When I registered for this course, my primary goal was to beef up on digital pedagogy–in part with the hopes of making myself more marketable in the future. As it turns out, my interests went in an entirely different direction with questions of ethics, access, and archival work and I’m loving this new direction in DH studies. Still, though, it was nice to read Olin Bjork’s “Digital Humanities and the First-Year Writing Course” as a way to end the semester the way I thought I’d spend it.
To me, Bjork’s most interesting premise is that “composition is moving toward digital humanities even as it moves away from the material humanities, or that the humanities, in becoming digital, have moved toward composition” (98). I believe we see evidence to support Bjork’s claim even in the most recent MLA JIL, which continues to include significantly higher numbers of job lines for digital and composition studies faculty than traditional literature positions. It seems clear that we, as a field, are headed in this direction and, although I’m a lit person myself, I love the pedagogical potential situated at the DH/Comp crossroads.
Bjork writes of “hip hop pedagogies” and Second Life classrooms, which, I think, enable students to use their digital (and virtual) literacies in the composition classroom, thereby legitimizing the vast amount of writing they are already doing on a daily basis (101). However, I’m concerned that when he argues that “[t]echnological barriers are diminishing as free and open source software and the latest smartphones which can record audio and/or video make their way into the hands of the average college student,” Bjork assumes a class status that might exclude many urban–or even rural–two-year or community college students (101).
Despite these acute concerns, I find Bjork’s pedagogical suggestions really energizing. I wonder, though, how those same urban community college students might feel about data analysis assignments in a composition course–if those types of assignments will feel as irrelevant to them as the traditional final paper and, if so, what kinds of assigned writing truly would speak to their current and future needs and desires.
Ultimately, as in most academic situations, I think one needs to see where one lands and to determine who one’s students are and what they want and need from a first-year composition course. Ongoing assessment (not institutional assessment, but more informal student feedback) not only helps position the instructor to best teach students, it also encourages students to take ownership of their educations–one of Cathy Davidson and David Theo Goldberg’s pillars of good institutional learning and Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel’s rights for learning in a digital age (26, web). That, to me, is a win-win situation that’s only enhanced by exciting new pedagogies.
Bjork, Olin. “Digital Humanities and the First-Year Writing Course.” Digital Humanities Pedagogy. Ed. Brett D. Hirsch. Open Book Publishers, 2009. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.
Davidson, Cathy T. and David Theo Goldberg. The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2009. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.
Morris, Sean Michael and Jesse Stommel. “A Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in a Digital Age.” Hybrid Pedagogy: A Digital Journal of Learning, Teaching, and Technology. 22 Jan. 2013. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.