Uses and Goals

The body of scholarly literature focusing on Digital Humanities pedagogy is comparatively small; however, there are still a number of projects and studies that focus on using Digital Humanities in teaching and learning. One of the few teaching projects mentioned by name is the Beard-Stair project, a student driven initiative conducted at San José State University (Harris 2012). The project seeks to create digital editions of books by Aubrey Beardsley and Alastair that were discovered at the university library. This section seeks to contribute to a growing body of examples like the Beard-Stair project, which are focused on pedagogy specifically. Our interview questions prompted participants to consider the roles of Digital Humanities tools in their teaching practices, and how Digital Humanities tools can be used to help participants achieve specific pedagogical objectives. The examples given by professors at McMaster in the following video demonstrate a range of ways in which faculty deploy digital humanities approaches within a variety of teaching and learning contexts.

Additionally, just as the uses of the Digital Humanities are open and varied, so too are the goals that an educator may have in drawing on DH in their teaching. The goals mentioned in the literature fall into categories such as promoting collaboration, giving users the opportunity for play and experimentation, encouraging interdisciplinary inquiry, and developing critical thinking and digital and visual literacy skills (Parry 2014; Mahoney 2012). For students specifically, Digital Humanities can be used as an avenue for experimentation, so that students may learn how to apply their knowledge in different settings (Ramsay 2012). When asked about the perceived goals and outcomes of using the Digital Humanities, participants answered as follows:

In the first half of the video, the four participants describe using Digital Humanities tools in very different contexts. Victor Kuperman and Christina Baade both speak to the ways in which they integrate Digital Humanities into the classroom. Although they teach in different departments and at different course levels (Baade discusses her upper level undergraduate and graduate classes whereas Kuperman describes lower year linguistics courses), both of them find ways of integrating Digital Humanities tools into their courses. In contrast, Wendy d’Angelo notes using Digital Humanities tools in her own past research as a PhD candidate. This project, she explains, was her first exposure to the Digital Humanities, and she later mentions how she has incorporated DH into some of her undergraduate classes now. In his interview, David Ogborn discusses his involvement with the Cybernetic Orchestra at McMaster University. As he explains, the group was formed with the goal of making music through computer code, and eventually evolved to use a specific form of composition and performance called live coding. As such, each of the participants are implementing Digital Humanities tools and techniques into a wide variety of teaching and learning activities.

In the second half of the video, the variety of uses participants describe calling on in such different contexts illustrates the flexibility and pedagogical potential of the Digital Humanities. Since the Digital Humanities are not a separate academic discipline, they can be applied to or developed within a multitude of situations, and in many instances may enhance the activities undertaken. As seen in d’Angelo’s remarks, using Digital Humanities tools in her thesis research expanded her understanding of the data she had collected, allowing her to investigate new lines of inquiry she had not considered initially. Similarly, Ogborn’s comment demonstrates how using computational tools might allow for experimentation and exploration, as the Cybernetic Orchestra engages with a different method of making music as opposed to traditional instruments. These comments resonate with the ideas discussed in the literature, such as Sample (2012) and Ramsay’s (2010) discussion of play and discovery, and underline that the Digital Humanities may be used to achieve different pedagogical goals.

Baade and d’Angelo both focus on using the Digital Humanities as a vehicle for teaching critical thinking – a skill that is mentioned often in the literature. Baade elaborates further, picking up on the idea of the importance of critical thinking, especially in terms of digital literacy. Within her understanding of digital literacy, she emphasizes the importance of thinking through the political implications of technology. Her stress on the importance of such critical thinking in a digital world speaks to her awareness of the prevalence of digital technology that she mentions when defining Digital Humanities. As such, she links the goals of teaching critical thinking and teaching digital literacy, showing these goals to be a tightly interconnected in the contemporary moment. d’Angelo’s comment again emphasizes the argument that Digital Humanities are not a separate discipline, but an approach that can be used across disciplines, as well as a means of reaching various Humanities goals. This idea echoes what Ogborn then says about the diverse population of students he has in the Cybernetic Orchestra. Despite coming from different academic backgrounds, the members of the orchestra are able to work with computational tools in order to explore a new subject together and achieve similar goals of learning to work with computational tools by making interesting music. Even though the participants spoke about varied uses of the Digital Humanities, later in the interviews, they mentioned similar goals in implementing them.

Survey participants were also given an opportunity to explain how they use the Digital Humanities in their own teaching. Many participants stressed the importance of the visual possibilities provided by digital tools, explaining that the tools can be useful in helping them to illustrate large data sets or complex concepts to their students. Digital Humanities were also cited as useful for helping students to collect, curate, and analyse large data sets “and interpret [these] with the tools of several disciplines (philology, history, archaeology, and art history)”. One individual explained that while they believe Digital Humanities are important, they do not see DH as applicable to their own particular field of study, Philosophy. Nevertheless, this participant still indicated that this technology could still be useful in other disciplines.

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