Global Perspectives On Decolonizing Digital Pedagogy

Anelise Hanson Shrout (ashrout@fullerton.edu), California State University Fullerton, United States of America and Jamila Moore-Pewu (jmoorepewu@fullerton.edu), California State University Fullerton, United States of America and Gimena del Rio Riande (gdelrio.riande@gmail.com), IIBICRIT Argentina and Susanna Allés (susanna_alles@miami.edu), University of Miami and Kajsa Hallberg Adu (khadu@ashesi.edu.gh), Ashesi University College

Panel Abstract: Global Perspectives on Decolonizing Digital Pedagogy

Digital pedagogy is often heralded as a way to undercut the “digital divide,” combat structural inequality and “disrupt” the status quo. However, when English-language DH writing conjures a “typical” DH student, he or she (but most often he) fits a fairly limited mold. He is enrolled in school full-time (usually at a school in North America), and is planning to finish his B.A., B.S., or B.F.A. in four years. He attends a school that comes with a DH center, academic programmers, and the funding needed to execute a plethora of student-driven projects every year, facilitated by low student-faculty ratios, bespoke seminars and intensive faculty guidance for DH projects. In this imagined academic context, students familiar with academic norms, practiced in their use of technologies, conversant in the vernaculars of online communication, and eager to “hack” the academy flourish and thrive. As Matt Gold pointed out in 2012 and Anne McGrail reinforced in 2016 digital humanities is most represented at elite institutions, serving “traditional” undergraduates and research-oriented graduate students. (Gold, 2012; McGrail, 2016) These assumptions do not reflect the diversity of students who occupy digitally-inflected classrooms.

DH centers and programs both within and beyond the United States and non-Anglophone spaces are increasingly serving wider and more diverse communities of students. ([CSL STYLE ERROR: reference with no printed form.]; [CSL STYLE ERROR: reference with no printed form.]) For example, in the United States, nearly half of all undergraduates attend community college, and more than half are the first in their families to pursue a degree beyond high school. (The Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions; Montenegro and Jankowski, 2015) This means that many U.S. students come to higher education without the educational, cultural or technological capital often assumed by DH syllabi. Students in Sub-Saharan Africa often do not have access to wired internet or personal computers.(Robison and Crenshaw, 2010; Lechman, Ewa, 2015) This has meant that students developed a robust engagement with mobile technology, and that pedagogy followed their cues. Students in Latin America often do not engage with Anglophone digital humanities. This means that the humanidades digitales are exploring the ways in which Spanish linguistics have shaped digital thought and practice.

Despite this diversity, scholarship on digital pedagogy largely remains focused on a small subset of institutions within North America. (Fiormonte, Domenico, 2014) This roundtable makes space for discussions of whether “centers” (that is, programs in the United States and Anglophone world) are “ready to learn from peripheries,” or if we must jettison frameworks of central and peripheral knowledge altogether. It takes seriously Élika Ortega’s contention that “all DH is local pedagogy,” as well as Padmini Ray Murray’s admonition that “your [Western] DH is not my DH.” (Quoted in (Risam, Roopika, 2016)) It features panelists who work with students traditionally excluded from this scholarship, both within the United States and beyond the Anglophone world. Each panelist will speak to the process of building DH curricula that center, rather than merely accommodating, “non-traditional” DH students.

Each panelist will speak briefly about the DH programs or classes at their institution. The remainder of the session will be devoted to a mix of moderated discussion and audience-generated Q and A. Panelists will be asked to describe particular challenges, assignments, or pedagogical tools, in order to ground the session in pedagogical practice. At its conclusion, we hope that the roundtable panelists and audience members will explore digital curricula and pedagogy that are necessarily decolonized, global, and anti-neoliberal.

This roundtable is not the first to make claims about the U.S.- and Anlgophone-centered nature of DH or DH pedagogy. It’s framework owes much to the work of the GO:DH Special Interest Group, and the scholarship of Moya Z. Bailey, Isabel Galina, Alex Gil, Jessica Marie Johnson, Dorothy Kim, Elizabeth LaPensé, and Élika Ortega. (Bailey, 2012; Galina, Isabel; Johnson, Jessica Marie and Neal, Mark Anthony, 2017; 2014)

Paper 1: Digital Humanities Pedagogy from The Global South & Ghana

Ashesi University College is located in the village of Berekuso in the peri-urban Eastern Region of Ghana and its student body is intentionally diverse: Pan-African with students from Southern, Eastern and Western Africa and with a handful of exchange students from the Global North, economically diverse with 50 percent on scholarship and the other half full fee paying, and almost equal numbers of men to women. The philosophy behind the 15 years young university is training ethical leaders for the continent in engineering, business, and computer science, but with a broadly defined liberal arts foundation of Written and Oral Communication, Mathematics, Statistics, Programming, English Literature, Social Sciences, Statistics, and Leadership. All students of different majors are taking the liberal arts core as well as African studies electives together. Teaching this multiverse group can be both challenging and rewarding. Using digital tools can exacerbate differences if relying heavily on hardware (not everyone owns a smartphone, for instance), but it can also allow for a level playing field where the technology allows us to focus on ideas and shared experiences.

The three examples from Ashesi University use digital tools like Wiki, Virtual Reality and WhatsApp, all to no additional or very low cost to the university and student. As the decolonization of the academy requires rethinking everything from content, textbooks, assignments, and assumptions we bring into the classroom, the first example shaking up the status quo, is by teaching students how to edit and contribute to Wikipedia. The first trial was done with the Wikimedia Foundation for the Social Theory core class in spring of 2017. After completing the training, students read and edited articles relevant to the class topics such as Slave Forts in Ghana. Students also set up their own Wiki club to continue creating knowledge.

In the French as a Foreign Language class, a couple of classroom meetings were devoted to travel and students “traveled” to foreign places using virtual reality technology (VR). Students took turns using the phone holder (a box of 20 units for USD 20 each has been acquired by the university) with a student smartphone running a VR app inside, allowing them to “visit” other places and, using vocabulary just absorbed, then tell their colleagues about it in French.

For the African Philosophical Thought elective, a WhatsApp list was created where students either use their smartphones or a friend’s smartphone to join the pre-class conversation group and share ideas on a specific weekly topic. The lecturer would come in to add comments and questions. This use of this digital tool connects to the immense popularity of the WhatsApp-app in Africa and builds a community around the course, creating a new center of knowledge.

The three examples from Ashesi University all empower students with knowledge and tools that give them agency, moving away from a passive absorption of texts written in the Global North, hence decolonizing the classroom.

Papers 2 and 3: Teaching Humanidades Digitales (HD)

Part 1: “HD from scratch”. Gimena del Rio Riande (IIBICRIT Argentina)

Part 2: “HD and the other linguistic divide”. Susanna Allés-Torrent (University of Miami)

Our contribution faces the digital divide from the point of view of heterogeneity ( Cornejo-Polar, 2003) and transculturation (Ortiz, 1963) processes of the Anglophone Digital Humanities in Spanish speaking communities, where the institutionalization of the discipline is experiencing the dawning of associations -Asociación Argentina de Humanidades Digitales (AAHD), Humanidades Digitales Hispánicas (HDH), RedHD (Red Humani), Red Colombiana de Humanidades Digitales, Humanidades Digitales en Cuba, among others-, research groups and pedagogical initiatives. Certificates, MA and specialized courses are appearing in a crucial moment while DH in Spanish is still defining itself and thus is still pondering how to create a curriculum in DH in Spanish (or in HD, Humanidades Digitales).

We conceive HD from a cognitive approach, in which language and thought work as a whole ( Lakoff, 1986). Thus, we understand HD as a set of digital and emerging methodologies and practices in Spanish, that covers different curricular topics, within a different level of institutionalization. We are not only dealing with a geolocalization issue, which goes far beyond Spain and Latin America, or even with a set of different cultural and academic backgrounds, but with the central role of language as builder and communicator of knowledge.

The linked presentations described in this abstract aim to offer possible leads from real and different experiences in curricular design and pedagogical materials creation, in which both panelists have participated as faculty. A previous and conjointly experience consisted of the design of two certificates Experto en Humanidades Digitales y Edición Digital offered at LINHD (UNED, Spain), where we dealt with the challenge of online education by approaching a field that can be defined as a “hands-on and guided experience” and to a wide community (mostly Spain, but also Latin America or Spanish speakers as a whole, from graduate to postgraduate students).

The first presentation (“HD from scratch”) describes a context lacking an extensive academic history of DH and solid digital infrastructures (Argentina). The courses taught here are held in a discontinuous timeframe: semester courses not always offered nor exclusively devoted to HD. The second presentation describes teaching DH in Spanish in a quite satisfying context as far as infrastructure is concerned, the University of Miami (FL), but not yet under a planned sequence of DH courses at undergraduate level, meaning that students do not have any DH previous exposure, and there is not yet a DH follow-up or continuation in their curriculum. In addition, due to Miami’s diversity and Hispanic population, they deal in a same classroom with students that or they are Spanish native speakers (mostly Caribbean) or they do not master Spanish language. DH pedagogy is here “the other linguistic divide”.

We will share our experiences with the development of pedagogical materials in the language that we use in our teaching that can be understood and benefit outside the classroom experience. It is not worth just thinking on translation, but on the production of materials capable to build knowledge with the student during and after classes.

To that end, we work on some approaches towards a curriculum with a global perspective on DH including the local disciplines, going back consequently to concepts such as “situated practice” (Lave and Wenger, 1991), contextual pedagogies ( Cabaluz Ducasse, (2015) and “local knowledge” (Grenier 1998; del Rio Riande 2016). We also revise the ways in which technology has been used to conduct research in the humanities to give an answer to its impact in a HD curriculum.

Paper 4: First Generation DH

While most work on American higher education focuses on the Research-1/small liberal arts college divide, most American students attend other types of institutions. Of the just more than seventeen million students enrolled in higher education in the United States, over two million are enrolled in for-profit colleges, and students enrolled in community colleges make up forty-six percent of all undergraduates.(Cottom, 2017; McGrail, 2016) Over fifty percent of students enrolled in all American higher education institutions – including community colleges, small liberal arts colleges, comprehensive regional universities and large research institutions – come from families where neither parent completed a baccalaureate degree. Despite this majority overall, only a minority of these first-generation students attend Research-1 universities or small liberal arts colleges.

A 2017 survey of Digital Humanities programs, found that the vast majority of American institutions offering DH degrees, certificates, minors and concentrations are classified either as “Doctoral Institution: Highest Research Activity” or “Baccalaureate Institution: Arts & Science Focus.” (Hackney et al., 2017) The In short, while first generation students tend to be enrolled in regional comprehensive universities and community colleges, DH pedagogy writing tends to emphasize relatively elite students, and DH programs tend to be developed at relatively elite institutions.

This paper explores what it means for DH that a growing plurality and soon-to-be majority of students in U.S. classrooms do not enter college with the social capital that comes from college-educated parents, and attend neither small liberal arts colleges nor research institutions. It calls for us to think about the humanistic in new ways, and to build curricula that acknowledge that many of our students are not the imagined, prototypical college student.

We build on extant research on a “digital divide” premised on educational background. This research has found that first-generation students often have trouble navigating the unspoken norms of higher educational spaces.(Stephens et al., 2014; Stephens et al., 2012) They are less likely to use digital tools for “capital-enhancing online activities.”(Hargittai, 2010) They are less likely to own personal computers, have multiple spaces to access the internet, and have the time to access the internet. They are often disinclined to seek out institutional resources. They are also less likely to take classes outside of a proscribed academic/vocational plan, and less likely to try classes in new fields that might be a risk to their GPA.(National Center for Education Statistics, 2005) Finally, they are more likely to succeed in interdependent, collaborative work environments.(Stephens et al., 2012)

This paper suggests several best practices for the development of DH pedagogy that centers first-generation students. Second, we need to remember that, despite these findings about first-generation students not using the internet in ways that researchers expect them to, they are already using the digital to “explore humanistic questions. First, we need to introduce DH in lower division courses, so that students can “test drive” digital humanities without the risk of committing to an entire course. Finally, we need to adopt Roopika Risam’s call to tell “alternate histories of the digital humanities… through intersectional lenses” and keep in mind the ways in which structural inequality has already conditioned the development of the digital humanities.(Risam, 2015)


Appendix A

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