Overcoming the Narrow Emphasis on Teaching and Pedagogy

Our DH readings this week finally addressed the subject of teaching and pedagogy as best as they could at this point. I say this because it seems to me that while there have been projects carried out, these projects have been few, leaving most of the emphasis on the research portion. In Chapter 21, Diane Zorich was cited speaking of the typical trajectory for the development of most centers. Their initial stimulus is from a grant and a strategic discussion then develop a project to a program and finally a center, each stage signifies the staying power or longevity of the field or project, which in her case was called Survey of Digital Humanities Centers in the United States. This growth trajectory is similar to a product, tool or an interdisciplinary tool (like digital humanities) and in my opinion is similar to the process behind a niche being embraced as more mainstream and thus accepted as a valuable contributor to education that deserves funding.

In one section it was written, “Not only is a digital humanities center inappropriately resource demanding, but such centers do not usually focus on undergraduate teaching, the central task of a liberal arts campus.” This line caught my eye because I have felt as though thus far our focus has been on research and scholarship, all very important subjects at the Graduate Center, but with a course using the word “teaching” in its name I thought we would have equal dialogue in that realm as we would in the research realm. This is not to be taken as an attack it more so leads to my larger point or question. Who is giving focus and energy to this area of teaching? Is DH lending itself more to those interested in distance reading and the connecting research?

In Stephen Brier’s “Where’s the Pedagogy” he reveals even in the Digital Humanities Quarterly at Brown University while their mission statement is “to provide a forum for theorists, researchers and teachers to share their work” the actual definition for Digital Humanities has a “narrower emphasis on academic research” yet the emphasis has been on research over teaching. I wonder, how much energy is actually being given to this one side of the binary? When DHers have forums and other events is their equal time given to the subject of teaching or does research run the gambit? I believe it’s a matter of actions speaking volumes, while everyone is paying lip service to the value of DH as an instructional tool most are using it for research. Maybe this is why the discourse is as such. Additionally maybe some consideration should be given to inviting more undergraduate educator and (dare I say) Secondary school educators. Matt posed the question, what are some of the barriers and Stephen acknowledged it wasn’t technological, someone in class mentioned resources to train teachers but I argue that you aren’t giving teachers credit for what they are capable of learning. I say this because if you invited just a small group of educators to a forum on DH used for instruction and special projects, I don’t believe they wouldn’t get it enough to engage in a small project. I believe part of the barriers are within our mind, if we think it wouldn’t work then we are putting up a barrier but if you give it a chance to see how it works you may be surprised. Similar to applying for a grant to support a DH project, Matt spoke of his experience with this, grants have a great deal of barriers, they require time, effort, convincing but the risk was worth taking. I can see time is an issue for many of the people involved but making sure teachers follow through or have the financial resources aren’t really the responsibility I’m placing on whoever, I’m only arguing to invite and engage. A project like “Looking for Whitman,” could fit comfortably within a High School setting. While the discourse is that schools are teaching to the tests, I still believe literature (like Walt Whitman) is being read. With all the talk about inclusion I can still see areas for growth if given the attention. In the end I was interested to read and hear about the many interesting projects connected to DH. I must say the name Matt Gold is attached to quite a few of them, seems like a lot of weight to carry on one person, although I’m well aware there is plenty of collaboration and building involved.

In class I brought up the project idea I had in mind (regarding the stop, question and frisk procedure reform), seemingly a larger project than can be accomplished within the span of our course but some classmates and both Matt and Stephen mentioned building with someone else. I wonder how realistic it is to believe someone would allow me to build or collaborate with work they have put a lot into. I say this because I was inspired by a map idea I had seen in the New York Times. In a perfect world I could use this map, which includes many statistics broken down by borough and block, and I would build over it using short narratives to humanize the statistics, but again is this a realistic goal? Are the people who built this in the know of Digital Humanities principles of collaboration and building? Probably not, but maybe I’m not giving people credit for working towards a common goal. I will post it to the blog to show type of map I am speaking about. Stay tuned…

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2 Responses to Overcoming the Narrow Emphasis on Teaching and Pedagogy

  1. Roxanne great response! I completely agree that it would be ineffective to pit one side against another, especially when they are (as you mentioned) complimentary. I don’t want to seem as though I am being overly critical to our gracious instructors because I believe they are setting a good example of incorporating the theory and practice. For some of us they are our introduction to Dh, our messengers, if you will and I do not want to shoot the messengers, I just have lots of questions. Additionally they have shed some light on all these topics by writing about it in the Debates In The Digital Humanities book. But when I ask “who is giving focus and energy to this area of teaching,” I am compelled to ponder two additional questions. First, I wonder about their peers, how many of them are placing equal attention to both theory and practice, do they see their peers as valuing pedagogy? If not do they see this as a barrier for DH? I ask this not to admonish those who are doing most of the research portion but to ask how do they (those who want DH to broaden in acceptance) propose counteracting the resistance (or disinterest) with motivation for growth in both theory and practice. And Second, in an introductory course (like ours) how much time should be given to the topic of pedagogy, theory and DH tools? I ask this question because I believe the attention (or value attached to each) has an impact in shaping our perception and thus our definition of what is Digital Humanities. Furthermore, I am drawn to your question of responsibility for outreach, who is accountable for helping others understand and spread the value of all aspects of DH?

  2. I think it’s helpful to consider that when we speak of Digital Humanities, we are basically discussing a group of like-minded individuals (often dispersed geographically) and a handful of centers and institutes. Yes, there are associations and conferences, and it has taken on some air of legitimacy even as people struggle to define exactly what it is. But it is easy to fall into speaking of DH as though it is a coherent, overarching force. Whom, exactly, are we blaming for the lack of emphasis on pedagogy? I think what you’ve recognized is a disparity between the ethics and values the community espouses and what the individual practitioners are personally interested in. You ask, “who is giving focus and energy to this area of teaching,” which is a great question (and an answer could be our very own Prof. Brier). But I think your question should serve as a call to arms, not necessarily an admonishment of those engaged in DH research. It may very well be the case that DH projects would translate into secondary schools, but who should be responsible for such outreach? These are great discussions to have, yet I would hate to see it devolve into another theory/practice divide that pits one side against the other, when really they are complementary.

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