Blog Post

Guiding Principles for Born Digital Scholarship and Teaching


I  have collected and compiled the following perspectives (below) over the last decade as a way of developing an overarching conceptual framework that can create cohesiveness among digital media scholars and artists form disparate areas of study and help to identify what it means to possess a “born digital” sensibility.  For the last five years as a director of a growing inter- and transdisciplinary digital media program, I have applied these principles in the classroom and in my program and have found that they make it not only possible, but also easy, for a digital media scholar from fine arts, for example, to work closely with and understand the work of a digital media scholar from anthropology.  They are:

1.     A computer is not a tool or prosthesis that helps us to accomplish something; rather, it is the medium in which we work. (Oliver Grau, MediaArtHistories, 2007)

2.     Text is any form of information by which we communicate an idea, feeling, or concept. (Mats Dahlstrom, “When Is a Text Text?,” 2002)

3.     The medium affects the message. (Marshall McLuhan, The Medium Is the Massage, 1967)

4.     Digital media are material texts. (N. Katherine Hayles, Writing Machines, 2002)

5.     The artifact of new media is just as important as the process it took to produce it. (Jan Van Looy & Jan Baetens, Close Reading New Media, 2003)

6.     Making is not separate from thinking. (Stephano Vannotti, “Let Us Do What We Do Best:  But How Can We Produce Knowledge by Designing Interfaces?,” 2008)

7.     The design of information is a conversation about ideas––not about persuading people to do things.  (Robert Jacobson,  “Information Design,” 2000).

8.     Criticism of digital media should be specific to digital media and relies on the sensory modalities of the body for that critique rather than abstract ideas or theories. (N. Katherine Hayles, Writing Machines, 2002)

9.     Digital media involves an interdisciplinary/transdisciplinary study of art, science, and technology (Edward Shanken, Telematic Embrace, 2003) & the Humanities.

To put these concepts into perspective, it means that courses taught in a program that embraces them will involve hands on experiences for its students (#1) with emphasis not only on visual communications but also aural as well as gestural, etc. (#2). Students in such courses would be taught that moving print information to a website, for example, requires more than cutting and pasting text to the new environment but rather a careful consideration of the affordances the new medium makes available that the old one does not (#3).  It also suggests that what students create is “real” and potentially can impact, in important ways, the society in which they live despite the objects “virtuality” (#4),–– and because this potential does exist, creating media objects requires a strong ethical base from which to create.  It also means that a successful completion of a media object is greatly influenced by the viability and usability of the object itself (#5).  Thus, students learn that critical thinking sits as the foundation of everything they make (#6) and that the object may have many important uses, and so is not created solely to lead others into a particular action or to embrace a particular idea (#7).  Students also learn to embody their work and to make sense of it through their own experiences, as well as those others may have experienced (#8).  Because each individual brings to the classroom unique backgrounds and training as well as personal interactions with information, it is understood that knowledge of multiple disciplines and teaching methods are needed to be implemented in the classroom of a digital media course (#9).

Contact me with questions, suggestions, or ideas.

--Dene Grigar


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