By Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel | March 5, 2013
by Sean Michael Morris
We are not ready to teach online. In a recent conversation with a friend, I found myself puzzled, and a bit troubled, when he expressed confusion about digital pedagogy. He said something to the extent of, “What’s the difference between digital pedagogy and teaching online? Aren’t all online teachers digital pedagogues?” Being a contemplative guy, I didn’t just tip over his drink and walk away. Instead, I pondered the source of his question. Digital pedagogy is largely misunderstood in higher education. The advent of online learning and instructional design brought the classroom onto the web, and with it all manner of teaching: good and bad, coherent and incoherent, networked and disconnected. Whatever pedagogy any given teacher employed in his classroom became digitized. If I teach history by reading from my twenty-year-old notes, or if I lead workshops in creative writing, or if I teach literature through movies, I bring that online and — boom! — I’m a digital pedagogue. Right?
But that’s not right. For starters, not every teacher is a pedagogue. Pedagogy is a scholarship unto itself, a study of learning and the many ways it is fueled — in classrooms, in workshops, in studios, in writing centers — wherever learning is poised to occur. Pedagogy is also different from the study of education. Those with backgrounds in education understand the institution, and its relationship to students, in ways I expect I never will. Pedagogy has at its core timeliness, mindfulness, and improvisation. Pedagogy concerns itself with the instantaneous, momentary, vital exchange that takes place in order for learning to happen. That exchange may be between teacher and student, or between student and student; it can also occur between teacher and teacher, administrator and CEO, journalist and educator. The etymology of pedagogy reveals that leadership is at its core; and thus it is not limited to classroom practice in the same way that it is not limited to institutions of learning.
by Jesse Stommel
Digital pedagogy is not a dancing monkey. It won’t do tricks on command. It won’t come obediently when called. Nobody can show us how to do it or make it happen like magic on our computer screens. There isn’t a 90-minute how-to webinar, and we can’t outsource it.
We become experts in digital pedagogy in the same way we become American literature scholars, medievalists, or doctors of sociology. We become digital pedagogues by spending many years devoting our life to researching, practicing, writing about, presenting on, and teaching digital pedagogies. In other words, we live, work, and build networks within the field. But this isn’t exactly right, because digital pedagogy is less a field and more an active present participle, a way of engaging the world, not a world to itself, a way of approaching the not-at-all-discrete acts of teaching and learning. To become an expert in digital pedagogy, then, we need both experience and openness to each new learning activity, technology, or collaboration. Digital pedagogy is a discipline, but only in the most porous, dynamic, and playful senses of the word.