Keeping Up with… Digital Pedagogy

Digital Pedagogy
This edition of Keeping Up With... was written by Reed Garber-Pearson and Robin Chin Roemer. 
Reed Garber-Pearson is the Integrated Social Sciences Librarian at University of Washington Libraries, email: Robin Chin Roemer is Head of Instructional Design & Outreach Services, University of Washington Libraries, email:

What is Digital Pedagogy?

Digital pedagogy focuses specifically on the use of technology to break down learning barriers and enhance students’ learning experiences. By definition, its existence dates back to the earliest use of digital tools in classrooms -- however, larger awareness of the need for digital pedagogy has emerged only in the last decade or so, in recognition of the changing relationship between students and computers, handheld devices, social media, and more. For instance, according to one 2013 study, today’s undergraduate students use their computers an average of 123 minutes per day -- yet spend only six minutes per day on email [1]. This changing portrait of student habits points towards a serious need for critical approaches by instructors regarding the use of technologies to engage their students, regardless of a class’ subject or mode of instruction. An effective digital pedagogy thus starts not with a static list of tools, but with fundamental learning goals and strategies, to which appropriate technology is added to strengthen student outcomes and objectives.

Why Do You Need to Know?

  • Academic librarians are instructors in their own right and provide important connections for students between research, university services, and digital initiatives.
  • Our understanding of changing digital technologies helps not only to improve the quality of our interactions with students, but also helps us identify disconnects between students and library technologies that leave room for improvement in our approach to teaching and outreach.
  • As faculty engage in digital pedagogy and become invested in new digital tools, they may expect librarians to be able to use them to communicate or collaborate outside the classroom.
  • With more courses being offered in hybrid or online modes, librarians need to be ready to use appropriate technologies to teach and engage learners outside the traditional classroom.

Key Elements

Because of the vast scope of today’s educational technologies, digital pedagogy can encompass very different key elements depending on one’s immediate environment and field of interest. For instance, some institutions invest in initiatives like MOOCs and the digital humanities, both of which have a clear stake in instructors’ development of robust digital pedagogies. For purposes of keeping up with digital pedagogy, however, it is useful to look at how three general trends in higher education are now impacting the direction of digital pedagogy.

Open Education

Open education is a term that describes practices, initiatives, and resources that attempt to eliminate barriers in access for students. It includes open educational resources (OER), which are freely available and openly licensed for purposes of teaching and learning, as well as open learning spaces, which seek to create dialogue between facilitators and students regarding content, pedagogy and assessment. Open education intersects naturally with digital pedagogy, due to the possibilities for scalability and access that digital tools offer education. Open digital pedagogy, for instance, uses free and openly licensed technologies to facilitate learning across barriers such as geographical distance, financial considerations, and cultural understandings. In assessing digital tools to incorporate into teaching strategies, it is imperative to consider issues of accessibility, and to acknowledge tools that encourage sustained use through their openness.

Critical Pedagogy

Critical pedagogy is another focused pedagogy that overlaps strongly with both digital pedagogy and open education. Its definition varies, but its basic tenets negotiate the relationships between instructor and student and challenge power structures inherent in the creation of institutionalized knowledge. Like digital pedagogy, critical pedagogy posits that disruptions to traditional modes of teaching and knowledge production must also include critical examinations of digital applications. How and why are technologies created? Who has access to them, and what are they being used to do? Critical digital pedagogy is therefore not only concerned with openness and cost, but also with breaking down and critiquing power inherent in the student-instructor relationship and involving students in the planning, direction, and assessment of course learning and goals.

Emerging Technologies

Digital pedagogy is always deeply affected by changes in technology, even as it discourages instructors from placing too much reliance on any given digital tool. More sophisticated Learning Management Systems, for instance, have revolutionized the idea of the online course space in the last decade--yet limitations in the default feature set of a given LMS can constrain course design and make the selection of learning tools feel predetermined. Luckily, the eternal horizon of emerging technology helps trouble instructors’ comfort zones, and emphasizes the need for a critical lens in the maintenance of a digital classroom. Recent examples of this include the sheer diversification of technology, such as the use of new devices used by students, the increasing power of smartphones, investments in the technology of classroom spaces, and the simple availability of new products marketed at the academic environment. A digital pedagogy requires that we not only learn what is out there, but also how we might integrate it smoothly into our teaching and learning.


In the end, whether you know it or not, chances are that you’re already practicing digital pedagogy: if you’re using an LMS, deploying polling technology, or even just using Google Docs to plan your teaching. Digital pedagogy does not mandate the use of more technology, only that we examine if there are better ways that digital tools can enhance our goals as educators and learners. Interrogating the use of digital tools on the impact of learning as well as remaining imaginative and innovative with the practices and tools we use is at the core of digital pedagogy. It offers us as librarians an opportunity to reflect on how and why we teach, and how technologies can be used to enhance those learning practices and outcomes.

Recommended Readings and Resources

Because of its diffuse and variable nature, the explicit topic of digital pedagogy can be difficult to find in professional literature. However, support resources for interested instructors are plentiful on the Web, particularly on sites dedicated to online/hybrid learning, the digital humanities, and pedagogy in general.


[1] Junco Reynol, “iSpy: Seeing What Students Really Do Online,” Learning, Media and Technology 39:1 (2014): 75-89.