In the fall of 2013, former Lecturer in Philosophy and then-Director of the Honors Program Netty Provost approached me about teaching my first Honors Colloquium at IU Kokomo. The course was a foray into the silicon jungles of digital culture, and it marked my initial teaching in the area of technology and culture—an area that has been one of my research interests for some time, but that until the spring of 2014, I never had the opportunity to address pedagogically.
The contemporary adage that we exist in a fast-moving, increasingly connected (and “connectable”) world is a commonplace of mainstream media. But what precisely are we referring to when we discuss the massive changes wrought by the internet, mobile devices, networks, and by digital culture generally? This honors seminar attempted to probe beneath the shiny veneer of digital culture—the TED talks, the unabashed, Wired-esque paeans to unrestrained commerce, and other breathless celebrations of networked “togetherness”—to critically engage and interrogate our status in a world forever changed by digital technologies. A major conceptual theme of this course dealt with how exploring how the rise of the digital represents a shift in human consciousness and evolution on a scale not witnessed since the invention of that other world-shattering technology: writing. Students thoroughly enjoyed this seminar, as evidenced by my course evaluations, and I was glad to have the chance to teach it. The background research and reading I did for this course allowed me to teach New Media Theory in the Spring of 2016.
One significant pedagogical experiment I tried in this course was to give students a grading “menu” whereby they could arrange and design their own graded projects and assignments and then complete a Coursework Agreement with my advice and supervision. These ranged from mini-research papers to book reviews, blogs, and multimedia presentations. At least one student liked this format, remarking in the course evaluations, “I liked how we were able to make choices on how the course went.”
Even though several students did comment on how much they enjoyed (or came to enjoy) the focus on digital culture, the majority of the written comments seemed to indicate that students also appreciated my ability to create a classroom environment conducive to learning and exploration. For example, one student explicitly stated that s/he “liked how the instructor taught/explained and the environment he created in class,” while another student wrote, “Dr. Cook knows what he’s talking about. He’s very knowledgeable about his teachings, and he is always available to talk to; he even gave us his. . . personal number in case we needed to get ahold [sic] of him.” Yet another student remarked that “Dr. Cook made the material discussed in class enjoyable” and “The class discussions helped me remember the material.” Finally, another student wrote that “Dr. Cook is a great professor. He cares about his students and he clearly wants us to succeed.”
One strength that I bring to my teaching is the ability to convey conceptually-challenging and sometimes controversial ideas to undergrads in such a way that (a) doesn’t scare them away and (b) also makes them feel at ease. I have written about this previously as a pedagogy of care or kindness, and, in short, it works well with our student population.
Course Evaluation Summaries (Quantitative)
While my qualitative evaluations were strongly positive, because this course was the first course I taught after our course evaluation Likert scale was inverted (AY 2013-14), several students were confused by the inversion of the scale and so my quantitative scores are somewhat lower than they would have been. In other words, where previously a score of 1 = “Strongly Agree,” the scale was inverted this year (for some reason) and several students did not realize the change to 5 = “Strongly Agree,” though some did. Since my qualitative scores for this course were so positive—some effusive in their praise for the course—I believe that my somewhat mediocre quantitative scores would have been much higher had students realized the change to the Likert scale.
|HON-H 399: Digital Culture||Spring 2014 (32895)|
|1.) The course was well organized.||2.71|
|2.) My instructor is well prepared for class meetings.||2.71|
|3.) My instructor explains the material clearly.||2.86|
|4.) My instructor stimulates my thinking.||2.71|
|5.) My instructor is knowledgeable on course topics.||2.86|
|6.) My instructor shows genuine interest in students.||2.71|
|7.) My instructor is regularly available for consultation.||2.71|
|8.) My instructor encourages me to participate in class discussions.||2.86|
|9.) Announced course objectives agree with what is taught.||3.00|
|10.) I am pleased with the text required for this course.||2.43|
|11.) Directions for course assignments are clear and specific.||2.71|
|12.) The instructor used technology in ways that helped my learning of concepts and principles.||2.57|
|13.) Standards for student achievement are reasonable.||2.71|
|14.) The instructor collected enough evidence for valid grading.||2.71|
|15.) The grading system for the course was clearly explained.||2.57|
|16.) Grades were assigned fairly and impartially.||2.57|
|17.) The instructor promotes an atmosphere conducive to learning.||2.71|
|18.) I kept up with the studying and work for this course.||2.29|
|19.) I actively participated in class activities and discussions.||2.43|
|20.) I learned a lot in this course.||2.14|
|21.) I developed skills in critical thinking in this course.||2.43|
|22.) This course increased my interest in the subject matter.||2.29|
Course Evaluation Summaries (Qualitative)
Below, I list all qualitative student comments from each section of this course that I have taught. If I have only taught the course once, then the comments are from a single section of the course.
“I liked how we were able to make choices on how the class went. I also liked how the instructor taught/explained and the environment he created in the class.”
“The least thing I liked was all the writing, but it really wasn’t bad.”
“The most valuable thing I learned would be that digital culture is all around us and that it is not just the general thought of technology as computers.”
“Dr. Cook was a great teacher.”
“[The most valuable thing I learned was] thinking critically.”
“The course was very interesting and I enjoyed learning about all of the facets of digital culture. Dr. Cook is a great professor: he cares about his students and clearly wants us to succeed.”
“I learned that technology is not only good or bad, but a mix of both.”
“The instructor made it interesting.”
“The class duration [was my least favorite aspect of the course].”
“There are a great many pros and cons to technological advancement.”
“I greatly appreciated and enjoyed unbiased lectures on Marxist ideas.”
“It was very easy, very Euro-centric.”
“That even many ‘Honors’ students are blind to the obvious.”
“Dr. Cook knows what he’s talking about. He’s very knowledgeable about his teachings, and he is always available to talk to; he even gave us his phone personal [sic] number in case we needed to get ahold of him.”
“Sometimes, Dr. Cook got off topic, but we always got back on course in a reasonable amount of time. All professors do this though, so it’s not a big deal at all.”
“I liked that Dr. Cook made the material discussed in class enjoyable. The class discussions helped me remember the material.”
“The readings were a little much at times. I think it would be different if I wasn’t taking several other upper level classes; however, with my schedule the reading was difficult to keep up on.”
“The in-class discussions were fun and interesting. Instructor always available for outside help.”
“Sometimes [the] amount of reading was overwhelming.”
“I found an appreciation for digital culture and digital media that I definitely didn’t have before the start of this class.”
Click here for Course Syllabus.
Click here for Coursework Agreement and here for Coursework Menu.
Click here for a sample ICA (in-class activity) and here for the Midterm(ish) Exam.