Learning Management Platforms: Notes on Teaching “Taroko Gorge” in a Pandemic

Abstract (in English): 

As an adjunct instructor during the pandemic, I am in a rather unique position to speak to the use of the Learning Management System (LMS) as a pedagogical platform (I currently teach at three different post-secondary institutions and use three different LMSs). This pandemic has clearly laid bare several of the difficulties of precarious labour in the academy, and the need to fluently navigate several disparate platforms is just one. But, I would like to use this unique position to begin to speak to the role of pedagogies of digital literature to help students develop critical digital literacies, and how the proprietary LMS might influence or impede that process.
This paper’s primary focus is a scholarly analysis and critique of the use of the LMS Blackboard for course delivery of ENGL4309 Digital Adventures in English, a fourth-year seminar that is marketed primarily as a course in DH tools for the study of literature and the digital literary. One of those DH tools I am using in a module on digital literatures is Nick Montfort’s “Taroko Gorge” and the many remixes thereof. By situating the e-lit classic in this way, my goal is to treat the code and the popularity of its remixes as a DH tool, and to thus follow in the excellent arguments made throughout 2020 about electronic literature as digital poetics (see, of course Dene Grigar and James O’Sullivan’s Electronic Literature as Digital Poetics, or Alex Saum-Pascal and Scott Rettberg’s “Electronic Literature [Frame]works for the Creative Digital Humanities” for the Electronic Book Review).

As a part of this module, I ask my students to remix “Taroko Gorge,” as we did when I first encountered the work through the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) several years before. However, extending that same project to upper-year students who were, until that point unfamiliar with the field, and most of whom had never interacted with code before at all, proved to be difficult. And one of the difficulties of this assignment, indicating barriers to access for student and instructor alike, was attempting this project using the proprietary software of the LMS.

Of course, one of the assignment’s learning objectives is building the critical digital literacy of recognizing that all digital texts are two texts: a code, and its reconstitution. Following Serge Bouchardon’s arguments in his “Mind the Gap! 10 Gaps for Digital Literature,” this assignment is designed to at least in part reveal the basic mechanisms of how code shapes the digital text to readers who do not know how to program (like me!), and to thus begin to close “the gap separating us from digital literacy” that Bouchardon observes. But, the incongruity of the LMS and the remixing project reveal a potential limitation that we need to be cognizant of as instructors of the digital literary and beyond.

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Milosz Waskiewicz