Teaching Digitally: The Dialectics of Recognition, Representation and Change

“Representation is key to recognition; recognition is key to change” (Davidson and Goldberg 176).

As Hegelian as this passage might sound, it is not excerpted from Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Hinting at the dialectical structure of global digital (networked) education as a system and a practice, the argument that representation is key to recognition and recognition is the key to change repeats itself in slightly different ideological and practical forms in the scholarly essay of its origin by Cathy N. Davidson and David Theo Goldberg entitled “(In)Conclusive: Thinking of Future in of Digital Thinking” (176). Actually, representation, recognition, and change are at the heart of Davidson and Goldberg’s essay on the development of global digital networked education and its future in higher education institutions. As core concepts, representation, recognition and change are tied throughout the essay to the overarching question the essay works to answer, namely: “[W]hat is the future of higher learning institutions in a digital age?” (183)

The answer to Davidson and Goldberg’s question goes right to the heart of Dr. Ned Stuckey- French’s digital humanities presentation entitled “Teaching the Digital Age” where the opening question came from the confusion over the title of the presentation and whether he would be discussing “Teaching the Digital Age” or “Teaching in the Digital Age”. The distinction of the “in” in the two titles creates an ontological and hermeneutical question of representation and recognition and the roles of teacher, student and system in creating the digital age and/or our ability to move through these various identities to speak to the digital age in some objective manner.

Dr. Stuckey French’s answer to the question of the “in” was that the practical title remained “Teaching the Digital Age” but that actually the confusion in the title worked perfectly as a dialectical bridge that hinted at his overall project which was to teach in the digital age by using new media digital technologies and to teach the digital age as an ontological object which dialectically changes the digital age in the process. Ned Stuckey-French’s “bridge”, the dialectical practice of existing both “in and of” the digital age, is exemplified by Goldberg and Davidson’s “Ten Principles for the Future of Learning Institutions”.

While walking us through the week-by-week assignment syllabus for his undergraduate class on the digital essay, Dr. Stuckey-French highlighted several of Goldberg and Davidson’s “Ten Principles”. For example, the first principle “Self-Learning” (185) was exemplified by Dr. Stuckey-French’s demonstration of his students’ final digital essay project. The class built itself towards the final project, where each student built a personal essay in digital form online. This project assignment allowed each student to focus on something that interested them or spoke to them as individuals. Online reading and writing done previous to the class found a home in a range of project essays. Essays concerned with personal travel were encouraged to use collective (186 and 190) and open-source systems (189) to create the digital venue. Some students used systems like Google Maps or the Urban Spoon to give travel narratives or accounts of “growing up” experiences.

Issues of decentered pedagogy (186) and networked learning (188) were exemplified in the way the course readings, discussions and projects interacted with a global information network that overlapped with a variety of multidimensional issues. Participatory learning (193-7) was encouraged in the implementation of new mixed media forms as assigned reading on the syllabus and interactive development in the changing shape of “the essay” inside the thinking and creating of “the digital essay” form. In Stuckey-French’s own work, “An Essay on the Context of Essays” he insists that “digitization will help us retrieve and re-illuminate existing essays” (41) while paying attention to the importance of using the essays themselves to speak to the historical context within which they were created.

Returning to the issues of representation, recognition and change, the debate over the “integrity” of the essay as a genre and retaining the “essay” form in the development of digital or film essays never left the discussion. How important is the “single voice” inside a networked world like the digital? In addressing this question, the opening issues of the “in” that is left out of “Teaching the Digital Age” returns. If the essay form on the one hand places a heavy handed importance of the personal (read individual) voice and choices that the autonomous individual makes and the digital age, on the other hand, enables and emphasizes principles of open-access, networked learning, decentered teaching, collective credibility and mobilized networks and institutions, then how do we keep the integrity of the genre form while moving forward in an increasingly digitized and networked world?

The answer seems to be: To “Teach the Digital Age” and “Teach in the Digital Age” at the same time. In doing so, we retain control over a seeming uncontrolled network. This brings to mind Karl Marx’s famous passage in the “Thesis on Feuerbach”: Up until now, “philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it”.

Perhaps we can say of “Teaching the Digital Age that”: Until now, essayists have hitherto only interpreted the digital age in various ways. The point of digital teaching and the digital essay, however, is to change it.

Works Cited

Davidson, Cathy N., and David Theo Goldberg. “(In)Conclusive: Thinking the Future of Digital Thinking” in The Future of Thinking, MIT 201

Stuckey-French, Ned. “An Essay on the Context of Essays.”

Stuckey-French, Ned. Course Syllabi: IFS 2030: Reading, Writing, and Speaking in the Digital Age.

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