Aria F. Chernik is an open knowledge activist whose work focuses on digital literacy, participatory citizenship and collaborative learning environments, multimedia communication, professional learning design and curricular innovation, and social media and justice. She is a Lecturing Fellow in the Thompson Writing Program at Duke University and the Associate Director of the TWP Language Arts + Media Program. She can be reached on Twitter @ariachernik and on her website.

This semester, Aria is teaching a course entitled “Hack(ing) Knowledge,” which emphasizes digital literacy, or an individual’s capacity to find, evaluate, and assimilate digital modes of communication. Her first assignment, a digital storytelling project, incorporates ACCLAIM.

ACCLAIM: Tell us about your educational background and about “Hack(ing) Knowledge.” What does it mean to “hack knowledge,” and how did you develop the idea for the course?

AC: Actually, all three aspects of this question are tied together. I have a J.D. and a Ph.D. in English, but I always resisted the idea that I was a “law and literature” scholar. Rather, my teaching and research integrates the philosophical, ethical, and aesthetic inquiries of both disciplines; I want to explore how humans restructure forms of knowledge and communication to make sense of their subject positions in the world. In this sense, I think I have been “hacking knowledge” for a long time because I never understood the push, nor wanted to conform, to siloing knowledge behind administrative course coding. For me, questions about how we can break and rebuild systems of understanding have always pushed against those systems.

ACCLAIM: How have questions regarding research methods and analytic inquiry changed based on the recent development of the digital humanities? What does digital pedagogy refer to, specifically?

AC: I would say that research theory and praxis has changed dramatically not because of the digital humanities but because we are living in what I think of as the age of open. If we consider how we know today, so much of what we know flows from open digital sources of information. In the past, students could be confident that sources were “good” if they derived from subscription database paywalls or scholarly presses. Also, the medium of these sources was almost always alphabetic text. Today, information comes at students constantly and in multiple media. How can students know if a source is credible and relevant if it takes the form of a tweet, a YouTube video, or a Facebook page? For me, digital pedagogy is teaching with a critical cognizance that how, where, and why we learn has fundamentally changed in the age of open.

ACCLAIM: In an earlier conversation, you mentioned that you often find that college students are quite comfortable receiving ideas in the form of video/ multimedia presentations. Could you expand on this observation?

AC: College students are certainly more attuned to consuming information across a range of media, but in my view the essential task is to help students learn how to be critical consumers of this information as well as creative producers and communicators of new knowledge. Students actually write constantly throughout the day; however, their writing now takes on more ephemeral and less structured forms such as texts, status updates, comments on social media, emails, and emerging forms of which teachers are not yet aware! We have a responsibility to teach students how to read and compose critically across media for today’s world, not for the world that existed when we were students ourselves.

ACCLAIM: How do you teach digital storytelling? What kinds of resources/guidance do students receive? What models do students look at?

AC: I teach digital storytelling as a way to help students cultivate some of the cornerstones of digital literacy, such as evaluating sources, composing across media and participating in public discourse. This is the first semester in which I am labeling student projects as “digital stories,” and I did so to make the presence of an embedded narrative arc explicit. The video projects, however, are driven by research rather than personal experience. I am extremely grateful to Hannah Rozear, the librarian who works with my class. She designed a comprehensive 21st century research guide and shot her own digital story about Twitter’s impact on citizen journalism when we couldn’t find a helpful model relevant to the project’s topic to show students.

ACCLAIM: Tell us a bit more about your students’ first project, “How Do You Know?” and how they will be developing their ideas with Acclaim. How does commenting expand your capabilities for providing students with guidance, and/or fostering discussion? Will students be commenting on each others’ digital stories, as well?

AC: For “How Do You Know: Consuming and Creating Information in the 21st Century,” students were asked to select one open source of information, curate a research line of inquiry pertaining to the source, and produce a short digital story. ACCLAIM was a critical piece of the revision process. After students uploaded first drafts of their videos to our shared Acclaim folder, students and I posted comments in real time throughout each video. We then screened the drafts in class and used the posted comments to shape our revision workshops. The reply function within comments was particularly helpful for generating dialogue within our learning community even before we met in class.

For more on digital pedagogy and Duke’s Thompson Writing Program, check out ACCLAIM’s posts with Aria’s colleagues, Denise Comer and Jennifer Ahern-Dodson.