NITLE Shared Academics: Doing Digital History with Undergraduates


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As students increasingly draw upon digital content as a primary source of information, how might they be taught to be both discriminating consumers as well as producers of online information? Doing history rather than teaching history is not a new approach, but the “doing” part of researching, writing, and publishing now includes drawing upon and creating digitized resources. In this NITLE Shared Academics seminar, NITLE subject-area specialist Michelle Moravec, Aaron Cowan, assistant professor of history at Slippery Rock University, and Kathryn Tomasek, associate professor of history at Wheaton College, provided concrete examples from their own work, and examined the opportunities and challenges of integrating digital humanities into the undergraduate curriculum. These are Dr. Michelle Moravec's slides.

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  • I proposed this session to NITLE after doing a similar version at the AHA in Jan 2014. I wanted to focus on how to use off the shelf tools to get at digital pedagogy goals Prior to this I’d had students engage in different kinds of digital work in various classes, making timelines, maps, text visualizations, and a very small flatpaged website, as well as creating output for Wikipedia and Pinterest. This was our first “digital humanities course” and the first time I had to completely translate learning objectives into a digital project. Along with my co-teacher we conceived of a website project based on archival materials as an alternative for meeting the learning objectives of a research paper. Which is to say students had to synthesize primary and secondary materials into a written argument that was annotated, but they also had to figure out how to present that material to an audience digitally.
  • I love CHNM and I’m glad they exist, but want to encourage others who don’t have 45 people (or a room that big) to do #digitalhistory
  • A secondary goal of my presentation is to show how to do a digital history project with a very small group of people The course was a collaboration b/n two faculty who got on well taught as an honors seminar. We ended up with three art students and 2 humanities. Only two of the students had computer graphic experience. We held class once a week in a 3 hour block in a mac lab. We worked with existing platforms as much as possible, a closed facebook group to communicate and a dropbox to share files and images. That meant the main technology to be learned was only the Wordpress site, although three of the students decided they wanted to learn flash to create interactive rollovers.
  • I organized this presentation around four lessons I learned in the course of during this project. The first was to give students concrete and specific parameters within which to learn. In other words we defined (loosely) both the content and form. They had to do something with the campus Chapel in wordpress. I knew there were enough materials in the archives for the students to use. The Chapel as a topic would allow us to look at art history, architecture, women in religion, and catholic women’s education which was broad enough for students to all “grab” on to something. Aesthetically we knew the Chapel would make for a good visual project, and my colleague was very experienced in wordpress which is a very popular robust platform.
  • Although we intended to turn control over to the students, we were forced to do this almost immediately by the harsh winter we experienced! Within the first month we had two snow days, and in a class that meets weekly, that made a huge difference. Thankfully from the first day we had put the students into wordpress and visited the chapel. We were also able to brainstorm about the potential audience and kind of user experience we wanted to offer before we sent the students off on their own.  This slide shows a snow day report created by a student who got really interested in the architecture of the Chapel. My colleague and I had initially envisioned a project about the stained glass windows, all of which depict female figures.
  • We started going to the chapel the first day and as we looking closely we all began to notice things we’d never seen including this peacock. That became one of our first “mysteries” When we got into the archives we found the pamphlet distributed at the dedication of the chapel that had a complete listing of all the symbolic elements in the chapel. Two students decided to make these their focus. However they couldn't’t find all the icons, which led them to talk to people on campus and then we realized after Vatican two the chapel had been remodeled resulting the loss of some which sent us BACK into the archives None of this was nevisioned by my colleague or me and is an excellent example of how the students followed their own interests
  • Students had their own very specific ideas about what they wanted to do. Architecture and symbolism of the icons became equally big part of the project  Student had a sense of commitment to the project because everyone got to work on what they wanted to work on quickly they developed an esprit de corps everyone cheered when they successfully completed the server install  Students began to step up in specific ways to take ownership one began looking for widgets for the word press site another student managed the collaborative Google doc with the project proposal Another took it upon herself to reformat all the saint pages When my coteacher got sick before she had shown the students how to complete the flash rollovers one of the students encourage everyone to persevere.    
  • We had scaffold pretty heavily for the windows, including lecture by the college president who is an art historian. Although we envisioned more elaborate work on the windows the work they completed will not be wasted and we don’t view the changed focus as a failure. The work they started will provide the foundation for subsequent classes
  • What we ended up with was three narrative strands done by the students, architecture, stained glass, iconography, and history done by meStudents Worked with archival sources to create contentConceptualized best way to deliver contentEvaluated historical arguments in existing secondary sourcesProduced 27 page website Wrote approxmately 2500 words each Gained team work experienceManaged work flow & division of laborAs you can see from the quotes here they enoyed
  • NITLE Shared Academics: Doing Digital History with Undergraduates

    1. 1. Four Lessons Learned Doing Digital History w/ Undergrads #powerofsmall @professmoravec project for today class syllabus co teacher Maggie Hobson-Baker students Niki Brogen, Michele Ithan, Molly Rowe, Emily Siegel, Gabriela Stamler Rosemont College Archives, Melanie McBride, Delories Richardi
    2. 2. CHNM is FABULOUS but what if you don’t have 45 people to do #digitalhistory with?
    3. 3. what happened when a historian and an artist formed a 2-person digital humanities team ... and left everything about the class project up to the 5 students … and had 3 of the 15 class sessions canceled due to snow?
    4. 4. #1 Have concrete & specific parameters • “Course Outline: a significant aspect of this class is the collaborative design of our project. Therefore we will finalize aspects of this syllabus in course together.” • project had to be about the campus chapel and involve building a Wordpress site • Profs had the idea of focusing on the stained glass windows of the Chapel, which are all female figures.
    5. 5. #2 Turn over control as soon as possible • We brainstormed potential audience & the type of user experience • sent the students off to the chapel on their own to take more images and propose project
    6. 6. What’s up with the peacock?
    7. 7. #3 Let the project evolve or watch it die
    8. 8. #4 Do not fear the failure The professors scaffolded early assignments around windows • students took pictures in chapel • each student researched hagiography and art historical images of 1 saint & made page • each student researched hagiography and art historical images of a second saint& made page • students made Pinterest boards of images of a particular saint focusing on iconography or contemporary images • Midterm: Compare and contrast the portrayal of the chosen Saint in Art History (Google Art). Work with 3-5 different images from different time periods and geographical locations. Final Page
    9. 9. • All students did some minor coding and digital photo manipulation One student dove deep into Wordpress widgets • Three students did some fairly intensive work in Photoshop with Adobe Flash. • Everything was already digitized so we didn’t work with OCR
    10. 10. “I think hands on work, especially in archives, for history majors, is the best way to learn“ “This project provided hands on experience both intellectually and creatively. I think everyone in the class preferred this project to writing papers” “I like this better than a research paper because we've all created and worked with materials that are now accessible for public audiences” “I think the small size of the class was REALLY important”