Optional Module – DH and Pedagogy

Even though this was a topic without a class, I got a lot from the readings and technical activities. I’m not a teacher and don’t have a lot of experience building lesson plans or learning outcomes, but I found the process of designing digital humanities activities to be interesting. The Craig and Kelley readings gave an overview of two projects which showed the importance of measuring learning outcomes. The Battershill and Ross book also had some very important points relating to the success of incorporating digital humanities into a class. They emphasize the importance of clearly and specifically stating course objectives, while also remaining flexible to class needs. [1] They also caution the reader think critically about the of use of digital humanities tools and what learners are going to get out of the project. I also appreciated that they stressed how certain kinds of failure can be expected and to be mindful of the “constellation of constraints”, which can include time, space, material resources, teams, messy data, etc. We’ve already talked about this in class, however, as we embark on our group projects, it’s a good reminder that we’re at the precipice of potentially facing frustration and constraints with making our own respective projects work.  

For the technical activities, I explored the Google maps, Timeline JS, and Zooniverse. All of these would encourage different kinds of learning engagement. Google maps could be a great starting point for discussing spatial data and creating a basic map visualization. Timeline JS is excellent for creating interactive linear timelines with embedded videos and sounds. Depending on the class being taught, it could be a great learning tool for explaining a specific topic, or a project where students decide how to tell a story through a timeline. I particularly enjoyed the Women in Computing sample. My best friend’s grandmother was in the Army in the 1950s and was in charge of operating an ENIAC style computer. It makes me wish I’d done an oral history with her.

Finally, I see myself losing a lot of time on the Zooniverse in the future. So many of the crowd-sourced projects make my heart happy. The idea of actively learning something that may have traditionally been unavailable to the general public is incredible. I particularly like the learning scaffolding associated with the Koster Seafloor Observatory, which has different levels of sea life identification and builds upon learners’ skills.[2]  The Radio Galaxy Zoo’s LOFAR project is another great example of teaching the general public to understand and read radio waves to detect supermassive black holes.[3] I was gushing about this to one of my friends who is really interested in space exploration and found out that they actively volunteer with this.  There were also fascinating crowd-sourced transcription projects, like a completed project that transcribed fan and hate mail directed at Orson Welles after War of the Worlds aired and “Star Notes” which asks volunteers to transcribe the digitized notebooks of several women astronomers working at Harvard.[4] I will likely contribute to this project and several others.

There are so many exciting ways to engage students through digital humanities, but as Battershill and Ross caution, it’s important to be mindful of the project goals and what you intend to achieve. Ground the project in course content and relate it to readings, class exercises, and/or lesson plans.  They also reiterate the need to be flexible and adjust to class needs, as necessary. The overarching point is to think carefully about goals, learning outcomes, and how it engages students with the larger questions guiding course content.

[1] Claire Battershill and Shawna Ross, Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom: A Practical Introduction for Teachers, Lecturers, and Students (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017)

[2] https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/victorav/the-koster-seafloor-observatory, Accessed October 9, 2021.

[3] https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/chrismrp/radio-galaxy-zoo-lofar Accessed, October 9, 2021.

[4] https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/projectphaedra/star-notes, Accessed October 9, 2021.

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