A Copious Summer Term (Part 2): Navigating the Premises of Cyberspace

Welcome to part 2 in my summer course reflection series. In this series, I explore takeaways that continue to influence not only my scholarship but everyday life. My last post observes my first doctoral level literary theory class and necessary revisions in terms of what readers expect when searching for “literature”, notably ones aside from their comfort zones. The second summer class I took last summer, though one week in length, retained compelling notions next to the regular fall/spring terms. Dubbed ENGL 856 Digital Literature for the English Professional, the course involved the numerous motives for humanities, alongside scholars in general, to tread carefully when handling digital technologies and applications. Digital properties appear in varying forms. Pesky license agreements that we skip to progress to the essence of games, apps, etc. suggest their inconspicuous design; whereas cloud storages which promise recovery of our cherished photos, or websites that hosts content as the one I type on now, serve as more pronounced faith in digital functions. Essentially, my 856 course bid several questions; I attempted to narrow them down to a couple extensive ones. First, how digital technology both oversteps, yet synchronously, raises human creativity? Second, what characterizes an exemplar combination between digital tools and pedagogical settings? Furthermore, while the following remarks untangle these questions, digital technologies prevail as an abstraction worth further speculation.  I shall also preface my takeaways choice selections with a warning: digital tools counteract much visionary illuminations peculiar to human beings.

Human skeleton made of lights and digital space.

1. Staying Versed in the Discrepancies between Personal and Digital Rights

In the 21st century, we cannot help but sync our favorite photos, group projects, passwords, an indefinite collection to the cloud. Insutitiongs ranging from schools to workplaces are no stranger to these habits either.  Take into account the following scenario  (and feel free to exchange the university lingo for a corporate one)

It’s the end of the term. You forget to archive the discussion posts you incurred more sleep deprivation than expected. Oh, and your essay final revisions got lost in the plethora overwhelming duplicate folders you always promise yourself you will organize and transfer to a backup source like your desktop or unopened flash drive since there was a sale. To make matters worse, you scarcely recall what you wrote, much less in a scatterbrained end of semester capacity If only you reinforced your hours of dreary contemplation elsewhere rather than subject them to fickle, indifferent digital platforms.

As depicted above, my course registered an irksome conflict to sustain personal access contrary to the immovable, unrelenting cloud.  Staying vigilant, of course, is easier said than done. Online indexes relieve us from backing up our data on our own. Instead of keeping a log of which keys access what, where to locate them, or manage their security, cloud services and digital tools bear the stressful effort. By exchanging our personal footprints for digital ones, often instantaneously, we skip the uninteresting steps; this allows further concentration towards a goal familiar to any digital platform: increasing one’s notoriety.

Despite the convenience digital tools account for, flash drives or other forms of personal storage exemplify a comparable, if not more, viable option. Take an example from one of my previous positions. I entered this role with little exposure to Microsoft excel, as a result, I endured the trials of arduous trials and mirroring YouTube videos with superfluous length before constructing my own effective formulas. Unlike literary analysis and its comforting ambiguity, Excel yields either accurate or malfunctioning conclusions. Securing a personal copy of the file, pending the expulsion of confidential information of course clearly, evades the following hurdles: starting a similar project from scratch; relocating a head start for future projects, although I may leave the project stagnant, perhaps it can guide someone entering their own uncharted technical waters; most notably, I maintain remnants of my own creative expressions freestanding independent from who I am according to in a professional context.  

Thus far, I examine personal complications under digital surveillance. However, digital expansions intensify creative fissures on a global and national scale. Kennedy C. Chinyowa writes a neutral study concerning digital piracy; such actions enable further creativity as they trespass economic or social difficulties. One example refers to Africa where music artists, especially those stemming from scarce financial backgrounds, gain expand their inventive resources by exploiting digital workarounds. This proves especially advantagenous for those from scarce financial backgrounds.  “The majority of the marginalized, therefore, see piracy as a means of access to, and inclusion into the exclusive and globalized media industry.” 142). Author goes onto suggest that African citizens therefore utilize their piracy as means of “challenging the oppressive structures of global copyright governance” (144). In other words, global economies and Westernized or Eurocentric conceptions enter their non-Western, native spaces, expecting a smooth merger of Westernized or Eurocentric commercialization. Because they discover a resistance, though illicit, Africa credits imaginative voices apart from whether they conform to insurmountable or incompatible social structures.

Additionally, digital consumption and production beget corrupt practices in countries known for economic prosperity and merit. Piracy, according to the study, runs rampant in the United States, Canada, Germany, and other countries. A need to share regardless of status markers ruffles the waves of piracy sweeping in a storm not stagnant, tempest. Or, as author puts it, creators initiate a democratic, “participatory” where they “[debunk] restrictive legislations and monopolistic markets by allowing the availability of more cultural goods, catering to market demands and access to lower prices.” (143). While I do not wish to debate piracy’s intricate legal snares which digital instruments aggravate, I admit that the behavior and its temptations parallels academic disputes. My tuition fees grant me a plethora of scholarly journals yet some I still cannot access unless I pay an egregious cost. Some fields answer calls for accessibility by composing open access journals, yet these cases still represent exceptions to next to glaring, scholarly ivory towers. Cost also matters since the abstract sometimes mismatches the content found once I scour through the author’s piece. Having an entry cost of admission to begin with, whether an active student or not, keeps public expression restrictive. Piracy is by no means perfect; but until institutions find alternate and fair methods to broaden avenues to creative platforms, meanwhile, illegal manipulations lend voices to those hushed due to unjust systems beyond their domain.

Digital property rights are equally moldable and defenseless. Working purely in clouds and tech-centric frameworks displaces personal intentions. Keeping works creations in our own names underscores the innate genius humans enjoy no matter their digital encoding. While I noticed digital spaces and their inseparable connection to human freedoms, 856 also taught me another sensitive connection between us humans and our digital monarchs.  

2. Distinguishing Genuine Digital Pedagogy from “Phoning it In”

The 21st century and past decade alone confirms the prerequisites of digital literacy overrun not only professional ventures but daily life. An overabundance of digital apps causes insecurities for those limiting or shutting them off completely; digital apps now monitor how we read, eat, sleep, locations, even advertise/shop. Due to these normalized dependencies, teaching also succumbs to digital implementations. What computerized tools miss, especially in pedagogical settings, is appealing to human enthusiasm and learning trajectories. As my course Professor Ken Sherwood forewarns, too often digital tools lead educators to oversights. “Do not simply use a tool because your employer provides it or because you already know how to use it.”  By emphasizing digital entities thanks to obligation or its pleasing qualities on an individual basis, they divert off course from pertinent learning goals. Moreover, educators must think apart from the digital essentials, instead, they can selectively predict the needs, skill expertise, and other traits unique to the learners who specify a digital tools’ function.

Here is a practical example to demonstrate a proper resort to digital capacities. Sitting through the dreaded and formulaic Microsoft PowerPoint (or insert other visual slide deck tool here) represents a universal experience where the digital purpose matters. No digital integration renders a presenter immune from nondigital characteristics which involve learners. These include but are not limited to: captivating language phrasing, divisive questions or possible remedies, embedding specific easter eggs (for instance, jargon only said team, company, etc. grasps), tone. A digital product or algorithm hardly knows how to anticipate a future outcome; this is unhelpful because intriguing lessons ponder what dwells on the horizon. Notice all the previous devices stem from the human condition. Relying on digital aids to an imbalanced degree pales in comparison to presenters who steal the show. Appropriate digital guidance thus occupies a subsidiary role: one whose bells and whistles are a far cry from human transformations.  

I shall conclude this section by stressing the pragmatic human clarity excluded from exclusively digital inputs. Consider what corresponds to a nondigital composition such as a painting and a website. Whereas one website presents aesthetic beauty conceals the significance information behind multiple clicks; another speaks to functionality and clearly designating necessary information for the public spectators. Or, as another example, web accessibility varies in urgency depending on the site and its affordances.  The digital host alone cannot account for the right decisions as they only possess a predictable, systemic vision. Besides excitement, human users and creators stay informed of inclusion questions, this means they provide necessary interventions and resolutions unknown to digital systems. Human connections also improve learning nonexistent in digital knowledge banks as the next section will show.

3. Unrivaled Human Collaborations versus Digital Ones.

While proper digital enhancements demonstrate one challenge, writing and the rampant increase in AI authorship presents an alternative pedagogical riddle. Paul Fyfe, in an essay titled “Digital Pedagogy Unplugged” reinstates human voices in the classrooms. They suggest integrating activities with printed materials or other means to seize human “interpretations” apart from digital compulsions. Therefore, students renew their self-respect in their writing and critiques without filtering them through a detached cyber tool first. AI tools bypass the scrambled, incoherent thoughts and natural lapses en route to human testimony. Likewise, Naomi S Baron holds university staffing, educational attitudes, and other hindrances accountable for students treating AI as their instructor.

They also discuss natural missteps in the writing process; in clinging to digital corrections, students minimize the authenticity contained in light bulb moments—key opportunities showcasing a student’s improvements but more importantly, what flaws to direct their attention to. Both authors highlight students’, or even faculty’s, desperation when facing the inevitable end of the semester snowball, aka, the stacked workload. Either group submits to a digital accommodation given the availability of a restrained yet instantaneous response. Resolutions to this now common practice exist so long as faculty reassess who hands out credible direction with the exceptions of Professors. One resolution to the unfavorable reliance on digital and AI writing tools involves a jovial and collaborative scholarly community. Rather than lay the cumbersome burdens of peer review, brainstorming, and other writing activities on the Professor, students prove equally resourceful. Deconstructing know-it-all hierarchies reflects the previous sections where digital innovations withhold a compulsory authority over human creators and thinkers. By severing purely digital in favor of human-to-human feedback, classrooms address situations more likely outside of the classroom; any professional benefits from the experience since they will likely meet unpredictable customers, students, etc. in reactions and fancies; this demands forming exceptional responses in the moment. An encoded or automated machine learning tool hardly accounts for such conditions. Perceiving students and Professor esoteric knowledge as interchangeable also nurtures self-confidence in handling chance encounters.

An Ongoing Contest with Digital Forces

Digital tools and technology hold an inconsequential spot in our daily lives. The overlap and transitions from personal to digital networks present an inescapable maze. Although digital technologies possess daunting capabilities, their repercussions need human intervention. According to the previous points, collaboration, as well as a vast number of qualities, are distinctly human. On one hand, digital tools ensures keeps ideas circulating depending on the longevity of where we host and upload the content; on the other hand, human creativity elicits a solidarity because of spontaneous creativity undefined by machines themselves. Digital technology may expand but will never exceed its human ingredients.  

Photo credits unsplash





Sources cited

Revisiting Intellectual Property Rights in African Contexts: A Cultural Democracy Imperative Kennedy C. Chinyowa

Digital Pedagogy Notes: Opening the Conversation Ken Sherwood


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