Designing DH Projects for Faculty

Ron: Art historian, WIT
Interdisciplinary group
Trying to launch DH initiative, had faculty workshops w/ NITLE
Launched intro to DH course last semester
Working towards a program
Bringing humanities to technology/engineering students through DH
Faculty are interested, but timid about getting started
Looking for ways to introduce DH project as part of history, etc. course
Having difficulty finding projects that faculty can introduce to get their feet wet

Chris: Projects for faculty to design to give to students?

Ron: For students; some interested in enhancing own research, but teaching institution

Q: Something w/ ownership, can craft specifically for course?

Ron: Both– some would want to partner w/ faculty at other institutions and existing projects
One project they can control (esp. older faculty)– interested in developing a timeline

Q: What should students get out of it?

Ron: Why is provost/administration– interdisciplinary, project-based learning
Students are familiar with lab/studio culture, engineering/design labs, working together, building/making things
Humanities core courses: sit in a room w/ lecture, write papers
Bringing ethos of building/doing/making in group and individual projects
Learn material less through rote consumption/reproduction, build something
Know how to do lecture/discussion group, research papers, etc.
How to guide students along
“Bite-sized” project-type work to start with
Feel confident with digital humanities, ready to try a “bigger bite”

Vika: Faculty looking for student engagement w/ primary sources via apprenticeship?
Work in a library– how to provide support to faculty interested in getting started with DH
Success talking one-on-one (not sustainable, 45k faculty) — here’s things other people have done
Pointing to example projects; here’s how other people have helped students engage w/ primary sources –> this leads to ideas
First figure out what you want to do with the material, then figure out how to do it
“How” shouldn’t drive the direction

Asking students what kinds of projects/skills they’re interested in?
Students can lead faculty into experimentation with this
Chair of department, learn mostly from students, postdocs, etc.
“Tell me what tools are available, what questions can be answered, etc.”
Talking to teaching assistants/junior faculty, can do the same w/ undergrads

Ron: Surprised at lack of familiarity w/ tools
Spent first couple weeks of class giving links to numerous tools that do different things
Timeline, mind map, etc. — start playing with these, start critiquing them, working out what they do or don’t do, how they might be useful, etc.
Start culling from the list what seems like it might work for humanities content

Similar position to faculty– latched onto “problem” of problem-based learning
Trying to start with a problem: scholars haven’t been able to answer X, representative challenge
Not having skills to teach coding, but can bring sense of what constitutes an interesting problem in this discipline
Students use skills to solve those problems

Ron: Faculty are diverse, in traditional/non-traditional approaches to classroom
Divide between experimentally inclined and more traditional
How do you not create small group of faculty who are DH curious/friendly and others

Divide along tenure lines?

Not traditional tenure, but more or less
Younger faculty tend to be more experimental
As art historian, visual culture, material culture, part of humanities too
Non-text-based participants
Many composition, literature are the most resistant

Q: Emeritus faculty are sometimes most receptive
Younger faculty can be more conservative, tenure concerns
Get some “plants” in departments, and keeping up with the joneses follows

Graduate student– learning how to teach in general, and wanting to experiment
Pattern for understanding how to traditionally approach problems (you have to get that down to be a competent teacher)
Enabling students to undertake projects in their own discipline (bring your own project)
Teaching is new, and letting students talk back– challenging
The more seeds you get at an early phase, more younger academics will be more comfortable using those tools
You have to gain a lot to get to the point of having nothing to lose

Problem isn’t getting younger faculty interested, problem is higher threshold for engagement for permanent faculty.
What’s the carrot– relief from committee work, additional TA, $1,000 grant, etc?
How to make them feel supported for admin infrastructure

Problem is lack of exposure/knowledge of DH
More widespread professional development/exposure might reduce anxiety about “how do I teach DH/through DH”
Faculty anxiety will be there if they’re not sure what they’re doing

Ron: Looking for baby steps
Have to learn how to approach long-term work differently
Get feedback from students about what they’re looking for, as a way to persuade faculty

1) Resources out there
2) Tools out there
Seeing there’s digital versions of materials, and how to work with those materials– excited about supplementing existing work in classroom
Having other faculty show what’s possible

4-5 faculty who’ve done something, show fellow faculty, extremely effective

Encouraged by administration to be experimental
Younger/newer people will be encouraged to do more for teaching/research portfolio in non-traditional direction– not problematic for tenure
Last year, whole-day workshop on tools– faculty were there (mandatory) but overwhelmed

Realization that students had fear of technology, had been faking it
Were being left behind; couldn’t do much besides Facebook/email
2 wks to get students using WordPress
Digital work as a way of not leaving first-generation students behind
Anonymous survey about how many people could bring laptops to class; less than 1/3 could (@ affluent school in general)

Ron: Students mostly first-generation college
All students are issued a laptop– how do you get them to put it away so we can have a conversation?
Did an anonymous poll about familiarity with tech, little beyond Facebook
Had to spend first few sessions giving links to tools

Vika: Creating small RAships, pair up students/professors in groups of 2-3 (1-2 students per prof)
Exploring doing DH in smaller than classroom setting, to scale up from there
Students do legwork, teach professor about tools to use
Outside classroom setting where they feel responsible

Work w/ faculty in other departments (e.g. CS)
Saw Ryan’s job talk, and saw presentation of what can come from those tools, now working with him to see how the machine functions
Start off w/ polished end result, which is inspiring, then look behind the scenes

Starting small– in writing classes, just beginning with discussion about what blogs are
Just a small portion of the class, not reworking the whole class as a DH course

Show faculty they can do something quickly/easily
One small step towards something that could be assessed through other means

List of tools you use

Husband is programmer, he finds it immersive
Steep learning curve personally to learn anything new with technology
Suspicious of anything that’s potentially a time suck
Technology is a time suck, to learn how to use it
Can spend 100 hours just to make banners on a blog
Quickly spirals out of control

Integrating this into students’ work in the classroom
Came across Crocodoc annotation tool, instead of worrying about how to use tool, learned just enough in advance, then spent a week as an assignment playing around with the tool
Created Google Doc to share with future students how to use it
Used it all semester long
Integrating it into an assignment/lesson plan
Fear of saying “I don’t know how to use this”

Asked students to research tools, write proposals about which tools to use and why
Students loved that they were teaching the instructor
Given students options to choose from, leave it open, sometimes students come with new tools
Faculty fear of saying they don’t know how to use something
Different work for students– this sometimes comes out badly in evaluations
Making play something that’s valued in classroom
How to assess experimentation
Promote failure

Q: Please post students’ work on Bamboo DiRT tool directory

Incentive– groups of students w/ constraints, competition
“We want a map of campus” — have to come up w/ different ways to do it
Time pressure, comeptitiveness
Using ethnography in libraries: anthropologists study how people use libraries
Study students, do more formal survey
Ways to reach them using these tools/methods

Ron: Have writing competition– faculty nominate existing papers, go to committee, specialty prizes
DH project competition?

Move from how to encourage faculty towards students
How do we let students influence faculty?
If faculty hear from students who want this, it could have influence

Faculty responded positively to student survey– students very familiar with some things, but not others
Some don’t want to use too much tech in classroom (don’t want cell phone integrated with class)
Eye-opener to hear from student perspective

Faculty resistance because this is unknown thing coming down from on high, when what they’ve been doing has seemed to work just fine
Much more persuasive to hear from students

Useful to think through tools students do know how to use
Assignment to take a class reading, turn it into social media site of some sort
Created Facebook page for Emily Dickinson (as a user)– comments, friends, poems, etc.
Annotations, links between texts, images, etc.
Interface they know how to use
They still have to write a final essay, but it’s a research tool
Foster learning you want in ways traditional stuff can’t do
Present to class, explain why you made the choices you made
Creates a climate of using digital tools in the classroom that might encourage faculty members to try something more advanced

Assign author & theorist, commentary

Creating historical friends to comment was students’ idea, could be part of assignment, to create dialog

Older student– had to dig through tape recordings to find what we can now access via mobile phones
Get over your fears, it can make a difference

Make it personal
Give students a small personal project (make digital artifact of a scrapbook, oral history, etc.)
Way to learn the technology (small % of grade, small scale)

Storycorps– submit to NPR
Have to create podcast audio file

Podcasts as final essays?

Podcasting as part of creating news stories for journalism course

In terms of teaching writing– more tangible relationship w/ language

No matter what, students will hate their voices, multiple recordings
Expect it, it’ll happen
Other than that, relatively easy
Audio less intimidating than video


Categories: Session Notes |

About quinn.dombrowski

At UC Berkeley, I work on Bamboo DiRT (, and growing the DH community through partnerships with the Dean's Office and the Townsend Humanities Center. After the last THATCamp I attended, I built DHCommons (, and I've been involved in subsequent DHCommons workshops, including one at AATSEEL 2013 (held concurrently with the MLA). I do a lot with Drupal, and am generally interested in helping things (and people!) work better, and work together. I still dabble in digital medieval Slavic from time to time.