Thoughts on “Being a Scholar in the Digital Era”

…digital media technologies are changing the structure of the habits of being a scholar (Daniels & Thistlethwaite, 2016, p. 93).

I have thoroughly enjoyed the ideas that eddied around me during our discussions, yet as I listened to this week’s discussion about the possible effect of digital technologies on publication practices or tenure and promotion, I was acutely aware my viewpoint  within the dialogue was different than the rest of those at the table.

I am not faculty considering how to include or increase my use of digital tools or technologies in my classroom—or wondering if my scholarly work will become somehow devalued in an increasingly digital world.

Neither am I a librarian peering into the future of information embedded in digital practices, watching the cost of scholarly journals rise every year and wondering how to best help students gain access to technology, costly textbooks, or other course necessities that might be beyond their current technological expertise or financial means.

From my position as a writing instructor in the TLC, I see some students struggle with learning unfamiliar technologies, and recognize the difficulties others face in completing assignments when they cannot afford course texts. I am daily aware of their unfamiliarity of some with academic practices that increasingly require a digital literacy beyond their understanding. The tools of the academy are changing, even if the work is not.

Yet, in considering how to respond to the three chapters discussed this week, I realize I sit most comfortably in the position of student. I am here in this room to learn, to glean what I can from a discussion with those who understand a side of this topic with which I have little experience. But there is a viewpoint I do understand.

As a current doctoral student, I am the scholar being trained in a digital era. I am the student who was just given a book list priced at nearly $300 for (used) books for one course. Yet, as that scholar-in-training, I also can’t help but wonder in what ways the acceptance and use of digital technologies will come to affect the scholarship of the future—including my own.

Open access is, above all things, a moral and political decision (Jiménez et al., 2015, para. 2; cited in Daniels and Thistlethwaite, 2016, p. 79).

Through both my positions—student and staff—I have become a firm believer in the power of open access and digital technologies to spread the influence of the academy: its scholarship reaching out from behind ivy-covered walls and extending knowledge toward those who have long been kept at a distance, whether because of a paywall or a lack of accessible language. I believe that making the work of scholars available to a larger public sphere is, quite simply, a matter of social justice—a “human right,” if you will. And I agree with authors Jessie Daniels and Polly Thistlethwaite (2016) as they remind us: there is nothing important that cannot [somehow] be made interesting to a more “general reader” (p. 97).

You never know who will benefit from your work. The only way to find out is to make it accessible (“Interview” with Sarah Kendizor in Tadween Editors, 2013; cited in Daniels & Thistlethwaite, 2016, p. 63).

Although the shift to digital scholarship may be slow in coming, it is coming. Faculty across this campus—and many others—are already a part of the change, whether through teaching digital storytelling techniques, using digital tools in teaching, or creating digital portfolios and projects with their students. Many are already including ebooks or open access materials in their course syllabi and have long taught their students the value of moving beyond a simple Google search to recognizing scholarly sources, such as journals or databases housed in the library and available 24/7. They might even be encouraging their students to submit their work to open-access journals like Access: Interdisciplinary Journal of Student Research and Scholarship with its 1500+ downloads of 16 student papers—in just over a year.

Screenshot of map showing downloads from Access
Screenshot of map showing location of papers downloaded from Access*: Interdisciplinary Journal of Student Research and Scholarship

Access, housed in the UW Tacoma Digital Commons and networked throughout other commons sites across the web and around the world, was created to expand the reach of students’ scholarly work. I’m admittedly proud of Access’ reach, but an even better example of the scope of open-access sites like Digital Commons can be seen in a single paper: “Corporate Social Responsibility of Multinational Corporations” (Chan, 2014), UW Tacoma’s most popular paper, downloaded more than 31,000 times around the globe in just over three years.

Digital media technologies provide a tremendous opportunity for the scholarship of engagement (Daniels & Thistlethwaite, 2016, p. 106).

For faculty on an urban-serving campus like ours, there is undoubtedly a certain tension surrounding an individual desire to participate in digital practices that would inform our communities and engage them in our scholarship and an uncertainty

Still, the opportunity is in our hands to discover just where the road into digital scholarship might lead.

 

Jimenez, A.C., Boyer, D., Hartigan, J., & de la Cadena, M. (2015). Open access: A collective ecology for AAA publishing in the digital age – Cultural Anthropology [website]. Retrieved from www.culanth.org/fieldsights/684-open-acess-a-collective-ecology-for-aaaq-publishing-in-the-digital-age.

 

 

On Keeping a DS Notebook: Digital Craft and the Structure of Scholarly Habits.

Digital Scholarship, like legacy scholarship, refers to a set of practices rather than a single field of study. (Jessie Daniels and Polly Thistlethwaite, Being a Scholar in a Digital Era, 8)

Photo showing book, notes, computer, and coffee cup on table. Taken just prior to meeting.
Photo taken while waiting for everyone to arrive to first meeting. The paper in the center shows my rough notes on the book, taken on a library hold slip.

We held our first discussion of Being a Scholar in a Digital Era by Jessie Daniels and Polly Thistlethwaite on October 8, 2018. This was at the beginning the quarter, and I’m just now catching up on the notes I took during that meeting.

We met in the Chihuly Room, so named for the Chinook Red Chandelier by Dale Chihuly that hangs there, and the space soon filled up with faculty and librarians. All ten seats at the table were taken, and we had to pull in chairs from downstairs. People also took some of the comfortable chairs around the room. I forgot to count how many people were present, but I estimate about eighteen because we had some drop-in participants.

To start the conversation, I closed my computer and opened a notebook I started earlier this year to track conversations I’m having around digital scholarship. It was a wild ride once we started talking about the first three chapters of Being a Scholar in a Digital EraTwo people had signed up for each chapter, and I asked each person to provide a brief response and pose one question to the group. My intention was to do a kind of round robin or survey of people’s responses, but there was such energy around certain topics that people couldn’t keep from responding the questions.

Here are just a few that I heard and jotted down:

  • How does one transition from being a “sage on the stage to a guide on the side”?
  • What is the overlap between engaged scholarship and open access? (This was my own.)
  • How do we effectively teach in a networked environment? How do we effectively shift to open models?
  • What is the actual labor that goes into teach, learning, and scholarship? How do we account for the disruptions, blurring of boundaries, and expansion of labor that technology of creates?

I felt like I was in eye of an intellectual cyclone circling around that room, drawing its power from everyone’s curiosity and uncertainty, their questions and attempts at solutions, their excitement and anxiety. My brain went into facilitation mode and focused more on keeping the conversation on track and making sure everyone’s perspective was heard. Thus, I was more focused on the present than on remembering. Yet somehow my hand kept moving. Here are the messy notes I took that day:

Photo of two pages from a digital scholarship notebook, showing rough notes taken during meeting.

I show these notes because they are evidence of one approaches I bring to the “craft” of digital scholarship. As a member of Generation X, my life and education has straddled  analog and digital worlds, and this background has informed many of the practices I use to navigate and understand digital scholarship. Perhaps this is why I was so drawn to the discussion of the “craft” of digital scholarship mentioned in Being a Scholar in a Digital Era.

In the appendix to his classic The Sociological Imagination, titled ‘On intellectual craftsmanship’, C. Wright Mills exhorts aspiring scholars to keep a journal and create a ‘filing system’ to reflect on personal experiences, notes about the literature in one’s field, along with charts and diagrams. In this appendix, Mills refers to being a scholar as ‘a choice of how to live,’ he says, ‘as well as a choice of career’. It is, he explains, about being a scholar, ‘a structure of habits’ (Mills, 1959). (Daniels and Thislthwaite, 10)

The next five pages (pp. 11-14) of Being a Scholar in the Digital Era then go on to recount the many, many changes that have transformed scholarship, scholarly communication, and the distribution of knowledge. In sum, “The ever-changing pastiche of digital technologies, alongside the analog of occasional in-person meetings, enables a new level of connectedness among scholars across geographic distance and types of institutions. Sharing research interests and exchanging work among scholars has never been easier.” (14)

Rather than digging into the specific changes (which is the purpose of this reading circle), I would like to stay awhile on the idea of craft because it reminds me of observations in another book I read recently: David Levy’s Mindful Tech: How to Bring to Our Digital Lives. In this text, Levy develops a notion that our interactions with digital, online technologies can become a kind of craft:

When I suggest we think of our online activity as a craft, I mean to call attention to the skill involved. But I also mean to  highlight three addition dimensions of craftwork, making four in all: intention, care, skill, and learning. (David Levy, Mindful Tech, 7)

Levy’s book then investigates how personal practice shapes our digital identities (whether personal or professional) and offers a series of activities that enable readers to develop  their own sense of digital craft. I don’t have space to explore his ideas thoroughly, but I am realizing that one of the core ways that I have cultivated my own sense “digital craft” has been to deliberately blend it with the analog. I often seek out and create spaces for reflection away from the screen and humming hard drive so that I might recognize more awareness along the dimensions Levy develops. One of these is with a notebook.

These observations are all highly personal, but so are habits–or practices. Taking this a step further, I see my role as an educator-librarian is to also encourage and support the digital craft of others. Yet, how do I do this in a meaningful way? This book group is one example. A few days ago, I took what I’ve heard and tried to distill it. On the left are themes (pink), and on the right issues of practice (yellow).

Themes that emerged during discussion of book.

Call for Participation: Autumn 2018 Emerging Practices Reading Circle

Cover of Being a Scholar in Digital Era
Go to e-version of this book in the UW Libraries.

During Autumn Quarter 2018, the Library and the Office of Research will be co-hosting an “Emerging Practices Reading Circle”  in which we will discuss Being a Scholar in the Digital Era: Transforming Scholarly Practice for the Public Good by Jessie Daniels and Polly Thistlethwaite.

This group is modeled on the successful reading group that the Library hosted as a trial last spring and documented on this blog. Over the coming academic year, we plan to continue to host quarterly reading groups on texts or books of interest to the UW Tacoma academic community.

The Library will purchase a limited number of print copies of the book for participants. The group is open to faculty and staff, and we strive to have cross-campus representation and may cap the group to ten participants, depending on interest.

Goals

The Library and Office of Research are initiating this effort to create an intellectual space for the UW Tacoma academic community to discuss emerging forms of pedagogical and research practices. Over the course of the reading group, faculty and staff participants will volunteer to “present” chapters, pose questions to the group, and lead discussion. As time permits, the Autumn 2018 Reading Circle group will:

  • Share and investigate scholarly practices in response to readings and overall exploration of digital and publicly-engaged scholarship.
  • Identify useful resources from the book and the wider community of practice.
  • (Re)imagine approaches to community- or publicly-engaged scholarship.
  • Assess faculty needs for training, development opportunities, and infrastructure support for digital scholarship that engages with the public.
  • Seek collaborative opportunities to develop internal and external support communities.

Organization and Schedule

The Library will be purchasing approximately 10-12 print copies of the book for interested in participants. The book will be read over the quarter and discussed at monthly lunch hour meetings. Participants will be expected to commit to:

  • Attending the monthly lunch hour book discussions in October, November, and December.
  • Engaging with text and leading group discussions.
  • Writing one blog post in response to discussions.

To sign up for this book group, please identify your preferred meeting time by completing this sign-up form or contact the conveners of the Autumn 2018 Reading Circle:

  • Justin Wadland, Associate Director & Head, Digital Scholarship (Library)
  • Kara Luckey, Research Development Consultant (Office of Research)

“Using DH in the Classroom Discussion” (Pt. 3): Grad Students, Support Communities, & Research

Cropped image of “White on Spectral Colors” from Color Problems by Emily Noyes Vanderpoel, digitized by the Smithsonian and available in the Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/colorproblemspra00vand

With our last meeting coinciding with the wind-down of the Spring Quarter, we had a pretty light turn-out for the discussion of the final chapters of Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom by Battershill and Ross. Yet among the six people in attendance, we had a good mix of faculty and library staff and managed to fill up the hour and half with conversation.

As I was looking for images to accompany this post, I was drawn particularly to the color analyses charts of Emily Noyes Vanderpoel, which I found in the Public Domain Review. These charts and studies seemed appropriate because our conversation revealed a spectrum of responses to topics discussed. Sometimes the discussion formed clear pictures of opportunities and positions, other times they were suggestive, shaded by our own views or experiences.

Toward the end, some ideas began to take shape for me of possible futures, but we didn’t have time to explore them in detail. Later this month, I intend to write a blog post that will offer a few possible scenarios, and then we’ll hold a Zoom meeting with the participants to explore what resonates most.

Tools Discussed

A quick review of some of the tools mentioned:

  • Social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Academia.edu, etc.
  • Lucidchart – An online diagram application that makes it easier to sketch and share flowchart diagrams.
  • Scanner Pro – An iPhone app that enables quick scan and organization of texts.
  • Zotero – A useful tool for organizing, sharing, and citing sources.

Chapter 9: Teaching Graduate Students – Riki Thompson

As the Masters of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies (MAIS) Graduate Program Director, Riki was particularly drawn to this chapter. She noticed right away that the chapter assumes that grad students will be entering academia, and yet most of the MAIS students she works with  are getting a terminal degree. Some of the observations about the professionalization of academics did not seem relevant. What did seem applicable was that digital scholarship approaches open up career opportunities outside of academia. Effective, critical, and professional uses of communication and digital technologies  seemed the most obvious skills most transferable to the workplace.

“Color Note of a Sliced Orange” from “Color Problems”

The question of risk came up again too. The conversation on p. 156 of Battershill and Ross1 resonated with the group because it highlights the tensions and contradictions of graduate level digital projects. We are all “digitally assisted scholars,” Riki pointed out, but when initiating a new project, it can be extraordinarily difficult to calculate the amount of time that must be devoted to it. Students considering innovative uses of technology may need additional support. Right now, because there isn’t a central place to conceive of such projects, faculty advisers likely bear the brunt of this work.

Chapter 10: Finding Internal Support Communities – Tim Bostelle

Tim led us in a discussion of how to develop internal support communities. One of my favorite slides from his presentation emphasized:

Slide from Tim Bostelle’s presentation, offering suggestion for encouraging DH.

As the Head, Library Information Technology, he also modeled some of the approaches suggested in the book. He searched the UW Tacoma website to find other departments and colleagues on campus that might be collaborators in DS groups and activities. The Center Business Analytics in the Milgard School of Business, the Institute of Technology, the Office of Research, and Nursing all came up in his searches for faculty using digital tools in their scholarship and research.

We also discussed the Student Technology Fee Committee, which distributes funds for technology resources that serve students. Having led the Library’s application process for many years, Tim has gained a lot of experience going through the STF application process. He would be open to partnering with faculty members to put together proposals for rounds in the future.

Chapter 11: Finding External Support – Justin Wadland

Because I wanted to learn more about this area, I led this discussion, focusing my conversation around the use of social media. Doing a quick poll among the participants, we discovered the variety of social media platforms we use, with Facebook and Twitter being the most popular.

“Color Note from a Bunch of Azaleas” from “Color Problems.”

The uses ranged from professional to completely personal and private or a mixture of something in between. Some avoided social media because of information overload or it seems like a waste of time. Others recognized that social media, Twitter in particular, can be “insanely useful” (direct quote) if you follow the right people. Some of those who use Twitter mentioned that they have UW Tacoma “Twitter buddies” that they engage with, but it is not necessarily embraced across campus as a platform for communication and information sharing. Some observed that when used as tool for professional communication, Twitter does seem to favor public, formal conversations, but others recognized the risks of such platforms.

Battershill and Ross in their chapter provide a lot of useful tips for promoting scholarship with  social media and connecting to other scholars.

Chapter 12: Connecting to Your Research – Joanne Clarke-Dillman

Joanne presented on the final chapter, connecting to research. She appreciated the advice of “making things count more than once,” meaning that explorations in digital pedagogy enable faculty members to experiment in the classroom and then share the results with the wider community through publishing:

Each skill you learn and teach…should not be self contained, but rather, part of a life cycle. [By this] we mean that this skill should be adaptable for your other needs” in research and teaching.  (196)

Also, Joanne’s overview referred extensively to the book’s web companion, highlighting specifically “DH Tools and Tips for Conducting Research” as particularly helpful.

A few other things Joanne mentioned were of particular relevance:

  • Think about the classroom as a lab [where you are doing] “empirical experimentation from which new and interesting results may be derived” (200)

  • Practice-based vs practice-led research: Faculty who implemented new strategies with students have found that it has also led to new forms of research (practice-led) and also allows the activity itself to be treated as research (practice-based), (200)

Another important point: establishing ethical collaborative relationships among the participants of projects, especially when they involve students. The DH community has articulated these principles in a Collaborators’ Bill of Rights, but institutions have adopted them as well. UCLA’s Student Collaborators’ Bill of Rights is one example.

  1. For full quote, see the second paragraph of “Do ‘the Risky Thing’ in Digital Humanities” by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, published on September 25, 2011 Chronicle of Higher Education.

“Using DH in the Classroom” Book Discussion (Pt. 2): Syllabi, Assignments, Activities, Assessment & Risk

In the best case scenario the students will leave the course, not with answers, but with more questions, and even more importantly, the capacity to ask still more questions generated from their continual pursuit and practice of the subjectivities we hope to inspire.  — Michael Wesch, quoted on p. 123 of Battershill & Ross, Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom)

“Ice Cave, Paradise Glacier,” from page 79 of “The Mountain that Was God” by John Harvey Williams.

Ever since I first saw them, the strange, disorienting photographs of tourists and climbers venturing into ice tunnels on Tahoma (aka Mt. Rainier) have always appealed to me, and I include one here because it seems a good a place as any to begin this summary of our exploration of the practical aspects of integrating digital humanities practices in the classroom at UW Tacoma.

Tools Discussed

As always, I like to pull together a quick list of the digital tools raised during our conversation:

  • PowerPoint (and slide presentation software, in general) – Mentioned mostly in a critical way as the default form of presenting information.
  • Tumblr – An alternative form for sharing class information, one faculty used it at other intitution.
  • Google Books Ngram Viewer – Mines texts in Google books to show the instances of certain words.
  • Voyant – A text visualization software program that allows visualizing and analyzing text.
  • Juxta – Software program that enables comparison multiple versions of text.

Playing with a Tool: Voyant

Expanding on the use of tools, I wanted to show what it can look like when you take text and put into Voyant. For this sample, I used a public domain text called The Mountain that was God by John William Harvey1.

Showing the text analysis of of “The Mountain that Was God.” Click image to view full analysis in Voyant.

Summary of Summary of Book Discussion

OK, let’s get to business.  We met in April to discuss chapters 4-8 of “Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom” by Battershill and Ross. This section of the book presents a kind of “life cycle” overview of how digital humanities might be incorporated into the classroom, demonstrating how instructors can structure their courses around engagement with digital technologies and resources. In the summaries below, I pull key points raised during the conversation.

Chapter 4: Designing Syllabi – Randy Nichols (blog post)

Randy began by expressing his discomfort with presentation slides, which was why he wrote a blog post. This opened up a conversation around the ways that technology can inadvertently shape expectations and convey certain unintended values. One person mentioned how having presentation slides can give the illusion of being organized. 2

Other technologies seem to enable collaboration and do not limit the ways students might interact with it. For instance, in the past Randy has used Tumblr for his classes.

This raised questions about how technology might inadvertently shape learning objectives, rather than be the source of students interactions with technology, as Battershill and Ross suggest. Instructors’ time and comfort level with new technologies can influence their adoption. It seems that one way around these issues might be to approach the development of learning objectives as an iterative process that developed in relationship to technology.

Another important strand of our conversation touched on setting clear expectations about online behavior.

Chapter 5: Designing Classroom Activities – Libi Sunderman (Google Slides; login required)

Libi was really engaged with this chapter and offered a tour of the tools that it exposed her to. In her slides, she investigates the tools that seemed relevant to her. Generally, she favored tools that are easy and don’t take a lot time to figure out. As a historian, she seemed to prefer tools that analyze differences in texts. She did ask some questions about how she would engage students with the tools beyond just looking at them.

Since visiting archives and libraries and exposing students to primary sources is a key part of her work, she has also found virtual tours of collections to be useful and has done this with the Tacoma Historical Society.

Chapter 6: Managing Classroom Activities – Rebecca Disrud (Google Slides; login required)

Rebecca felt that this chapter was mistitled and thought it should be called “Troubleshooting Technology.”  The solution could be summed up with a single word: “practice,” so that you can avoid most of the typical problems. Many in the group generally felt the most helpful suggestions were to design the course into module units that could be adjusted if needed.

A key point that resonated: Battershill and Ross emphasize that total technological failure can turn into a valuable teaching moment. 

Mention of the Inspiration Lab at Vancouver Public Library was of particular interest. It is space with a variety of technologies and digital tools that enable visitors to create new works.

“The “inspiration lab,” for example, is open to university groups as well as to the public, and often, students can do more than use the equipment: they can participate through lab-based activities that start in the classroom in the broader creative and critical digital activities happening in their own communities.” (Battershill & Ross, p. 103)

A group on campus is looking at developing maker/tinkerspace, as well as a Learning Commons. We recognized that a space where faculty could practice and receive support would be welcome on campus. Right now, this happens in a variety of places and tends to be scoped to particular technologies.

Chapter 7: Creating Digital Assignments – Nicole Blaire (Google Slides; login required)

Nicole wasn’t able to make it but her slides pull out the key points. I particularly liked the points that she highlighted from Battershill and Ross as principles/best practices:

  1. Require short reflection papers for graded work that use new digital skills.
  2. Limit your students to one new tool or platform per assignment.
  3. Be flexible: adapt to student needs but have a clear rubric and set of expectations.
  4. Digital assignments do not need to be overly complex: public writing, such as a public blog, “is at the very heart of the digital humanities.”

Chapter 8: Evaluating Student Work – Alex Miller (Google Doc; login required)

Alex presented this chapter; he found it to be consistent with the rest of the book in the ways that offered methods of encouraging experimentation by student and incorporating the possibility of failure into assignments. He felt that a key point was to move beyond “being good with computers” or achieving mastery. Measuring progress and competency seem like better measures.

Drawing from his experience, as well as the reading, the group felt that getting students involved in the evaluation and partnering with them to create rubrics can set these expectations. Other options are to offer classes pass/fail and using in-take surveys to evaluate the students.

Yet there were questions around:

  • How do you evaluate risk and effort? How do you encourage and assess risk?

Alex offered the assignment description and rubric that he uses when assigning students to create digital videos in his “Intro to Masculinities” class:

  1. Published in 1911, this book is now in the public domain and available in the Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/mountainthatwa00will.
  2. At its worst, slides can misrepresent information, as Edward Tufte aptly expressed it in his critique “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint”.

Prompts for April DH Book Discussion: The Life Cycle of DH Learning

The group reading “Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom” will be meeting in less than an hour, and I’d like pull together a quick agenda for the meeting. This round, group members volunteered to read and then post notes on an assigned chapter. People chose to post them in several place:

This months discussion will examine the life cycle of student learning experiences that engage with Digital Humanities practices.

We obviously have way more to talk about than we have time, so I thought we’d organize the conversation this way:

  • Round robin of chapter discussion leaders:
    • What was one of  the main takeaways you’d like to share with the group?
    • What questions you would like to discuss with the group?
  • Discussion of questions/points raised during round robin.
  • White board activity: What is one thing you’ll do different as a result of the reading?
  • If time permits, considering question: What does design process for syllabi and/or assignments look like? How best to incorporate these practices?

Notes on Chapter 4: Designing Syllabi

Two issues by way of meandering confession

Let me begin with a confession (or maybe an apology):  I don’t take notes in the ways we’re doing for this discussion group.  I don’t share slides or my notes in my classes, so I’m well-out of my comfort zone.   And I think it is worth trying a different path through just for the sake of comparison, so here we are.  Based on that, one of the things I think might actually make for some interesting starter discussion as we move into the topics for this set of readings is about taking a sort of inventory about where you have particular preferences/tendencies/what-have-you about boundaries as you’re starting to think about delving into this?

There’s also a rhetorical shift that happens in Chapter 4 that I’m still deciding about – it’s most pronounced in Table 4.2, in that the assumption seems to be that even in non-Intro to Digital Humanities (hereafter, DH) courses, that you’d have readings, etc that are explicitly about DH.  I’ve been thinking of DH as tools to use rather than as a topic to foreground, so I’m curious what everyone else thinks.

Choose your own adventure platform

The cover of the Choose Your Adventure book
This post was wordy. It needed a picture.

One of the biggest issues of the chapter is about what digital platform you’re going to use to actually structure your DH experiment.

The chapter poses this largely as a question of whether you want to host your own site or use some existing platform (which, for our purposes includes UW’s choice of course management software, Canvas).  This section was a pretty quick fly-by, but there are some issues worth pulling out because the platform you choose is carries with it a range of issues.

A lot of these issues are going to connect to the discussions for Chapters 5, 6, and 7.

Some decisions to make about platforms

  • what features do you need your site to have?
  • how much intellectual property of your own are you willing to make publicly available?
  • how much of your students’ intellectual property is going to be visible (and why)?
  • what types of content do you intend to share that isn’t your own?
  • how much time do you have to maintain the site?
  • how often are you going to get to use it?
  • how much can you afford?

While there’s some advantage to owning your own site, hosting and domain names can cost you money.  Using a content management platform (like WordPress) can you get around some of this, but might require some forethought before diving in.  For example, if students are going to contribute but you’ll use the site in multiple terms, how easy will it be control access to what new students get to engage with?

And in case having an example beyond this blog to consider, here’s a site I used through the content management system Tumblr from my previous life.  Table 4.1 provides a useful breakdown of some other platforms you might consider.   I know why I used Tumblr, but does anyone have any other strong opinions or recommendations on platforms they’ve used?

Wasn’t this chapter supposed to be about syllabi?

The discussion about syllabi focused on two broad issues:  Course Information and Objectives and Course Policies.

Depending on how much DH you intend to use, you’re going to have to think carefully about your syllabus and how you want to approach the class.    That might include thinking differently about office hours, deadlines, etc.  All of those things need to be telegraphed by the syllabus.   I’ve found myself wondering as we’re talking about DH whether a DH class should have to be connected to the iTech Fellows program here at UWT.  Even if it shouldn’t, I think the rubric the program uses to assess iTech fellows preparation is useful for our DH purposes.

Depending upon how much DH you intend to incorporate into your class, how you design the course and its syllabus will likely change.  Table 4.2 breaks down some of the possibilities for this.  Regardless, there are some specific points that are worth considering in both of these sections.

Course information and Objectives Points to Consider

  • Office Hours and the guidelines about when and how to contact you
  • Course description:  what skills do they need to start and what skills should they end with?
  • What technologies they’ll need and where to get them
  • clear course objectives that incorporate DH

Course Policies Points to Consider

  • How will you gauge attendance and participation?
  • How are students expected to use technologies and when?
  • How will deadlines work (taking into account that students are likely learning a new skill)?
  • Are there particular behavioral expectations?
  • What is the process for getting help with technologies and where can they get that help?

I was surprised there wasn’t much discussion about behavioral expectations (for example, rules for online discussions groups, etc).  Were there other issues that got missed?

“Using DH in the Classroom” Discussion (Part 1)

On March 26, 2018, we held the first meeting of the Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom reading group. At the beginning of the meeting, we each wrote three topics we would like to discuss, then circled around and starred 1-2 topics on each other’s lists. Here are the notes from that activity:

Tools Discussed

During the conversation that followed, several tools were mentioned, and in each blog post, I’d like to note these so we might start a list of the different technologies being used:

  • WeVideo – Used in classes to make digital stories
  • Fold.cm – An alternative to PowerPoint, students are able to use this make multimedia presentations.
  • StoryMapJS – An easy to use tool for creating interactive maps.

Key Points

Defining Digital Humanities/Digital Scholarship

The discussion leader (Justin) raised questions about the value of starting all conversations with definitions of digital humanities and/or digital scholarship. The group found the book’s definition helpful for framing the conversation:

“We see DH not as an exclusive or unified discipline, but rather as a constellation of practical ideas, technologies, and tools that can be incorporated in a modular fashion into your own classroom practice.”1

Some of the participants recognized that definitions become important when articulating the scope of research or teaching practice to internal or external audiences, but some have struggled with overly narrow definitions of digital humanities. Ultimately, the group appreciated the emphasis on learning goals:

“Rather than engaging with new tools for their own sake, we recommend that you ground all your experiments and exercises in course content. This will allow you to design you course carefully, on a case-by-case basis, so that particular exercises are suited to the particular course topic or text.” 2

Resistance vs. challenges

The conversation gained momentum around the book’s “Presumption of resistance” and went on to explore a number of related topics. Initially, several in the group critiqued the the way that Chapter 1 assumed varying kinds of resistance to digital humanities techniques. Generally, the faculty members present felt supported in their experiments with DH practices and that students were generally receptive to these approaches.

As the conversation progressed, however, the group began to recognize that there are some real challenges to potentially working in this area at UW Tacoma:

Extreme range of digital literacies and skills among students: Instructors experience a wide spectrum of digital abilities and aptitudes among students. Many students are “digital natives” and are well-versed in the rhetorical approaches used in this media rich environment, but most have experienced the digital realm as consumers rather than critically-engaged learners and creators. Some might even struggle with commonly-used technologies, such as Word or PowerPoint, while others may take to it quickly. Finding a middle ground can be quite challenging.3

Student access to technology: One professor present has surveyed his students access to and ownership of technology. Although we didn’t have the precise numbers, he found that while most UW Tacoma students have smartphones, a sizeable percentage do not have access to the internet at home and may not own a computer.  Flowing from these observations, someone observed that for assignments that require a lot of technology: “Whatever we do has to be on campus and in the classroom?”4

Recognizing failure and frustration as part of learning: Several present had backgrounds in design and recognized failure as part of the design process, but translating this approach to the classroom, technology-related assignments, and assessment can pose some difficulties. Students experience a lot of anxiety if they don’t know technology required for the assignment. Compounding the problems, instructors may not want to sacrifice classroom time for learning associated technology. One response has been to use low stakes assignments to establish a baseline of skills and then evaluate the students on growth. Another possibility is assigning reflective pieces about the process.5

Topics we would have discussed if we had more time

Possible workshops or training or workshops could be built around the following topics:

  • Universal Design: There was an overwhelming interest in UD, but many present felt that they would need additional training and support to integrate this.
  • Digital Public Library of America: Many were drawn to this as a resource and would like to investigate how to better integrate into courses.
  • Thinking through implications of publicly-shared student work: Many classes that are creating alternative assignments are producing work that worthy of sharing with a wider audience, but several questions about permissions, student privacy, and digital repository structure remain.
  • Creative Commons and copyright in general: Working in the digital environment raises a host of copyright questions, and many wanted to learn more about how to navigate these questions.
  1. Battershill & Ross, 2. Another helpful quote: “For us, digital humanities simply represents a community of scholars and teachers interested in using or studying technology. We use humanities technologies to study digital cultures, tools, and concepts, and we also use computational methods to explore the traditional objects of humanistic inquiry.”
  2. Battershill & Ross, 4
  3. Many of the later sections actually explore this issue, especially Chapters 5 & 6 on designing and managing classroom activities, but at this early stage, we appreciated the emphasis Battershill and Ross placed on learning goals.
  4. Battershill & Ross discuss similar issues in the section “Privacy, safety, and account management” (52-67), but the entire Chapter 3 “Ensuring Accessibility” explores related themes.
  5. See Battershill and Ross, “Your students resistance,” (19-21) for a related discussion.

Spring Quarter Book Group: “Using DH in the Classroom” by Battershill and Ross

During Spring Quarter 2018, the UW Tacoma Library is hosting a book group for interested faculty and staff to discuss Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom: A Practical Introduction for Teachers, Lecturers, and Students by Claire Battershill and Shawna Ross. Participants who have signed up for print copies should have received them through the campus mail. An electronic copy of the book is also available from the UW Libraries.

If you have questions about the group or would like to join us, please contact Justin Wadland, Associate Director and Head, Digital Scholarship Program at the UW Tacoma Library. (Participants in the group are listed on here on our Google Team Drive.)

Goals for book group

The Library is supporting this effort so that we can develop a shared vision of programmatic approaches to digital scholarship at UW Tacoma. Over the course of the reading group, faculty/staff will volunteer to “present” chapters, pose questions to the group, and lead discussion. As time permits, the group will:

  • Share and investigate teaching practices and materials in response to readings and overall exploration of digital humanities. 
  • Identify useful resources from the book and its companion online guide.
  • (Re)imagine courses and activities that could be enhanced by incorporating digital pedagogy.
  • Assess faculty needs for training, development opportunities, and infrastructure support to encourage digital humanities practices in the classroom.
  • Seek collaborative opportunities to develop internal and external support communities.

Schedule and location of book group

All of the meetings of the book group will be in Tacoma Paper and Stationary (TPS) 110.

  • March 26, 3-4:30pm: Introduction to Chapter 3 (pp. 1-59)
  • April 23, 3-4:30pm: Chapter 4 to Chapter 8 (pp. 61-145)
  • May 21, 3-4:30pm: Chapter 9 to Conclusion (pp. 147-211)

Agenda for March 26 meeting