This Fall I joined the faculty of the Digital Media Studies program at University of Denver where I’ve been introduced to some truly innovative and mind-stretching digital media projects, research, and teaching—social conscious gaming, biologically inspired computing, digital poetics, and much more. And on the first day of classes I was amazed to find students who are completely immersed in the digital media landscape and who are excited to add an element of critical studies to their approach to creating and navigating online space.
I’m less amazed to find there is a gap between the role of technology in the students lives and education and the role university administration think new media ought play. Some of my students told me that in orientation sessions they were warned by upper-class students that the university discourages the use of social networking sites like Myspace and Facebook. As a new faculty member I have been advised that it is against university policy to use sites off the DU server as part of my courses. We are all supposed to stick with Blackboard a course management system that mimics old-school structures of education and whose parent company Blackboard, inc. filed a patent on their Learning Management System last year and ever since seems to be actively battling innovation in educational technology by suing open source e-learning projects for patent infringement. Many educator are boycotting blackboard because of this. Others boycott because it’s cumbersome and unreliable. (I found out just what a pain it is when I taught a course at the American University of Paris from Los Angeles and the system regularly vanished assignments I’d posted and cut out on live chat sessions I was conducting with the class.)
Universities like so many cultural industry sectors are having a rough time adapting to the digital age and accepting that the structures of knowledge, socializing, creativity, and learning have changed. Fortunately for DU, with such web savvy students and faculty, the “upstream education,” as one of my colleagues called it, seems poised to take place sooner than latter. There is a growing body of resources to aid in this process of optimizing the use of digital tools in education. Here is a talk given by Howard Rheingold, pictured above, in Second Life on pedagogy and civic participation.