Blog Post

Course Description: 21st C Literacies (Ph.D. Lab in Digital Knowledge)

This is a rough DRAFT of a doctoral course I will be offering in Spring 2013 in our new Ph.D. Lab in Digital Knowledge.  

  • Join us! All the work in that course will have a public component If you are interested in participating as an individual or perhaps as a partnering class or institution (at any level), please leave a "Comment" below, indicating something about your interest and what you'll contribute (class you are teaching, etc):  we'll find you next year when we offer the course and find out a way to collaborate. 

This description will change many times between now and January 2013 and even more once the course begins.

English 890S and ISIS 490      #LiteraciesLab
DIGITAL LITERACIES: Theories, Methods, and Tools for New Research and Teaching
A Course Offered in Conjunction with the Ph.D. Lab in Digital Knowledge, and paired with English 390.5 and ISIS 390 “Surprise Endings:  Social Science and Literature,” team-taught by Dan Ariely and Cathy Davidson  (Mondays, 3-6 pm)
Spring 2013
Smith Warehouse Ph.D. Lab in Digital Knowledge

Like Garry Kasparov playing chess with Deep Blue, “21st Century Literacies” is about bringing together the possibilities of the human and the machine for new forms of research and teaching.  Our emphasis will include theory and practice, the expressive and the constructive, the individual and the collective, immediacy and distance, humanities and the lab.  The premise of this class offered in conjunction with the new Ph.D. Lab in Digital Knowledge is that much on-line learning is now excellent (sometimes better at tailoring itself to individual learning styles than even good instructors, and certainly better than poor ones).  Given that, the 21st century classroom has to offer something more--something human, connected, vital, creative, ethical, practical, critical, and inspiring.  Additionally, we must find the best ways to reconceive of what it means to do research by  thinking about, with, and through our computational tools, networked communities, and  interconnected worlds.  In this very privileged and precious environment we call a “higher education,” we will explore all the forms of learning and thinking thatcannot be replicated by a computer alone--or by a professor alone in the traditional, hierarchical academic model.   

This course is designed to prepare doctoral students in the humanities and social sciences for new forms of thinking, teaching, and learning (inside the academy and out) required for the collaborative, interactive, do-it-yourself, data-intensive world in which we live.  It is grounded in history, with an argument that contemporary educational institutions are the product of Taylorist  “scientific labor management” reconfigured as “scientific learning management” with the end of training workers for the Industrial Age.  It is based on theories of cognition, research in the science of attention and learning, and analyses of the digital architecture that pervades much of our lives outside of school but that has yet to transform the institutions of education (K-dissertation).  How we teach and how we learn have changed more radically in the last twenty years than our academic institutions,  disciplines, academic reward systems,  classroom methods, and definitions of what constitutes an academic career.

The course is further premised on economic realism:   sadly, the biggest driver of change in higher education at the moment is economic exigency, not intellectual creativity.  We will discuss the retrenchment in university support from state, national, and corporate sources; the devaluing of the humanities (and theoretical sciences) within the research hierarchy of the university; and the unwillingness of many in the humanities to rethink their mission and to reconsider what should be their centrality (in mandate and purpose) in the Information Age.

Since many Ph.D. students today will be teaching in classrooms with hundreds of students and with some hybrid online component, one focus of this course is how to see those situations as opportunities for collective learning, rather than simply “mills” for replicating tired, outmoded Industrial-age ideas.   Since the drop-out rate of entering college students is now around 45-50%, one function of this course is to think about ways that higher education today can be vital and relevant to the lives of our students.  An explicit aim of the course is to articulate and practice a new vision of the human and social sciences for a post-Taylorist era and students who were born after April 1993 (when the Mosaic 1.0 browser was made available to the public).   The course is based on a pragmatic (some would say optimistic) idea that, together, we can find the right tools, partners, and methods to transform higher education in ways meaningful to the present and, if we’re lucky, the future too.

The course will be offered in the Ph.D. Lab in Digital Knowledge.  It will also be “teamed” with English 390-5/ISIS 390, an undergraduate class (“Surprise Endings:  Social Science and Literature”) team-taught by behavioral economist Dan Ariely and Cathy Davidson.   The experiments in pedagogy and multimedia student-generated production in that undergraduate class will serve as a “pedagogical lab” for the doctoral students in English 890, ensuring “vertical” collaborations of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates.  Doing will be as important as thinking about it, practice as important as theory, experiment as knowledge, context as content.  Every student in English 890S will leave the class with an e-portfolio of projects, public online writing, multimedia and collaborative productions.  
Collaboratively, the class will develop (and have authoring credit for) a “toolkit” that others can use to transform their own classes, hosted on a “21st Century Literacies Group” on the www.hastac.orgsite (rated, by the developers of Drupal Commons, as among the largest and most interactive applications of the open source Drupal Commons community platform currently existing on the World Wide Web).  


The final collaborative class project will be a multimedia online eBook, written, produced, designed, and disseminated by the class.  Students will write in public and communicate via the 9000+ HASTAC network and beyond.  Students will also develop a suite of new tools they can use in their own research as well as in practical teaching methods.  It is assumed that students in the class will have different levels of technical expertise, that some (but not all) will be working in the area of digital humanities, and that some will be pursuing traditional humanities professorial careers and others will be interested in “alt-ac possibilities. Students will also leave with a professional CV that records their ePublications and a cover letter that translates what we do in “21st Century Literacies” for traditional humanities audiences.  

READING LIST (evolving):

  • Anne Balsamo, Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work
  • Yochai Benkler, Wealth of Networks
  • Ian Bogost, How To Do Things with Video Games
  • danah boyd apophenia, “making connections where none previously existed”
  • Chen, W. & Wellman, B. (2004) The global digital divide within and between countries. IT & Society, 1(7), 39-45
  • Cathy N. Davidson and David Theo Goldberg, The Future of Thinking:  Learning Institutions in a Digital Age (free pdf)
  • John Dewey, Democracy and Education
  • Michael Gold, Debates in the Digital Humanities
  • Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescence:  Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy
  • N. Katherine Hayles, How Do We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis  
  • Lisa Nakamura and  Peter Chow-White, Race After the Internet
  • Christopher Newfield, Ivy and Industry:  Business and the Making of the University, 1880-1980
  • Howard Rheingold, Net Smart:  How to Thrive on Line
  • Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, A New Culture of Learning
  • Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Googlization of Everything
  • Barry Wellman, Connected Lives Project (articles, posts)
  • David Weinberger, Too Big To Know:  Rethinking Knowledge ...
  • Ian H. Witten, Data Mining:  Practical Machine Learning Tools and Techniques  

First Class Meeting  (Smith Warehouse Ph.D. Lab in Digital Knowedge)
Before class:

  • Register to our “21st Century Literacies Ph.D. Lab” Group on HASTAC;
  • Register to Prof. Kyle Peck and Khusro Kidwai (Penn State) eRubric Assessment and Community-Building Tool

Please bring to class:

  • a package of 4 x 6 index cards;
  • a laptop and/or a mobile device;
  • a video and/or still camera   (we can share if you don't have one);
  • recording device  (we can share if you don't have one);
  • post-it notes; colored markers; anything else you need to be creative and organize your collective thoughts (later in the term, that might include tape, wood, hammers, nails, Legos, a guitar or drum kit, pipe cleaners, Emily Dickinson’s poetry, a friend, comfortable walking shoes, painter’s smock,a yoga instructor, I am not kidding . . . );
  • a list of possible partners you want to connect/collaborate with during the course and who have expressed interest in joining us virtually throughout the course (think boldly: international partners; people with disabilities; K-12; STEM scientists; archivists; game designers; film makers; prison education and juvenile programs; P2PU--do some preliminary contact work before class; we are "cartwheeling" ideas of what used to be called service learning (outreach/inreach), distance learning, sustainability, and entrepreneurship in this class too);
  • one healthy contribution to the class (carrot sticks, a flower in a vase, bread, an iPod with music to inspire us, coconut water)


We will begin the first class with an individual and collaborative exercise using index cards (TBA), ending the exercise by adding the results to our public 21st Century Literacies Group blog on HASTAC and an evolving Google doc that, by the end of the course, we will edit, design, illustrate, and publish together as a state-of-the-art multimedia eBook (with everyone in the class as co-authors).

Next, we will use Peck and Kidwai’s eRubric tool to collaborate on our guidelines, principles, goals, and metrics for our community and our class, all of which will evolve during the course of the term. 

Third, we’ll use Survey Monkey to build a survey of what we would like to know about the skills, ideas, and resources our collective brings to the experience, we will then each answer the survey, and visualize the results to help us make pairings based on collaboration by difference.   We will include our distance partners in the survey and talk about how we can extend our collaboration and peer-learning through conversation and research projects with partners in other countries and contexts. 

Fourth, we’ll choose two peer-leaders for the next class.  

And our first class will end with a screening of the brilliant YouTube video by Ange DeLumiere, How To Moonwalk and a discussion of Alvin Toffler’s concept of “un-learning” before you can “re-learn.”

Second Class Unit:  Flip the Classroom? Why Not Make It Do Cartwheels?
Thomas and Brown, A New Culture of Learning
John Dewey, Democracy and Education
Barry Wellman, Connected Lives Project
"Flipping the classroom", The Economist, 17 Sep 2011
from Jeremy Strayer (2007), The effects of the classroom flip on the learning environment: a comparison of learning activity in a traditional classroom and flip classroom that used an intelligent tutoring system (Doctoral Dissertation)
Critique of the flipped classroom:  Alfie Kohn’s work on Dewey and his chart “What To Look For In a Classroom”   

Writing Assignment:  Prior to class, find, post, and write “abstracts” for two contributions (in proper MLA bibliographic form) to our evolving online collaborative public “Toolkit” pertinent to the flipped classroom (NB: make sure to sign your contribution).  At least one of these should be a demonstration multimedia video (no longer than five minutes in length).  

Class Focus:  We will discuss the readings and watch and analyze each of the videos posted to the “Toolkit.” Collaboratively, we will edit and revise the annotations prior to publishing the day’s work.  We will discuss the best ways of communicating our work to the widest and most relevant audience, through which tools, list servs, organizations.  #LiteraciesLab

Public Contribution to Scholarship: Two students will be delegated to lead a public communication campaign to disseminate this resource on flipped classrooms and will chart and report (on the Toolkit document) their success as measured by ethnographic responses and comments as well as Google analytics and other data-based social networking methods.  

Pedagogical Application:   Students will either try one or more of the “flipped” innovations in a class they are teaching or will adapt an exercise for “Surprise Endings,” in which Ariely and Davidson will try one of these pedagogical methods.  Everyone will write an assessment of the method on the “Toolkit” blog.   Where possible, students will video their use of the method and post to our Ph.D. Lab YouTube channel, linking to the “Toolkit.”

Professional Documentation:  Each student will come to the next class with entries on her or his evolving online curriculum vitae and ePortfolio, documenting the work on this unit (text, multimedia, classroom, data analysis, etc), and with a one-sentence general description of the project and individual contribution to it (suitable for an eventual job letter).   Students will review one another’s entries and revise and edit their own. One purpose of this class is to learn how to translate the cutting-edge work of this classroom for different audiences, including the most traditional forms of humanities and alt-ac futures. 




I am getting in touch with the educators at CMU to see if our doctoral class and the Ph.D. Lab in Digital Knowledge might pilot and/or partner with them on a new course offering they are creating on Course Design.  Here's the description:


Course on Course Design

We are creating a series of modules, delivered over the web or in blended mode, which introduce, explain and model the methodology, processes and design principles OLI uses to address learning challenges in a variety of domains. We are developing this resource for course designers and content authors who would like to learn the current state of our thinking about course design and to see examples of resources we have created using this method and set of principles. A key take away for students will be an explicit connection between the learning objects we have created with the underlying methodology and principles we used to create them. The ultimate goal of this experience is for those taking this course to identify when and how these principles apply to their own learning challenges and to be able to utilize our methodology in their own course design projects.





Cathy N. Davidson is co-founder of HASTAC, a 9000+ network committed to new modes of collaboration, research, learning, and institutional change.  Along with a steering committee of scholars across many fields, Davidson has been directing HASTAC's operations since 2006, when moved to Duke University, where she also co-directs the Ph.D. Lab in Digital Knowledge.   She is author of The Future of Thinking:  Learning Institutions for a Digital Age (with HASTAC co-founder David Theo Goldberg), and  Now You See It:  How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (Viking Press). She is co-PI on the HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions.   NOTE:  The views expressed in Cat in the Stack blogs and in NOW YOU SEE IT are solely those of the author and not of HASTAC, nor of any institution or organization. Davidson also writes on her own author blog, [NYSI cover]




Cathy, This looks brilliant. I am a Duke Lit grad and one of the recent FHI Graduate Digital Scholarship Humanities grantees. I hope we can integrate our FHI GDSI project on the Ecology of Networks into the conversation as we will be thinking through very similar questions. I participated in your recent Duke GDSI seminar 'Collaboration in the Digital Age' with Fiona B. (I was the one talking about my experiences teaching a graduate Writing course completely paperless). If this class is an anything like that afternoon seminar, it will be a productive and enlightening semester. I can't wait! 


Would love to join forces, Amanda!   I think it is going to be pretty amazing ...


. . .  would love to take this class . . .  wish this could be massive open online course but feel as though the face to face time is what will make this sing  . . .  looks fantastic.


Wow, I wish I could take this course!  I dropped out of my doctoral program because it was 19thC learning.  This sounds exactly like something I would love.  Although the blending sounds awesome, I live in another country and couldn't be part of the f2f part :(  will definitely be following and learning.


Hi Cathy, I'd love to sit in with this class while I'm at the Greater than Games FHI Lab next academic year. I'm going to be designing a digital tools class for the Masters in American Studies Program at Stockton College on my return, and hopefully if you continue to run this class, we may be able to partner up. Thanks for sharing your innovative syllabus!


If you will actually be here next year, you can be the live-link between the Greater than Games FHI Lab and the 21st Century Literacies course . . . and they are all in the same space.  The Ph.D. Lab in Digital Knowledge is part of the FHI.  We will have a blast!   You can be one of the many co-teachers and people will be so excited to learn more about your digital tools, games for learning, and on and on.  It will be a huge pleasure to welcome you here, Adeline!



Anonymous (not verified)

This looks fantastic.  I would like to participate as fully as my distance and work schedule will allow.  Thank you for   providing the opportunity!


Will there be a way to follow along virtually? Because I would love to! 



We'll work to make the class as public as possible, and we will have various kinds of virtual partnerships, including some public Google Docs we build together, some Skype sessions, and so forth.  Look forward to collaborating next year!



I'm at the University of Washington, and would be interested in sitting in, or partnering. Thanks!


Next spring at UVA I'll be teaching an intro to literature course on 21st-century novels — would definitely love to pair that with 21st-century literacies.


Hi there. I agree with the others that this is amazing! I'm a phd in journalism and public communication and work with a foundation that supports educators in using interactive strategies. I am in the process of developing a K-12 media literacy curriculum that incorporates many of these ideas. Thanks for the reading list and the inspiration. I am based in Washington, D.C. so could participate virtually, but I could also see coming for some sort of conference around these ideas. Thanks so much.


We have a newish MA program here at GSW that focuses on literacies studies.  I would love to give my students the opportunity to collaborate in this project and could easily link it to one of several classes that we teach on a regular basis (most likely "Technologies of Literacies" or a pedagogy class).  I also usually teach a few sections of first-year writing with a new literacies focus (this year we read your book--you'll get an email from my students soon).  I can imagine collaborations working on either level.


I teach English at Davidson College and am interested in linking one of my courses to yours. My courses in "Word-Art" and "Modernism, Magazines, & Media" would probably be most suitable. I am trying to develop more expertise in digital tools and technologies in order to incorporate them more fluently into these classes. In the former, I envision a digital "Word-Art" gallery, and in the latter, my students contribute to the expansion of an on-line database, "Little Magazines & Modernism: a select bibliography" ( I am looking into ways they might also use WordPress to publish and exchange research findings.


Looks great.  I'm UK based so intrigued how I can participate.




I'll be teaching an upper-division course in Spanish in Spring 2013 in which we'll survey "literacy technologies" from ancient indigenous writing systems to the XXI century in Latin America (including Brazil). One goal of the class is to give students a different historical perspective on writing itself; another is to have a lab in using new social media and online research tools to find out what is going on with digital culture in the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking worlds, and how that may be different from what they know. we will be partnering with a school in Peru for some kind of online exchange, not yet sure if it will be synchronos or asynchronous or both.

I'm planning to follow along and learn! and wonder if any of your students would be interested in the ways this topic plays out across global languages.


This looks fantastic! I look forward to seeing this in action


I am very interested in being a partner in the #LiteraciesLab! Thanks for keeping me in the loop, @writerswriting!/writerswriting

(Interested doc students can see some of my work at


Looks as a very interesting program, Would like to share amd join...


You left out the word "Learning" in refering to your book, The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age.  A new edition?  Nothing comes up in an adjacency search if you look for it that way. 




The course sounds fantastic, and I would love to be kept in the loop so that I can tune in virtually. My interests lies in helping learning professionals (people who work in L&D in organizations and faculty members) to continuously build their knowledge and skill around emerging strategies for learning and teaching. I'd like to think about how these ideas can be applied in the corporate space.


Will be following virtually as much as I can - and as much as is :-)


 I teach high school English in the suburbs of DC and can't seem to learn enough about teaching literacies in the digital age. I would love to join your class!


Thanks for posting this offering! I'm a 4th-year doctoral student in theology and ethics at Duke Div School and would love to learn more about digital literacies - I think that my field, overall, is rather retrogressive in terms of employing technology for participatory learning, being geared more towards using technology to reinforce hierarchical learning. Most likely will be TAing the introductory ethics course... and so would also be interested in exploring the ethics and philosophy behind digitial literacies. 


Hi SueJeanne, the course will be offered to any Duke doctoral students, in any field.  There's a 15 person limit and English is the home department and they may police enrollees to make sure English grad students have first pick.  I don't have control over that, unfortunately, but you should sign up and hope for the best.  I'd love to have you in the class if it works out.   Best of luck to you.


I would love to participate virtually. Right now I am working to integrate a digital literacies focus into my First-Year Composition courses. I also represent my department on my university's 21st Century Classroom Initiative committee and would love to cross-pollinate ideas between this course and the committee's research and work. Currently, I share my ideas and research findings on digital pedagogy on my blog at and, again, see it as being a source of cross-pollination with the course.


Thanks very much - I hope I'll be able to join, and look forward to hopefully meeting you sometime in the future!


Hi there! I'm a writer and educator living in Michigan. I teach composition courses centered around rap and new media is a big part of how we learn in my class. I know I missed the beginning of your course, but I was wondering if there's a way I can see what you all have been up to? I would just love to read up and what you've been doing, and see how it's all going! Thanks!