Number 70 (2020)

Digital Pedagogy in American Studies

Edited by Ingrid Gessner and Uwe Küchler

Introduction: Digital Pedagogy in American Studies

As we are writing the introduction to this special issue we are looking back on the online summer semester 2020, which has profoundly and perhaps lastingly impacted how we do American Studies, not least by pushing us to embrace digital technologies to an extent unimaginable half a year ago. Did we really need a viral pandemic to provide the necessary push for some of our colleagues to become (more) digitally naturalized? Of course not. On the other hand, we would have appreciated practical guidelines and offers of technical support for our digital teaching ideas (as most universities have provided them in the last months) much earlier. Yet, most of these offerings were merely technological or only contained a list of tools available. How can we think critically about our tools, and how can we implement them successfully? 

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Leipzig’s Social Hypertext Reader SHRIMP and the “Introduction to American Studies”

This article describes the ideas behind and the experiences with the experimental e-learning platform SHRIMP. Developed and deployed at American Studies Leipzig, the platform is used for the introductory Literature and Culture I seminar in the American Studies Bachelor of Arts program, and it serves as the main medium of instruction for around 80 students per year. It breaks up the linear form of the original seminar reader and instead offers students a hypertext of interconnected, short segments, enriched with social media and gamification elements, as well as a learning analytics component that invites students to take control of their own study and learning experience. It is driven by a dual assumption about digitization: that the digital age changes how students interact with text, and that digital textuality offers rich affordances beyond linear reading. Both can be harnessed to improve learning outcomes.

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The Digital Classroom: A Digital Humanities Primer on Tools, Methods, and Resources

This article will focus on teaching with digital humanities (DH) methods and tools as they relate to their practicability in the context of the classroom. It will concentrate on the specific challenges that the teaching of computational methods pose to educators who are experts in their discipline but might feel that they lack the technical know-how to steer their students towards DH. In particular, the article will introduce a number of tools that allow school students and educators to access digital approaches and to start appreciating their relevance for research. These include online resources for literary analysis, simple programs that may be used for research into media, and archival projects that stem from the collaboration of students and staff and bring neglected histories to an outside audience. While these tools do not demand any practical programming knowledge, I will also present resources that teach widely used coding languages such as Python and R on a step-by-step basis. The third and final part of the article will introduce a number of methods and services that empower educators to create a digital classroom with quantitative approaches and distant learning as their primary characteristics. Teaching these methods might prove challenging at first.; yet the hands-on, collaborative, quality of DH also leads to classroom situations in which students and staff become co-learners, and therefore leads to a democratizing effect. 

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Flipped Classrooms and the Pitfalls of Digital Learning

In the recent rise of digital learning, “flipped classrooms” have become a controversial subject. This new form of learning inverts the traditional conception of the classroom: instruction is transferred from the classroom to out-of-class (online) tasks such as pre-recorded lectures on the Internet, while class time is devoted to activities that put the knowledge into practice. These classrooms have been touted as learner-based and student-centered models of education. Yet there is still little evidence supporting the effectiveness of the flipped classroom at higher levels of education, especially in the humanities. Taking American studies as an example, I will examine some of the arguments in favor of this model, but also and most importantly some of the challenges facing the application of this new educational model in the humanities. In general, the main concern is that flipped classrooms may undermine student-teacher dialogue, viewing teachers as “moderators” who design learning environments geared to the students. At the same time, home-learning environments may compromise learner autonomy and limit learners’ opportunities for self-organized work and interaction with peers outside class. Ultimately, a critique of the concept of flipped classrooms is also a critique of the egalitarian aspirations of digital pedagogy in general.

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Teaching the Black Power Movement, the Genre of Documentary Film and Critical Media Literacy

In an age of digitalization and information overflow, it is of particular importance to offer students strategies to read and navigate the world they live in. The Information and Media Literacy project at the University of Passau intends to enable future teachers to become literate in the digital age by empowering pre-service teachers to collect, sort, critically evaluate, and subsequently produce and distribute information. Additionally, the awareness of and the reflection on the role of the media is just as essential, and thus, media-literacy education is a crucial part in this endeavor. This article discusses what information and media-literacy education can look like in practice. In one of our interdisciplinary and co-taught seminars, we investigated how documentaries can shape the perception of history by looking at the Black Power Movement in the US. 

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“I Think They Are Irresponsible”: Teaching Sustainability with (Counter)Narratives in the EFL Classroom

“Going Green—Education for Sustainability,” a German-American blended learning project for the EFL and STEM classrooms, asks students to challenge commonly held stereotypes about how both cultures approach sustainable development. Since the pilot project (2014), over 3,000 secondary school students in Germany and the US have enrolled in a shared learning management system (Moodle), worked collaboratively both online and offline, developed green action plans and shared them with the school and wider community as part of a competition.

This article outlines the conceptual perspective of Going Green that includes the aspects of (a) teaching ‘publics,’ (b) countering expectations and misconceptions, (c) raising awareness of counter-narratives, and (d) expanding the knowledge base of the target culture (sustainable policies in the US). These components together facilitate learning objectives beyond interactional and communicative competencies by promoting learner agency and community-based actions. Attitudinal data drawn from the last two project cycles (2016–17, 2017–18) reflect a heterogeneous view of learners’ expectations and understandings regarding sustainable policies in the US and Germany. Finally, we investigate how narratives and counter-narratives of sustainable development on both sides of the Atlantic can be exploited in the technology-enhanced foreign language classroom in order to facilitate the aforementioned goals. 

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