What happens if we turn the American university inside out or upside down? How does infrastructure change affect intellectual change? What are the relationships among curriculum, assessment, technology, cocurricular activity, access, equity, entrepreneurship, and social justice? How do we think about each of these things, perhaps starting with one change and building upon it?
Cathy N. Davidson
The New Education

The Big Four

  1. What skills of multimodality do students and faculty need?
  2. How do we develop and increase faculty and student capacity to generate multimodal research and scholarship?
  3. What digital tools and platforms are necessary?
  4. What forms and practices do  multimodal project assessments take?

This Summer Institute is designed to bring faculty and staff together for one week to address these questions, and learn to use digital tools for pedagogy, research, and creativity.

The Rise of the Digital: Change and Disruption

Over the last two decades, digital technologies transformed almost all spheres of social and economic life, and radically impacted practices of reading and writing, in both academic and non-academic contexts. Today, more students access texts and readings through digital devices, and, more to the point, rely extensively on these devices to read, write, revise, and produce research. The focus on generating text-based research papers through writing and revision is yielding to the recognition that the digital is enabling the integration of multiple modes—textual, visual, aural, gestural, spatial—in composing knowledge and information.

As early as 1996, the New London Group (New London, New Hampshire), comprising scholars from writing, media, education, psycholinguistics, and rhetoric, issued a manifesto titled “Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing our Social Futures” that identified these five modes as directly contributing to a shifting socio-economic landscape marked by the rise of screen reading, hypertextuality, content transformation, and information literacy, and proposed multiliteracies as the appropriate theory to inform new pedagogical practices.

In 2014 the Council of Writing Program Administrators issued Revising FYC Outcomes for a Multimodal, Digitally Composed World: The WPA Outcomes for First-Year Composition (v3.0), a position statement emphasizing Theoretical Knowledge, Critical Reading, Thinking, and Composing, Processes, and Knowledge and Convention. What stands out in this position statement is the emphasis on technologies in learning outcomes: “understand and use a variety of technologies to address a range of audiences,” and “adapt composing processes for a variety of technologies and modalities.”

Such a focus on multimodality and multiliteracies requires students and faculty to re-imagine themselves as writers and designers, as writers who deal with the intricacies of reading, critiquing, revising, and writing texts, and as designers who use technologies to integrate multiple modes of communication to compose and transform knowledge.

Information Technology + Arts/Humanities

There is another crucial dimension to the focus on multimodality and multiliteracies, namely, the dramatic speed, range, and impact of digital technologies in economic and commercial enterprise, business industries, and political and social cultures, leading to new notions of workplace readiness and career preparation. For the arts and the humanities, especially, these questions are urgent, not because the traditional ideas of the disinterested exercise of creativity and reason are passé, but because relevance and purpose are becoming urgent for students and parents today: student debt is rocketing, business operations are transforming, workplace expectations are changing, employment opportunities are dwindling, cognitive functions are altering, communicative practices are integrating, and organizational systems are altering.

A digital humanities approach to multimodality and multiliteracies can be viewed as an intentional, considered response to shifting socio-cultural and economic environments, so that faculty and students can confidentially navigate a world—not become sell-outs, hold-outs, or unmindful beneficiaries–facing greater, deeper, and expansive transformations in communication, business, culture, and politics.

The Digital Turn in Higher Education

Acknowledging that “Information technology is an integral part of the intellectual environment for all humanities faculty members….” because “digital media are transforming literacy, scholarship, teaching, and service, as well as providing new venues for research, communication, and the creation of networked academic communities,” the Modern Language Association issued “Guidelines for Evaluating Work in Digital Humanities and Digital Media” in 2012. The National Council of Teachers of English released a Position Statement (“The NCTE Definition of 21st Century Literacies”) in 2013, in which it expanded literacy to include composing in a variety of modes: “Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the 21st century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies are multiple, dynamic, and malleable.”

Along similar lines, concerned about the “disconnect between emerging [digital] practice and the evaluation of that practice,” since it “discourages scholars at all levels from engaging with the new capacities” and “prevents the profession, and the departments in which it is grounded, from creatively confronting ways in which historical knowledge increasingly will be created and communicated,” in 2015, the American Historical Association released Guidelines for the Professional Evaluation of Digital Scholarship by Historians. Likewise, other regional, national, and international organizations are trying to prepare for and understand the rise of the digital; an apt example is the Japanese Association for Digital Humanities, which translated the American Historical Association’s Guidelines for the Professional Evaluation of Digital Scholarship by Historians into Japanese.

When numerous professional organizations (these are only a small sample) issue official statements, policies, and reports, and conduct conferences whose panels, workshops, and publications often feature multiliteracies, multimodality, and digital rhetoric, the signals are clear: our ideas and practices of writing, reading, and composing are changing, in response to the growing scale and power of Information Technology to transform the forms, content, and practices of communicating, expressing, and meaning-making.

Maine, it turns out, has been leading the nation in preparing its students for the technological challenges of the 21st Century.

Into the 21st Century: Wicked Maine Innovation

In 2000, when he was Governor of Maine, Senator Angus King launched the Maine Learning Technology Initiative; one of its key goals was to use a 1:1 ratio to connect students to technology; soon, programs were funded to issue laptops to all students and teachers in grades 7-12. In 2006, the State Board of Education issued a report titled “The Learning State: Maine Schooling for the 21st Century,” in which it made the following recommendations:

  • “each student from grade 7-12 should have an individual wireless computer to take home from school;
  • teacher training to integrate technology into daily student work must be advanced;
  • an aggressive support system to enable teachers to remain current with rapidly changing new technologies;
  • establishment of a task force to study and make recommendations for technologically advanced alternative instructional delivery systems, including the “virtual” school.”

Equally significant is the explanation provided by the Maine Department of Education about the MLTI: “The Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) provides professional development and 21st Century tools to Maine’s K-12 public schools to support the attainment of Maine’s college and career readiness standards” (emphasis added).

The pursuit of higher education starts not after completing school but when one enters it; put another way, it is not the grand, albeit exasperating, anxiety-generating, debt-inducing march from school into college and into the world that forms the locus of attention, but the long arc of learning from early childhood to young adulthood and maturity.

As a public university, USM’s engagement with Information Technology can be directly connected to the histories and innovative practices of technology-enhanced learning in Maine.

How best to discover, strengthen, and reinvigorate such connections is the challenge of the future; to prepare for that future, USM’s first Digital Humanities Summer Institute brings together faulty and staff to work together, with colleagues from the University of Maine-Farmington, to focus on two central questions:

  1. How are digital technologies transforming education?
  2. What curricular, pedagogical, and institutional steps can we take to prepare USM to effectively address these new energies, orientations, and transformations?

With the following goals:

  • Become familiar with the Digital Humanities as knowledge domains and practices intersecting  Information Technology, the Arts, and the Humanities.
  • Understand multimodality and multiliteracies as rhetorical and design modes to generate and communicate knowledge and information.
  • Assess and select from the array of digital tools available for humanities research and pedagogy.
  • Gain reasonable fluency in using one or two digital tools.
  • Integrate these tools into course assignments.
  • Design assessment criteria for these assignments

Posted by: John Muthyala
Institute Director

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