Digital Pedagogy and STEM - they actually work!
Digital Pedagogy has become a buzzword, and a ‘hot-topic’ among educators over the past decade, and rightfully so. Utilizing the tools and strategies that digital media provides, enhances our ability to engage students in material and expands the amount of information that we are able to convey in the classroom. While this educational philosophy (called ‘digital liberal arts’ in some circles) certainly relies on the use of digital media to provide the content of the course, it encompasses a much larger framework that creates a holistic educational experience; it centers on teaching students effective ways to communicate the information they learn in the course, and helps them to develop a rhetorical toolkit that is applicable in all aspects of their professional (and social) life.
While this all sounds wonderful, many educators, namely those in STEM fields, are resistant to this new strategy of teaching. Multiple factors contribute to the hesitance of STEM faculty. For one, the Internet is full of opinionated assertions that are often misrepresented as facts, based primarily on the author’s immediate feelings. Even if hard data are presented, the conclusions that they draw have not experienced the scrutiny of peer review, a crucial process in STEM disciplines. On the other hand, STEM courses often contain such a large amount of information that needs to be taught, educators find little time in their courses to include lessons in rhetoric or writing. Both of these concerns are addressed when digital pedagogy is properly implemented in a courses.
Starting with the latter issue, the ability to communicate the complex topics that arise in STEM fields is an essential skill for students, educators, or advanced technical scientists. Teaching this skill should be a priority for any science educator. If a medical student is able to master all of the concepts of human physiology, for example, but cannot relay this information to either medical colleagues or a patient, this knowledge loses its purpose and significance. Teaching proper rhetorical technique (whether written, oral, or multimodal) is just as important as the curriculum of the course. As for the inconsistent veracity of the Internet (and social media), we must teach students to be cautious, but we must also be cautious ourselves not to discount this valuable medium altogether. Online platforms allow an open sharing of information, ideas, findings, and most importantly, it facilitates communication. Thus, the philosophy of digital pedagogy - using modern tools to enhance our students’ ability to engage the world intellectually - should be a focus of STEM education. Doing so allows us to create environments that encourage our students to become intelligent, accessible, and engaging members of the science community.
To explore these topics, I am co-hosting a workshop at UMW featuring Russ Carpenter, a Writing Specialist at Stanford University.