A year of experiments in Digital Humanities

Academic Year 2019-2020 was an auspicious year to begin experimenting in Digital Humanities in the classroom. I began in an effort to keep up to date with technologies that I could use as a supplement. I ended the year clinging to DH technologies that suddenly became essential as the Covid pandemic closed campuses across the country. When I began the year, I wanted to learn to use DH technologies for mapping (Recogito), annotating (Perusall), and audio/video recording (Techsmith Relay, now known as Techsmith Knowmia). 

I assumed that the big project would be use of mapping (Recogito) in my Survey of American Literature course, where students were reading Moby Dick (among other things). I had hoped to show the global interest of the book and therefor the international reach and foundations of American literature. Ironically, of all the things I tried, this was the one that I could not get to work at all and so I never really used it at all.  However, I did use Perusall, Techsmith, and other applications I had not planned on (blogging and and discussion forums, for instance). And these turned out to be the most effective. 

I learned the lesson that everyone tried to teach us as we began: do less and do it better rather than do more and do it worse. So it’s all for the best that I did not manage to get the mapping done. I used Perusall in all my courses and learned quickly that selected use of Perusall was much more effective than asking students to routinely use the platform. In fact, the single most effective use was using Perusall with readings of graphic novels, as it forced students to comment on images as well as text. The most successful use was with excerpts students read from R. Crumb’s Book of Genesis. After reading the comic strip, they also “read” canonical artistic renderings of the Genesis story they looked for on ArtStor, a visual arts database they have access to.

Once the pandemic closed the college in March, the most useful tool ended up being one I had not trained on at all: Techsmith which allowed for “quizzing” students’ reading. Actually, these “quizzes” served most usefully as “attendance.” In Spring 2020, “taking attendance” expanded—no longer meaning students were “in class” at class time, but that they did their work before the next class. As some students could not access our video classes at the assigned time, knowing they were checking in between class meetings was not just a way to see who was doing the work, but if anyone was in need of encouragement or other help. 


I was able to reach out to more than one student who stopped doing the work due to family or health issues. And that allowed me to connect them to services that could offer at least a little help. Also, Techsmith allows the user to get comfortable making videos and recording audio. After the semester ended, my colleagues and I made a “wevideo” movie (another DH application) to say goodbye to graduates whom we could not see off at commencement. Techsmith, more than any other tool, emerged as a useful, multi-application tool. Whether teaching at a distance or face to face, Techsmith seems a very useful and versatile way to quiz and to instruct. Below are three slides from a Techsmith from my Graphic Novel course, where students were reading Watchmen:

An unexpected use of DH methods happened because of the pandemic, rather than in spite of it. In my Graphic Novel course, students read Marjane Sartrapi’s Chicken with Plums, about an Iranian tar player. As it happens, a friend plays traditional Iranian drums in Portland, OR. I invited him and his musical partner to perform for the students via webex video links. The guests loaded music to YouTube and also performed live for the class (YouTube helped, as webex was not ideal for them to play “together” from two different homes in Portland). 

Had we not been forced into the situation, I do not know if I would have invited him via video. Now, I have to reconsider what it means to have a “guest” come to class. Below is a screenshot of the class listening to the music:

Recogito is not the only project that did not work out for me. I had hoped to have students in my Graphic Novel course record their group oral presentations as audio podcasts, to be posted on our learning management system page (Moodle). With the Covid shutdown, I could not do that in the Graphic Novel course. 

I did have students submit PowerPoint presentations instead of a paper for one assignment on visual composition; that worked well. Students in my Humanities class took it on themselves to record their group presentations via Techsmith, using audio, video, still images and text. This was a real success to be replicated. Other students responded via forums to the presentations, offering a virtual roundtable on their presentations. 

I look forward to revisiting Techsmith and Peruall, to operationalizing a podcast presentation, and adding VidoAnt annotation tools to my courses in the fall. Thank you for the support!

Call for Papers – Digital Humanities Pedagogy and Training

A Conference of the ADHO Special Interest Group for Digital Humanities Pedagogy and Training 
Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) 2020
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada 
5-6 June 2020 
Proposals, due 14 February 2020, via [https://forms.gle/3598xdXVQfSaJh1T7]

Please join us for the second conference of the Alliance for Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO) Special Interest Group for Digital Humanities Pedagogy and Training, to take place at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI, https://dhsi.org) in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada on 5-6 June 2020.

Proposals are welcome on any topic informing or treating Digital Humanities Pedagogy and Training, including but not limited to: individual experiences with DH pedagogy, teaching and training; the student experience in DH courses and programs; ways in which universities, colleges, and other educational institutions are extending DH in the classroom; implementing DH pedagogical frameworks locally and working across institutions and training institutes to develop and collaborate on materials that can inform ways in which DH offerings and programs are formalized; how ‘traditional’ subjects in(con)form DH and are in(re/trans)formed by DH; inter- and trans-disciplinarity in DH curriculum; D or H cross(multi)disciplinarity by means of DH; assessment techniques in DH curriculum (what types of assessment should occur in digital humanities courses? and how might these assessment practices challenge existing university or community-based outcomes?); the multiple roles graduate student instructors inhabit in DH curricula (student, instructor, teaching assistant); DH training in an international context, how we articulate/coordinate/collaborate across international boundaries, and what we can learn from our differences; developing a multilingual lexicon for teaching DH; and discussion of pedagogical materials (syllabi, tutorials, exercises, learning outcomes, assessment and rubrics).

The event will open with a plenary talk and shared DHSI Institute Lecture by Elisabeth Burr (U Leipzig), director of the European Summer University in Digital Humanities. The event is open to all, and free to those registered for DHSI 2020.

Paper, panel, and session proposals may be submitted via [https://forms.gle/3598xdXVQfSaJh1T7], before 14 February 2020; proposals should include the name, affiliation, and email address of the proposed presenter(s), as well as title and abstract of one to two paragraphs (250 words maximum).

7th Annual Digital Pedagogy Institute Conference

The 7th Annual Digital Pedagogy Institute (DPI) Conference will be held August 5th – 6th, 2020 at the University of Toronto Scarborough, Toronto, ON.

Attended by faculty, researchers, graduate students, educational developers, librarians, and many other university personnel, this two-day conference includes keynote addresses, presentations, workshops, and digital tool training that focus on the innovative use of digital technologies to enhance and transform undergraduate and graduate teaching. Keep your eye out for the call for proposals early 2020.

What is Digital Pedagogy and how does it relate to you?

Read Digital Pedagogy – A Guide for Librarians, Faculty, and Students.

The DPI Conference explores:

· digital pedagogy best practices in STEM, the Humanities or Social Sciences;

· digital pedagogy collaborations between faculty, educational developers, librarians, and/or graduate/undergraduate students;

· digital pedagogy collaborations with organizations outside the academy;

· the state of digital pedagogy education in higher education;

· digital pedagogy case studies, including course and assignment innovations;

· innovative new uses for traditional digital pedagogy tools

The Digital Pedagogy Institute is a partnership between Brock University, University of Guelph, University of Toronto Scarborough Library, University of Waterloo, and Ryerson University.

What you can do now!

1. Learn more at the DPI conference website: https://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/conferences/digital-pedagogy-institute/

2. Follow us on Twitter: @DPIConference

Teaching Circle on Digital Humanities

Ramapo’s Faculty Resource Network is offering a teaching circle this semeser

Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom

One of the richest and fastest-growing areas for teaching, research, and scholarship in the humanities is in what has become known as the Digital Humanities.  The Faculty Resource Center (with the School of Humanities and Global Studies) would like to invite you to join a Teaching Circle devoted to Ramapo’s Digital Humanities Initiative.  Are you interested in incorporating digital tools, digital methods, or technology into your humanities courses?  Participants in this teaching circle will read and discuss the following book: “Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom: A Practical Introduction for Teachers, Lecturers, and Students” by Battershill and Ross (books provided by the FRC). Participants in this Teaching Circle will discuss methods of integrating digital technologies, experiential learning, and visual communication into humanities courses. Members serve as informal “discussion leaders” each week but the conversation is typically guided by the group at large.  

If you would like to join this teaching circle this semester, please click on the link below to register and reserve your book copy by September 23rd   https://www.ramapo.edu/frc/teaching-circles/.  If you do not register by this date, you may not be guaranteed a copy of the book/materials during the first few weeks of the teaching circle.