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Managing Digital Humanities Associates, Week 2

Well, classes start tomorrow, and I meet my student workers for the first time on Tuesday, so the time to get organized is NOW.

Along with several more useful meetings with people who have information and training to share about current DH projects on campus, this week a few over-arching things fell into place. First, the computers that the students will use (and, oddly, the positions that the students fill on campus) were officially blessed as “ongoing.” This means that the ancient computer will get replaced sometime in the next few weeks, and the newer computer will be automatically up for replacement when it reaches 5 years of age. What a relief! As anyone can tell you, the state of the digital humanities and of technology in general could be entirely different in 5 years, but whatever happens, I’m absolutely sure that faculty will still be performing scholarship, and student assistants will still need technology of some sort to help support that. So for now, that piece of academia’s future on our campus is a little less shaky. Whew.

A second big falling-into-place was that the college’s post-doc in Digital Humanities, Austin Mason, and I sketched out a kind of syllabus for our student workers. Their work is so very academic that this approach made natural sense to Austin and me. They have to get some basic training, but even more than that they have to learn to think like digital humanists. So they’ll each have the their own projects, but our weekly team meetings will also give them a chance to brainstorm with each other, explore topics in the field, and present their work.  We’re also going to explore more conscious and consistent participation in the DH community by putting our thoughts and updates out there in the DH blogosphere rather than locking it down in a Moodle site. The DHA program already has a blog that needs some work, so one of our group projects is going to be to clean up the current structure, About Page, Bios, etc, and develop a coherent structure and look for our future work. Mundane or private things can be published privately, but we’re going to use the site pretty heavily for both internal and external communication.

Along with that, I’ve spent a few hours today setting up a workspace in Asana for us and linking it up to a Google Docs folder structure. There’s a Gdocs folder and an Asana project for every DH project we’ll be supporting, and I’ve built in regular recurring tasks to ask for documentation and project management, along with prompts about when to check in with me.

Of course, I still haven’t managed to secure a table to put in the room where we’ll meet and work. Tables are, apparently, worth their weight in gold on our campus.

Managing Digital Humanities Associates, week 1

So, I’ve had this new responsibility for one week now, and what a week it has been! And I haven’t even met the student workers yet!

One thing that I think might be a distinct advantage of having a newbie in charge is that it gives all kinds of stakeholders on campus the chance to articulate their understanding of what’s going on and what they see coming down the pike. It’s kind of like having an external review without the external reviewers or the reports or the expense or the… well all of it except for the useful things everyone learns when they have to say their assumptions out loud. Now, I don’t think that people were necessarily in different places before this week or that I’ve triggered any “ah ha” moments or anything like that. I just think that it’s incredibly useful as we get ready to make decisions about the future of digital humanities on our campus to have everyone take a moment and say “This is what has been amazing so far, this is where I see things going, and here’s the stake I have in that future.” I’m going to do my best to document these things for the new librarian, but I also know that when we do hire the new librarian that person will add his or her own facets to these conversations.

I’ve also learned (again) that grant funding is a double-edged sword. We had a grant on campus years ago that was awesome but then left us with all kinds of aspirations and assumptions on campus that are no longer supported or funded. One tiny piece of that is one of the two computers my student workers will use. It’s now too old to function well but was bought with grant money and therefore isn’t on a replacement schedule, so who’s going to pay for it? And can we get it on a replacement schedule this time around so the headache doesn’t repeat itself ad infinitum? These are questions I hope to sort out during week 2. Wish me luck!

I’m also learning that this venture shares a characteristic with many of the exciting campus-wide initiatives that I’ve been a part of or heard a lot about: it is fueled by lots of talent and enthusiasm from many quarters on campus, but it is not (yet) part of a cohesive structure on campus. There’s nobody who “owns” digital humanities on campus, so coordination isn’t as tight as it could be and funding for things like computers (see above) is kind of up in the air. Luckily, solving that is high on the agenda for several of the big stakeholders on campus. Hopefully we can figure out how to get all the benefits of a cohesive structure without losing any of the start-up like innovation of the current semi-structure. (My own view is that this future cohesive structure should actually coordinate and fund the Digital Liberal Arts, not just Humanities, but more on that another time.)

And finally, the breadth and depth of the projects this small but growing group of student workers has contributed to is pretty awesome. And the students themselves seem like they’re going to be quite a team to work with (though I really wish they were all equally good at responding to my request for their schedules). I hope that I can give these students the structure and support they need so that they can keep doing the work they’re so obviously good at doing.

Here’s a little video about one of the projects that the students have worked on in the past.