Building a DH Culture from the Ground

So my proposal is late-breaking, but here ’tis: I’m currently moving to a new institution where I will help start a new DH center. I’d like to think collaboratively—well, about how that happens. I want to get at this question, however, not by talking about getting grants or picking a pithy acronym for the center’s name. Instead, I’d like to jump off Stephen Ramsay’s recent post, Centers are People, and think about how one begins building the kinds of communities where “a bunch of people…[are] committed to the bold and revolutionary project of talking to one another about their common interests.” I’d especially like to think about how to draw in those people on campus who are interested in DH but don’t yet know it: that history professor with a personal archive she’d love to make public, that librarian crafting the library’s ebook strategy, or that computer science undergrad with an odd side interest in Renaissance poetry. Topics might include:

1.) organizing and effectively promoting DH events to the wider college or university
2.) creating and fostering hacker-friendly spaces on campus
3.) building on-campus partnerships between departments, libraries, &c. &c.
4.) seeding DH incursions into the curriculum

This topic may well tie into hmprescott’s “More Disruptive Pedagogy: Thoughts on Teaching an Un-course” proposal or Kimon Keramidas’s “Of courses, curriculum, networks, and unconferences”.

Role Playing Games (RPGs) in the Classroom: Fleshspace vs. Digital

We are being increasingly encouraged to “gamify” the classroom. Educators such as Cathy N. Davidson (Now You See It(@cathyndavidson) and Jane McGonigal (Reality is Broken) have suggested that games can help engage students in deeper ways than traditional learning methods.

I’d like to discuss how we can best implement Role Playing Games, or RPGs, in higher education. RPGs are well suited to the classroom because of their structure, which encourages students to identify with their characters and game objectives. Some excellent pedagogical examples include Reacting to the Past at Barnard, a series of elaborate historical games where students roleplay real historical characters with the possibility of changing historical events through mastery of historical and cultural knowledge (for more information, see my blog post here), and the Practomime project, where Latin students have to thoroughly assimilate into the ancient Roman world to save the world.

The following questions may be helpful in guiding discussion: how we can use digital tools to enhance role playing learning efforts (course websites, wikis as “codexes”, social media for team building/knowledge sharing)? Further, how, and should, these role-playing become digital in form? Most successful classroom RPGs have been “fleshspace” based, where gameplayers meet in person. How can we use the digital to enhance the “fleshspace” experience, and to augment or transform it?

Little Data, Big Learning: Fostering Experiential Pedagogy

What is the experience of reading? How can we leverage DH-inflected pedagogy to help students situate their own processes of reading, writing, and learning? In such a tendrillate approach to textual analysis, what tools can help students navigate through a cycle of experience and reflection that underscores the materiality of reading experience?

In this session, my hope is that we can explore the intersection of learning, experience, and DH to begin to sketch what a digital environmental humanities pedagogy might look like.

I began building an assignment during DHSI that asks students to use close reading of a passage as an entry to larger analytical and written projects (zipped Prezi available here through the course’s webpage), but it’s just a first stab at a much larger issue–how can DH pedagogical approaches help us to ground student scholarship in first-hand experience with primary materials? Encoding text, annotating sentences, parsing paragraphs for word frequency–all of these are valuable approaches, which, if used carefully, can bring our students to textual analysis as a fundamental building block of humanities scholarship.

Attention to the labour of reading and the experience of the text can only enrich the connections scholars can make by looking at these narrower street views in the context of an ever-evolving map of the world.

Visually-Oriented Social Tools: Pinterest, Tumblr, and…?

So much emphasis in the Digital Humanities is on the written and the computational– it’s easy to forget that one of the major revolutions of the internet, especially once we got past dial-up, is the ease with which users are able to produce, manipulate, and share images.

For those of us who are deeply visual thinkers, however, this is a very important development.

I would like to propose a session discussing technologies of social image sharing like Tumblr and Pinterest. I think that tools like these have a lot of potential to draw in visual thinkers, encouraging them to learn, aggregate, and create in ways that our more textual social tools– blogs and Twitter, for example– might not.

I’d love to see people’s examples of Tumblr, Pinterest, and other similar tools in the classroom as part of a social pedagogical approach, as well as good examples of these tools being used for outreach and sharing by libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage organizations.

There are, of course, deep and fundamental issues with these sites– they are not specifically designed for this context. There are issues with metadata, deepness of data, and attribution, among other things. I’d like to see a discussion of what a perfect image sharing site for these types of use-cases might look like: more sorting? More thought given to citation? Greater opportunities for discussion and description?

Is this a tool that digital humanists should be working on? Should we be building a better social image sharing tool? Can something like this be built off of any existing open frameworks? Is this something that educators and cultural institutions would embrace, or would they tend to stay with the less-than-perfect commercial vendors because that’s where the people are?

Technology and International Scholarly Partnerships Across the Digital Divide

As a THATCamp newbie, rather than propose a session I would like to discuss with other participants some questions and issues related to content produced online by international networks of scholars and practitioners. I have some experience in this area as an academic involved in various Africa-related digital projects, including the Africa Past and Present podcast (see my recent journal article here), the Overcoming Apartheid web curriculum, and the Football Scholars Forum. Generally, I am interested in knowledge production and circulation; costs and accessibility; and the challenges posed by “digital imperialism.” A bit more specifically, how can technology generate and enhance international scholarly collaborations in the humanities and social sciences? What are the advantages and disadvantages of using Skype, Zotero, WordPress and other tools to create and disseminate knowledge in and about the Global South? What are the principles and/or models more likely to bring about long-term sustainable access to information resources in mutually beneficial ways across the digital divide?



not quite a session proposal

Hello, fellow campers! I’m new to this game — this will be my first THATCamp — so I don’t think I want to propose a session. But I would like to ask for help. Consider this an informal request that can be addressed via comments here, in between-sessions conversations at the camp, or on Twitter.

Next spring I will be teaching a class called . . . well, I haven’t settled on a title yet, but for now let’s call it Digital Reading and Research. It will be an upper-divisional course, but also a kind of trial run for a general education course. (That is, if the course goes well my institution might consider creating a version of it for freshmen, possibly to be required of all freshmen.) The key purposes of the course will be:

  • to introduce students to the history of digital texts and digital humanities;
  • to situate these technologies within the larger history of humanistic scholarship;
  • to outline the controversies currently surrounding these developments, from techno-utopians (Kevin Kelly) to moderate skeptics (Nick Carr, Jaron Lanier);
  • to give students hands-on experience with some of the most useful tools available, from Google Scholar to Zotero to CommentPress to . . . whatever.

My current plan is for roughly half the course to cover the first three points and half to cover practice with the tools. So fellow campers, give me your best suggestions for how to organize this course, what texts to assign, what assignments to give — anything you got that might be helpful to someone teaching it for the first time. I would be much obliged to you!

A Better Blogging Assignment

phdstudent. Circle of Life. 2006. 11 Jun. 2012. <>.I’ve got a pedagogical problem and I want you to help me.

I’m sick of student blogging.

This confession probably sounds strange coming from me, a vocal advocate for using blogs in the classroom, and for public writing more generally. But after two dozen blogs for two dozen classes, I’m looking for ways to reinvigorate my blogging assignments.

Some background: a key component of almost every one of my classes is the collaborative class blog. The pedagogical advantages of blogging are many: it’s a public space that requires students to consider questions of accountability and audience; students begin to see themselves as participating in an ongoing conversation about culture; and participation jump-starts class discussion so that I already have an idea of what’s on my students’ minds before I even enter the classroom.

My blogging guidelines typically look something like this:

Each student will contribute to the weekly class blog, posting an approximately 200-300 word response to the week’s readings. There are a number of ways to approach these open-ended posts: consider the reading in relation to its historical or theoretical context; write about an aspect of the day’s reading that you don’t understand, or something that jars you; formulate an insightful question or two about the reading and then attempt to answer your own questions; or respond to another student’s post, building upon it, disagreeing with it, or re-thinking it.

I’ve tweaked the blogging assignment over the years, in particular experimenting with the overall structure of the blog, the rhythm of postings, and my use of roles.

I’ve tried two overall structures:

  • A hub-and-spoke model, in which every student sets up his or her own blog, and I aggregate their postings on the main class blog.
  • A centralized class blog, in which all the students have accounts on the same blog, and their posts and comments all show up in the same place.

I’ve experimented with different rhythms:

  • The free-for-all model, in which students simply must post 10 (or some other number) of blog posts by the end of the semester.
  • The checkpoint model, in which students must post a specified number of posts by particular checkpoints spread throughout the semester.
  • The weekly model, in which all students (or, if using roles, a subset of students) must post every week.

Finally, I’ve increasingly relied on assigned roles, so that not every student is posting at the same time, and furthermore, so that each group of students has a specific task for that week. For example, most recently I divided a class of 25 students into four groups, rotating week-to-week from one role to the next:

  • First Readers: These students are responsible for posting initial questions and insights about the day’s material to the class blog the day before class meets.
  • Respondents: Students in this group build upon, disagree with, or clarify the first readers’ posts by the next class meeting.
  • Searchers: Students in this group find and share at least one relevant online resource. In addition to linking to the resource, the searchers provide a short evaluation of the resource, highlighting what makes it worthwhile, unusual, or, if appropriate, problematic.
  • The fourth group has the week off in terms of blogging.

I have thought a lot about student blogging. I’m fully committed to this form of student work.

And yet.

I’m tired of reading blog posts week after week, tired of evaluating blog posts week after week, tired of commenting on blog posts week after week. I don’t want off this merry-go-round, but I do want to reignite my sense of discovery and excitement about student blogging. And I want you to help me.

I propose a session in which we design a new model of student blogging—or at least, new to me. Maybe it incorporates elements of the structure, rhythm, and roles that I’ve used before, maybe it doesn’t. I’d like to learn from other teachers who’ve had success with student blogging, and from students too, about their experiences with blogging. My goal for this THATCamp session is that by the end we’d have a fully developed assignment, module, or course component, which any of us could plunk down into a syllabus and be ready to use when classes begin in the fall.

Let’s have students blog, and make it worth their while and ours too.

UPDATE: The collaborative notes for this session are online.

Circle of Life photograph courtesy of Flickr user phdstudent / Creative Commons Licensed