Delivering a Humanities Computing Module at Undergraduate Level: A Case Study

  1. 1. John G. Keating

    Maynooth University (National University of Ireland, Maynooth)

  2. 2. Aja Teehan

    Maynooth University (National University of Ireland, Maynooth)

  3. 3. Thomas Byrne

    Maynooth University (National University of Ireland, Maynooth)

Work text
This plain text was ingested for the purpose of full-text search, not to preserve original formatting or readability. For the most complete copy, refer to the original conference program.

1 Introduction In September 2008 we commenced delivery of a Humanities
Computing module at undergraduate level to
twenty seven students of the National University of Ireland,
Maynooth (NUIM). The module was offered by the
Computer Science Department and operated and delivered
by An Foras Feasa and was designed and delivered,
pedagogically, as an authentic learning experience [1].
This paper gives an overview of the aims of the module,
the curriculum, the module assignment
and student
support, assessment, and the process for evaluating the
module. We also provide details on the continuous assessment
project based on the creation of a repository
holding a collection of digitised 19th and 20th century
religious pamphlets.
2 Humanities Computing Module
A key aim of the module is to foster in the students some
understanding of humanities problems, to recognise how
and when a solution could be found using
Computer Science
Software Engineering (CSSE) methods, and fi nally,
how to apply CSSE methodologies and technologies
to create solutions. Having researched
the King’s College
London (KCL) Humanities Computing fi nal year
project [2] offered by the Centre for Computing in the
Humanities (CCH), we decided that an emphasis should
be placed on the general application of CSSE principles
rather than specific tools, which can date quickly. Figure
1 provides the for the module description as it appeared
in the NUIM’s Book of Modules.
The module was delivered over 12 two-hour lectures,
supplemented by 12 two-hour labs. The student was expected
to perform and additional 32 hours of independent
study. The lectures provided the theoretical framework
for, and overview of the issues associated with,
humanities computing. The labs were considered to be
of paramount importance and a strong emphasis was
placed on the delivery of a digital artefact by the end of
the semester.
The module has two primary learning objectives: fi rstly,
the students would know how to design and create a digital
artefact to solve a humanities problem, and, secondly,
they would hold informed opinions as to why specific
technologies and methodologies were chosen. In this
way one can see that the methodologies of the two main
disciplines (Humanities and CSSE) were used as the
framework for the students’ evaluation and critique.
3 Module Assignment and Student Support
We applied a pedagogical approach known as authentic
learning in the design of the module; this approach “allows
students to explore, discuss, and meaningfully construct
concepts and relationships in contexts that involve
real-world problems and projects that are relevant to the
learner” [1]. The continuous assessment assignment was
chosen because it represented a typical real-world, humanities
researcher, problem. The form of the continuous
assessment assignment would mean that the students
would have to engage, in a real-world sense, with the
assigned problem.
The continuous assessment assignment was based upon
creating a digital artefact
derived from 19th and 20th
century pamphlets produced by the Catholic Church in
Ireland. The assignment was to be completed within the
laboratory and independent study times. Each two-hour
lab session was presided over by a demonstrator who
was available to answer queries in relation to the work.
While the lecturers would provide guidance, instruction
and information in relation to the practical project, it
was also expected that the students would use outside
to research and implement their system. The
assignment was formalised as in Figure 2.
It was also decided that the course assignment would
be conducted by teams of students. Team work is often
required in industry thus this learning experience,
beneficial in itself, would aid the team-members in their
career. Team work is also a necessity in most software
engineering projects as they generally require diverse
and wide-ranging expertise unlikely to be found in one
individual. Each team had at least one student whose
home discipline was Computer Science and Software
Engineering (CSSE). It was considered important to provide the students
with an understanding of the technology most used by
the Humanities Computing community, therefore, TEI
(Text Encoding Initiative) was selected as the encoding
language rather than XML (Extensible Mark-up
Language). However, of the time spent in lectures on
encoding, roughly half of that was devoted to XML in
order to provide both context for TEI and a basic working
knowledge of encoding. The students were expected
to evaluate the use of TEI as the encoding language in
their project presentation and in their written assessment.
The humanities contextualisation derived from the need
to understand the problem
domain of the User. Early
lectures provided an overview of the course content,
of the students, examination system, etc. The
remainder of the lectures covered the module content as
described above. The authentic learning experience was
supported in the lectures by inviting the post-doctoral
fellow as a guest speaker. This allowed for the framing
of the humanities problem (mining 19th and 20th century
pamphlets for icons and related text) for the students.
The course team believed that the students would
be motivated to create the digital artefact knowing that
its value would be evidenced in the real-world; the students
would “be able to realize that their achievements
stretched beyond the walls of the classroom” [3].
4 Assessment
The balance between doing and evaluating was reflected
in the marking scheme of the module; 50% of the marks
were available for continuous assessment deriving from
the lab-supervised production of the digital artefact. The
remaining 50% came from a written examination at the
end of the semester.
The written examination was open book and consisted
of three questions. The students chose two to complete.
Each question had three sections: the first section
required basic knowledge of some topic in humanities
computing, the second section required the implementation
of a solution to a given problem within that topic,
and the third section required evaluation and critique
of the chosen technology and methodology. In order
to pass the assessment a student had to display at least
an understanding of the topic and some form of critical
thinking or solution generation.
The authentic learning approach taken in the design of
the module equates to the KCL fi nal year project model
in many respects. However, the evaluation of the finished
digital product only formed part of the team presentation,
which accounted for 5% of the overall marks, or
10% of the continuous assessment marks. It was during
this presentation that students also had the opportunity to
display the internalisation of the issues surrounding humanities
computing and their acquisition
of the associated
language register. This assessment was particularly
suited to evaluating how successful the authentic learning
approach had been.
However, the authentic learning approach also dictated
that the assessment should be based on real-world concerns.
In computer science, the delivery of a functional
digital product, before the deadline and to an acceptable
standard is the fundamental requirement. While KCL
stresses that the project can still be a success even if the
technological aspect was a failure, we stressed that the
technological fulfillment of criteria was of critical importance.
Failure to deliver a digital artefact, for any
reason and no matter how well evaluated, would have
resulted in failure in the continuous assessment, thereby
making it diffcult for the students to pass the module.
The evaluation of the humanities issues and related technologies
was to be mainly expressed in the written examination,
which equated to 50% of the marks. In this
way we sought to balance the module, just as KCL balanced
their fi nal project.
5 Evaluation
Evaluation of the module, which will be available in advance
of the DH2009 conference,
will be undertaken in
two ways. Firstly, a post-doctoral research fellow will
actually use the repository. Their opinion on how successful
the repository is in fulfilling their needs will be
highly valued. The students’ understanding of the humanities
and computer science issues discussed during
the lectures will also be displayed in their written examinations.
We are optimistic about their success in relation
to the creation of the repository as already we have seen
of external research and the use of previously
unfamiliar software tools to create considered Project
Plans and Use Cases. Secondly, a detailed survey of the
students will be undertaken where the students will be
asked to critique the module.
6 Conclusion
Designing the module using an authentic learning approach
has provided the students with the opportunity
to learn very important life skills in relation to team
work, deadlines, scarcity of resources and independent
research. This has been balanced by providing the students
with a theoretical and methodological framework
so that an understanding of the problems in the humanities
domain that can benefit from computing has been
fostered. It is hoped that this module
will help, within the university, to foster a greater understanding of, and
appreciation for, humanities computing.
1. Suzanne M. Donovan, John D. Bransford, J.W. Pellegrino,
ed.: How People Learn: Bridging Research
and Practice. National Academy Press, Washington DC
2. Jessop, M.: Teaching, learning and research in fi nal
year humanities computing student projects. Literary
and Linguistic Computing 20 (2005) 295–311
3. Mims, C.: Authentic learning: A practical introduction
& guide for implementation. Meridian 6 (2003) 1–3
24 Lecture hours, 24 Laboratory hours, 32 Tutorial and
Independent Study hours. Lectures, Tutorials and Laboratories
will be delivered by An Foras Feasa staff.
ECTS Credits: 5.0
Learning Outcomes: To understand and become familiar with
technology for the humanities. To examine how computing tools
and techniques may be integrated into humanities and what the
effects of this integration might be. Students will learn how to use
technology to inform new humanities research as well as how it
may be used to support existing research patterns;
possibilities created by the application of technology to
humanities research can be explored and exploited. Students will
learn how to apply a wide variety of computing and software
engineering techniques in four distinct areas: text processing,
image processing, software engineering and digital
humanities. How to assess whether computing can be usefully
applied in particular circumstances, and what results may be
Content: Fundamentals of the Digital Humanities: humanities
research, electronic communications and publishing, text analysis,
numerical and graphical analysis and presentation. Introduction to
web-based databases. Analysing text: electronic tools to analyse
written and transcribed text. What can be learned about a text
from using simple analytical techniques? Using graphical analysis
to find and understand patterns in data. Creating and using graphs
and charts to summarise, visualise and analyse data. The nature of
images and how to convert them to digital form: from manuscript,
through image capture and XML, to online database. Digital
images; commonly used
operations and techniques for image enhancement. Digitisation
and the creation of online digital resources. Introduction to TEI
(Text Encoding Initiative), XML (Extensible Markup Language)
and associated tools. Assessment: Total Marks: 100%. Two-hour
written examination at the end of Semester 1, not less than 50%.
Continuous Assessment up to 50%
Laboratory Project
John Keating, Aja Teehan, An Foras Feasa
You are required, as part of a four or five person team, to build
an on-line repository of 18th and 19th century pamphlets. The
repository will include both image and fulltext encoding of the
pamphlet. The text encoding standard used will be TEI (Text Encoding
Initiative), a comprehensive text encoding methodology.
You will be provided with a collection of preservation-quality images
for several related pamphlets. These provided images must
be encoded using TEI. Furthermore, each team is expected to use
the imaging facilities in An Foras Feasa’s laboratory to capture at
least two additional pamphlets (approximately 2 hrs. of imaging
per team).
The team is expected to produce an on-line user interface
to access the digital images and associated text. The team
should implement interaction facilities for at least two Use
Cases (for example, “search the repository for occurrences
of keywords”, or “implement linkages between pamphlets”).
Full-text and image TEI encoding (35%)
Project will be graded on 5 deliverables:
1. Production of the on-line repository, including User Interface
2. The team’s preservation-quality image collection (5%)
3. Project presentation by the team (15 minutes) (10%)
4. Full project documentation (15%)
Key dates for deliverables:
• Project plan submitted by 10th October (formative assessment)
• Use Cases diagrams/documentation submitted by the 24th
October (formative assessment)
• Encodings submitted by 14th of November (formative assessment)
• Project presentation on the 15th and 16th of December
(summative assessment)
• Project documentation submitted by 19th of December

If this content appears in violation of your intellectual property rights, or you see errors or omissions, please reach out to Scott B. Weingart to discuss removing or amending the materials.

Conference Info


ADHO - 2009

Hosted at University of Maryland, College Park

College Park, Maryland, United States

June 20, 2009 - June 25, 2009

176 works by 303 authors indexed

Series: ADHO (4)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None