Teaching digital culture

Posted by a.hay on 27 May 2014 - 2:00pm

By Dr Tim Jordan, Senior Lecturer, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College.

This article is part of our series: a day in the software life, in which we ask researchers from all disciplines to discuss the tools that make their research possible.

I have often been told that digital technology changes so fast it is impossible to keep up to date, but our team of researchers and teachers at King's College London believe that the cultures that use technology are consistent enough to study.

There has been a significant rise in academic analysis of digital cultures and their use by all kinds of organisations as they come to terms with social media, crowdsourcing and so on. These factors are behind the launch of an undergraduate degree that will teach analysis and management of digital culture. The BA Digital Culture at King's College London is focused on a critical understanding of digital and internet cultures and how they operate. It is not a computer science degree, as there is no requirement to learn programming, but it will offer students opportunities to do 'hands on' work.

Yet what is digital culture? A quick example will help. Early experiments on email communication (from 1986) found some key characteristics of using email in an organisation: more people contribute to discussions, they are more willing to speak critically to those above them in the hierarchy - as well as being much ruder about it - and, perhaps inevitably, decisions become more difficult to make. I am still struck that many of these 'cultures' remain persistent across different digital technologies, Twitter for example. The persistence of digital cultures provides a basis for a degree, but it’s existence is also supported by the rise of both employment in digital culture and an intellectual discipline that studies it in depth. The rise of Digital Humanities 2.0, internet studies, a flood of academic research into digital cultures and the launch of several journals such as Internet, Communication and Society and New Media and Society has created a solid academic foundation for teaching.

At the same time, the creation and management of digital culture has created new roles and responsibilities. Organisations must now ask who runs their official Twitter feed, whether they need  a Facebook group, how best to engage with users and what is the best way to manage all these interactions. The growing number of posts such as community manager and social media manager are indications that the digital sphere now needs not only technologists but cultural and community analysts too.

Our degree will provide both a critical academic analysis of digital cultures and understanding of those cultures in action. At the core is an academic analysis of digital cultures as they operate using case studies to bring out the interactions of cultures and technologies, theories of new media and digital culture and digital methods. Around this there will be options that allow students to focus their studies perhaps toward subjects such as sub-cultures, online protest or social media, as well as digital project management and cultural heritage, cultural analytics and web and mobile technologies.

The aim of the BA Digital Culture is to critically analyse the widespread changes brought by digital and internet cultures, and to do this by engaging with issues of culture, technology and management in ways that provide the necessary skills for organisations of all kinds to manage and create their own digital cultures.

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