Duke21C’s Field Notes

Cathy Davidson’s latest venture is the result of a class very much like this ours.

Field Notes For 21st Century Literacies: A Guide to New Theories, Methods, and Practices for Open Peer Teaching and Learning makes public the collective insights of her graduate seminar on digital literacies and digital pedagogy. It offers perspectives on topics as diverse as the importance of “open source,” the implications of the “digital divide,” and the creation of an inclusive classroom community.

The breadth of Field Notes stems from the diversity of its contributors. Its eight writers hail not only from different academic disciplines, but also from three universities: Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State. They formed the 21st Century Collective and published an e-book in the most fitting way for a work on the digital age. They made it accessible (for free!) on multiple platforms such as the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory, Rap Genius, and GitHub, which allow readers to comment on each chapter and even make line-by-line edits. In doing so, they tap into online communities that number up to 11,000, as is the case with HASTAC.

Cathy Davidson offers advice in the introductory chapter on how to turn the classroom, whether physical or virtual, into a space conducive to collaborative learning. She translates the idea of the “commons,” or “commons-based peer production,” from the open source movement to formal education. A class, no matter how large, becomes a knowledge “commons.” She transforms a smattering of students into a “community of co-learners” by having them draw up a class constitution that delineates their communal aspirations and rules. Doing so gives students ownership and makes them invested in the learning of their peers.  Making the class compose a manifesto as a first act makes collaboration an integral part of the learning experience.

Davidson begins this process by creating a Google Doc and starting with “hackable” text, such as the Mozilla Manifesto or a similar document from open source developers. Students take a week or two to shape and revise their constitution. “It’s a pretty amazing exercise, having to think through as a group what you do and do not want from a class, the kinds of rules you want to maintain in a class, your aspirations on a philosophical level and on a very practical one,” Davidson relates on her course blog for “21st Century Literacies,” out of which Field Notes was born.

Barry Peddycord III and Elizabeth A. Pitts explain how Davidson “opens” the classroom to keep conversations going and encourage collaboration. Students in their grad seminar used Twitter and settled on the hashtag #Duke21C to share new ideas, relevant articles, and links to their blogposts. Open source principles also inspired them to create an editable Google slideshow, which they shared on Twitter, on their reading for the week. People from throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe tweeted their comments during their brainstorming session on Eric S. Raymond’s “The Cathedral and the Bazaar.” #Duke21C is still going strong as Tweeters have discover Field Notes and shared it with their followers.

Overall, Davidson’s approach to social media and blogposts preps students for job hunting in an era when Google searches make or break job offers. One of her only requirements was that everyone “leave #Duke21C with a professional website on which they can publish their writing, their thoughts, their assignments, syllabi for their classes, and anything else they want out there in the public, searchable, a representation of who they are for future colleagues, collaborators, partners, peers, and employers.” The Chronicle of Higher Education has published several articles discussing how important it is for academics to manage their web presence and have a website that showcases research and teaching skills. (You can see some here and here). Davidson prepares students in this aspect of professionalization.

Omar Daouk closes the book by offering suggestions on how to apply the insights of each chapter. One of his major recommendations is to use video as a tool to change “writing and reading from a practice based on stillness and fixedness to a practice based on movement and possibility.” He endorses Cathy Davidson’s practice of having students submit five-minute videos of project proposals instead of written ones. Each member of Duke21C had to post one outlining their chapter for Field Notes. Daouk states that videos show professors what their “customers” want so they can revise their assignments accordingly. This is an example of gauging student progress and meeting them where they are in the course. For instance, professors can steer conversation toward a certain topic of interest, or change an aspect of a project to cover a difficult area of study.

Daouk fails to mention that the use of video also cultivates secondary orality. Andrea Lunsford, a scholar of rhetoric and writing, has argued that print was a new take on rhetoric and that digital mediums are pushing that frontier. But what if the digital video helps students return to the dying art of oral communication? Multimedia projects and video assignments would not only develop this important skill, but also foster creativity as students play with words, music, camera lighting, and video software.

Field Notes was not the end product of Davidson’s graduate class. Its writers hope that it jumpstarts conversations on teaching and learning so professors can learn methods and practices from each other. (A perfect example of peer-to-peer instruction.) As such, they invite readers to collaborate by joining a contest. Their promo reads:

Duke21C Challenges You: Create a five-minute video (using any video software, or your smartphones, etc.) in which you introduce yourself and outline the objective and purpose of your “lesson plan” (regardless of topic). To draw your audience in, please begin your introduction by highlighting a unique skill or talent that you may have.

For inspiration please click here.

You may be as creative as you wish in terms of incorporating various media (text, image, music) or inclusion of other people in your clips. Make sure that you incorporate a persuasive argument as to why people need to hear what you have to say; create an argument that drives people towards your next lecture or lesson.  

The top 10 submissions(based on our Duke21C panel’s collective ratings) will have their videos posted live in an exclusive feature on HASTAC’s website.

All submissions can be sent by using the form found on this webpage:


The deadline for submission is December 31, 2013.

So, what do you say HistorysFuture? Or UTDesigningHistory? UT21CHistory? (Help me out here!)

Should we submit something?

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