Digital Humanities Pedagogy and Praxis Roundtable

Amanda Heinrichs (ahenrichs@amherst.edu), Five College Digital Humanities and Blended Learning, Amherst College, United States of America and James Malazita (malazj@rpi.edu), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, United States of America and Jim McGrath (james_mcgrath@brown.edu), Brown University, United States of America and Miriam Peña Pimentel (miriampenapimentel@gmail.com), Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico and Lisa Rhody (lrhody@gc.cuny.edu), The Graduate Center, CUNY, United States of America and Paola Ricaurte Quijano (pricaurt@itesm.mx), Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico and Adriana Álvarez Sánchez (adralvsan@gmail.com), Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico and Brandon Walsh (bmw9t@virginia.edu), University of Virginia, United States of America and Ethan Watrall (watrall@msu.edu), Michigan State University, United States of America and Matthew Gold (mgold@gc.cuny.edu), The Graduate Center, CUNY, United States of America

Overview/Panel Abstract

First developed in 2013, the Praxis Network (praxis-network.org) brought attention to the ways in which digital humanities was being used to rethink the nature of student training, campus partnerships, and pedagogy. The institutions profiled in the project aimed to reorient student training towards new, collaborative practices that would prepare students for forward-looking scholarship and meaningful careers in the humanities. Five years later, at DH 2018, we propose to reflect on these efforts, to assess the current state of digital humanities training and its relationship to and effects on praxis-oriented pedagogy.

The participants assembled for this roundtable session represent both the past and the future of these efforts to join theory and practice, classroom and public. Part of the roundtable will consist of participants that were part of the original Praxis Network, longstanding presences on their local campuses whose architects will report on the institutional challenges and successes they have faced in the five years since their profiling in the Network. The University of Virginia’s Praxis Program Fellowship, for example, annually engages student cohorts in the development of collaborative research projects, but the program’s success exposes limitations offered by this model even given attempts to expand it to a wider community with regional partners. Similarly, a representative from Michigan State University will discuss attempts to expand the collaborative nature of student work while also turning the projects increasingly towards the public. And the CUNY Graduate Center will share recent efforts by their digital fellows program to develop weeklong institutes in digital methods both locally and nationally.

The remaining institutions on the roundtable all represent new, like-minded initiatives with unique constituencies and concerns. Many of our programs encourage public-facing scholarship, and a representative from Brown University’s Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage will argue for experiential learning in the digital humanities in a public humanities context. The Five College Digital Humanities and Blended Learning Initiative offers lessons in how to address resistance to incorporating praxis-oriented methodologies in the classroom. Alt.code, an initiative funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities at Renssealaer Polytechnic Institute, offers a model for joining the instruction of technical skills with critical perspectives on technology as linked parts of the same epistemic domain. Finally, a trio of scholars from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and Tecnológico de Monterrey will speak to the difficulties they have encountered developing pedagogical and institutional initiatives based in digital humanities in Mexico.

This roundtable thus hopes to draw participants new and old into a conversation about methodological training, which necessarily must become inflected differently in diverse local, institutional contexts. Collectively, we argue for a pedagogy that is public, collaborative, and that centers the student. In the spirit of the original Praxis Network, we hope that this collection of programs will offer models, lessons, and cautionary tales. Looking to the future, we hope that the roundtable will start new conversations and seed new ideas.

Abstract 1

Michigan State University’s Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative: Methods and Models for Building Capacity in Digital Cultural Heritage

Ethan Watrall, Michigan State University, United States of America

As with many other domains, cultural heritage has entered a new age in which digital methods and computational approaches are having an unavoidable impact on research, teaching, preservation. public engagement, and all aspects of scholarly communication. The problem is that cultural heritage scholars and professionals who have not traditionally characterized themselves as being particularly digitally inclined are increasingly being asked to engage with issues, methods, models, and practices that are uniquely digital in nature. Unfortunately, while the need for innovative digital praxis exists, we are only starting to establish methods and models to build vital digital capacity among undergraduates, graduate students, and existing professionals and scholars.

It is within this context that this talk will explore Michigan State University’s Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative (chi.anthropology.msu.edu). Founded in 2010 and administered by the Michigan State University Department of Anthropology in partnership MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities & Social Sciences and the Lab for the Education and Advancement in Digital Research (LEADR), the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative was originally conceived as having two primary goals. First, it was intended to serve as a platform for interdisciplinary scholarly collaboration and communication in the domain of digital cultural heritage practice at Michigan State University. Second, it was intended to equip students and professionals with the skills to apply digital methods and computational approaches to cultural heritage materials and questions. Despite these two initial goals, the initiative has shifted over the years to focus almost exclusively on the second, providing cultural heritage students and professionals with an opportunity and environment to learn and build digital skills. The two most tangible expression of this goal are the Cultural Heritage Informatics Graduate Fellowship Program and the Digital Heritage Fieldschool.

The intention of this talk is to reflect upon the challenges the initiative has faced since it was founded, exploring successes and failures, and look forward as we move towards a decade of building capacity and community in digital heritage at Michigan State University and beyond.

Abstract 2

HD pedagogy and praxis in Mexico: practices, platforms, institutions

Miriam Peña Pimentel, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico

Adriana Álvarez Sánchez, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico

Paola Ricaurte Quijano, Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico

In Mexico as elsewhere, universities differ in their human and financial resources, their physical, technological and administrative infrastructures, their educational models and their programs, among other variables. This multiplicity of conditions frame the dynamics and the spaces for knowledge production and student training. Within this heterogeneous institutional context, Digital Humanities are building an emerging field where different initiatives have been developed. Digital academic publications; DH events; activities in support of the open access movement (MOOC, data, digital libraries, Wikipedia); the design of new courses and DH projects; and the creation of networks and labs, are part of our strategy to consolidate the field. In our experience, implementing a DH curriculum in a higher education setting in Mexico will never be an easy task. We find multiple elements in the institutional structures that hinder the development of DH teaching and research. The training of professionals and the development of digital projects face a series of problems related to bad administrative decisions and lack of vision of DH as a field. There is not enough political will to include DH courses and methodologies within the curriculum of undergraduate programs or to create new DH graduate programs. There is resistance to support DH projects and platforms.  At the praxis level, we are trying to subvert the traditional pedagogical model and developing alternatives to learn in situated contexts and with different methodological and technological tools. Several questions arise from this experience: Is our DH pedagogy embodied and embedded in its sociocultural context? How is DH pedagogy in Mexico different from the DH pedagogy elsewhere? What does praxis mean in our local scenario? What do we bring to the reflection of DH pedagogy and praxis? This paper aims to reflect on these questions and describes two cases of DH pedagogy and praxis in two higher education institutions, UNAM and Tecnológico de Monterrey. We describe the purpose and methodologies of two DH labs: e-labora and Openlabs. We believe that these initiatives are trying to approach the question of how to teach and learn DH in our local setting. Labs have three obvious repercussions: a) promote the appropriation of new methodologies and the reformulation of the disciplines involved; b) allow participants to become involved with their environment by applying what they learn to the solution of everyday situations, and c) create favorable conditions for the development of multiple competencies.

Abstract 3

Alt.code: DH as Reconfiguration of the Boundaries of Computer Science Education

James Malazita, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, United States of America

“alt.code” is a National Endowment for the Humanities funded initiative that combines humanities, the arts, and computer science to teach critical digital literacy, the politics of technology, and technical skills to undergraduates. The initiative uses the digital humanities as a vehicle to articulate the intersections of technical knowledge and critical thought to both computer science and humanities undergraduate students in the same classroom. Though alt.code is directed by Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS) faculty, collaboration with Computer Science (CS) faculty allows humanists to teach critical theory directly within foundational CS courses, including “Introduction to Computer Science,” where CS students read critical humanities and social science texts while also learning the fundamentals of programming in Python. In turn, CS undergraduates are encouraged to use a portion of their required humanities credits to enroll in alt.code HASS courses, team-taught classes that encourage students to explore issues of social justice, epistemic bias, and politics of technology through prototyping and critical design exercises.

The alt.code initiative includes a sequence of four classes held across RPI’s School of Humanities and School of Science, a Digital Humanities guest speaker series, and the development of RPI’s “Tactical Humanities Lab” to support undergraduate, graduate, and faculty praxis-based research. The broader, long-term goals of the initiative include: the redevelopment of the Computer Science curriculum to teach critical theory across the majority of their technical courses; encouraging computer science undergraduates to frame critical perspectives on technology as a core part of their disciplinary expertise; and encouraging HASS undergraduates to frame digital and technical work as forms of political knowledge and action.

While other undergraduate programs have worked to bridge teaching about social “impacts” of technology with teaching technical skills, they often do so in a modularized fashion. That is, CS and STEM students often take a series of technical courses that teach the “fundamentals” of technical production (as in, abstract mathematics, programming, and decontextualized construction), which are supplemented with “politics of technology” classes or humanities electives. Ostensibly, students will combine their “technical” and “non-technical” coursework to practice socially just or conscientious technological development.

Science & Technology Studies (STS) and Engineering & Liberal Arts scholars, however, have noted that even hybridized curricular structures encourage the bifurcation of technical practice from social thought. STEM students begin defining the “epistemic object” of their studies as abstract, decontextualized technical production, with “social concerns” treated as external constraints that impact, but are never fully a part of, technical practice. Similarly, adjuncting technical practices into humanities classrooms as “methods” may encourage humanities and social science students to frame digital and technical tools as epistemically and politically neutral skills and practices, as opposed to social, political, and epistemological arguments in their own right.

Alt.code treats teaching critical theory and technical practice infrastructurally, encouraging students to synthesize these bifurcated domains by teaching them critical perspectives on technology and technical skill in the same classroom, framed as inseparable parts of the same epistemic domain. In the future, we hope to propagate that model across both the CS and humanities curriculum at RPI, and that the successes and failures of our program can serve as a curricular and pedagogical model for other institutions grappling with bridging humanistic and technical knowledge.

Abstract 4

“‘Yes, but…’: Praxis in a Theory-Focused Environment”

Amanda Heinrichs, Five College Digital Humanities and Blended Learning, Amherst College, United States of America

At the DH 2018: Pedagogy and Praxis session, I will report on a series of efforts to introduce faculty to pedagogical praxis at liberal arts institutions that have been historically resistant to praxis. Since 2014, The Five College Digital Humanities and Blended Learning Initiative has been supported by a combination of Mellon and Teagle Foundation grants, and until this current academic year digital humanities and blended learning were conceived of as separate entities with separate goals, audiences, and even directors. On the one hand: DH/research/theory. On the other: BL/teaching/praxis. Yet the founders of the DH/BL initiatives (and administrators across the Consortium) want more investment in DH praxis for undergraduate students; my job this year is to develop modules that will lay the groundwork for a 5 College DH undergraduate certificate. In addition to a single director, under whom the program will necessarily merge DH and BL, theory and praxis, 2017-2018 is the last year of external funding for the 5CollDH/BL program. Thus the program enters a resource-poor environment, even as praxis and theory are (at least in name) integrated.

One particular challenge in a consortium of four small liberal arts colleges and one large public land-grant university is conflicting attitudes towards praxis across the Five Colleges. Faculty at Hampshire and Amherst in particular have argued praxis should be left to career development programs: and most praxis-oriented classes are taught at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the only public institution of the five. Despite this, many faculty at all five colleges have taught themselves digital methods—or employed technical support staff—in order to develop robust DH projects.

In this way, faculty at prestigious undergraduate institutions like Amherst say “Yes, but…” to DH praxis. They are open to the idea that DH tools can address complex theoretical questions, but for various institutional, historical, and personal reasons do not often bring those tools to their classrooms. Therefore, if the goal of the roundtable is to discuss the state of praxis-oriented DH education, I would like to tweak the question a bit, and ask, "What happens when faculty say yes to DH praxis, but not for their undergraduates? What are the ethical stakes when professors at prestigious undergraduate institutions push praxis-oriented courses to the one public university in the consortium?”

In addition to drawing on principles of minimal computing, as well as scholars such as Ryan Cordell and Kalani Craig, I will report on a series of faculty seminars titled "A No-Tech Introduction to the Digital Humanities." Funded by the Center for Humanistic Inquiry at Amherst College, this series presented digital humanities tools in their intellectual context: network analysis as an intervention in Heideggerian phenomenology, for example. I pair this theoretical understanding of DH tools with my experience assisting with the practical course at UMass-Amherst where students learned the fundamentals of Python for text and network analysis. Ultimately, I argue that a focus on theory which aligns with minimal computing principles not only allows for praxis in a resource-poor environment as the Five College Digital Humanities Initiative moves away from external grant funding, but also provides a potential response to the ethical dilemma of elite small colleges outsourcing praxis-oriented courses to a public institution.

Abstract 5

Public Works: Lessons in Experiential Learning from Digital Public Humanities Classrooms

Jim McGrath, Brown University, United States of America

In recent years, institutional desires for digital humanities projects and initiatives that are invested in ideas of “public humanities” have materialized in initiatives like the National Endowment for the Humanities’ “Digital Projects for the Public” grants, the inclusion of chapters on public humanities by Sheila Brennan and Wendy Hsu in Debates in the Digital Humanities, and the creation of a graduate certificate in Digital Public Humanities at George Mason University (among other recent developments). While many digital humanities practitioners publish, debate and disseminate “in public” through the creation of open access scholarship, freely-available datasets, and content published on web sites and social media networks, these activities don’t always interpellate -- or invite collaborations and engagement with -- publics who do not traditionally reside within or in the orbit of academic institutions and discourse communities.  There are notable exceptions: Wendy Hsu's investments in "building at the rate of inclusion" on digital initiatives, Mitchell Whitelaw's call for "generous interfaces" that anticipate a wider range of users and needs, Lori Emerson's reminders of the limitations and restrictions of "invisible interfaces" that fail to acknowledge varied experiences with technology, Mia Ridge's careful considerations of crowdsourcing initiatives, the Documenting The Now initiative’s investment in ethical uses of social media activism. How can we effectively teach digital humanities practitioners to imagine, engage, and collaborate with various publics and their various interests, needs, and uses of digital tools, networks, and resources?

Drawing on the decade-long history of Brown University’s John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage, this panel presentation will discuss the ways digital tools, methodologies, and contexts have materialized in the modes of experiential learning valued by our Master’s Program and Certificate Program in Public Humanities: its postdoctoral fellow in Digital Public Humanities, its courses, independent studies, community collaborations, exhibitions, and working groups. Through a survey of its teaching, collaborations, and projects, the presentation will highlight generative ways to take the challenge and opportunity of public-facing (and public-serving) digital initiatives seriously: by anticipating economic limitations and audience needs that might impact a project's design and accessibility, through collaborating directly with publics rather than assuming a familiarity with their needs, and in favoring, when appropriate, iterative and ephemeral approaches to project implementation that embrace limitations of resources and temporal conditions. In addition to highlighting the benefits of a digital pedagogy informed by public humanities concerns, methodologies, and professional contexts, this presentation will also consider what lessons and ideas public humanities programs, courses, projects, publications, institutional structures, and methodologies interested in digital contexts could and should take from digital humanities practitioners.

Abstract 6

Praxis and Scale: On the Virtue of Small

Brandon Walsh, University of Virginia, United States of America

The University of Virginia's Praxis Program attempts to redefine graduate training by means of a targeted digital humanities intervention during the early years of graduate students' time in their programs. Each year, staff and faculty work alongside a student cohort to theorize a new digital intervention and train the students to carry it out alongside them in the spring. The result is that the students get an intensive introduction to a variety of digital humanities issues ranging from project management to technical training for their particular project. Drawing upon the pedagogical theories of Cathy Davidson, Paolo Freire, Bethany Nowviskie, and others, the program aims to equip graduate students with the skills and ethos necessary to thrive in collaborative, open work, the very things that can help prepare them for a variety of careers beyond the tenure track, and we do this by putting the students in charge as much as possible.

Now in its seventh year, the program has a proven track record of success based on exit interviews (both qualitative and quantitative), job placements, and future awards received by our alumni. This presentation will discuss one consistent criticism the program has received throughout its existence: scale. Each cohort consists of six students, and we consistently get requests to expand the program with more students or for new audiences, requests that are difficult to carry out. We have developed a rough stack of technical and administrative lessons that are consistent year-to-year, but, the program relies on flexible instructors that can respond to student interests as they develop over the course of the year. The program represents a significant investment of resources, and, given the emphasis on student-driven work, it can be difficult to predict exactly what staff will be the primary points of contact for the project.

We are limited in the number of cohorts that we can maintain at any one time, which may point to a fundamental limitation in student-centered programming: for better or worse, there is a limit to the scale at which these programs can be offered. At our institution, we have confronted this difficulty in scale by offering a diverse range of graduate programs with different structures, pedagogies, and audiences. We also engage alumni of the Praxis Program in other initiatives, folding their strengths into our pool of resources to allow recent students to quickly become able teachers. Since the Praxis Program's inception seven years ago, for example, we have piloted a program in digital humanities and library research methods for undergraduates that draws upon some of the lessons from the Praxis Program and engages Praxis alumni as instructional assistants.

While there are compelling examples of scaling up student-centered programs, most notably in the FutureEd Initiative, for our group, to adopt a program that centers project-based education is to make a strategic investment in the small scale as a meaningful point of intervention. Such investments pay off in big ways for the people involved, and this paper thus advocates for praxis-oriented pedagogical approaches as a means of centering the development of the people and relationships at the core of our work. Far from limiting our impact, I argue that cherishing the small means fully investing in the long-term, future effects that these students have as they become teachers in their own right.

Abstract 7

The Digital GC in Praxis: Degrees, Fellowships, and Community-driven Support

Matthew Gold, The Graduate Center, CUNY, United States of America

Lisa Rhody, The Graduate Center, CUNY, United States of America

At The Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY), Digital Initiatives continue to grow and change in response to institutional investments in new modes of graduate training. This presentation will offer an overview of our multi-pronged approach to graduate education through degree programs, fellowships, and community-driven support.

The Masters of Arts in Liberal Studies program features a 2-course introduction to digital humanities through theory and practice. Students participate in workshops, explore datasets, and complete the Fall semester by proposing a potential project to be executed in the Spring. In the Spring's problem-based curriculum, students refine their proposals, learn to develop project and data management plans, evaluate project proposals, select proposals, and form working groups to bring two to three proposed projects to fruition. At the end of the year, students present their prototypes at an annual campus-wide event. The success of the MALS program and the DH Praxis Seminar sequence has led to the creation of 2 new master’s degree programs to begin in Fall 2018.

The GC Digital Fellows Program operates as an in-house think-and-do tank for digital projects, connecting Fellows to digital initiatives throughout The Graduate Center. Digital Fellows work collaboratively to help build out “The Digital GC” — a vision of the Graduate Center that incorporates technology into its core research and teaching missions. The eleven fellows occupy a leadership role as mentors and advisors to peers who are interested in integrating digital methods into their scholarship. Fellows have developed extensive tutorials and workshops on topics ranging from establishing a digital scholarly identity to using Python and R to create data visualizations, and fellows serve as faculty during week-long digital institutes for faculty and students. Fellows develop project management and grant-writing skills while actively participating in on-going digital humanities projects, such as the CUNY Academic Commons and Manifold Scholarship. Fellows have also taken on projects that make use of public humanities data, such as the NEH Impact Index .

Graduate Center students can access methods training and support throughout their academic career. Each January during the Digital Research Institute --a week-long digital methods intensive --participants with no prior technical experience learn foundational skills such as working from the command, version control with git and GitHub, Python, and database management, then choose from electives like natural language processing, machine learning, HTML/CSS, and APIs. The week begins and ends with discussions about project planning and digital research ethics.

Provost’s Digital Innovation Grants provide doctoral students in good standing with funds to propose and prototype research projects. Students write proposals and budgets, execute their idea, and present ongoing work at the end-of-year, community showcase. Previous student projects have received external funding and awards, including the Lisa Lena Opas-Hänninen Prize for New and Young Scholars and the Paul Fortier Prize for New and Young Scholars.

Through examples of student projects, research, and professional development workshops, this presentation will offer an overview of the opportunities and challenges of scaling out graduate training in digital humanities methods to wider communities.


Appendix A

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