Response to Readings 11.9.22

With pedagogical considerations in mind, this week’s readings highlight opportunities and strategies for undergraduate students to critically engage texts in meaningful ways using digital platforms, with special attention to student-led annotation. Strategies for fostering student engagement with learning content are discussed in both “Postcolonial Digital Pedagogy” by Roopika Risam as well as “Social Annotation and an Inclusive Praxis for Open Pedagogy in the College Classroom” by Monica Brown and Benjamin Croft. Both texts emphasize digital tools (from text analysis to textual annotation) as means to foster students’ interrogation of the political and cultural structures at work in different texts, to encourage student recognition of their own roles as producers and contributors of knowledge, and to raise consciousness of the power dynamics presumed to be at play (whether implicitly or explicitly) among students in their communal engagement with texts. There is a certain complementarity to reading these articles together, based on where the ‘diverse emphasis’ (for want of a less clumsy expression) falls in each article. Risam’s chapter hones in on diverse learning content–in this case, postcolonial literature produced in the global south in the latter half of the twentieth century–and ways to leverage digital strategies to make that content critically comprehensible to students predominantly steeped in a northern-hemispheric, usually Anglocentric, cultural and literary milieu. Brown and Croft, on the other hand, emphasize a social justice-oriented praxis centered on diverse students, or “the practice of centering the contributions of historically marginalized populations” in student annotation of publicly visible text files (p. 4). The authors pay special attention to the role of the instructor as a sometimes-necessary ‘disruptor’ of ‘power asymmetries’ in instances where such students might feel culturally isolated marking up a text—the example given being “materials that overrepresent whiteness,” which the authors contend “can create an environment” where “students of color may experience harm, lack of safety, erasure, or tokenization” (p. 5). I would have liked the authors to have provided examples to demonstrate such instances where this becomes necessary. 

One of the more salient points made by Cordell in “How Not to Teach the Digital Humanities” is the persistent myth of the digital native–the assumption that new students, whose whole lives experiences are immersed in the digital, are necessarily more adept or competent users than their “digital immigrant” instructors (when in fact, as touched on by Brown and Croft, many students are denied opportunities to develop digital skills by socioeconomic disparities). When I went to Pratt Institute to study library science in 2012, the digital native / digital immigrant dichotomy was still being taught in the core curriculum, its assumptions generally taken as fact. My earliest experiences working in urban public libraries from 2015 onward proved just how fallacious this notion was: it was not uncommon for library patrons in the 20s-to-30s age range to ask help with basic functions that we tend to  take for granted as common knowledge (logging into one’s email on a desktop rather than a smartphone, resetting one’s password, downloading files and uploading attachments, toggling basic printer settings, etc.).