What is Digital Pedagogy and Why Does it Matter?

Students photographing documents
English MA students, Angelo Antonio and Yoan Moreno, photographing archival materials for the digital project Archives, Race, and Justice.

As LMU’s digital scholarship librarian, I facilitate and support digital pedagogy practices on campus. In this post I attempt to shine some light on digital pedagogy with the hope of beginning a larger campus conversation.

What is Digital Pedagogy?

I see digital pedagogy as being the deeply considered and conscious incorporation of digital tools, concepts, and methods into the classroom and coursework. The journal Hybrid Pedagogy describes it as being “precisely not about using digital technologies for teaching and, rather, about approaching those tools from a critical pedagogical perspective.” Online teaching, for example, is not inherently digital pedagogy. (I’m sure some would disagree with me.) It’s pedagogy that is delivered via digital means. Certainly, though, one can use digital pedagogy in online teaching.

Why Digital Pedagogy?

Digital pedagogy gives students a critical way into technology and a technological way into scholarship. Because it is often hands-on and multisensory, it can provide faculty and students with alternative ways into class materials and with alternative ways to express their ideas. For this reason, digital pedagogy can create exciting opportunities for less conventional learners. I believe this is especially true for some students with learning disabilities. Often, they are creative and skilled in less conventional ways and don’t necessarily get to demonstrate those abilities in traditional course work.

Class Digital Projects

The most common form of digital pedagogy I engage with on campus is designing and leading students through projects. The projects range considerably in size and scope, and incorporate a number of different (mostly free) tools, including Google MyMaps, ArcGIS Online, Esri’s Story Maps, Knight Lab’s StoryMaps, TimeLineJS, and iMovie. The projects I help lead classes through tend to incorporate a sizable research component. An example of this can be seen in Archives, Race, and Justice, a project Julia Lee (LMU Department of English) and I did last fall with her Critical Methodology class (ENGL 6600). The students made videos and other digital objects that demonstrate their engagement with and contextualization of archival materials from the Southern California Library.


If you are interested in incorporating digital projects into your classes, here are a few things to keep in mind:

First, really think through your learning outcomes. You might find that digital isn’t the right medium or you might find additional ways to tap into greater outcomes. For example, when creating a website, students can learn more than the technical basics of website creation; they can also learn about structuring and organizing information, classification, metadata, and intellectual property issues.

Second, make enough room in your syllabus. Students need time to experiment, fail, and then succeed. I see it as a kind of life cycle that goes something like: Learning the tool, learning how to use the tool critically, and learning how to apply the tool to class content. It’s a process that needs to be taken into account.

Third, remember that not everyone has equal access to technology. I can’t count how many times I have heard faculty and staff say things like, “They all have their own laptops,” or, “They all have smart phones.” Even if this is true (which it’s not, especially when it comes to laptops), it does not mean that they all have easy access to high speed internet and that they all have large data plans. To create a more equal “playing field,” you have to think about the students who have the least access. So, think about the student who lives off campus in a home with slow or no internet, and think about the student who has a limited data plan because that’s all he or she can afford. To get a sense of what kinds of resources your students have access to, you might want to give out an anonymous survey at the beginning of the semester, and to help equal things out, schedule time in class to work on the digital aspects of the assignment. For more on these kinds of issues, and issues concerning student online privacy, I recommend reading Chris Gilliard’s work.

Fourth, know that there is no such thing as a “digital native.” I have never seen a group of students take like ducks to water when jumping into a digital project. I believe this is because they are not comfortable with using technology beyond basic smart phone, internet, and social media use, or because they struggle with the application of technology to scholarship, or both. I suspect it’s usually both.

For more information on the kind of technology related teaching happening on campus, read the recent LMU This Week article, “Tech and Teaching: Digital Scholarship at LMU.” Topics related to digital pedagogy include digital scholarship and digital humanities. For information, I recommend the Digital Scholarship LibGuide and DH@LMU, which highlights digital projects, course work, and provides additional resources.