Teaching Digital Humanities/History is a topic that i have thought a lot about. On a somewhat basic or novice level, all DHers have to “teach” others about DH by default. I have talked somewhat extensively to my wife about the work that I am doing. I have explained various projects and methods to my parents and siblings. While these examples may seem trivial, in combination with my career goal of being a professor at a research university, Digital Pedagogy has weighed heavily on my mind. And from this weeks readings, I want to touch on two themes or concepts I think should be highlighted
Undergraduate vs. Graduate: How different can it be?
Evidently, I began this weeks readings with an assumption (you know what they say about assumptions…). I read through the first couple articles having to pause when the authors discussed undergraduate courses. I was subconsciously looking for the graduate courses or graduate digital pedagogy. I had come to the readings assuming that the focus would be on graduate students and how to teach them DH. This was both startling and intriguing. Startling because I was not aware that I had this preconceive paradigm in approaching this subject and intriguing as I wondered both why I did and then how the digital pedagogy would or should change according to schooling level. My underlying assumption can be linked to the fact that almost the entirety of my learning and engagement with DH has come from my graduate school experience. As such, I assumed that the Digital Pedagogy readings would focus on graduate courses…I was wrong.
The teaching of DH to undergraduates constituted the bulk of the readings. Ryan Cordell’s piece “How Not to Teach Digital Humanities” really spoke to the issues and possible remedies to this academic conundrum. In discussing the type of rhetoric undergraduates should be involved in within DH, Cordell quotes Adeline Koh in stating “to introduce DH discussions on the level that we’re [graduate students and academics] used to may alienate undergraduates, who are only starting to learn the conventions of disciplines that a lot of DH debates are critiquing at meta-levels. ” Koh and Cordell highlight the need to show academic restraint with undergraduates. Cordell goes on to suggest the need to both reorient our approach (teaching Texts, Maps, and Networks as opposed to Doing Digital Humanities) and start small when teaching DH to undergraduates. These are great suggestions and I would encourage anyone who is teaching DH, even tangentially, to read Ryan’s post. However, I was reminded of a discussion we [my minor field class] had on the topic of “what is Digital Humanities/History?” If undergraduate students are introduced to DH on a small, focused scale, does this foster an understanding of DH as strictly or mainly a methodology and not a field? If it does, is that a problem? Not having taught DH in an academic settings, I am ill equipped to answer these questions but the questions remain none the less.
At any rate, the teaching of Digital Humanities/History to undergraduates is paramount with the direction the field of History is taking, as discussed by T. Mills Kelly in his book Teaching History in the Digital Age. This brings me to my second theme or concept:
Technical Teaching in a Humanities World
Not to come across as tooting my own horn, my academic history is somewhat unique in the History PhD program. Not only do I have an undergraduate degree in Geography, instead of History, but my emphasis in GIS meant that a large portion of my bachelor’s degree is in technical training. Having this background has been greatly beneficial as I transition to Digital History, both in the logistics of having experience working with spatial data, programming languages, and web design but also in the pedagogical sense of having gone through the process of being taught and learning technically based processes and projects.
I bring this up to make a connection to Jody Rosen and Maura Smale’s article on Hybrid Pedagogy, “Open Digital Pedagogy = Critical Pedagogy.” Rosen and Smale argue that open source software helps to “flatten” the academic hierarchy existing in the classroom. As I was reading this, I reflected on my GIS training and how it was about 95% in ESRI products, which is not open source (not even close). I have made the comment previously that I felt that my GIS education was more ESRI training than GIS in general. After graduating with my degree, I no longer had access to ESRI products thus making a large chunk of my degree obsolete as well as well as inhibiting me from working on GIS projects. I feel that Rosen and Smale’s argument also articulates, while tangentially, that open source software not only allows students to work with DH software for free but they then can continue to use that software outside of the class, department, or even the university. Open source software in technical education frees the student from “the banking concept of education” and fosters continued use of digital methods. Isn’t this the end goal of education – to foster continued engagement with the course concepts and themes?