Digital Pedagogy – Pedagogy That Embraces Reality

by Dr. Luanne Fose - The Tweed Geek on November 19, 2014

Computer monitor, laptop, tablet pc,  and mobile smartphone with a blue screen. Isolated on a white. 3d image

All pedagogy is digital pedagogy. Unless it has blinders on.” ~ Sean Morris

In several of our lunchtime discussions this summer during the Flipped Workshop Series, the topic of digital devices in the classroom came up among the faculty participants. Are these tools useful in the classroom or not? The main question always comes down to: “Should digital devices such as laptops, tablets, or phones be allowed in the classroom?” Some feel these devices are a distraction to both the students and the teacher. Students are sometimes tempted to look for more interesting forms of entertainment on their digital devices when they are bored by what is taking place in class. Instructors can’t always be sure that students are paying attention in class and consequently, find it hard to judge if students are grasping the concepts of the lesson or not.

Some educators argue that digital devices should be banned from the classroom and many instructors admit that they don’t allow students to use them in their classes. I always argue against this for three primary reasons: 1) Prohibiting the devices from class undermines any trust between student and instructor that they will use them responsibly in class; 2) Banishing such devices diminishes student responsibility to be accountable for their own learning and to practice digital citizenship; and 3) Reality is that digital devices have become an integral part of this generation’s environment and critical to their interaction in the world. (Don’t believe me? Just try to get anyone over 13 to go on a weekend trip without a digital device! Better yet, see if you can challenge yourself to do the same.) When we exclude the use of digital devices in the classroom, we are blocking out what is real and relevant in our students’ lives and we become irrelevant to them.

Case in point: This summer I was driving my car down the road near the Morro Bay State Park Museum of Natural History. I almost slammed into a family of four (two adults and two teenagers) who were crossing the road to go to the museum. It appeared that they were attempting a family vacation together. I say, “attempting” because I noticed that all four of them had their smartphones out and were reading, texting or talking on the phone as they crossed the road together. No interaction was happening between the four of them (unless they were texting one another), but they were interacting with someone or something that they preferred to spend time with rather than the family members they were vacationing with. Quite a picture indeed!

Realistically, I am convinced it is shortsighted to try and take these devices out of the picture in some effort to promote “better, undistracted learning.” Our duty as educators is to guide the use of these devices to promote responsible, accountable learning – in other words, to teach with a more enlightened digital pedagogy. The days of instructors being looked upon as an authority on a topic and imparting all knowledge to students began to dwindle once the internet’s storage of knowledge became so vast and easily accessible. Try to think of a topic you can’t find some information about on Google! Now: whether the information is correct or not is an entirely different matter for a future conversation, but the information is there for the taking. We need to accept the fact that our role as educators has changed into guiding student understanding of the facts and assisting them in extracting out the truth.

Seam Morris, in his excellent blog post, Digital Pedagogy: A Case of Open or Shut, presents us with a definition for the term, “digital pedagogy”:

 Leaving aside for a moment this issue of “trusting” students (apothegm: If you can’t trust students, you shouldn’t be teaching), this sort of question is what digital pedagogy is all about. Some folks believe that digital pedagogy concerns itself with the integration of digital tools and technologies into learning and learning environments, that it’s pedagogy that’s practiced online, or in blended or hybrid classrooms. But this is a fundamental misunderstanding of digital pedagogy. In fact, digital pedagogy concerns itself with learning in the digital age. It is — as all pedagogies must be — less interested in technologies and tools, than it is in the person, the learner, and how learning happens. This doesn’t mean that digital pedagogy doesn’t concern itself with machines as they apply to learning, because it does. Simply put, digital pedagogy is pedagogical practice that doesn’t ignore the fact that our lives have become increasingly digital, that machines are part of our environment and, in fact, very often mediate our interaction with that environment. Pedagogy asks: how does learning happen? Digital pedagogy asks: how does learning happen now that human experience relies on, is mediated by, and engages constantly with digital technology?

 And later on in the article, Mr. Morris continues to hit the nail on the head:

When instructors’ policies keep laptops closed, tablets and phones turned off, we are closing the door on what is real and relevant in student lives. And by doing so, we do not in any way guarantee learners’ attention in class; rather, we send a message that we are not interested in the way they process information, in the way they communicate and connect with their peers, in how they learn. The closed-laptop policy states very clearly: only one kind of learning is tolerated in this room.

 Here’s the thing: digital technology is no longer optional. It can’t be ignored. That doesn’t mean we can’t make choices about it — in fact, it means we must make choices about it. But those choices cannot be simply to pretend it isn’t there, that it doesn’t matter or isn’t relevant. The proliferation of the digital may feel like an invasion at times (and at times, it is), and so it is in our ability to choose — to decide, decipher, discern — that our power lies, not in a bull-headed commitment to ignore the digital altogether. That’s a desert island mentality.

So now I ask you, what about the future and the wearable technologies that are making their way into our everyday lives? Google Glass, SmartWatches such as the Apple Watch (which Apple has announced will be out on the market sometime in early 2015) and the Moto 360 for Android users, SmartJewelry (Cuff), SmartBands for fitness (FitBit, Jawbone UP24, and Nike Fuel) and SmartEarbuds (Dash) for music and fitness. Educators are already beginning to ponder the potential of how such wearable technologies will influence more distraction and cheating in the classroom. Most likely, as time goes on, these devices will become more like appendages rather than just removable gadgets. They will become an even more difficult temptation to ignore than our current digital devices as students strive to learn how to exercise discipline and act as good digital citizens.

What is your current viewpoint about digital pedagogy? How will you prepare for the next wave that will be coming to a classroom near you? Let us know in the comments section!

~ Luanne Fose (The Tweed Geek)

 References:

Koenig, R. (2014, September 10). Apple Watch Coming to a Classroom Near You. Retrieved November 17, 2014, from http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/apple-watch-coming-to-a-classroom-near-you/54449

Morris, S. (2014, September 24). Digital Pedagogy: A Case of Open or Shut. Retrieved November 17, 2014, from http://learning.instructure.com/2014/09/digital-pedagogy-a-case-of-open-or-shut/

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