RECOMMENDED: Teaching DH on a Shoestring: Minimalist Digital Humanities Pedagogy

Danica Savonick (SUNY Cortland) published “Teaching DH on a Shoestring: Minimalist Digital Humanities Pedagogy” in the December 2022 issue (no 21) of The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy. This was a themed issue dedicated to Open Educational Resources and hosted on Manifold. From the abstract:

This article explores minimalist digital humanities pedagogy: strategies for teaching DH at institutions that don’t have many resources for doing so. Minimalist digital humanities pedagogy aims to maximize learning while minimizing stress, barriers of access, and time (for both instructors and students). This article considers how we can take a minimalist approach to course design, course websites, and DH project assignments. Throughout, it highlights how free, low-cost, and open-source tools can be used to help students increase their digital literacy, including their awareness of the ways technologies reproduce and challenge conditions of inequality. Such methods, I contend, can help students at a range of institutions develop digital skills both to navigate the world and to change it.

The article focuses on teaching digital humanities at under-resourced institutions “where the vast majority of our nation’s students are educated” to “articulate a vision of minimalist digital humanities pedagogy… that refers not only to the use of digital tools and platforms, but to the process of helping students think critically about them, especially in relation to broader social conditions and questions of power. Minimalist digital humanities pedagogy aims to maximize learning while minimizing stress, barriers of access, and time (for both instructors and students).” Savonick focuses on how minimalist DH pedagogy can be applied to course design, course websites, and DH project assignments.

Savonick offers seven strategies for minimalist DH course design:

  1. Organize courses around topics that matter to students
  2. Assuage anxieties surrounding technological expertise
  3. Begin with relevant texts that give students new perspectives on their everyday lives
  4. Help students identify their intellectual investments in the course material
  5. Organize course units around praxis
  6. Create opportunities for students to design a portion of the course
  7. Utilize group work to teach collaboration

She argues for working outside of the learning management system and using WordPress instead, in part because of its ubiquity, and in part to center students’ words on the site (in contrast to most LMS). And, arguing for collaborative, project-based DH assignments, Savonick urges us to “consider students’ distinct learning styles, skill levels with different technologies, and the materials (hardware, software, bandwidth, and equipment) they have access to, both on campus and at home. ” She notes the importance of devoting class time to collaborative group work, to help working students and student caregivers. And she advocates for open-ended projects:

Rather than dictating the form their projects will take, students select their own form (such as website, podcast, timeline, or lesson plan) and choose an appropriate platform for their project. One key requirement is that the project should be useful to an audience beyond our classroom.

Open-ended projects have many benefits, especially for students at under-resourced institutions. They create space for student creativity. This is especially important, given the inequities of our tiered US education system, which readily provides affluent students with learning that nurtures their creativity, and leaves standardization and teaching to the test for everyone else. Open-ended projects also honor the experiential knowledge that students bring to the classroom. In addition, they require students to think critically about which platform they will select to fit the goals of their project—a key component of digital literacy. Open-ended projects are also well suited for heterogeneous students with a range of different skill levels, abilities, and levels of comfort with technologies. They allow students to determine whether they will use the project as an opportunity to learn a new platform or create something using a tool they’re more comfortable with. Such assignments are also easy to reuse and adapt for other courses—especially important for instructors with heavy course loads.

The article includes a sample syllabus and assignment.

dh+lib Review

This post was produced through a cooperation between Kelly Hammond, Tugba Korhan, Divya Mathur, Mimosa Shah, Michelle Speed, Ashlyn Stewart, April Urban, Erica Leslie Weidner, Chelsea Wells, and Vera Zoricic (Editors-at-large for the week), Nickoal Eichmann-Kalwara and Pamella Lach (Editors for the week), Claudia Berger, Linsey Ford, Hillary Richardson, John Russell, and Rachel Starry (dh+lib Review Editors).