WWMD (What Would Montaigne Do)?

Shawn Graham uses the keyword “History” to reflect on the essay’s function in education, and to suggest strategies and models for reinvigorating the practice of writing and learning in the undergraduate classroom. “History” as a discipline and mode of inquiry is not the focus of this entry, and it hardly makes an appearance at all, except when Graham historicizes the essay as a genre. With Montaigne’s work as a starting point, Graham restores the essay to its original form: a written exploration or experiment. Because digital pedagogy shares this exploratory spirit, it can exploit the experimental, open-ended nature of the essay to great effect.

Graham is careful to differentiate online learning and digital pedagogy from the outset. The former is primarily a matter of course management and content delivery, with little room for creativity. The latter is where things get interesting and where there is potential to engage students in a meaningful way around the practice of writing and research. I think he makes a too-simple distinction, however. Online learning=conforming to the neoliberalist agenda of the corporate university; digital pedagogy=creative, humanistic methods that redefine what teaching and learning can be, and change the power structure from the inside out. Although I agree in many ways with this assessment, it seems like Graham creates this easy binary distinction mostly for rhetorical purposes, to structure his contribution to this project. His point, that digital pedagogy transgresses the parameters of traditional education, depends on this distinction, but he doesn’t address, for instance, how the various artifacts he has curated could actually be used to transform “mere online learning.” Experimental and “transgressive” teaching models existed long before a computer ever appeared in a classroom. My question is this: while digital pedagogy has yet to revolutionize the educational system, can we still call it transgressive? If so, then when does it cease to be?

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