Category Archives: education

Possibilities for Digital Humanities at Community Colleges

I was pleased to present today at Houston Community College’s Spring 2019 English & Humanities Colloquium on “The Digital Classroom: Humanities, Literature & Composition.” Thanks to Dr. Helen Graham for the invitation.

Here are my slides. Much of the presentation is built on Dr. Anne McGrail’s work on DH and community colleges.


Shaping (Digital) Scholars: Design Principles for Digital Pedagogy

I’m pleased to be offering a workshop at “Digital Pedagogy and the Undergraduate Experience: An Institute,” hosted by the University of Toronto Scarborough. My presentation, “Shaping (Digital) Scholars:  Design Principles for Digital Pedagogy” [pdf], offers a framework for designing assignments and other learning activities that help students develop digital fluencies and cultivate expertise in digital scholarship. I sketch out on three principles for digital pedagogy: hands-on/minds-on learning; networked, collaborative learning; and play.  To make the principles concrete and furnish inspiration, I offer a couple of examples under category (including some of my favorites from previous talks). I also look at some of the challenges facing this approach to teaching, such as evaluating student work and helping students develop technology skills. The workshop concludes with a hands-on, collaborative activity to design an assignment that realizes at least one of the principles of digital pedagogy.

Digital Pedagogy in Practice: Workshop Materials

On Saturday, March 2, I gave a workshop on digital (humanities) pedagogy for a group of about 20 faculty and staff at Gettysburg College.  I was impressed by the participants’ energy, openness, smarts, and playfulness.  We had fun!

I designed the workshop so that it moved through four phases, with the goal of participants ultimately walking away with concrete ideas about how they might integrate digital approaches into their own teaching:

1)  We explored the rationale for digital pedagogy (pdf of slides), discussing what students need to know in the 21st century, different frameworks for digital pedagogy (e.g. learning science, liberal education,  social learning, and studio learning), and definitions of digital pedagogy and the “digital liberal arts.” I started the session with Cathy Davidson’s exercise in which audience members first jot down on an index card three things they think students need to know in order to thrive in the digital age, then share their ideas with someone they didn’t walk in with, and finally work together to select the one key idea. (The exercise got people thinking and talking.)

2)   In the second session, I gave a brief presentation (pdf) offering specific case studies of digital pedagogy in action (repurposing some slides I’d used for previous workshops). Participants then broke up into groups to analyze an assignment used in a digital humanities class.

3)   Next participants worked in small groups to explore one of the following:

I structured the exercise so that participants first looked at the particular applications of the tool in teaching and scholarship (e.g. Mapping the Republic of Letters and Visualizing Emancipation in the session on information visualization), then played with a couple of tools in order to understand how they work, and finally reflected on the advantages and disadvantages of each tool and their potential pedagogical applications. I deliberately kept the exercises short and simple, and I tried to make them relevant to Gettysburg, drawing data from Wikipedia and other open sources.

4)   Finally participants worked in small teams (set up according to discipline) to develop an assignment incorporating digital approaches.  We concluded the session with a modified gallery walk, in which people circulated through the room and chatted with a representative of each team to learn more about their proposed assignment.

By the end of the day, workshop participants seemed excited by the possibilities and more aware of specific approaches that they could take (as well as a bit exhausted). I got several questions about copyright, so in future workshops I plan to incorporate a more formal discussion of fair use, Creative Commons and the public domain.

Our workshop drew heavily on materials shared by generous digital humanities instructors. (In that spirit, feel free to use or adapt any of my workshop materials. And I’m happy to give a version of this workshop elsewhere.) My thinking about digital humanities pedagogy has been informed by a number of people, particularly my terrific colleague Rebecca Davis.

Slides and Exercises from “Doing Things with Text” Workshop

Last week I was delighted to be back at my old stomping grounds at Rice University’s Digital Media Commons to lead a workshop on “Doing Things with Text.” The workshop was part of Rice’s Digital Humanities Bootcamp Series, led by my former colleagues Geneva Henry and Melissa Bailar. I hoped to expose participants to a range of approaches and tools, provide opportunities for hands-on exploration and play, and foster discussion about the advantages and limitations of text analysis, topic modeling, text encoding, and metadata. Although we ran out of time before getting through my ambitious agenda, I hope my slides and exercises provide useful starting points for exploring text analysis and text encoding.

Making Sense of 134 DH Syllabi: DH 2011 Presentation

For my presentation at Digital Humanities 2011 at Stanford, I am analyzing a collection of 134 syllabi to understand how the DH curriculum is being conceived.  What kinds of assignments are being made? What works appear most frequently on reading lists? What are some major concepts that the courses explore?

I hope to write up my presentation soon, but for now here are my slides. Note that some pesky HTML tags skewed some of my results, so the numbers will shift a bit.

I hope that the syllabi archive will be a community resource, both for those who want to get ideas for classes and for those interested in what the syllabi reveal about the digital humanities. You’re welcome to join the Zotero group on Digital Humanities Education (you’ll have to have a Zotero account and then apply for membership in the group).  If you’d like contribute syllabi, please place them in the DHSyllabi> Contributed Syllabi sub-collection.  Please note that the metadata in most of the collection is a little messy–I’m discovering that I can be idiosyncratic in my approaching to tagging, and haven’t had the opportunity to polish all of the metadata for the assigned meeting. Also, if you would like your syllabus removed from the collection (I found all syllabi on the web), please let me know.

I’m using Citeline to make available both the 134 syllabi and the collection of readings  I extracted from the reading lists for approximately DH courses (most of which are included in the syllabi collection.) Citeline has some nifty faceted browsing features that allow you to browse by author, date, keyword (tag), etc.

20/30 Vision: Scenarios for the Humanities in 2030

[Here is the extended dance remix version of the talk I gave at the 2010 American Studies Association panel on “Facing New Technologies, Exploring New Challenges.”]

We seem to be anxious about the future—heck, the present—of the humanities.  Consider budget cuts such as those at SUNY-Albany and in the UK, the horrible job market, the declining number of majors, and the frequent appearance of articles with titles like “Can the Humanities Survive the 21st Century?

Instead of focusing on the present in this panel on “Facing New Technologies, Exploring New Challenges,” I’d like to zoom forward twenty years using a process called scenario planning. Essentially, a scenario is a brief story about the future. By working through such stories, organizations can look at the proverbial big picture and devise strategies for facing critical uncertainties in future environments, such as the nature of technological change, the state of higher education, and globalization.  (Given its emphasis on storytelling and interpretation, scenario planning seems like an approach at home in the humanities.)

Recently both the Association of Research Libraries and the Association of College and Research Libraries issued reports about the future of libraries based on scenario planning. (You might have noticed that libraries are also anxious as they face the transition to digital information.) My favorite of the genre is the Library of New South Wales’ The Bookends Scenarios, both because it confronts larger challenges such as climate change and because it leavens gloominess with imagination and humor, such as: “Book by James Lovelock Jnr claims that 98% of human race will be extinct by 2100; 78% of people say they wish James Lovelock Jnr would become extinct by 2029.”

Although scenario planning has its skeptics, I can testify to the ways that it can help people break out of their typical ways of seeing and stimulate their imaginations. Just this week, my library held a retreat based on the ARL 2030 Scenarios.  Despite some grumbling about the unlikelihood of any of the scenarios coming to pass, participants did think deeply and creatively about risks and opportunities facing academic libraries as research becomes more global, entrepreneurial, and data driven. The scenarios sparked conversation.

Today I’d like to put forward three scenarios for the future of the humanities. I’m mashing together the aforementioned library scenarios with the Rockefeller Foundation’s Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development and Bryan Alexander’s “Stories of the Future: Telling Scenarios,” as well as a dash of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. A few caveats: 1) I’m notoriously bad at predicting the future. (I really thought I would enjoy treats whipped up by a robot chef by now). 2) The scenarios are compressed and partial.   3) The future will most likely not be any one of these scenarios, although it may contain elements of some of them. 4) A diverse community rather than a quirky individual should develop and think through future scenarios.

I aim to open up a conversation, not have the final word. (It might be useful for an organization such as CenterNet, the Association for Computers and the Humanities or the NEH to take on this exercise in earnest.) The core question that I want to explore: how can we transform the humanities so that they continue to be relevant in twenty years–so that they “survive the 21st century”?

Critical Uncertainties

In defining these scenarios, I am considering several “critical uncertainties”:

  • Teaching and learning: As distance education becomes more dominant, what will humanities education look like?
  • Funding sources: Where will money for humanities research come from, especially as public funding is under stress?
  • Research methods: How will the availability of huge amounts of data (for instance, the 12+ million volumes in Google Books) affect the way humanities research is conducted?
  • Knowledge production and dissemination: How will research be communicated? Will there be free and open access to information, or will it be available only to the highest bidder?
  • Environmental, social, political, technological and cultural changes: What will be the impact of climate change, peak oil, population growth, resource depletion, economic challenges, developments in technology, and globalization on the world?

Based on these uncertainties, I’ve whipped up three scenarios. (To conform to the genre, I should offer four, but I can only cram so much into a 12 minute presentation).

I.     A New Renaissance

the green ascent (by vsz)

i.     Summary: Through broad, sustained investment in education, the world enjoys greater equity and opportunity. Interdisciplinary research and international cooperation have led to progress on resolving many challenges, including climate change, political conflict, and resource depletion.

ii.     Research: Humanities scholars are valued for bringing critical understanding to large amounts of data. In collaboration with computer scientists and librarians, humanities scholars devise methods to mine large humanities databases, coming up with new questions and insights that cross disciplinary and linguistic divides. Humanities (and digital humanities) centers help to coordinate much of this activity. Through efforts by leading scholars and scholarly organizations, tenure and promotion guidelines have been broadened to recognize a wide range of work, including scholarly multimedia, online dialogues, and curated content.

iii.     Teaching: Blended learning has become common, with lectures and exercises delivered online and face-to-face time reserved for discussion and collaborative research. Faculty act as guides and mentors for networked research projects that engage students around the world in producing new knowledge. The humanities provide crucial training in curating, contextualizing and interpreting large amounts of data, as well as in critically examining individual objects.

iv.     Scholarly communication: Research is openly available, speeding the pace of discovery and spreading ideas widely. To capture the complexities of their research, scholars produce multimodal scholarship that incorporates video, audio, visualizations, maps, etc.

2.   Humanities, Inc.

Banksy-Cashpoint (by TT)

i.     Summary: As the United States faces economic crises, public funding for education and research erodes.  People feel both overwhelmed by information and hungry for whatever supports their own perspective. Political conflict erupts around the world as a result of resource depletion and climate change, prompting the US to go into a defensive crouch.

ii.     Research: To the extent that research is funded, the money mostly comes from corporations, often with strings attached. Researchers no longer have tenured positions at universities, but move from contract to contract. By necessity, researchers focus on “what pays?”  However, some scholars work with the public to produce crowdsourced humanities research.

iii.     Teaching: Most undergraduate education is offered through distance education; students choose from a menu of choices rather than attending a particular institution.  Instruction mostly focuses on vocational skills. A few elite institutions remain and offer face-to-face instruction for the very wealthy.  Teachers, most of whom are employed by private companies, teach classes with several hundred people, leaving no time for research. Except for a few “rock stars,” the academic labor force is contingent.

iv.     Scholarly communication: Except for crowdsourced information, most research is available only to those individuals and communities who pay for it.

c.     After the Fall

petrol head (Leo Reynolds)

i.     Summary: The devastating effects of climate change, energy shortages, and economic recession prompt a return to localism, so that local communities provide for most of people’s needs. Some areas have descended into chaos or totalitarianism, run by bandits or warlords.  But others have developed democratic local solutions—microindustries, local power grids, community gardens, co-ops. Despite the scarcity of energy and frequent power outages, people occasionally are able to access and share information on the Internet, but travel becomes rare. The humanities provide a respite from day-to-day drudgery and a source of perspective and wisdom.

ii.     Research: Scholars become research hackers, devising solutions to problems both by studying past folkways and by surveying what other communities are doing now. They are resourceful in retrieving information however they can, taking full advantage of the time when they can access the Internet. There is a renewed appreciation for aesthetics, for well-made or meaningful objects. Humanities centers focus on bridging different interests groups working in the humanities, including secondary education and local cultural organizations.

iii.     Teaching: Although much education focuses on core skills such as literacy, craftsmanship, and agriculture, humanists are valued as wisdom keepers and curators of knowledge, distilling what is important on and passing on cultural appreciation.

iv.     Scholarly communication: Given the unreliability of the electrical grid, print becomes valued for its stability.  Scholars frequently participate in public conversations in their communities.

What Now?

Reflections (Kevin Dolley)

So how can the humanities prepare for these possible futures?

1.     Adapt! Engage with and understand technology’s role in the humanities. Like it or not, technology is shaping our future—both how we do our research and, increasingly, how learning is delivered.   Thus we should experiment with new models for teaching, peer review, research, and scholarly communication. For example, the Center for History and New Media have been doing some fascinating experiments to challenge the slow pace of academia and, perhaps even more importantly, create community, whether by crowdsourcing a book or creating a piece of software in a week. Likewise, the Looking for Whitman project is linking together college classrooms in the study of Walt Whitman and engaging students in producing public scholarship. (Whitman would approve, I think.) We need to make visible the value of this kind of work.

2.     Cooperate! Support collaborative, interdisciplinary research.  Such collaboration should occur on many levels: across professional roles, departments, universities, and community organizations. Greg Crane recently made a compelling case that “We need better ways to understand the cultures that drive economic and political systems upon which our biological lives depend.”  To do that, as Crane argues,we need to ask good questions about the connections among cultures, foster dialogue, collaborate with scholars from a range of cultural backgrounds, and make scholarship widely available.  AWe also need to devise ways of dealing with masses of data, both through developing computational approaches and by opening up research opportunities to students and volunteers.

Humanities centers (working in collaboration with libraries and with scholarly organizations) should play a lead role in supporting cross-disciplinary research and in communicating that research to the public. As I found in a recent research project on collaboration in the digital humanities, many humanities departments still do not know how to evaluate collaborative work for tenure and promotion; this should change. Likewise, recognition and support should be given to those in “alternative academic careers”—librarians, technologists, administrators, researchers, and others who are key players in digital humanities initiatives.

3.     Open! Reform scholarly communication so that it is open, multimodal, participatory, and high quality.  If we want to convince the public of the value of the humanities, then we shouldn’t make it prohibitively expensive for them to access scholarship.  Rather, we should come up with sustainable models for scholars to share their research and participate in visible scholarly conversations.

4.     Evangelize! Advocate for the value of the humanities—and indeed of research and education generally. In particular, I encourage you to support 4humanities, a new web site and initiative to advocate for the humanities. Launched by a collective that is coordinated by Alan Liu (I’m proud to be a member), 4humanities leverages the expertise of the digital humanities community to provide tools, media and resources for promoting for the humanities.

The key point that I want to emphasize is the importance of community in facing challenges/opportunities, as well as in advocating for the humanities. (This idea was developed collectively by our ASA panel—Haven Hawley, Charles Reagan Wilson, Elena Razlogova, and myself– during a breakfast gathering to plan our session.) I think digital humanities scholars/practitioners have been pretty successful in building community, using both networked technologies such as blogs and Twitter and face-to-face gatherings such as THATCamp to connect people, ideas and action.  But we can do more. Let’s get moving!

Opening Up Digital Humanities Education

Sorry I’ve been gone from the blog for so long. I’ve been absorbed by several wee writing projects, including a CLIR report investigating “Can a New Research Library Be All-Digital?” co-authored with Geneva Henry; an essay on collaboration in the digital humanities for Collaborative Approaches to the Digital in English Studies, edited by Laura McGrath; and “What Is She Doing Here?” for #alt-ac: alternate academic careers for humanities scholars, edited by Bethany Nowviskie. Now I’m working on an essay for Brett Hirsch’s Teaching Digital Humanities: Principles, Practices, and Politics, but this time I plan to blog my research, getting feedback (I hope) and refining my ideas along the way.

Recently several leaders in the digital humanities (DH) have called for greater inclusiveness. As Geoffrey Rockwell warns, DH risks operating as an old boys’ (and girls’) network because “there are few formal ways that people can train.” Developing and demonstrating the skills required to become a digital humanist typically requires apprenticing on a major project, but not everyone has the opportunity to do so. Further, such an education can be partial, exposing participants to the skills needed for a particular project but not necessarily the broader context of digital humanities.

To provide flexible opportunities for professional education, the DH community should experiment with a distributed, mostly online, open certificate program. I propose a certificate program because it would enable graduate students and working professionals to acquire necessary knowledge and skills without re-arranging their lives to pursue a full-fledged masters or Ph.D. program. Participants would build knowledge, engage in community, produce significant work, and acquire a professional credential that would, one hopes, open up more opportunities.

Not only would such a program offer more paths to entry, but it would also provide a focused way for the DH community to re-imagine how professional education is conceived, structured and delivered. Reforming humanities education should be fundamental to DH’s broader goal to explore “how the humanities may evolve through their engagement with technology, media, and computational method.” DH already has some compelling educational initiatives, such as the intensive learning-by-doing of One Week One Tool; the immersion offered by programs like Digital Humanities Summer Institute and the NEH’s Institutes for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities; the student engagement of participatory learning, such as through crowdsourcing grading; the community-based, flexible learning of THATCamp; the multi-campus, aggregated learning of Looking for Whitman; and the networked conversations facilitated by HASTAC and Twitter. Can we build on these efforts and deliver professional education that engages the global DH community, offers project-based learning, leverages the network, and provides participants with key skills and knowledge?

Education, by Xin Li 88

A certificate program in DH would likely have these features:

  1. Open: Anyone should be able to use and even to create or modify course materials produced for the certificate program. Openness promotes the values of DH and indeed of education (as David Wiley argues, “education is sharing“). Moreover, the DH community can share labor in developing course materials and keeping them dynamic, fresh, and relevant. Julie Meloni has proposed a compelling model to “Develop Self-Paced Open Access DH Curriculum for Mid-Career Scholars Otherwise Untrained” that I think can be extended to early-career scholars as well.
  2. Distributed: Rather than assuming that expertise is concentrated at a particular location, the program would give participants access to experts around the world, who would serve as mentors for projects and online seminars. We can see a model for distributed, open online seminars in massive open online courses such as Dave Cormier and George Siemens’ “Education Futures” and David Wiley’s “Introduction to Open Education.”
  3. Community-focused: Already digital humanists are sharing and building knowledge using social technologies such as Twitter, but this approach should extend to education. Students would regularly participate in online forums and other networked conversations with their cohort group, as well as with the larger community. They could also help to coordinate crowdsourcing efforts such as transcriptions or distributed editions, gaining an embedded knowledge of how networked communities work.
  4. Balanced between making and reflecting: The DH community has been divided over debates over whether its focus should be computation or theory, method or communication. Why not both? Participants could both build–collections, networks, tools, methods–and reflect on the process, significance, and theoretical dimensions of what they have built.
  5. Competency rather than credit based: The traditional course structure may be too artificial, driven by the institutional need to cut up learning into semesters and credit hours. Instead, the certificate program could focus on core competencies for digital humanities professionals, such as a basic understanding of programming, knowledge representation, media studies, digitization, networked communication, and the history of digital humanities/humanities computing. Prior knowledge and participation at other DH events–summer institutes, hackfests and the like–should count. Participants in the DH certificate program could demonstrate their competencies through open online portfolios that would be evaluated by the community through an open peer review process.

Much of what I’m proposing has been kicked around in the distance education and open education communities for a while. But I think the DH community can actually pull something like this off. I anticipate that the greatest challenges to implementing such a program would be eliciting participation among the mentors and learning module developers and coming up with an effective model for administering, financing and certifying it. Perhaps a funding organization with an interest in distance education and/or DH could invest in the program to get it started. Perhaps the program could be coordinated by a digital humanities center, library school, collaboration among multiple institutions, or even by a professional organization such as ACH. My next posts will look at existing educational programs in DH, the DH curriculum, approaches to open education, the structure of a proposed program, and strategies for assessment and certification.

Note: Parts of this post come from my abstract for Teaching Digital Humanities.