Access to DH Pedagogy as the Norm: Introducing Students to DH Methods Across the Curriculum and at a Distance

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Dan Tracy

    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

  2. 2. Elizabeth Massa Hoiem

    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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This poster presents research into integration and assessment of digital humanities pedagogy in a distance course on the History of Children's Literature, and provokes conversation about pedagogical approaches that expand student access to DH methods, tools, and dispositions. Much of the existing literature on DH pedagogy addresses methods courses or multimodal writing courses rather than integration of DH practices in particular topical contexts, or advanced topics courses that explore a narrow slice of disciplinary content through extended engagements with digital projects (Ball 2012; Mostern & Gainor 2013; Fyfe 2016; Nyhan, Mahony, and Terras 2016). This literature provides valuable lessons but raises questions about the feasibility of engaging with DH across the curriculum in small-to-medium scale engagements with new methods and technologies. Amy E. Earhart and Toniesha L. Taylor (2016), for example, respond to this situation by rejecting the idea that DH should be limited to advanced courses and propose broader integration of “embedded [DH] skills development” that students can take out of the environment of a specific institution. Similarly, we suggest that allowing for repeated and diverse engagement by students across methods-intensive and topic-intensive courses (as is now common for writing) is necessary for teaching deeper DH dispositions like collaboration, openness to failure, and creativity with technology.

Simultaneously, the existing literature has focused on residential instruction with access to physical artifacts. This limit is problematic when at least one discipline with a heavy investment in DH, library and information science, is well past transition to a majority distance learning population. LIS programs have developed experience and expertise in teaching technology at a distance, and lessons from these programs may be useful to the DH community. While some teaching goals may only be met in person, others might be achieved through well-structured online learning.

To ground this discussion, the authors, the course instructor, and a subject librarian will present their development, assessment, and rethinking of a multimodal publication assignment using the Scalar platform in a synchronous online course on the History of Children's Literature. Students worked in groups to create a multi-media web resource on “diverse history.” The class discussed what is included or omitted from historical narratives, whether they be children's historical fiction or history textbooks, before contemplating this selection process in children's literature itself. The librarian introduced students to the context of DH publishing and Scalar, and to issues related to responsible use of multimedia. Then each group chose an issue related to “diverse history” and built one section of the website. The long-term goal is for successive classes to edit, revise, and expand this project

This collaborative project replaced an assignment from previous years, when students built individual websites about a children's book of their choice. This project maximized scaffolding, with detailed guidance on information students should locate about their books and the final website shape. This iteration of the class took place during a time when distance students came to campus one weekend each semester, and this time was used for in-depth introduction to the array of specialized library resources needed to complete the questions about their book's production and reception. The new assignment sought to re-imagine learning outcomes that would allow students to engage with a particular DH publishing technology, Scalar, and grapple with issues of collaboration and multimodal authoring in a context where the final product was less predetermined. Nonetheless, the elimination of the in person component, which occurred at the same time, removed an obvious “lab” opportunity for learning related technical issues. The pedagogical design involved making the best balance between asynchronous and synchronous activities to compensate for the absence of in person activities. Our evaluation of the success of the assignment relied on assessment

of Scalar sample sites and final projects created by the students, as well as on reflective essays written by the students and observations made in the course of student consultations. This evaluation led to ideas for how to revise the course for future semesters to improve learning of collaborative behaviors, openness to failure, and creativity with technology. This includes, most notably, a re-envisioning of how synchronous class time is used in the future.

By sharing our experiences in developing, teaching, assessing, and revising this course in successive iterations, we hope to explore with attendees the ways in which DH methods, tools, and dispositions can proliferate across the curriculum. We will promote discussion of what DH methods, tools, and dispositions can be taught well in different settings, whether that means varying scales of integration in DH classrooms, or exploring what can be taught virtually versus in person.


Ball, C. E. (2012). “Assessing Scholarly Multimedia: A Rhetorical Genre Studies Approach.” Technical Communication Quarterly 21: 61-77.

Earhart, A. E., and Taylor, T L. (2016) “Pedagogies of Race: Digital Humanities in the Age of Ferguson.” Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016. Ed. Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein. U of Minnesota P, Minneapolis. 251-64.

Fyfe, P. (2016). “Mid-Sized Digital Pedagogy.” Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016. Ed. Lauren F. Klein and Matthew K. Gold. University of Minnesota Press. 104-117.

Mostern, R., and Gainor, E.. (2013). “Traveling the Silk

Road on a Virtual Globe: Pedagogy, Technology and Evaluation for Spatial History.” Digital Humanities Quarterly


Nyhan, J., Mahony, S., and Terras, M. (2015)“Digital Humanities and Integrative Learning.” Integrative Learning. Ed. Daniel Blackshields, James Cronin, Bettie Higgs, Shane Kilcommins, Marian McCarthy, and Anthony Ryan. London: Routledge. 235-47.

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