By Roger Whitson, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Digital Scholarship Commons (DiSC)
One of the things that has already come out of my trip to THATCamp Pedagogy at Vassar College is a tension between a desire by individual teachers to create collaborative and digital assignments and institutional limitations: such as curriculum requirements and funding.
For example, the oft-cited desire of DH teachers to see failure as an essential part of the pedagogical pr ocess is countered by this very thoughtful tweet from Rebecca Frost Davis:
"how do you reconcile giving students freedom to fail with requirements of the curriculum #thatcamp #pdgy"
Further, in the Gamification session, several campers expressed frustration at the difficulty of teaching and grading collaborative work. On the one hand, several campers talked about the pedagogical value in assigning group grades. On the other hand, a few noted distress when it became clear that no matter how much we want students to pass or fail as groups, they will always be seen as individuals in a University (and a culture) where individuals have GPAs and are made to craft individual careers.
One of the greatest hinderances for collaborative digital work is a cultural obsession with individualism. This is why I feel the digital humanities should essentially be about activism and advocacy. We need to not only assign and engage in collaborative digital projects, but also by create an environment where such projects are valued. Kathleen Fitzpatrick already wrote an amazing article about the need for faculty to back graduate students who risk their graduate careers by engaging in digital work. I also really like what Natalia Cecire said about the political stakes of DH work in an already transforming academic labor market:
[D]igital humanities and 'the job market' as it now manifests isn't a narrow, merely administrative sliver of life of interest solely to junior academics who are still gravely listening to advice about how to "tailor" the teaching paragraphs in their cover letters. Digital humanities has become important to 'the job market' exactly insofar as it is causing major shifts in the institutions of the profession. These shifts are political. And if you are in my profession, then they are your concern.
Indeed, these are all of our concerns. Towards the end of the Gamification session, I replied to one of the undergrads who was anxious about collaborative grades by saying that we need to petition administration to change curriculum requirements so they more realistically reflect the needs of our students and the changing job market. I was countered by another camper who cited Universities that do experiment with alternative ways for assessing students. These Universities, this camper noted, rarely do well in terms of enrollment and retention rates. Parents and even students seem to want individual assessment.
But, really, isn't the collaborative spirit of the digital humanities designed to combat this cult of the individual? We need to venture out of our classrooms and into public spaces, demonstrating the value of collaborative work to administrators, parents, and potential employers. We should partner with businesses to gauge how the workplace values collaboration and team building. We have to thread ourselves into libraries, community groups, and professional (not just academic) conferences.
As a member of the Digital Scholarship Commons (DiSC) at Emory University, I see my role as enabling scholars and graduate students to advocate for the digital humanities. In fact, I created a Prezi back in July that discussed how librarians can contribute as activists.
But librarians obviously can't do it alone. Faculty members, graduate students and undergraduates should use DH to create a common space for collaboration. Instead of lamenting the realities we see before us, we need to find ways of working together to change the culture of education. Digital humanists must first and foremost be digital activists.
In the Blog
- The Extraordinary World of MARBL: Tusks and Teeth
- The Extraordinary World of MARBL: Civil War Cannonballs
- The Extraordinary World of MARBL: Three Dimensional Poetry
- MARBL Launches Artists' Books Showcase
- The Extraordinary World of MARBL: The McCord Latin Prize Medal
- Announcing the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship
- Summer Reading EBooks and AudioBooks
- The Extraordinary World of MARBL: Charles H. Herty Turpentine Cup
- Postcolonial Studies @ Emory
- A Beautifully Illustrated Book in the Seydel Collection