It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a student in a classroom must be in want of an education. And, irregardless of the student’s actual feelings on the subject matter, the student knows that a teacher necessarily has beneficial information of which to impart. The task of education, then, is to provide the proper environment in which the student and teacher may experience such an exchange of information.
Does this sound like your college educational experience? Probably not. If your experience was anything similar to mine, then you began by choosing a degree, next looked at degree requirements, and then considered the available course options. Then, like arrows cast through the night, you launched yourself on a trajectory with projected targets on the other side of the process. Along the way, in moments of quiet reflection, you wondered about the jobs on the other side of the journey, and perhaps even the value - time, energy, cost, etc. - of your education. By the time you graduated, what had originally seemed like a long journey to traverse suddenly seemed to have disappeared in an instant. And so you were left to wonder about the benefit of your time in college. What exactly is in an education?
This is the question I pondered over the weekend. As you are probably aware of by now, I am working in this class to connect the digital humanities with pedagogy. I have written about Twitter, about the rhetoric of the digital humanities, and have even tried my thumb at expressing the nature of online education. In the process I have become convinced that the intersection of the digital humanities with pedagogy provides a helpful context for discussing what an education is. And, since we all know higher education is under such scrutiny, I think we would be wise to listen to the critiques offered by the digital humanities.
But, as a first step in that conversation, I will try my hand at explaining what I think is in an education. I take education to be the process of forming intellectual, emotional and social habits in people’s lives. It is a holistic process. And so it is more than information because people are more than information. It is also something that envisions students who function beyond the classroom, taking into account the way a particular class connects with the broader world and how such a class might help students better understand the world. If this is true, then I think the digital humanities opens up several doors for enabling students to move their education from the classroom to the broader world; to develop ways of acting holistically with the education that is received. To be sure, I’ll admit digital humanities is not the end all in such a movement from classroom to the broader world. However, I think it’s a good first move. After all, if Martin Weller’s “Network Weather” in The Digital Scholar is accurate, then we are educating our students to inhabit a digital world.1
It seems to me that we academics (myself included) are not careful, the pride of our degrees and the prejudice for our systems of knowledge will stifle our students’ education. Our responsibility as educators is just as important as our responsibility as scholars. Such a responsibility, I believe, will necessarily force us to consider how to connect our teaching with the way the world operates. And to do this, if I’m right, will entail the incorporation of the digital humanities, as we help our students habituate a digital world.
1 - Martin Weller, "Network Weather," in The Digital Scholar: How Technology is Changing Scholarly Practice (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011).