This week’s readings were a chapter from How People Learn on instructional environments and an article by D. Royce Sadler on formative assessment and instructional design (1989). These readings both discussed the importance of designing both curricula and environments to provide the important scaffolding for students to learn, especially the learning that takes place at a metacognitive level, such as learning to evaluate one’s own work.
One idea from these readings that I found particularly compelling was the idea of creating communities of collaboration and feedback for development. This type of environment seems fairly common in some of the arts, as well as in the sciences. For instance, in the world of computer science, there is the large, open community of the internet to provide for evaluative opportunities. If I want to learn to write code, I can find any number of websites not only with educational materials, but with code available to download and analyze and learn from. I can see very easily what constitutes good code and bad code.
However, as Sadler (1989) points out, this type of interaction does not exist so much in the humanities, where scholars often work alone. There are materials that can be read, but their evaluation is, at best, “fuzzy” (Sadler, 1989), and these types of evaluative learning experiences would be best served by having a more interactive community surrounding the products of our practice.
I think this is an important consideration for the movement forward of the “digital humanities.” As the presence of humanities scholars in the digital world increases, and as the products of humanities research are increasingly born digital, I think it is imperative that we create an environment and a community that is ripe for collaboration and interaction. This is going to be one of the trickiest areas to negotiate, going forward, because of the long-standing culture of the solitary scholar in the humanities. However, as was pointed out in the chapter from How People Learn, it is important to make sure that we are creating a sense of connectedness and commitment among our instructional communities. Although we do need to be sensitive to previous cultural norms, we also need to make sure we are helping to create a new broader community.
This more connected community, will, in turn, help new students of the humanities to recognize more connections between their learning, their research, and the world around them. More importantly, though, a greater community can help students learn the standards and norms that we hope they will model and, someday, transcend.