete with research assistants creating rich and beautiful websites from the university's holdings, and assisting students in using them, versus public city and state university instructors relying on their own ingenuity to adapt available technology, without much support, that they can teach their students to use in a brief session. But the divide is not so simple: some less advantaged institutions have secured grants to bring digital resources to students, digital projects created by wealthier universities have allowed open access to those outside the gates, and the range of new technologies- from smartphones to social networking to free off-the-shelf software tools-offers students many points of entry into the digital world.

In "Perry in Japan: A Transnational, Cultural, and Pedagogic History," Susan Smulyan notes the decentering of authority that takes place when "both students and teachers have access to the same materials." A similar democratizing effect appears in the opening of archives and other university resources to a larger group of users, including students and faculty at institutions with few resources. With so many digital resources available, the instructor's role may less often be to help students find materials than to channel students' attention to a small group of texts or artifacts, so that they can explore them productively. As Lauren Klein notes in "Hacking the Field: Teaching Digital Humanities with Off-the-Shelf Tools," digital technologies allow students to become "hackers" who can intervene in the production and uses of teaching materials and thus take a more active role in their education.

Articles in this issue address students' ways of learning from digital materials from different angles. Jessica DeSpain, in "On Building Things: Student-Designed Print and Digital Exhibits in the Book History Classroom" asks her students to examine both tangible and digital printed matter, and to explore the materiality of the digital realm as a part of print culture. The students who work with Melissa Bailar as assistants and beginning scholars, in "The Humanities Student as Digital Archivist: Pedagogical Opportunities in the Our Americas Archive Partnership," learn the basics of text encoding, as they apply both this technical editorial knowledge and their developing scholarship expertise as multilingual hemispheric Americanists to interpret and annotate texts. They consider, too, how they or others will teach with the materials they are making available, in their own academic careers or by offering pedagogical guides to other teachers.

Like Bailar, other authors describe how their students build the archive they work with. Susan Smulyan's students, in "Perry In Japan," wrote about digitized images of US-Japanese encounter on Japanese scrolls painted over a hundred years ago, and put their essays on a website with the scroll and written materials from the encounter. Several years later, a second group of students at the University of Tokyo reinterpreted both the images and the writing by the earlier group of students. The website is continuing to acquire additional layers of interpretation and commentary, with each new layer encompassing the previous additions.

Intellectual property considerations mean that Christopher Phillips' students' poetry performances in "Performing Criticism: How Digital Audio can Help Students Learn (and Teach) Poetry" do not become an archive and are not available on the web. …

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