When Digital Becomes the Norm

As a subscriber to Academia.edu, I get the occasional email identifying documents it thinks I’d be interested in reading. Usually that’s not the case. I did recently choose to take a closer look at “A Short Guide to the Digital Humanities“. I’m reasonably aware of trends in the digital humanities, but by no means an expert. I’m interested in readings that can help position me to explain to others, more accurately and with examples, what exactly is digital humanities.

Like libraries themselves, the humanities are in a transformative period with one foot planted firmly in the analog past and the other treading boldly into the digital future. Whether we talk about digital libraries or digital humanities, it must only be a matter of time until the digital is so fully developed and firmly embedded in practice that it will seem redundant to keep prefacing our professions and disciplines with the “digital” qualifier – which now serves reasonably well to signal that something different and new is emerging. Perhaps not unlike the term “horseless carriage” signaled it was essentially the same old carriage minus the horse. In time as automobiles became the norm the old terminology became obsolete.

In his essay “Going Online Beyond Digital” Peter Stokes makes a similar point about online learning. After decades of delivering online and distance education, it is now shifting from treatment as a unique segment within higher education institutions to a more broadly conceived approach for all types of virtual learning. Stokes refers to “digital strategy” “as how we think about, define and structure learning.” It’s not just about online learning as an alternate revenue stream, but about rethinking how learning happens in general – wherever that learning is happening.

That, in general, seems to be where we are heading with education’s digital transition. The barriers between what we do in the physical world versus the virtual one are collapsing. We are in need of a digital strategy in which technology, educational and otherwise, supports our work in all environments. Librarian-educators, for many years, have needed to be well versed and comfortable teaching with digital tools, whether they are in the classroom or virtual spaces.

What about Blended Librarianship? Is it a term that is already or may be obsolete soon? What differentiates the Blended Librarian is his or her instructional design and learning skills, as well as their knowledge of utilizing educational technology to enhance learning. As higher education and librarianship increasingly move toward the digital, perhaps these skills are more routinely accepted as the nature of the work librarians do. That may already be the case with K-12 media specialists.

I think Blended Librarianship still makes sense as a community where librarian-educators, educational technologists, instructional designers and others who work in these areas within libraries can come together to get exposed to new ideas and trends in education and hear from experts who share their work in occasional webcast events. As digital increasingly becomes the norm and the associated skills and knowledge are the routine practices.

Digital strategy, I suppose, is a good reminder that occasionally we do need to retire our old terminologies and ways of thinking about our practices so that we can move on and adapt to new ways of learning and doing.

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