Students’ Digital Research: Primed

May 11, 2013

I’ve been teaching a Graduate research methods course for several years now at CGU, Visual Research Methods. But this Spring, I have encountered some surprising findings, ones that are echoed in my undergraduate student’s work as well, where I also assign digital coursework that asks students:

  • to account, reflexively, for the changing affordances of doing their school-work online
  • for staying thoughtful about the Internet itself as part of their topical attention
  • while also creatively expressing their findings in a multi-modal environment and vernacular
  • and then, also of course, clearly expressing findings from their own original research

Now, that’s a mouthful, right? And on first pass, I certainly wouldn’t want to be a student with that as my final assignment rubric! I think all my students (this semester in Visual Research Methods, and also, at Pitzer, in Feminist Dialogues in Technology and Feminist and Queer Documentary) start the semester with fear, agitation, bemusement, uncertainty, and maybe even annoyance about the weird assignments. Understood! And yet …

Somehow, this semester, all my students didn’t just do it and do it well; they got it. And, I said to several of them after the fact, I can’t imagine that’s because they are smarter than students who have taken these classes in previous years and semesters … So what gives?

Two, interrelated things, I think:

  • the tools have actually caught up with the radical teaching aims of multimodal scholar/teachers who wish to push our students to think, write, research and engage critically within and about the digital and the world
  • our students’ literacy with these tools, and also within digital spaces, has already been primed

This is to say, that for the first time, this year, I’d tell my students to leave the classroom and make some little digital something (instead of say, “breaking out” into a discussion group then presenting); and they would and they could. This is something I have also been asking audiences to do for the past two years, and their competency has increased markedly in this short time as well. That’s because in 2013 people are making things all the time, and these things are already smart, self-aware, self-reflexive, multimodal, and interactive.

This semester, my students used the analytical frameworks from class, the histories of movements and ideas, and analyzed both new and old objects for new and old audiences. They debated the politics of Digital Storytelling with some of the movement’s founders. They re-wrote Wikipedia pages. They made mash-ups of feminist theory and memes. They found and analyzed multivoiced and third-person stories (on Twitter and Tumblr) and talked to animals. Some of my students engaged for a semester with another group of undergrads at Bowling Green State University, and with students from grad courses at USC who made amazing digital learning resources for us to use.

Others made mobiles or diagrams for a yet-to-be invented feminist UML, some refined and critiqued possibilities for the feminist body and bra!

They worked on and about podcasts, and stories about Study Abroad and Queer Chicanos. They found new forms for telling the stories of Youth Violence and Violence Against Women. One performed a close textual analysis of Facebook commentary while others made keyword videos on feminism and technology.

Given all their amazing work (and I do hope you’ll hit some of these links; you won’t regret it!), what am I (t)here for, then? If literacy has been gained, and critical practice is already happening online, what is the role of the critical digital pedagogue? Well, most likely neither more nor less than what the role of the professor has always been. Remember when we taught writing? Sure, students arrived with literacy and tools, and the professors’ function was no mere thing: to add history, theory, a framework, a community, evaluation, and caring, careful, critical dialogue.

I am blown away by my students’ skills, and hereby simply provide this shining frame at yet another semester’s end. Well done all!

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