Pedagogy vs. Research: Possibilities Beyond Hierarchical Approaches

As Steve Brier’s “Where’s the Pedagogy” demonstrates in its appraisal of CUNY’s diverse digital humanities and reform projects, “digital pedagogy projects and strategies offer an alternative pathway to broaden the impact of the digital humanities movement,” and in part are able to do so because they negotiate the relationship between traditionally-conceived academic research and university pedagogy practices.

I’d assert that the distinction between research and pedagogy, and the values attached to each of these activities at the institutional level, is central to the discussion of how we collate and disseminate information at the foundational level of digital scholarship. Broadly conceived today, the relationship between teaching and research is often viewed as hierarchical, whereby teaching functions to facilitate “new or better research” (Mahony and Pierazzo). The idea that instruction should predicate research seems to not only useful, but necessary: teaching creates the groundwork to understand theoretical and methodological practices, to use them correctly, and to produce scholarship that is meaningful, accurate, and relevant.

However, the conception of teaching–>research can easily place teaching in a subservient position, especially when viewed in the round with labor and educational policy practices. Service-related labor in the university structure (the “ugly stepchildren,” to use Steve’s term) such as classroom instruction, course design, and even committee service or community organization, often receives significantly less attention in coursework topics, job applications, and even consideration for tenure. This privileging of research over instruction at R1 institutions has vast structural consequences for expectations of both students and instructors of undergraduate and graduate education, as well as definitions of academic labor and reasonable work expectations. Katherine Harris’s idea of teaching as “invisible labor” even extends to the other arms of the university that facilitate research, and the invisibility of this labor can be attributed to complex structural issues as Roxane Shirazi (at CUNY!) discusses in her excellent blog on feminized labor, librarianship, and DH.

There’s a lot to unpack in the concept of this hierarchical labor system of teaching and research—what effect does this have on students? How does this connect to the rise of adjunct labor and its invisibility? To what extent does emphasizing the false dichotomy of research and pedagogy create structural inequities in academic labor? Or equal pay? However, I hope you’ll forgive me if I leave those questions for discussion, and shift gears to address how the digital humanities have tended to position themselves on this debate (according to this week’s syllabus readings).

I’ve noticed thus far that the digital humanist approach to pedagogy and research offers a less hierarchical structure in its very acknowledgement that pedagogy, rather than research products (books, projects, articles), shapes the field to some extent. Perhaps this is caused in part by how quickly the field is transforming—there’s just not time to publish books, peer-reviewed articles, and traditional research projects with the old publication models. Perhaps also, digital humanities believe that the field itself is shaped by pedagogical practices and not just the research products that they spark. That is, the teaching environments that Mahoney and Pierazzo describe are not just a means to creating digital humanities—they help to define it. As Tanya Clement’s observes in “Multiliteracies in the Undergraduate Digital Humanities Curriculum,” “any program that identifies itself as digital humanities is in fact inflected by a version of digital humanities that is situational and irreproducible.” These programs are situational and irreproducible because they are humanistic pedagogical experiences, and perhaps even research projects in and of themselves.

When the classroom is a research project, then, how does this change the relationship between pedagogy and research? Can research inform instruction, and instruction inform research? Sure–but I think that digital humanities pedagogical practice often transcends the idea of permeable boundaries or a mere back-and-forth model. Can we theorize a new pedagogy/research hybrid, particularly in light of newer collaborative publishing platforms?

As ever, no firm answers yet, and looking forward to discussion,

Mary Catherine.

2 thoughts on “Pedagogy vs. Research: Possibilities Beyond Hierarchical Approaches

  1. sydnee wagner

    Hi Mary Catherine,

    Great blog post; you seem to be asking the same questions that I’ve been pondering since reading the Brier piece. Also thanks for turning me onto Roxane Shirazi’s blog.

    Though I also do not have firm answers, I definitely like your train of thought in the application of a pedagogy/research hybrid, not only for the academic themselves, but also for the students. Though my thoughts on this, like most things, are half baked, I can only think of the positive results behind such a hybrid in terms of making academia/academic research more accessible to students, particularly undergrads.

  2. Elissa Myers

    Mary Catherine,

    Your blog post has really got me thinking about pedagogy in a different way. Your question of the interaction between research and pedagogy in a class that is essentially a research project in itself seems like a very important one. I wonder how the general hierarchical relationship between research and teaching (in which research is on top) works in that context.

    For instance, what might it look like for research to be prioritized over pedagogy in that context? Would that be possible? I guess a classroom model that focused more on the output of a stellar final project than teaching methods and theory one could continue to use might be an example of this. However, I suspect it is more often the case that digital humanities does pay more attention to pedagogy than other humanities disciplines, as you say. I am still thinking through what it actually means to prioritize pedagogy, however, as well as how that might look different for undergraduates and graduate classrooms. What do students need/expect to get out of an education, and how does this differ for the two groups I mentioned? Fodder for more discussion!

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