Washington and Lee Trip09 May 2014
Crossposted on the Scholars’ Lab blog.
Last week Sarah and I drove to Washington and Lee University as part of a new collaboration enabled by a grant from the Associated Colleges of the South. As part of the endeavor, Scholars’ Lab fellows are guest teaching pieces of an Introduction to Digital Humanities course. Our task, in particular, was to co-teach for a day on the topics of project management and software development. While we each took part and taught in both conversations, Sarah took the lead on the former topic and I took the latter.
I can’t rave enough about the experience enough, so I’ve organized my thoughts into three sections below.
Undergraduates + Digital Humanities = Dynamite
I am endlessly delighted by the reactions of undergraduates when they get introduced to the digital humanities. In virtually every case, I have encountered students hungry to learn the material. The W&L students were no exceptions. We found students ready to learn, eager to participate, and wiling to ask hard questions about the affordances and limitations of the field. You can find reflections by the students on their course blog. What’s more, the Washington and Lee students stand poised to make real contributions to digital scholarship. They have worked up some really interesting projects on the history of coeducation at W&L and on the changing vision and reality for Robert E. Lee’s Chapel on the university grounds.
Sarah and I work well together, and we have presented together in the past. But we had not taught together before the Washington and Lee trip. Full disclosure: I adore everything about co-teaching. It immediately disrupts the one-way transmission of information from the instructors to the students and forces the conversation to be more collaborative; co-teaching allows you to occupy simultaneously and more obviously the dual roles of student and teacher. It takes the pressure off any one person to keep the ship sailing smoothly, which empowers and enlivens the conversation. Co-teaching seems especially well-suited to the digital humanities, which value collaboration and play. Seminar discussions and workshops are different from working on teams to build projects, but co-instructors can make the experience a bit more lab-like, a bit more collaborative.
It is one thing to learn and practice digital humanities. It is another thing entirely to turn around and help others do the same. I have only really been hacking away for two years now, so I felt a bit unqualified to talk down software development as an invited speaker. I tend to assume that the Scholars’ Lab has a better sense of my own abilities than I do in most cases, though, and the invitation to W&L was no exception. The practice of putting together presentations on project management and software development was incredibly empowering. It helped me to have more confidence in myself as a digital humanist. No longer does the prospect of teaching an introduction to digital humanities course appear to be a vague and nebulous question mark. I now know that I could do it, because I have already done so in part. I also have a better sense of my own developing pedagogy of digital humanities. Opportunities to teach digital humanities like this, to perform with no net, are rare.
You teach to learn, and this is as true in the digital humanities as it is anywhere else. I learned a great deal from the bright undergraduates at W&L.