Social justice and care for others are central to the Ignatian tradition. Jesuit education places a strong emphasis on the concept of men and women for (and with) others. The accessibility of technological tools and the training for how to use those tools are crucial concerns if we seek to further the service of faith and the promotion of justice. While the Internet provides the potential to democratize access to knowledge and information, access to the Internet (as well as expensive software and hardware), and the ability to use those tools to participate in the electronic dissemination of information are ongoing issues. Digital Humanists have deemed this inequity “the digital divide.” As we seek to address these inequalities in the most thoughtful and practical ways possible, we can use all of the digital assignments I have introduced here in service learning contexts and/or to promote social justice. Thus rather than provide a template for a specific assignment, I will touch on a few examples of where digital pedagogy and service learning or social justice initiatives intersect.
You will need to treat students AND community members as research collaborators and consider the issues inherent to web dissemination. Digital deployment of projects produced in college classrooms for the benefit of a broader community or with the participation of a wider community not only presents unprecedented opportunities to connect and communicate meaningfully but also means higher stakes for everyone involved. When working with community members, just as with students or fellow scholars, attribution of traditional knowledge is vital. Working with a community (or on a topic that involves a particular community) means giving up some of the control of a project, and treating a community as producers, not objects, of knowledge. The concept of producing something for a public is a powerful one that provides instructors with opportunities to talk about such things as our language choices in relationship to audience and purpose and how and why certain kinds of stories are told while others are not. You will likely have students and community collaborators from diverse backgrounds, including perhaps non-native speakers of English, as well as a diverse audience. Thus the concept of digital citizenship will necessarily expand beyond ramifications for individual students who produce digital content in your classroom.
Texas A&M researchers Amy Earhart and Toniesha Taylor have worked with members of the community whose insights and contributions have informed the focus and direction of the White Violence, Black Resistance project at various stages. Their efforts concentrate on digitizing historical documents and mapping. One example, the Millican “Riot,” 1868 project, seeks to address local oral historical accounts of the Millican Riot that have heretofore been unsubstantiated by modern journalistic and historiographic methods.
Mapping projects can easily incorporate social justice components, such as a map that details the consequences of environmental racism in an urban area or one that explains the characteristics of all of the elementary schools within a given district for the benefit of the community .
Digital Storytelling is another common method for documenting service learning experiences in the classroom. Here are some examples from Ohio University’s Office of Service-Learning.
For one way in which text-based digital projects can intersect with service-learning objectives, here’s an essay on how CUNY Northridge professor Danielle Spratt connects the digitization of the archive to a service-learning course.
For more expansive lists of the kinds of work that can be done to promote social justice via digital tools, see Whittier College professor Andrea Rehn’s nascent collection of examples of digital humanities research projects with a social justice purpose. She welcomes additions to the as yet un-curated list, which she is compiling to prepare for a team-taught course on creating digital projects with a social justice purpose, or as she puts it:
“The course is designed for people with no prior programming experience who share a conviction that we are all responsible for improving our world. Students will … collectively identify a social problem, design potential projects to address it, select an approach, learn the skills they need to implement their choice, and then collaboratively implement their solution. The course will teach basic programming skills as a literacy that can help address social problems, while also exploring ways technological solutionism can obscure or exacerbate existing social problems.”
One student-produced example from Rehn’s list is Black at Bryn Mawr | Past as Legacy and Project: Re-Remembering Black Experiences at Bryn Mawr College.