Introduction: Digital Pedagogy in American Studies

1What implications does digitalization have for content and knowledge production, public educational requirements and counter/publics, for material development and methodology of foreign language education, for the inclusiveness of digital classrooms and the professionalization of teachers? We believe that it is crucial to look back at the semester and identify lessons learned, including emerging best practices. Many such endeavors are already underway, and for the German context we would like to point out the open discussions and the newsletter initiated by the DASI (the Digital American Studies Initiative of the GAAS).

2The idea for the issue of the American Studies Journal you are reading on your computer screens, tablets or other mobile devices is older than the push toward the digital caused by the current crisis. It originated with a workshop held at the 65th annual American Studies Convention in May 2018 at the Freie Universität Berlin with the title “American Counter/Publics.” In this workshop, we aimed to establish intellectual connections between American Studies and its counter/publics as well as the field of Foreign Language Education. Both fields are inherently tied to the public sphere, whether in tracing the non-unitary, diverse, and dissenting publics in American Studies scholarship or in teaching American language, literature and culture to foster democratic responsibility and to pluralize public speech and public action. The current political climate demonstrates the increased importance of education about social, racial and gender justice. Historian and digital expert Randy Bass particularly advises American Studies digital media practitioners to understand “pedagogy and learning as possible sites of resistance” and change (2008, 187-88).

3The internet as the supposedly ultimate democratizer and an expanding app industry have provided us with a seemingly endless list of tools to revolutionize research and teaching (sometimes seen as the ultimate remedy against disinformation), but this largely unregulated flood of tools and online applications also complicates notions of public and private, truth and fake. It is here that we see the merit of a (re)conceptualization of digital pedagogy, including its methods, ideas, and approaches, in American Studies and Foreign Language Education. We propose that practitioners of digital teaching and learning interlace the opportunities provided by digital media with the requirements of curricular and (the most recent) teaching principles, as well as with real-life conditions and experiences. To foster students’ ability to critically and thoughtfully interact with digital media, we are seeking new ways to teach American writers’, artists’, and activists’ expressions of dissent. The contributions chosen for this issue indeed combine and rethink the public sphere as well as digital pedagogy. They are particularly intended to inform and enable practitioners to apply the methods and findings described in the articles to their own work (both in teaching and research).

4In this special issue’s opening article, Sebastian M. Herrmann (Leipzig) introduces readers to “Leipzig’s Social Hypertext Reader SHRIMP and the ‘Introduction to American Studies.’” The conception of this experimental e-learning platform, which was developed and deployed at American Studies Leipzig, relied on two hypotheses about digitization: first, that the digital age is changing the practice of how students interact with texts, and secondly, that digital textuality offers a variety of possibilities beyond purely cumulative and linear reading that often remain unemployed. In his article Herrmann shows how the implementation and continuous adaptation of the platform improves learning outcomes.

5Oliver Moisich (Paderborn), in his article “The Digital Classroom: A Digital Humanities Primer on Tools, Methods, and Resources,” supports using computational methods in order to give learners (and teachers) the know-how to navigate digital worlds that otherwise would remain opaque surfaces. He does so by discussing the digitalization of American Studies in general, then introducing concrete digital tools to work particularly with visual media and graphic narratives. Lastly, Moisich discusses the challenges of such an approach by referring back to his own teaching experiences in an American studies seminar on cartoons.

6In his article “Flipped Classrooms and the Pitfalls of Digital Learning,” Philipp Reisner (Ljubljana) takes up the debate on the advantages and challenges of this teaching design by examining socio-economic benefits, the importance of social learning, as well problems caused by limitations of electronic accessibility. For a more balanced evaluation of the concept, Reisner assesses the teacher’s and the student’s role in the digital learning environment of the flipped classroom and concludes by advising readers to familiarize themselves with the deeper presuppositions of the flipped classroom-model and the consequences in the American studies classroom.

7When it comes to digital pedagogy, teaching critical media and data literacy skills in light of ever-growing volumes of information is paramount. The starting point for Viola Huang’s (Passau) article “Teaching the Black Power Movement, the Genre of Documentary Film and Critical Media Literacy” is the University of Passau’s Information and Media Literacy Project. As part of the project, the university designed a room for pre-service teachers to gather, collaborate, and experiment, the Didaktisches Labor (DiLab). Here students learn to navigate and productively process the increasingly vaster amounts of available information and produce knowledge in the form of digital exhibits, podcasts, and videos. Huang discusses the project possibilities in the context of a seminar that asks how the perceptions of the Black Power Movement are shaped by the format of documentary films.

8For a number of years, Joannis Kaliampos (Lüneburg) and Martina Kohl (Berlin) have cooperated in the long-running and highly successful project “Going Green – Education of Sustainability” as part of their blended-learning platform “Teach about US” In their article “‘I Think They Are Irresponsible’: Teaching Sustainability with (Counter)Narratives in the EFL Classroom,” they contextualize the blended learning format “Going Green,” which brings together American and German high school students and combines approaches of foreign language education (English) with Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). By discussing the results of their survey questionnaire, Kaliampos and Kohl convincingly show how students struggle to differentiate between mainstream narratives and counter-public notions, especially when it comes to ecological issues. The article highlights ways to use narratives productively to benefit intercultural learning.

9The promises of digital pedagogy, from incentivized learning through gamification to using cloud-based systems that enable collaborative learning formats, are captivating but not without limitations if questions of access and inclusion are considered. It is here that we offer the present volume as a contribution to the debate about the potential for digital technologies. With a carefully executed digital pedagogy new technologies may successfully complement, but never replace, the necessary human-to-human interactions in the classroom.

Suggested Citation

Gessner, Ingrid, and Uwe Küchler. “Introduction: Digital Pedagogy in American Studies.” American Studies Journal 70 (2020). Web. 28 May. 2024. DOI 10.18422/70-01.


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