In the best tradition of Digital Humanities projects, the first digital laboratory for project tango was both a failure and a success. For me personally, this was the first time teaching a digital humanities introductory course and in that sense, I learned an enormous amount. There were many things that I think we did right and some others that could definitely be done better. Since I am writing this at the end of the calendar year, what best way to wrap things up than with a list of things to work on:
The unexpected DHer
Probably the biggest setback for us this year was working with students who did not expect to take a DH lab. In this regard, I think that we should push for a formalized approach to undergrad DH instruction. Recently, we started conversations with several interested parties in the English Department and the Library to consider what such a thing would look like. The goal is to have a marker in the course offering directory that would let students know what they are signing up for, also serving as an extra incentive for those who are technologically minded. The model of the physics laboratory seems the most appealing here, and we envision an extra-credit digital lab that would supplement the traditional English department course. Hopefully, we will begin talks with the deanery to see where we can go with this.
Not enough work?
At the end of the semester, I felt that there was too much dead time, that we could’ve pushed the envelope a bit more. When we originally designed the lab, we were cautious not to over-assign since we had never done anything like this before. Looking back, I feel that students were more than capable of working on more modules. As you can read below, we worked on four modules, two for each half of the semester: scanning, OCR/Proofing, mark-up and Juxta analysis. I feel there was room for at least two more modules. A digital lab with six modules, three for each half, I think could give the students a more in-depth look at the world of DH. If the labs are designed to be attached to a particular kind of literary course (and I can imagine a few different models), the six modules can be adapted to those particular needs. The pattern would still stay the same, one day of hack, one day of discussion, and so on and so forth.
Le mot juste
The choice of a primary source at the end of the semester worked out really nice. As sad as it is, I think the original goal of providing a model for undergraduate crowdsourcing fails to meet our pedagogical goals half way. The students learned very little of the text they scanned and OCRed from that exercise. On the other hand, as you can see from the student’s report, they did engage with the Dickinson poem they marked-up and compared using Juxta. Perhaps there are other ways of being able to crowdsource involving undergraduates, but I think the digital lab most be a separate affair. I was perhaps more optimistic at first than Chris on this, but I’m willing to concede at the end now that I see the potential of the digital lab itself.
Concept before practice
At THATCampVA, which followed at the end of the semester, we had a chance to debate some of the issues that came up during the class. In one of those debates, Julie Melonie talked briefly of her own models for DH instructions. One of her main points seemed worth exploring further, and given the opportunity to do this again, I would give it a shot. She suggested that DH instruction revolves around several key concepts that can apply to several distinct practical applications. In other words, there might be something to be said for abstracting what these concepts are and then adapt the applications to the particular needs of a given literary class. Since we were not able to get into detail, this I’m sure will be part of the discussions for 2011.
As I said above, I think our petit experiment was both a failure and a success. As of now, I don’t know if this is the last post on this particular venue. If it is, I thank you for following our conversation so far, and I hope to see you in some of our other outlets.