ARCHIBALD POST 3: DH AS A KEY PEDAGOGICAL STRATEGY RATHER THAN AFTERTHOUGHT

A number of the contributors to Matthew K. Gold’s Debates in the Digital Humanities recognize the field’s ongoing preference toward research and tool-making, with Stephen Brier writing that “teaching and learning are something of an afterthought for many digital humanists.” Even when prioritized, DH pedagogical strategies have largely been aimed at preparing staff, faculty, and graduate students for specific work as future digital humanists.

However, one of the most exciting opportunities we are faced with is the fact that DH can aid curriculum development at the undergraduate and high school levels by supporting the general learning outcomes of humanities education. In fact, I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I state that DH should be integrated into all humanities classrooms. We live in a media-intensive culture where students’ primary information and entertainment sources are screens. Despite having crossed over into many educational disciplines, skills from digital learning and recreational activities have not been well-integrated into humanities classrooms. Policy makers should be asking questions such as how we can convert increased day-to-day digital reading into increased literacy levels at school. However, Luke Walter recognizes that even at the tertiary level, “most curricula have not adjusted to the natural realities of the college experience, where the vast majority of students lead lives that are exponentially more digital and networked than they were when those curricula were designed.”

This is not to say that the current outlook is bleak for DH and pedagogy. Melissa has posted about the presentation by visiting lecturer Dr. Jeff McClurken, “Claiming DH for Undergraduates: Learning, Knowledge Production, and Digital Identity,” in which he discussed the University of Mary Washington’s Department of History’s fantastic teaching goals. The Department actively trains undergraduates to be adaptable knowledge producers as well as reflective consumers, with the specific goals of teaching skills in writing, speaking, perspectives on self and society, and digital literacy. In classes such as “History of American Culture and Technology” and “Adventures in Digital History,” McClurken requires students to undertake DH projects that include building websites and creating multimedia such as visual infographics. Furthermore (I was gobsmacked!) UMW as an institution provides domain names and web hosting space to all their members, particularly encouraging students to develop their digital identities and web skills.

Therefore, it is clear that scholars and teachers are thinking creatively about ways to incorporate new learning styles in higher education,[1] although I am unsure about examples of DH practices in high school curricula. Integrating DH into assigned student projects does not need to be a weighty task; the public course blogs championed by Trevor Owens (of which our ‘Doing Digital Humanities’ class WordPress blog is a great example) could happily replace the restricted access that characterizes traditional ‘Blackboard’ and ‘D2L’ discussion boards. Certainly, I was a little wary about the ramifications of posting my academic work on the Web, but this plays into Jeff McClurken’s mantra that humanities students (and staff and faculty!) should be “uncomfortably challenged, but not paralyzed” by DH practices. And the benefits of public scholarly discussion are obvious; students can take ownership of their work, build reputation, invite collaboration, and of course disseminate knowledge and receive feedback to/from a wider community. It’s safe to say, then, that writing, building, and designing are all valuable methods of inquiry for the humanities, as long as the affordances of such knowledge models offer rich and productive learning experiences for our students!

[1] It’s important to acknowledge Katherine Harris’ claim that teachers who engage in such pedagogical practices are not valued as much as DH researchers and tool-makers, again pointing to the imbalance between DH doing and teaching.

Works Cited:

Brier, Stephen. “Where’s the Pedagogy? The Role of Teaching and Learning in the Digital Humanities.” Ed. Matthew K. Gold. Debates in Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/8

Harris, Katherine. “Failure? DHC 2011 Kerfuffle.” Triproftri. March 2, 2011. http://triproftri.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/failure-dhc-2011-kerfuffle

McClurken, Jeffrey. “Claiming DH for Undergraduates: Learning, Knowledge Production, and Digital Identity.” Exploring Digital Humanities Speaker Series, University of Colorado at Boulder. 17 September 2015.

Owens, Trever. “The Public Course Blog: The Required Reading We Write Ourselves for the Course that Never Ends.” Ed. Matthew K. Gold. Debates in Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/6

Waltz, Luke. “Digital Humanities and the ‘Ugly Stepchildren’ of American Higher Education.” Ed. Matthew K. Gold. Debates in Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/33

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