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Digital Discernment: Jesuit Pedagogy in the Information Age

We live in an increasingly digitized reality. Many if not most of our students are “digital natives,” who come to us with online personas fully developed via social media, and many have proficiency with online tools that outstrip their professors’ abilities. In turn, the disciplines that have traditionally underpinned Jesuit education—the humanities—are increasingly invested in what has been deemed “Digital Humanities” research, a field that has focused on collaborative research to produce high-production value digital products such as edited texts, multi-layered historical maps, and virtual recreations of significant cultural, historical, literary, and artistic events. Because large research-focused institutions have been at the forefront of the Digital Humanities, liberal arts pedagogy that incorporates technology into non-STEM disciplines is a far less defined area of inquiry. While faculty at Jesuit colleges should keep current with pedagogy that hones students’ technological capabilities and provides them with some sophisticated online artifacts to show to potential employers, such a product-oriented approach is neither entirely feasible nor even desirable. I believe we can offer a more process-oriented approach to digital pedagogy that emphasizes a key concept in Jesuit education--discernment--and helps students to reflect on the moral and ethical implications of the ways in which we use technology.

 

Xavier University, like many comparable institutions, lacks some of the resources to help interested but inexperienced faculty implement digital pedagogy. Rather than attempt to merely keep up, or catch up, with existing technologies we can focus on enabling faculty, and in turn students, not only to engage with persistently changing and proliferating tools available in the information age but also to do so with critical forethought and care. The wealth of resources in more traditional (and some digital) Jesuit pedagogical methods can be applied to technological practices and implementations. Important questions to consider include: What are the professional, personal, social, and ethical consequences to launching something online? How can we best use digital pedagogy to encourage reflection and discernment? How can faculty who have little to no training and skills effectively incorporate digital pedagogy into the classroom…and why would they want to?

 

What you will find here is a sample assignment portfolio emphasizing the application of process-oriented and discernment-based student learning objectives to existing types of digital pedagogy that can be implemented with a manageable level of effort. A template for each of several common digital assignments (such as a mapping project, an edited edition of a text or an annotated text, a wiki, an online exhibit, a blog or vlog, a timeline, a multi-modal long-form essay or digital story, a social media (Twitter) assignment or exercise, and ideas for service-learning). Each type of assignment suggests tools that instructors could use to implement the assignment, in most cases at both basic and intermediate/advanced levels, provides links to some examples of the assignment, and provides rubrics or guidelines for assessment. One of the key learning goals in many cases is to encourage students to reflect upon their relationships to digital realities and consider how we approach our own digital “selves” or personas. Some of the assignments go further to ask students to analyze or reflect upon the greater good (or magis) and consider how digital citizenship is a key aspect of the modern subject's participation in myriad communities, both local and global.

 

The assignment models here share an emphasis on process-oriented pedagogy that values reflection as well as student-teacher and student-student collaborations, which are also hallmarks of Jesuit or Ignatian pedagogy. Thus several key Ignatian pedagogical values such as discernment (a process that emphasizes the role of reflection in making difficult choices), eloquentia perfecta (writing and speaking effectively with a goal to produce good human beings, good citizens), and cura personalis (care for the individual with an emphasis on personal connections between teachers and students), either underpin or are expected outcomes of each of the assignments.

Best Practices

Do have a good reason for integrating technology into the classroom—what are your objectives? What do you want students to learn? What critical thinking are you hoping to encourage? Though providing students with the ability to use a certain tool can be useful, technology is constantly changing and thus teaching students to use a particular tool shouldn’t be your ultimate or only goal.

Do not bite off more than you can chew. While most DH or tech-centric instructors utilize lab days so that students and instructor can work together to learn and master tools, do not try to teach yourself more than one new tool or integrate more than one new assignment into the classroom at a time. Use only a small bit of data or primary source material. Teach a topic or material you already know very well so you can assess if digital methods are effective and concentrate your prep time on new methods, not content. Partner with your librarians or instructional technologists when and where you can.

Do scaffold. Digital assignments may involve multiple steps and multiple learning goals. Here are some examples from the 2012 Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) Pedagogy course.

Do encourage creativity, experimentation, and collaboration, and build these things into your rubrics. Create space for certain kinds of “failure” (failure to produce a pretty product, failure to master a tech tool) by incorporating reflection on process into the assignment. Emphasize process over product.

Do give credit where credit is due. The DH community strives to be inclusive and is based on a collaborative model. You can find many, many assignments posted online, but cite your source when you borrow or adapt. Many tag their work with a Creative Commons license statement. That said, (almost) everything I know about DH I owe to Diane Jakacki and my fellow participants in the 2015 DHSI’s Digital Pedagogy Integration in the Curriculum course at the University of Victoria.

Do recognize that some students may have very good reasons for avoiding social media and attaching their names to outward facing web content. Make provisions for those students in your assignments and/or create alternative assignments. Also recognize that while technology can resolve accessibility issues for some students, it can create them for others.

Do look for support. Whether support comes from the tech people at your institution, your center for teaching and learning, your library liaison, colleagues at and beyond your institution, or online resources such as the journal Hybrid Pedagogy and the Profhacker blog on the Chronicle of Higher Education's website, you will find that there are others out there doing what you want to do or interested in what you want to do.

Jodi Wyett, Associate Professor of English