Cathy Davidson


Portrait Picture of Cathy Davidson

Cathy Davidson, portrait by Artie Dixon

“Technology is always about the human factors in addition to the affordances.”  Cathy Davidson, [comment to her own HASTAC blog Entry]

Cathy Davison* is Professor of English at Duke University and a co-founder of HASTAC among other things.  For me, she is the author of 36 Views of Mount Fuji where she colourfully depicted many  personal and interesting encounters she made in Japan while she taught English at an all-women university.  Her enthusiasm is very catching and I remember my English professor friend somehow pointed out to me that she might be too “Japanofile” for his taste.

Since her book on Japan in the 80’s, Cathy Davidson has become the strong voice and important player in the ongoing higher education reform movement.  She is a very interesting figure because she is successfully capitalizing on her leadership positions at the Duke and in her larger scholarly communities in bringing about noticeable impacts on the discourse of changing higher education.   Her ability to drive the changes by actively involving and engaging herself in the front line of educational experimentation and then, communicating about them in her blogs and her book, is definitely the key to her success.

She was one of the people who drafted a “Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in a Digital Age” to generate a further discussion.  My understanding of what motivated somebody like Cathy Davidson and other concerned educators and scholars to draft the Bill is that the sudden rise of privatized MOOCs**, especially Coursera during 2012.  Considering its sheer technological power to gather student information by so many numbers, it is not too difficult to imagine that the company wants to capitalize on it.  Cathy Davison is now going into the enemy’s ring and is proposing to teach a course, “The History and Future of Higher Education” on Coursera next spring.

She shares her thinking around how she is going about developing the Coursera course on her blog.  For example, she writes about how to organize peer reviews among students.  Whenever the discussion of peer reviews is being raised, there are inevitable concerns raised, and the typical one is plagiarism.  But I think that encouraging peer reviews among students would bring some reality into the closed “schooling” model we became so accustomed to.   Here  (same as the above hyperlink) in her blog, she is modelling how the instructor can go about organizing activities for students.  Here she writes about how to turn multiple choice testing into a learning tool for students.

*The 2011 Inside Higher Education interview Cathy Davidson when she published a book, Now You See It.

**You can listen to CBC Spark for more detailed discussion on MOOCs as an emerging format for online higher education.  The Chronicle of Higher Education and the Inside Higher Education are the obvious sources for tracking the sudden rise of MOOC’s.


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