DH Bridge: Teaching Computational Thinking in the Humanities

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Jeri Wieringa

    George Mason University

  2. 2. Celeste Sharpe

    George Mason University, University of Pennsylvania

Work text
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This poster will introduce and demonstrate
DH Bridge (
), a pedagogical model and curriculum for one to two day workshops that provides intensive training in computational thinking in humanities contexts. There are an ever increasing number of opportunities for training in the digital humanities, from informal workshops held at
THATCamps (
) to multiple week training programs, such as the
NEH Institutes for Advanced Topics (
Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching (HILT) (
), and the
Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) (
). While these workshops provide excellent opportunities to gain exposure to new ideas or to dive deep into a particular subject area, they are also dependent upon the expertise of the particular instructors and, depending on the length of the workshop or institute, require substantial commitments of time and money.
Building on the examples of
Rails Bridge (
) and
Rails Girls (
), which focus on lowering the barriers to entry for underrepresented persons in code, DH Bridge offers an additional model for training in the digital humanities. Rather than relying on a single instructor, DH Bridge relies on a group of coaches to guide participants through a shared tutorial, troubleshoot technical problems, and provide additional contextual information for participants. Throughout the day of the workshop, technical work is interwoven with group activities aimed at helping participants develop useful mental models of computational processes and articulate research questions that would benefit from computational analysis. We have found that this combination of community supported learning, technical work, and group exercises creates a supportive environment where technical learning can take place.

DH Bridge started as a locally hosted
Rails Girls workshop for humanities scholars (
) held in early September 2013. The event was well-received and successful, highlighting for us the strength of the model of the short workshop with a central curriculum and small group coaching. It was clear, however, from the feedback we received that the Rails Girls curriculum was too focused on gaining technical skills for employment, as participants struggled to connect the skills they learned to their intellectual goals as humanities scholars. Thanks to an
incubation grant from the Association for Computers and the Humanities (
), we were able to develop a curriculum focused not on the mechanics of code, per se, but on the processes of computational thinking. This curriculum was used in a second workshop, held on November 1, 2014.

What is unique about this pedagogical approach in the current landscape of digital humanities training is that the workshops run from a central and open curriculum that can be adjusted and expanded for a particular community. Because the emphasis is on patterns of thinking, rather than use of particular tools, the workshop curriculum is flexible. Whether using the included text-mining tutorial, or adapting tutorials from outside sources such as
The Programming Historian (
), workshop organizers can customize the day for the interests of their community. In addition, the central curriculum, together with the local focus and short timeframes of the events, helps to keep the costs of the workshops low for both participants and organizers. And, most importantly, the success of the curriculum is derived from the community—the participants and the coaches work together to solve problems, both at the level of the code and at the theoretical level of scholarly investigation through code.

We’ve taken this approach to help expand the community of scholars leveraging computational approaches in their research. Cultural and institutional barriers to learning computational methods are well documented, and organizational responses like
FemTechNet (
) and
GO::DH (
) are doing valuable work in challenging the systemic barriers. DH Bridge aligns with this work, and seeks to provide a local means for groups of people underrepresented in the digital humanities to learn and engage with the concepts and skills of programming in a way that is meaningful to their interests.

This poster will address our lessons learned from running the two iterations of the workshop, as well as our plans for future workshops. We will discuss the model of the one to two day workshop as a way of lowering the costs for participants and organizers; our theoretical and pedagogical choices in developing the curriculum; the challenges we faced and some lessons learned; and the feedback we have received from participants. We invite and look forward to engagement with and collaboration on the curriculum and the model of DH Bridge.

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2016
"Digital Identities: the Past and the Future"

Hosted at Jagiellonian University, Pedagogical University of Krakow

Kraków, Poland

July 11, 2016 - July 16, 2016

454 works by 1072 authors indexed

Conference website: https://dh2016.adho.org/

Series: ADHO (11)

Organizers: ADHO