What is Digital Pedagogy?

From Anaid Shaver, KJ Chew, Sam Salous, Rifat Sabbir Mansur, Zhenyu Yao

“We did not know it was different from online teaching. We are not sure what digital pedagogy is.”

These were some of the opening statements we had in the group. Our discussion revolved around interpreting what “digital pedagogy” is. 

For some of us, digital pedagogy is not a thing that you do, it is a “force” that exists that has multiple elements. For instance, when we talk about Kahoot, it is not digital pedagogy. It is deeper than that. It is its own force in itself and it invites learning in the process. It is also always evolving. The use of “hacking” as a form of manifestation of learning also supports the idea of what digital pedagogy can be. For others, some view digital pedagogy as a study and a philosophy, indicating that one needs to spend years and efforts learning it. An instructor needs some training before he/she is assigned to teach a course. Similarly, one becomes a digital pedagogue by spending years researching, participating, writing and presenting on digital pedagogies. The most important factor in teaching is that it is still a human endeavor rather than just based on the technologies. 

However, what makes it “digital”? For some of us, we think some of the authors have “digital” as a conversation starter. They do not want to restrict the conversations, mindsets and definitions of what “digital” is. They want us to break out the restrictive thinking and mindsets revolving LMS and digital teaching. This means digital pedagogy does not mean it has to be in a virtual setting. It also does not have to be using digital tools. It is a way we can facilitate learning better in creative, flexible and expansive ways.

On the issues of banning digital tools or technologies in the class, we think student agency is important, and we should be teaching students on how to use the tools, like laptops. Instead of discussing with them using laptops for social media, we can have discussions with them on how to use laptops for learning. For instance, one of our group members provides them links to look for using their laptops to learn about critical thinking. The instructors should focus on how to make their class materials more interesting. Especially, at the college level where teaching is not a form of babysitting. It might be helpful to develop more flexible teaching approaches, such as recorded lectures, where students can follow through according to their own convenience. The key aspect here is that teaching should excite students into being curious and learning more.

Let’s Pump the Brakes before Diving Straight into Popular Pedagogies

I think many of the popular pedagogical approaches (problem-based learning, active learning, case-based pedagogies) have expanded to various learning environments and disciplines. This is a good thing, do not get me wrong, but I also tend to stumble upon conversations that talk about how some instructors struggle with implementing those in their classrooms, and some tend to give up saying that “it’s not for me” after several difficult experiences.

I admit personally that many of these approaches can be daunting, and I have not figured out how I would implement them in my future classrooms, nor have I implemented them before. However, I do want to point out that context matters.  Before anyone starts jumping onto the bandwagon of “PBL is good” or “we should do this because it is the right thing to do”, instructors should reflect first on the contexts they are going to be facilitating learning in. Class size, students’ backgrounds, assessment and evaluation requirements, classroom furniture arrangement, course contexts, and even departmental cultures. Not to mention the pandemic we are currently experiencing. Considering all these factors may make implementing these pedagogies less overwhelming and more adaptable. As one of my peers always says: “Start small and short, and evaluate how to move forward.”

Although I have not been an instructor of record, here are some of the strategies I may employ while implementing some of these pedagogical approaches.

  1. Reflect on the different contextual factors about the classroom and document all these factors so that I can visualize it.
  2. Review some articles and research on the approaches, especially those that document implementations of said approaches.
  3. Plan out the structure. Starting small is important, since this will be my first time. This means I may use it for one of the modules in the course, for example, instead of implementing it for the whole course.
  4. Using “backward” design, which suggests setting up the learning outcomes, then assessments, and finally, the pedagogical approaches, I can lay the overall structure of the implementation and module.
  5. Continuously assess in formative manners to gauge students’ experiences during implementation for immediate and future improvements.
  6. Improvise! A friend tells me: “Planning can only do so much. In teaching, you have to improvise sometimes because you cannot anticipate every possible scenario.”

These are some of the strategies I can use in the future, and I definitely am excited about it.