as I’ve been wading into the digital humanities I’ve been struck more and more by the potential for a new digital divide. I’m not going to talk here about the differences between trying to “do” DH at an elite SLAC or a big public university vs a very small college with extremely limited resources, because frankly I can figure it out. It is my students I want to talk about here.
I teach an incredibly diverse student population. While I certainly have plenty well off kids with the latest tech gadgets, my pedagogy is driven by the other students, the ones I really want to succeed in college because a college degree has the power to change their lives (yes I DO still believe that, color me naive)
This mythical student is a young woman* who is a single parent/sole support for one or more children. Through financial aid, maybe some public aid, and possibly a very very little assistance from family, she is attending school full time and working full time. Her classes are scheduled back to back so as to minimize the time she is on campus (we have no daycare). She works double shifts from Friday afternoon through Sunday, and every weekday, before picking her kids up from daycare at 6PM. She is smart, driven, and way under-prepared for college. She has a cell phone, but not a smart one. The bills she worries about paying are not internet or cable, but utilities and rent. She isn’t on facebook, twitter and doesn’t blog. What “spare” time she has is spent with her children or doing school work.
So, here I am, motivated prof, trying to reach my students “where they are” and I decide to create all sorts of digital assignments relying on fairly negligible technology but still reliant on technology. It might be posting to an online forum, email communication with me or other stus in the class, using an online article for class reading right up to culminating assignments that involve creating a podcast for youtube.
How is this student doing any of these thing? Tell her to go to the computer lab on campus is the obvious answer. When she would do this is probably the most pressing issue. Yes obviously at some point this student uses a computer, it might be an ancient one with no internet at home, or in brief spurts carved out in the on campus labs, but the amount of time is minimal. I do see many students from similar backgrounds MINUS the kids, hanging out in the computer labs. I’d say that they are probably the most frequent users of them. However if you are racing from class to class to a job and finally to pick up your kid(s), when exactly are you going to the computer lab? (A secondary issue would be the quality and number of the computers on campus, but I can work around that. When stus wanted to make podcasts I brought in my ancient video camera). Sometimes I let the stus out of class early to hit the lab down the hall from my classroom, but that isn’t always possible.
This means that while I’m interested in employing digital humanities pedagogy in my classes I need to for each and every usage come up with an offline equivilant.
This past year students in my survey of women’s history had the option of
1. making a podcast OR doing a LIVE in class re-enactment
2. live blogging a historical event OR giving a speech from history IN CLASS
3. online annotation of a historical source OR turning in a WRITTEN analysis of a source
The problem with the above is that while the digital options are way cooler and more fun, they also allow stus to perform knowledge differentially. They are appreciated particularly by the public speaking adverse/shy stus. I hate that tech access is what drives some stus decisions about which option to select, not preferences or abilities.
I’m trying to figure out now how to create collaborative online projects that harness the access of some students for all because I know the digital skills are necessary for success in the future. However, I’m incredibly wary about highlighting the unequal access of some students.
Most students have the tech abilities (they had better access in high school and fewer demands on their time) if I can solve the access issue. I keep looking and looking on twitter and other places for professors who share these challenges. While I love reading about the innovative projects going on down the road at Swarthmore, it might as well be 100 miles away rather than 10. #ThatCampPovertyFreire anyone?
*I teach at a fomerly all women’s college, but with the recent addition of men I’m now seeing a variation, men who are completely self-supporting and/or helping to support their familieis and work more than 40 hours/week.