Jennifer Hardwick is a 5th-year Ph.D. student in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s. Her research interests include Contemporary North American Literature, Indigenous Studies, Rhetoric, Youth Culture, and the Digital Humanities. Jennifer is currently teaching a class on Youth and Digital Culture, in which she models her pedagogy on the concept of multi-literacy: that the emergence of new cultural technologies (New Media, Web 2.0) adds to and enriches the existing technological and cultural landscape (books, poetry).
Your class focuses on youth and cyber cultures. How do you feel that the class intersects with or informs your or your students understanding of the Digital Humanities?
The relationship between youth culture and digital culture has been a source of popular and scholarly fascination over the last few years. Cyber bullying, social networking, #occupywallstreet and #idlenomore, the growth of youth-generated artistic production online… all of it has created a great deal of curiosity and controversy. Do we need to save the children from digital media? Or are the children going to use digital media to save us? Books like Mark Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation and Don Tapscott’s Grown Up Digital really tap into that debate.
Of course, the truth of the matter is far more complex and nuanced, which is really the point of my course. Digital technology is a tool, and as such, it is used differently by different individuals. A lot of academic and popular rhetoric surrounding digital media treats it as though it is this force in and of itself — something that has the power to corrupt or save — but the truth is technology needs users. If we want to understand why and how someone uses technology, we should probably look at that person’s social, cultural, political and economic contexts. In that sense, this course definitely leans towards the social end of the digital humanities spectrum. It seeks to better understand youth cultures, and to critically examine how those cultures both inform and are informed by technology and media.
What were some of the challenges that you and your students encountered?
I think both my students and I took our knowledge for granted going into this course. We all use digital media every day, and we know how it functions. We know intuitively that blogs and books are different, and that multimedia changes how we read. However, articulating those differences and changes is surprisingly hard. I struggled to build coherent lectures when dealing with material that was not remotely linear, and I watched my students struggle to draw comparisons and apply their analytical skills in different contexts. Sometimes I felt like we were all in the classroom looking at each other going “we know this. We do it every day. Why is this hard?” I think a lot of it has to do with language — we don’t have a scholarly vocabulary yet to describe so much of DH work. It’s developing, but it’s not standardized in the same way it is for something like literary analysis. As a result, talking about digital humanities work can make us feel inarticulate in a setting where we want to seem intelligent and well-spoken.
What were some of the surprises?
Two of the biggest surprises were related to the challenge of language I noted above. The first one is how adept all of my students were at media analysis, even if they’d never been trained in it. Once they were given a vocabulary and framework they blew me away. It came very naturally. It was like watching 99 people go “oh, this is what we’ve been doing. Cool.”