Benefits and Challenges

The benefits of Digital Humanities are reflective of the goals that users have developed when engaging with these tools. In the literature, frequently cited benefits of DH teaching include promoting open access and encouraging resource sharing, developing digital literacy and critical thinking skills, encouraging a focus on the process of working through a problem through the encouragement of play and experimentation, allowing students to engage with current issues, and enhancing collaboration. Some of these benefits overlap with commonly described goals for using Digital Humanities, demonstrating that individuals perceive these goals to be met in practice. At McMaster, the participants also focused on two main types of benefits for students specifically: accessibility and transferable skills.

The participants mention two key types of accessibility, namely ability-based accessibility and financial accessibility. All of the interviewed participants acknowledge the cost barrier that many students face in higher education, such as the cost of hard copy textbooks or software that may be required to complete an assignment. However, many of the tools they draw on in teaching with the Digital Humanities can be found for free or can serve as less costly alternatives to printed material being used in courses, thus minimizing cost-barriers. In David Ogborn’s example of open source software, he also speaks to adaptability, and how these programs may be adapted to fit a student’s particular needs. As such, the software becomes usable for a diverse group of people.

From here, some of the participants went on to discuss how the skills gained by using Digital Humanities approaches are often transferable to other contexts. Victor Kuperman talks about how the ability to use Digital Humanities tools and techniques is itself a skill that is often looked for in today’s workforce and gives students another way to market themselves after graduating. Speaking to his experience with the Cybernetic Orchestra, Ogborn explains that computational tools can apply to a variety of circumstances even beyond the workforce because the broad skills students gain from interacting with these tools are are helpful in a range of contexts.

The focus on these two benefits of the Digital Humanities is comparatively unique to this group of participants, and they are benefits that are not explored thoroughly in previous scholarship. When elaborating on their answers, participants focused on their responses as they applied to students specifically. This may account for the unique answers given, as previous scholarship is not typically exclusively student-focused. Moreover, the participants were asked specifically about how they believed the Digital Humanities may be beneficial or challenging in terms of accessibility (in addition to being asked about general benefits and challenges), which likely influenced some of their answers.

Though not shown in the video, participants also mentioned some challenges of using Digital Humanities. Many mentioned the intimidation that some students in Arts-based programs might feel at the prospect of working with technology, as this is often seen as a “Scientific” practice rather than a Humanistic one. Additionally, the efficacy of various technologies needs to be assessed in order to ensure that students will be using high quality software that is user-friendly and relevant to their studies. Some participants also referred briefly to concerns related to equity and inclusion, raising important preliminary questions about whether and how DH pedagogies could create barriers for differing groups of learners. Finally, some participants acknowledged that while they may feel comfortable with the Digital Humanities, other professors might also feel an intimidation similar to that faced by students, as they must learn to use new software and approaches in order to teach these to the class. These challenges speak to the difficulties in implementing digital tools in the classroom, in addition to the negative effect they may have on students.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email