The Digital Threat/Salvation to English Pedagogy

What is the place of digital technology in English pedagogy? The question rests on the assumption that it has one. In his seminal study of pedagogy in the age of video, theorist Gregory Ulmer (1989, p. viii) pointed out that during the Renaissance, humanists led the educational reforms that accompanied the rise of literacy and the new technology of the printing press. The printing press empowered their intellectual and educational agenda and was indispensable to this end. But in our own time, we are witnessing a curious reversal: The emergence of new media technologies has also come to imply the emergence of some new threats to the humanities, namely its core value of literacy. Or, at best, "new media" has meant faster, more efficient delivery and distribution for the existing institutional apparatus. As Marcel O'Gorman (2006) wrote, "New media have done little to alter the practices of humanities scholars, except perhaps by accelerating — by means of more accessible databases — the rate at which hermeneutics can be performed" (p. 50).

It is not entirely clear how this reversal came to be. Perhaps it is partly the result of an over-determined opposition between visual and verbal media, with images — especially ones that move — perceived as somehow at odds with the word or at least on an uneven playing field. A visual culture, in this view, is inevitably a less literate one. Or perhaps the media associated most closely — which is also to say sentimentally — with reading and writing are simply being outpaced in a rapidly changing media ecology. After all, the Gutenberg Revolution was long and slow as far as revolutions go. What is clear is that not everyone working in the field of English literature and the humanities is perceiving the same threat, or if there is indeed what has been described as a "crisis in the humanities" (Perloff, 2005), then digital communication technologies are not necessarily a contributing cause. In fact, they are much more likely to be a salvation.

The humanities train people to read, write, interpret, criticize, communicate, and express. In a world where digital machines propagate a seemingly infinite number of texts, the discipline is arguably more relevant and urgent now than it ever has been. It was over two decades ago, and in response to a different media threat, when Ulmer wrote that it was "time for the humanities disciplines to establish our cognitive jurisdiction over the communications revolution" (1989, p. viii). The message is by no means dated, and it is one echoed more recently by O'Gorman (2006): "It is time for the humanities to go digital (beyond archiving printed texts), and time for theory to go digital (beyond observing its own apotheosis in hypertext)" (p. 107). The same message provides the backdrop for a discussion of our engagement with digital technology and English pedagogy: the web site created for the final assessment of a second-year course at the University of Canterbury (Christchurch, New Zealand) called "Digital Narratives in Digital Culture."

Mel - class of 06 Joe - class of 05 Todd - class of 07 Llew - class of 06


You Can Start Here
On the Digital
Threat / Salvation
On English Pedagogy & Contemporary Contexts
On the Course:
Motivation & Inception
Nothing Too New


On the Literary
On the Technical


Students as DesignWriters
Examples and Analysis