Over the past couple days there’s been a Twitter conversation (#cwdhped) and an evolving open Google doc that explores the idea of some summit or FTF discussion among scholars in the digital humanities and those in computers and writing on shared interests in pedagogy. For those that don’t know, “computers and writing” is a subfield of rhetoric and composition that focuses on technological developments. I’ll reserve my comments about the weirdness of such a subfield in 2014 for another day. Let’s just say that it exists, has existed since the early 80s, and that there’s a lot of research there on pedagogical issues. Digital humanities, on the other hand, is an amorphous collection of methods and subjects across many disciplines, potentially including computers and writing and possibly including people and disciplines that are not strictly in the humanities (e.g. education or communications or the arts). So, for example, when I think of the very small DH community on my campus, I’m meeting with people in Linguistics, Classics, Theater/Dance, Anthropology, Education, Media Study, Architecture… Some of these people are teaching students how to use particular media creation tools. Some are teaching programming. Some are doing data analysis. Some are teaching pedagogy. Most of the digital-type instruction is happening at the graduate level. And none of it is happening in what we’d commonly think of as the core humanities departments (i.e. the ones with the largest faculty, grad programs, and majors). Of course that’s just one campus, one example, which begs the following questions:
- What % of 4-year US colleges have a specific digital outcome for their required composition curriculum?
- What % of those campuses have a self-described “digital humanities” undergraduate curriculum that extends beyond a single course?
I would guess there are ~1000 faculty loosely associated with computers and writing, maybe less. I’m sure they are doing digital stuff individually in their classrooms, but is there something programmatic going on there on there respective campuses? There are 100s(?) of professional writing majors now, most of which have some digital component, but sometimes it is still just one class. And if we stick to the MLA end of the DH world, how many English and/or language departments have a specific DH curriculum? How many have any kind of DH or digital literacy outcomes for their majors?
This leads me to the following question/provocation: setting aside composition courses, how many different courses does the average US English department offer each year with an established digital learning outcome or digital topic in its formal catalog course description? I think that if I set the over/under at 2.5 you’d be crazy to take the over.
My point is that when we are talking about DH pedagogy, we are talking about something that barely exists in a formal way. If you want to think about 1000s of professors and TAs doing “something digital” in their courses here and there, then yes, it’s all over the place. And yes we are using Blackboard, teaching online, and so on. And maybe we could come up with a list of 25 universities that are delivering a ton of DH content, the 100s of institutions with professional writing majors are offering an above average amount of digital content, and the English departments that are delivering secondary education certification might be delivering the required digital literacy content for those degrees, but put into the context of 3000 4-year colleges and what do you see?
I think the same is true on the graduate level. We can point to some programs and to individual faculty, but nationally, how many doctoral programs have specific expectations in relation to DH or digital literacy for their graduates? I would bet that even at the biggest DH universities in the nation, you can get a PhD in English without having any more digital literacy than a BA at the same school. Rhet/Comp has a higher expectation than literary studies, but only because of the pedagogical focus and the expectation that one can teach with technology. This doesn’t mean that students can’t choose to pursue DH expertise at many institutions, at either the undergrad or grad level. It’s just not integral to the curriculum.
So my first question(s) to the MLA end of the DH community (just to start there) is
- What role do you see for yourselves in the undergraduate curriculum?
- Is DH only a specialized, elective topic or should there be some digital outcome for an English major?
- Should there be some digital component of a humanities general education?
- What role should DH play in institutional goals around digital literacy?
The same questions apply at the graduate level. Is DH only an area of specialization or does it also represent a body of knowledge that every Phd student should know on some level?
If a humanities education should prepare students to research, understand and communicate with diverse cultures and peoples, then how that preparation is not integrally and fundamentally digital is beyond me. We really don’t need to say “digital literacy” anymore, because there is no postsecondary literacy that is not digital. Why is it that virtually every English major is required to take an entire course on Shakespeare but hardly any are required to have a disciplinary understanding of the media culture in which they are actually living and participating? (That’s a rhetorical question; we all know why.)
From my viewpoint, that’s the conversation to have. Tell me what it is that we want to achieve and what kind of curricular structures you want to develop to achieve those goals. The pedagogic piece is really quite simple. How do you teach those courses? You hire people who have the expertise. Sure there’s some research there, best practices, and various nuances, but that’s about optimizing a practice that right now barely exists.