English 201: Computing in the Humanities is the course at my university that begun this “adventure” in digital humanities, and the instructor has asked that we provide a more open and developed response to the course through our blogs. He gave us prompts to respond to, and this post outlines my feedback and thoughts to these prompts and towards my experience with this class.
*Note: this was a short summer term class that ran from May to June 2018.
Coming into this course, I did not know that digital humanities existed as an area of academic focus. Based on the course description, I thought that it was about the creation of a digital environment for articles and information written and distributed online. That is, I thought it was based on how to publish online materials in different formats (i.e. a blog or an online academic article) with a focus on the publication process (how to get an article published online, how to format an article for online publication, etc.). So my assumptions were close, but still not quite what the course ended up focusing on (digital humanities as a subject, creating a DH project). I at least understood that it was going to involve some online writing!
I have done some work with blogs online in the past when I thought I wanted to be a web/graphic designer instead of an English graduate (I thought graphic design was more towards designing and photography, not coding for some reason), so I did come into this course with some background knowledge on how to use digital interfaces such as WordPress. That being said, I still had trouble creating the final project because I had no understanding of the resources available towards creating the type of project I wanted to create. I understood how to set up and run the (this!) blog and I think pretty easily comprehended how to use resources such as Mattermost, Hypothesis.is, and, although a little more difficult, the back end of Wikipedia; but when speaking with other participants of the class I got the idea that they had a lot of trouble using the digital resources provided, so I feel that some more guidance would be beneficial in terms of teaching students how to do specific things in these programs. Perhaps more guided tutorials or small graded assignments with walk-through information provided would help students get acclimated.
Although I thought this course would be based on publication and digital text production, I still enjoyed learning about DH and I hope that this class will be developed more in a longer semester in the future, because it is a topic that I think is gaining traction and should be available for students to experiment with! In terms of the course organization, I felt that it was paced well for the summer semester in that the readings and assignments were doable in the amount of time we were given; however, I felt let loose from the course a bit too much as I did not know what was expected of us going in with what was wanted for each singular assignment. The statement that we should have a minimum of two blog posts and two comments was not enough for me to quite grasp what our involvement was being graded on in terms of our hypothesis comments and the final assignment. Clarifying this information in Mattermost was helpful, and comfortable, but it would have been nice to have a more precise outline of these things at the beginning. I also felt that the assignment descriptions on the class blog could have been posted sooner to allow us some more time to think about the final project and such would have made it better for students to be prepared, especially with the final project.
The final project was a good way to develop and showcase what we have learned throughout the course. I especially like that we can interact with the work that all of our classmates have done, because as humanities majors, we tend to do our work privately, missing the opportunity to develop ideas from each other. Some criticism I have about the final project is that it was very loosely outlined. I realize that it can be difficult to outline a project such as this where each student has very different ideas on what they want to produce, but when going into my project, I did not know what would be counted for the project’s final assessment, especially since some students might be more skilled with handling digital resources (e.g. a Computer Science major’s project vs. a non-computer literate humanities student’s project) and can make their project look and act exactly as they would like it to, where other students might not be able to put their ideas in such a nice format, skewing the grading of the assignments. Skewing the grade might not (is probably not) the case in our class, but there is the possibility that it may happen if the assignment is not fleshed out more with specific expectations of what the end result should be that doesn’t take into account a pre-course trained ability with computers.
The readings for this course were interesting and helped to comprehend the realm of digital humanities, but I think some more readings towards helping the students to work in digital humanities would have been helpful as well. The use of hypothsis.is to annotate the readings was a great way to spur student interaction with the readings in an online course where students are normally left on their own: I felt that it was a good substitute for in-class participation. I found the videos presented by the embedded librarian to be the most helpful resource to me, and I think more videos from the instructor(s) would have been a helpful resource. Perhaps over time these videos can be archived for students to rely on in future classes as well.
In terms of the embedded librarian, they were a wonderful resource for students to have in the class, and I hope that they can be implemented in further classes (especially since ours was excited and knowledgeable about DH!). I do feel that there was a gap in understanding as to what she had to offer to students though, as it was not quite explained how the librarian could help us other than that she is there to be of help to us. It can be hard to go for help if one doesn’t understand what exactly the person can help with. Perhaps an outline of what students can go for help with would make the librarian more accessible to the class, even if it outlines some abilities and the student can get a feel for the types of things they may get help with from someone who is not the professor.
I really enjoyed the promotion of learning and experimenting that this course provided, and I never felt like I should know everything previous to coming into the class (which I have felt like in previous classes — even lower level ones): something which is very important for a class such as this where it is all about ideation and communication! I also thought that the fact that the assignments were matched to blog posts was intuitive and made the class feel more connected with one another (something that can be difficult to achieve in an online class). I liked that we could see and comment on each others’ assignments and experiences and thoughts towards the assignments. In my experience, there is not enough shared assignments and ideas that are not group work, and it was so nice to be able to share my work and read the work of my classmates! My class might not have been the most talkative in terms of assignment sharing, but I liked it nonetheless. Maybe this is due to students not understanding how to work with the systems of their blog? I also felt that the instructors were knowledgable, open, and understanding with students in the class, and I enjoyed and earned from the feedback I was provided in my blog posts.
Due to this course being shorter than a normal semester, the final assignment did feel like a rush to the end with little guidance, but in future (longer) classes, I think that the final should be given earlier and with more in-class (or online tutorial) direct guidance towards the skills of how to accomplish certain things in the digital environment. I think that with more time to give direct guidance the students would feel more capable of accomplishing a digital project for the first time. I do believe that this course would be both more fun and more comprehensive if it were taught in a face-to-face class environment, where students can show their computers to each other and to the instructor, but it is still successful in the online environment (and is probably more in line with the DH ideals in that way).
This course was interesting and I certainly learned a lot. I will be able to take my knowledge of DH and apply it to further non-digital humanities scholarship! I will especially take away the values taught in the class towards collaboration and learning, and was given good ideas towards how I might want to teach a class utilizing these values and assignments if that is the route I take with my degree.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you have enjoyed this little experiment in DH!