Kim Middleton kicked it off (was volunteered to kick it off) – what can we do to give students tools they can take with them; how can it be clear to students what it is we’re doing when we’re trying to develop skills. These are (at her school) college-wide goals for liberal learning. This is also an issue at Harvey Mudd. “Critical thinking” is ubiquitous but not always meaningful. Persuasive communication is also a vague phrase. What does that look like when it’s multimedia?
Broad institutional outcomes are not always on the front burner and can be hard to define (both politically and intellectually).
Defining terms – being forced to work in alternative formats can require people to stretch and uncover what they don’t know. Discomfort with the ambiguity of inquiry. Doing the research without yet knowing what the focus will be (using primary sources) can be really unsettling because you don’t know what to look for. Another cause of hesitance is that when you don’t know how much time a new kind of task will take, which makes learners reluctant to take on those kinds of projects. “How do we scope inquiry?”
We need to recognize skills students do have in navigating contemporary sources. Have students use Diigo to share links that they can annotate and tag. (Students actually started using Library of Congress subject headings because having controlled taxonomy worked.) Can use the experiences of everyday uses of information and how one handles it to relate to unfamiliar resources such as digital archives. The focus on credible sources has led many students to be skeptical of social media sources as valuable.
Developing a way of thinking should transfer across media. Use, assess, and situate different media appropriately. Need to understand that “credible” isn’t a matter of appearances. Need work days – lab days – when students practice can help. So might having a lab attached to a course.
A challenge is separating tool literacy from actual critical understanding.
In the humanities the process is often invisible; we assume students will pick it up somehow. We don’t do apprenticeship terribly well. We (sometimes) see writing as a process but often fail to recognize our own research process. “Mathematical maturity” – a threshold crossed when people understand underlying concepts rather than being able to get the answer. Peer mentorship is one way of helping bridge expert and novice mode. Can we leverage excitement about digital humanities and digital tools to model learning how to engage in research and creativity. In physics, peer learning has been proven to be effective. See also The American Literature Scholar in the Digital Age.
Should there be a course in digital literacy? Or should it be across the curriculum? Like writing, it can’t be learned in a course, it’s learned over time with practice. Should bear in mind that the end goal is to be able to apply these skills in a variety of situations post-graduation. Learning how to learn is the point.
How do we assess this kind of learning? Project based learning can show products that unify process and content. Act of publishing in some form is where the balance between product and process happens. Need to tap into causes in which students are invested; they can understand the rhetorical nature of communication when their work is public and about something that matters to them.(Cf Standford Study of Writing.)
When does the technology itself become the product? Are there times when, if understanding a technological tool is not the purpose, a lower-tech approach would work just as well? If the technology offers a way into a different logic, a different ontology, it is worth it (though it may not get as far as when using a familiar technology).
Understanding what technology is capable of – knowing the logic behind it – is valuable. (Cf Jeanette Wing.) Creating a mix of content-based courses and ones that are multimodal might accomplish content and skills. In small departments it can be hard – maybe by making it a college-wide outcome it can be done, but that requires negotiation. Need to come up with a way to persuade our colleagues that sacrificing content is not always a sacrifice of anything of lasting importance to our students.
Joan Lippincott described that she remembered a paper she was told she couldn’t write for lack of sources as an undergrad. Now you can get all of those sources with a Google search. A link to her blog post about this is pending.