Library-Faculty Partnerships Enrich Undergraduate Teaching at Washington and Lee

Posted in: digital humanities  w&l  collaboration  dh lib 

Crossposted to the DLF Contribute series. Cowritten with Mackenzie Brooks, Digital Humanities Librarian at Washington and Lee University.

Washington and Lee University (W&L) is excited to be a part of the Digital Library Federation’s efforts, particularly as they pertain to promoting digital humanities on liberal arts campuses. The digital humanities initiative at W&L has grown out of longstanding attempts to connect faculty and staff working in related areas across the university. Our primary goal is to foster communication and training among librarians and faculty at all levels of technical skill in the service of encouraging new approaches to digital pedagogy and research methodology. These efforts grow out of two overlapping groups: the Digital Humanities Working Group, a collective of faculty and staff across the university interested in the intersection of information technology and humanities research and teaching, and the Digital Humanities Action Team, a joint initiative by W&L’s Information Technology Services (ITS) and the University Library that provides day-to-day guidance and training on integrating digital methodologies into faculty teaching and research. By partnering library faculty and staff with teaching faculty, we believe that we can develop undergraduate pedagogy in a way that benefits all participants. We bring digital humanities to bear on a liberal arts context by encouraging faculty research with undergraduate partners, by using digital tools in the classroom as opportunities to promote digital literacy, and by offering new occasions for collaborative teaching.

Undergraduates stand to learn a great deal from working on digital humanities projects, and these students offer enormous energy and resources to their adopted teams. The Huon d’Auvergne project, a digital edition being developed at W&L by Professor Stephen P. McCormick, library faculty, and inter-institutional collaborators, offers one such model for collaboration among faculty, students, and staff that collapses traditional pedagogical hierarchies. While students might begin to learn about the project in the classroom, after a semester course in textual encoding they are given the opportunity to work alongside their professor and digital humanities developers in an actual research setting. We encourage students to take ownership of their contributions to the project. Our students present at conferences, appear as co-authors on papers, and list project contributions on their CV. Through support from the office of the Dean of the College and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we stimulate such collaborations by offering competitive stipends to both the faculty and students involved. By further funding undergraduate research projects in digital humanities through a fellowship program, we provide training for students to explore their own interests with the same sort of support that we might offer humanities faculty.

We carry our support of digital projects and tools in the classroom beyond logistics and mechanics, using them as opportunities to educate students about more traditional information literacy topics. Many of our librarians involved in work with classroom instruction began their careers in cataloging or systems librarianship, but our digital humanities efforts have created a space in which they can translate these experiences into outward-facing pedagogy in metadata, intellectual property, and digital preservation. These teaching opportunities generate collaborations with subject and instruction librarians who already possess extensive training in curriculum design and information literacy instruction. When working with Omeka, for example, our Digital Scholarship Librarian provides students training in digitization, metadata conventions, and sustainability. While the digitization of original material often falls outside the scope of semester-long Omeka projects, she still takes the time to discuss copyright, attribution, and the ethical and legal use of digital materials. These courses often receive joint visits by our Access Services Librarian and Instructional Design Specialist who offer workshops in visual literacy. By dividing labor among related faculty in such a way we leverage expertise in information literacy from a variety of angles and combine them in a rich curriculum for students.

In our efforts to disperse technical knowledge beyond early adopters, we have been experimenting with different models of collaborative teaching. One such model, the “DH Studio,” involves pairing a traditional humanities course with a one-credit lab. The studio courses are taught by library faculty and give students dedicated time and expertise to learn and apply digital methodologies without sacrificing course content. We are also exploring more direct models of co-teaching in which course time and credits are extended to allow for “baked-in” digital methodology and course content. By partnering with French, journalism, and history professors, we have been able to offer courses in medieval French literature and textual encoding, multimedia storytelling and design, and text analysis approaches to histories of British scandal. Such hybrid courses offer students new avenues of study that educate the instructors as well. And by gearing digital assignments toward primary course objectives, we hope to show that digital humanities collaborations, far from detracting from disciplinary material, can actually challenge and enrich them. By working together, in the short term, digital humanities faculty gain disciplinary skills outside their normal area of expertise, and teaching faculty learn digital humanities skills and techniques in which they might not otherwise have training. In the long term, we aim for these same faculty members to develop the skillsets necessary to teach these same courses and design new offerings without the same level of collaboration and support, allowing library faculty to further develop new courses themselves.

We see the library as the natural home for digital humanities initiatives on the liberal arts campus. The expertise of our faculty and staff in digital technologies and information literacy pedagogy, combined with our close relationships with ITS colleagues and concentration on the practical implications of digital scholarship, stands to enrich the undergraduate curriculum. We offer the library to our students as a space where they can meet faculty and staff as collaborators as well as educators.