Session B.3: Graduate Students and Digital Pedagogy


Session B.3: Graduate Students and Digital Pedagogy

“Preparing a New Generation: Digital Literacies in Graduate Education,” Ryan P. Shepherd

In session B.3, Dr, Ryan Shepherd of Ohio University discussed the ways in which he integrates digital literacy courses and content into graduate education. Ranging from various populations and locations, including face-to-face and online, Shepherd shared three different pedagogical approaches that he has used to support student learning of digital literacy.

The first approach is what he refers to as the “Immersion Approach.” This method of instruction attempts to completely immerse students in the creation of digital products, allowing them to understand by doing. Shepherd describes this approach as including “heavy product creation.” There is a steep learning curve for students who may be encountering new technologies or applications within their product creations, with the goal of having them persist through the challenges in order to learn through experience.

The next approach is the “Theory-Driven Approach.” Within a course that utilizes the theory-driven approach, students are exploring digital technologies extensively. Rather than creating many final products, such as is done in the immersion approach, the theory-driven approach asks students to explore, learn, and question the technologies that they are using concerning digital literacy. Additionally, since students are not jumping directly into large and unfamiliar projects, there is a gradual learning curve that supports students who do not have extensive experience with computers and writing. Shepherd explains that one project that he often had his graduate students complete when following a theory-driven approach is to look into a new or unfamiliar social media platform, spend some time exploring it, and then, finally, they write about their experience.

The final method that Shepherd describes is the “Background Approach.” Shepherd explains that when following this approach in teaching his graduate courses, students are reading a wide variety of texts on digital literacies throughout the course, but with that wide variety, they are only skimming the surface of the scholarship available on the topic. Rather than focusing deeply on one of two topics, discussing multiple topics allows students to discover their particular interests within the field of digital literacies. Sample projects that Shepherd has assigned to support this specific approach include the Expansion Project, Gap Project, and a Theory of Composition project – all of which are presented multimodally. Each of these project descriptions can be found on his professional website.

In concluding his presentations, Shepherd shared some final thoughts on each of the different approaches, as well as their implications for learning transfer. No matter which approach is taken, Shepherd explained that he always attempts to encourage learning transfer in his students. He does this by starting with asking students to answer questions, such as: What do I hope to get out of this class? What is multimodality? What is writing? He also makes explicit connections and questioning. Additionally, he makes sure that topics apply to out of class contexts through making direct applications – taking the theory into the real world. Finally, he asks students to create theoretical models and then apply the theoretical models.

Overall, Shepherd’s presentation shared strong examples of the multiple ways that graduate (and undergraduate) students can be exposed to digital literacy content and courses. As the multiple pedagogical routes demonstrated, there is no single path that must or should be taken when teaching digital literacies. Depending on the course level, the technological experience of the students, and the desired outcomes for the course/program, each approach presents its own affordances and constraints.

All of Shepherd’s materials, including syllabi, project descriptions, and course schedules can be found on his professional website.



  • Morgan McDougall

    Morgan McDougall is a first year Ph.D. student at Bowling Green State University. Her research interests include writing transfer, teaching assistant education, and writing program administration.

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