Is Good Digital Pedagogy Just Good Pedagogy? (#rhizo15)

Reflexive Daguerreotype

Jesse Stommel writes:

My call is to stop attempting to distinguish so incessantly between online and on-ground learning, between the virtual and the face-to-face, between digital pedagogy and chalkboard pedagogy. Good digital pedagogy is just good pedagogy.

I agree. But I must disagree with the implicit idea that the last line represents a reflexive relationship because of the deep assumptions about technological determinism and affordances buried in the reverse.

Good digital pedagogy is good pedagogy. But good pedagogy is not necessarily good digital pedagogy because it is likely incomplete and possibly insufficient…unless one assumes both a strongly anti-technological-determinist stance and that relatively new technologies don’t offer any unique affordances when compared to the old. I used to embrace the former—tech-determinism struck me as the ultimate admission of weakness and a ceding of agency. Now, as I get older, I realize that (like most everything else) it is much more complicated. I realize that technology is a part of our environment and the way that our environment effects the things we call learning is complicated and not wholly under (or out of!) our control. Technology doesn’t make us stupid…but nor do we entirely control the effects of technology on our actions and behaviors.

Similarly, while I don’t see contemporary technology—as amazing and exhilarating as it can be—as a panacea or magic or something absolutely new and unique. But unless I engage in a serious fit of reductivism, in which everything about teaching and learning boils down to a few abstract principles, I don’t see how I can deny the unique affordances (and I use that term deliberately because it is the most accurate—implying a relationship between form, function, features and behavior—not just as a buzzword). Just as good pedagogy makes sound use of the venerable technologies of the codex and the blackboard, good digital pedagogy makes sound use of digital technologies in a way the former may not.

None of which is to disagree with Jesse’s contention that good digital pedagogy is good pedagogy, only to note that I don’t think it’s just that…and that the impulse to interpret the statement as reflexive—which might just be my misreading—is the kind of misunderstanding that is, when it comes to practices rather than root philosophical principles, potentially limiting and dismissive of potential.

I was also quite taken with Jesse’s note on passive resistance and Bartleby because it recognizes that Bartleby, who I refer to often, is more than the utterer of an irresistible catchphrase and more than a man at the end of his sad tether. The story is (I’m risking incurring the wrath of Audrey Watters with this simplification) a tale of humanity amidst, within and beneath the industrial revolution and offers, I think, significant parallels to our similar existence inside not-inside the technological machine where we can (not must) make choices…choices we can ignore in favor of simple technological somnambulism, as Langdon Winner aptly put it, or to spend out the “bag of gold” that Gardner Campbell revealed to so many of us.1


  1. It strikes me that Gardner’s analogy is apt here as well. The pedagogical riches we have to spend are, like those in the bags held by Freire and Dewey and others, a currency. In that sense, pedagogy is pedagogy. But the currency in the bag I hold today is different in at least some ways that do—or at least should—matter. 

3 comments on “Is Good Digital Pedagogy Just Good Pedagogy? (#rhizo15)

  1. Are you writing about edtech again? Be still my heart! I really love your voice, and the idea of there being subtle and important ways the tech infrastructure is changing how we imagine teaching and learning should not be lost in all to truthy grandiose statements about pedagogy. I’ve been referring a lot to this 2 minute clip from Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons when Joseph Cotton’s character talks about the revolution we will see as a result of the automobile. It is hard to argue with the ways in which that technology altered the face of just about everything we do. And when you think about the internet and the acquisition of information, intellectual socialization, professional research and teaching, it would hard to imagine pedagogy wouldn’t change in some deep and subtle ways, much like the human brain rewires of new notions of time, space, access, and possibility. It is genius that can manage beyond those limits, but for the rest of us we are always constrained by the infrastructure we exist within.

  2. Excellent words: “Just as good pedagogy makes sound use of the venerable technologies of the codex and the blackboard, good digital pedagogy makes sound use of digital technologies in a way the former may not.”

    But pedagogies change, depending on contexts other than technology. A teaching method that rocks a seminar can die miserably in a lecture hall. A discussion-oriented pedagogy works differently with people based on their expectations and preparations (compare teaching American prep school graduates with Chinese students, if I can be forgiven huge generalizations). An instructor’s personality ultimately drives pedagogical choice. And so on.
    In other words, technology is one factor that expands the range of pedagogies.

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