Prior to my first year in university I remember various high school teachers cautioning me about laptop use in the classroom. “You’re in the Arts, you don’t need that computer for much” they said, installing in me a belief that Arts students should only use their computers for research, essays and nothing more. Flash forward to fourth year where I learned that the digital world can benefit Arts students as they use online platforms to share ideas and work together on projects. Although this will be a gradual process presenting certain challenges, students who engage online with one another (for educational purposes) expand their understanding of what it means to be in academia.
My university experience largely consists of various one-way exchanges with professors in which I research, outline an argument and then hand in an essay for a mark. When I read about academics using open source notebooks to share their research it came as a startling revelation. It turns out that my research process and essay crafting has the possibility for a much more dynamic life. In articles discussing the academic use of Github and Twitter, the imaginary wall existing between the online community and university students shattered. Through talking with classmates on Slack and ‘following’ scholars on Twitter I realized that there is a community out there (potentially) interested in my academic pursuits. Or, at the very least, this community can point out inconsistencies and errors along the way.
It will take a while before others scholars share the view that students should interact with academics on Twitter and collaborate on projects through online platforms. Unless a course focuses explicitly on digital humanities or the professor is an avid spokesperson for online platforms, Arts students will not discover their place in the digital world. There is still too strong of a belief that Arts programs should not go anywhere near platforms used by computer science majors. Until students consistently use online platforms for academic purposes, the barrier between the Arts and the digital world will remain stronger than ever.
For students to benefit from online academic engagement they must first be able to access these resources. If we want to encourage students to use online programs is the onus on educational facilities to provide laptops or tablets for everyone? If universities decide to provide these resources will it increase tuition? I can say that students should use their laptops to work together along but I speak from the privileged assumption that everyone has to access a computer.
Using online platforms to share ideas and research as well as social media to observe interactions between academics expands my understanding of how one can learn. A history degree does not necessarily exclude me from learning about Markdown or Github, instead I can develop my research through these (initially) computer-science based programs. For all those high school teachers warning Arts students about computers in the classroom rather than contributing to this barrier they should consider the positive side to embracing technology and the digital world.