For this week’s discussion I decided to dig a little deeper in to the idea of “negotiation.” (Since I still can’t quite wrap my head around the Drucker.) As defined by both DeVoss/Eidman-Aadahl/Hicks and Henry Jenkins, “negotiation” refers to “the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.” Throughout our course we have talked about the different ways that digital teaching and learning can open doors for our students. We’ve explored fascinating ways that technology can expand our students’ experience and allow them to encounter new perspectives. Teaching with technology allows our students to interact and work with people and information from around the world, and the possibilities for positive growth and learning seem obvious and endless. And yet, plenty of risks and complications are also inevitable, and as instructors it is our responsibility to help our students negotiate these interactions, and to use their digital tools in an ethical, respectful, and academically useful way.
Robin Wharton’s “Of Icebergs and Ownership: A Common-Sense Approach to Intellectual Property” introduces one particular set of norms that our students will need to negotiate – specifically how the rules of intellectual property apply to digital writing and publishing. Students these days have easy access to the work and ideas of many different people, and one of the greatest assets of learning in the digital age is being able to freely explore the work of others. Access to this wealth of information makes it especially important for our students to learn how to differentiate between their own ideas and those of others, to recognize and clearly communicate the difference between source types, and to credit their sources fully and accurately.
However, specific rules about exactly how students are allowed to use the work of others are hard to pin down, and as Wharton points out it can be dangerous for an institution to be too prescriptive with those guidelines. “Institutions attempting to chart a safe course through treacherous regulatory seas too often take an approach that positions faculty and students as passengers along for the ride, rather than co-pilots or fellow travelers capable of plotting a course of their own” (Wharton). Instead of passing down hard and fast rules from on high, she argues, guidelines should emerge from a collaborative process that engages both teachers and students, and emphasizes the key purpose of the project. “My primary concern is helping them understand how they can ethically and responsibly use and build upon the work of others in their own work.” In her own courses Wharton works with her students to “examine together the question of what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable reuse of pre-existing work, and how the answers to that question evolve to fit particular situations” (Wharton).
In the world of digital writing and learning, expected norms of behavior may not always be clear or even solidly fixed. Expectations might change depending on the situation or the individuals involved, however if we are going to open the metaphorical doors of our classrooms to the larger digital world, then we are responsible for giving our students the skills to successfully negotiate their way through that landscape. Wharton sums up her approach like this: “Rather than setting them adrift in the murky waters of the law or establishing barriers to keep them from venturing out from the shallows, I try to provide my students with ethical tools that will help them successfully navigate the seas of professional discourse” (Wharton). Obviously Wharton’s experience is mostly focused on higher ed, but is there a version of this kind of negotiation that we could imagine doing in a high school classroom? Do you think you might face more or less institutional resistance at the high school or college levels?
Wharton’s piece is just one example of the kind of negotiating we might encounter as digital teachers and learners. This past weekend I attended a session on “The State of the Field: Digital Humanities” at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians. Although the specific projects discussed were focused on History instead of English, a lot of the central questions resonated with our course and specifically with this question of negotiation. As one speaker stated, teachers of the digital humanities need to be willing to work without a net. We are helping to develop a field that is still largely undefined and that in many ways requires the blurring of traditional boundaries. As a result the rules of engagement are not always clear. In order to make the best use of the new tools available we will need to be flexible, collaborative, innovative, and free to explore and experiment right alongside our students. The one thing we know is that “the human and technological networks within which we work will continue to change—and in ways that affect our teaching approaches, our social practices, and much more” (DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl, Hicks, 141). How do you think we can best prepare ourselves and our students to negotiate that change? What other boundaries (social, cultural, etc.) can you see your students having to negotiate in the digital world? Lots to discuss!