What Might Digital Wisdom Be and How Could It Help Us?

I’m appreciating Adam Copeland’s piece at Hybrid Pedagogy on “digital wisdom,” which he describes as “a pedagogical approach to technology and the classroom that does not stop at whether or how students may access digital devices in my classroom, but seeks also to address why it is important that students critically engage these very questions.” He offers four “pillars” that he uses in his own considerations of how to craft assignments for his students, each an important reason why he would choose a particular tool, design an assignment in a particular way, or engage students from a particular perspective.

This advice runs parallel to the “not digital pedagogy, just pedagogy” discussion we’ve been seeing lately (e.g.: here, here), in that Copeland’s conception of digital wisdom is a call for us to “move away from easy answers” and move toward pedagogical goals that deepen and expand our students learning.  He links to a range of assignments by himself and others that address his pillars – forming collaborative relationships with peers, preparing for citizenship, encountering difference and disagreement, and welcoming complexity – in concrete but theoretically informed ways, which is a particularly helpful approach for teachers interested in getting started with digital pedagogy.

I would like to push back a little on the way he sets up this helpful discussion, though, because for me, a term like “digital wisdom” can be used even more powerfully than just “the why” of asking students to engage a particular question.  By drawing on the term wisdom, we have an opportunity to activate ancient conversation about the role of practice and the practical – the how – in serving as not only a counterpoint to the why, but also an important aspect of its foundation.  Aristotle called it phronesis, others have used metis, but when we use terms like judgment, prudence and (practical) wisdom, we refer to that process through which we learn from our practices; the how deeply informs and ultimately serves as the foundation for the why. This process, of formulating a why, crafting a concrete how that hopefully enacts that why, and then reflecting on the nature of that enactment and usually making practical changes to the how in light of that reflection, is the very practical and grounded nature of the practical wisdom that pedagogues perform on a regular basis.

Through this process, we come to see ways that the why and the how are intricately linked, and we come to understand both more deeply than dogged application of the why to the how without such process will overlook. Copeland’s argument is crucial to the direction we all must turn in the future, as it recognizes the need to look past the newness and shininess of digital tools to the ways they can help us deepen student learning.  But if we’re not also closing that experiential learning loop ourselves, we’re missing out on significant opportunities to deepen our own learning.  Digital wisdom should be more than the why – it should be the why informed by the constantly developing nature of the relationship between the why and the how.


Digital Pedagogy Metis in Online Discussion Forum Advice

I’ve experimented for years with various online fora as tools for fostering student discussion beyond the classroom walls, with mixed success.  I’ve tried both optional and required assignments (certain numbers of posts and/or replies, etc.), with quantitative (points/grade) and qualitative (comments from me) evaluation schemes.  And I have tried them in a range of different kinds of media studies course, from topical surveys to upper-level seminars to skills-based production courses.  One thing I’ve realized is that the kind of practical advice Heather Van Mouwerik offers in her Inside Higher Ed piece, “Fostering an Active Online Discussion,” might be the most useful in terms of identifying and alleviating individual and group roadblocks to implementation.

For example, as a response to the deafening “crickets chirping” scenario she describes, Mouwerik suggests five practical guidelines for helping to nurture an online discussion forum, including being “the active participant you want your students to be” and redirecting any questions from students to the forum.  These tips clearly come from practical experience working with many course-based forums with her students.

Such metis – practical wisdom or prudence – is a crucial part of digital pedagogy today, especially when the technology behind each tool becomes less and less difficult to wrestle with.  You can learn the abstract theory of how to use this or that tool as well, but it is in its practical application in actual classrooms and/or with actual students that use of a particular tool shifts from an abstract exercise to a pedagogical practice.


A New Experiment

For those who know me, you will not be surprised to learn that I’m embarking on yet another teaching experiment, though this one is far less risk-prone than many of my previous forays. Though I’ve been teaching full-time for eleven years, I have never taught a standard summer course, but I’m starting my first one this week.

I’ve been mulling over an idea in my mind for some time that there might be room for our students to have available a course that provides them with access to elements of media making theories and skill practice, but since I’ve always taught the digital video production sequence, I never found there was a good place in our little curriculum for such a course. But the summer has its own rhythms – faculty and students go off in myriad different directions – so I began to think that summer might be a perfect place to explore such an endeavor.

The course will be structured around the production of core elements of contemporary media making – text, image, sound, interactivity, and networked media – through short introductions to simple principles and theories, in-class short walk-throughs and exercises, and practice with slightly more involved assignments outside of class.  Students will maintain their own blogs and post both their reactions to the concepts to which they are being introduced through the course and links to the work they are producing as part of it. The goal is for them to both practice the basic skills of contemporary media making and to engage in a community of practice built around the development of those skills and a mindset of exploration and experimentation.

I do tend to overstuff my courses with work, at which, not surprisingly, some (many?) student balk.  So I’m trying to get into that slower, summer vibe with the structure of the course. We’ll see. Perhaps I’ll report back later.

The course trailhead will be a page on this blog, the Summer 2015 Course link above. You’re welcome to check it out and leave me/us feedback about it.


Soderbergh Has a Fascinating Process

So Steven Soderbergh posted this cool little rumination about the powerful clarity of shot selection/juxtaposition in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  In it, he talks about how he forces himself to really look at films he admires in order to understand them more deeply.  To facilitate that with Raiders, he’s removed the audio, replaced it with a contemplative track, and removed the color.

It’s a great way to get inside a work.  It also reminds me of the fabled, blink-and-you-missed it Topher Grace recut of the Star Wars prequels. Again, it’s about taking something apart to see how it works, putting it back together in a different way to see where its possibilities lie.  Good stuff, both.


Talk: Media-Making as Plugin

On Tuesday, I gave a talk at the University of Toronto – Scarborough’s Digital Pedagogy Institute entitled “Media-making as Plugin: Considerations for Incorporating Digital Media into Assignments.”  (It’s a version of my piece for the video essay Cinema Journal Dossier.)
If you’re interested in getting a sense of the talk, you can take a look at the Prezi.  Here’s a storify of the Twitter backchannel during the talk as well:
I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the Comments. :)

Most Famous Man You’ve Never Heard Of

Just watched this video essay on Claude Shannon by Delve.tv (via kottke.org).  I had read about Shannon in James Glieck’s book Information: a history, a theory, a flood (which I found deeply intriguing even if I felt almost lost at times).

As the video essay explains it, Shannon’s insight was one that allowed humanity to make a significant leap in the way we thought about information.  I had been telling this to my students in my digital networked media lectures for years – that the insight that all information can be transmitted as 1’s and 0’s was an incredibly important one – but I had not thought about it in such grand terms (a “leap forward” for humanity) not had I known it was Shannon who brought it to us. (This even though I had read Glieck’s book, since he does such an excellent job contextualizing the developments of the 20th Century that brought us to where we are, a technique which tends to downplay individual contributions).

I’m looking forward to stirring in more discussion of Shannon to my digital networked media courses in the future.


Cool open-source film archiving tool

Cool open-source film archiving tool

This is a pretty sweet project if you’re an archivist trying to figure out how to digitize a large library of films.  

I can still remember opening the print of The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie to pre-screen it for our graduate school film screening series and immediately noticing the vinegar smell.  The color was all tinted pink and red, and it was unusable.  I still haven’t seen that film.

If this kind of technology, at this kind of cost ($3200 including the camera), had been available, perhaps we could have screened the digital version instead so at least more people could have seen it.


A week in

I’m a week into the semester, and I’m thinking a lot about how many different times I’ve already discussed the fundamentals of narrative: what it is, what it is not, its core components, and ways to develop your own story.  This semester, I’m teaching both Digital Video Production I and Screenwriting, which both begin with this topic.  Plus, I just finished the Go Fellowship digital storytelling workshop this weekend, where we discussed narrative as well.

A useful aspect of this gauntlet of narrative is that I can alter and/or augment what I’ve discussed in previous sessions during later ones.  Unfortunately, it also means I tend to forget which group of students got this anecdote or that example (I hate to use the same material repeatedly unless its really excellent for the point I’m making).

One place I’m not talking much about narrative (yet) is in my freshmen seminar on games and culture, although we’re still working at the fundamental level, discussing the nature of play via Johan Huizinga’s work, Homo Ludens.  So far, the class seems like they’re really leaning forward into the material.  Let’s hope that continues as they begin to be inundated with work in their other courses. 


Srsly? Award

Srsly? Award

Thompson does a nice job rolling up some of the recent attempts to use statistical methods to identify audience preferences in film and use them for production decisions.

But the award is for the way the NYT seems willing to encourage this man vs. machine Skynet rhetoric. It just seems silly.