ENGL201 @UNBC – Computing in the Humanities
Tools, Techniques, and Culture of the Digital Humanities

Course Site: http://engl201.opened.ca

Instructor: Grant Potter
Embedded Librarian: Annelise Dowd

COURSE DESCRIPTION
This course offers students an introduction to the concepts, tools, and techniques of digital humanities, as well as a broader engagement with the intersections between new technologies and society.

During the term, students will have the opportunity to engage:

  • Tools and techniques for analyzing source materials, assessing problems, and communicating results common to those working in the discipline of the humanities,
  • Major computing tools (software, hardware, and peripherals) and techniques used by those working in the digital humanities, focusing on their broad application across the discipline of the humanities,
  • Electronic research methods and approaches to critical thinking required to find and evaluate electronic sources,
  • Methods of analyzing humanities research problems in terms of appropriate computing solutions, with an awareness of the potential limitations and benefits of a particular situation,
  • The social, ethical, legal, and philosophical implications of computing and technology.

LEARNING OUTCOMES
By the conclusion of this course, students should learn to:

  • Collaborate with their peers through use of new technologies
  • Purposefully read, analyze, and synthesize electronic texts and new media using the appropriate research tools and techniques,
  • Demonstrate awareness of various strategies used by digital humanities practitioners to interpret history and culture, and
  • Produce a proof of concept for a new digital humanities project.

Student work will be evaluated through individual blog entries made at a self-hosted domain,  a project proposal, and a Final Project prototype. Throughout the term, student writing will syndicated to https://engl201.opened.ca and will be publicly accessible.

Students may work collaboratively on the Final Project and Project Proposal.  Assessment and evaluation expectations of collaborative projects will be established in consultation with the instructor of the course.

REQUIRED RESOURCES
All of the required and suggested course readings and reference material will be openly accessible at https://engl201.opened.ca.  You WILL BE REQUIRED to have a WordPress website.  I have secured promotional codes at Reclaim Hosting  you can use to save 50% off the listed student hosting plans.  With this promotional code, the cost for 1 year of ad-free WordPress hosting with a custom domain including hosting options for to many software applications common in the digital humanities will cost you less than $20 (Cdn).  I will share this promotional code with all student before the end of the day Monday, May 7.

You are not required to use this suggested host, but you will not find a better price given the range of options this deal will offer you.  WordPress.com offers *free* WordPress hosting, but it will introduce ads into your site, does not offer a custom URL, and does not offer hosting of other digital humanities-related software applications.  Please contact me if you have any questions about this requirement.

ASSESSMENT
Reading and Annotation (10%)
We will be using https://hypothes.is to close read resources together, per week. You want to get in the habit of annotating these documents succinctly and noticing what your peers annotate. Annotating a text in detail, whether a secondary text or a primary source, is a step towards developing larger analyses.

Hypothes.is’s intuitive interface allows you to annotate any resource with a URL.   I will create a annotation group for us and invite you all by sharing a designated link by the end of Monday, May 7. This link will also serve as the group annotation home page with a list of members and texts annotated by the group. This page will also provide us with an updated stream of annotations created by the class.

Weekly blog posts and commentary (30%)
Reflecting on your learning and the writing of you classmates is a requirement, rather than an assignment.  I will provide ideas, concepts, and questions for students to consider on a weekly basis and will be reading your reflections throughout the course.

There are various ways to approach these open-ended posts:

  • consider the assigned reading in relation to its historical or theoretical context
  • write about an aspect of the topic you don’t understand, or something that jars you
  • articulate an idea for a project and float it by your peers
  • formulate an insightful question or two about a reading and then attempt to answer your own questions
  • respond to another student’s post, building upon it, disagreeing with it, or re-thinking it.

When constructing a post, students should be sure to use evidence—from the assigned readings, or what your peers have posted. Even though these entries should be viewed as thought experiments scaffolded toward a final project, they are also intended to be less formal than writing for an academic audience. On your site, you should feel free to write as if they are communicating during a class meeting. For this class, the primary function of your site is to document your ideas and share them.

Students will also be expected to comment on blog entries by their peers.  These comments can be brief (50 or so words). At a minimum, comments should draw evidence from a peer’s blog entry (e.g., quote something they wrote) and leave the student with a productive question to explore (e.g., “I find your understanding of the digital humanities interesting. Would you mind elaborating on what you mean by ‘building’?”). Comments should not focus on grammar and syntax issues. They should instead privilege argumentation (e.g., what a peer is claiming, what evidence is being used, or where a thought is going). Students are encouraged to respond to comments on their posts. The best comments spark friendly dialogue, and dialogue should foster persuasive digital projects.

About Your Blog
No competencies in managing or using a blog are assumed prior to enrolment in this course. I will instruct students in how to setup and use a WordPress site.  WordPress is a popular content management system used in education and industry alike that supports the frameworks and underlying technologies we will be using throughout the course.  You will be provided with access to an online platform that will allow you to manage your website in addition to a range of other software platforms popular within digital humanities. Note: You will need to choose an available domain name for your site.

Grading Rubric: Blog Entries and Comments

A- through A+: The content is focused and coherently integrates examples with explanations or analysis. It demonstrates awareness of its own limitations or implications, and it considers multiple perspectives when appropriate. The content reflects in-depth engagement with the topic, and it openly engages work by other students in the course.

B- through B+: The content is reasonably focused, and explanations or analysis are mostly based on examples or other evidence. Some connections are made between ideas; and though new insights are offered, they are not fully developed. The entry reflects moderate engagement with the topic, and it moderately engages work by other students in the course.

C or C+: The content is mostly description or summary, without consideration of alternative perspectives, and few connections are made between ideas. It reflects passing engagement with the topic, and it hardly (if at all) engages work by other students in the course.

D: The content is unfocused, or simply rehashes previous comments, and displays no evidence of student engagement with the topic.

F: The content is missing or falls extremely short of a substantive post. (e.g., it’s only 100-words-long).

Note: If you are looking for a minimum benchmark for involvement with your blog – consider two blog posts and two comments at your classmates blogs as the minimum.

There is no maximum post expectation.  It is my hope that you will use this space to frequently think out loud, narrate your processes as you investigate methods, tools ,and ideas, ask questions, and share insights.

While I will comment on blog entries throughout the term, I will not—at any time—publicly post any grades on student sites or the class site.

(Parts of this section and grading rubric have been borrowed from Mark Sample’s “Pedagogy and the Class Blog.”)

Project Proposal (10%)
Prior to submitting the Final Project, students will have the opportunity to draft and submit a project proposal, sketching out the issue the project will address, how, for whom, and to what effects. The prompt for the proposal will be posted at the course site.

Final Project (35%)
The Final Project will be a proof of concept (e.g., a visible and interactive model) for a line of digital humanities inquiry that, with more time, could be developed and include more content. That proof of concept will be presented via your web domain.  I will post a detailed prompt at the course site for the Final Project; it will include instructions outlining how to proceed with the assignment.  Your proof of concept will include:

  1. a brief statement articulating the purpose of and the audience for the project,
  2. a public URL where the project prototype can be accessed
  3. an outline of  issue(s) the project addresses,
  4. at least three ways (e.g., geographical map, timeline, text analysis, video, and audio) of presenting evidence and claims, and
  5. an outline for future developments (e.g., what, if given more time, the project could do and how).

Please note: It is expected that the outcomes of the Final Project will be remain public on the web for at least a year, allowing those who are not in the course to view it once the term is over.

The breakdown of the Final Project is as follows:

  • Project Content and Design (20%)
  • Project Description (15%)

Grading Rubric:  Project Proposal, Project Prototype, and Final Audit

A- through A+: Offers a very highly proficient, even memorable demonstration of the trait(s) associated with the learning outcome(s), including some appropriate risk-taking and/or creativity.

B- through B+: Offers a proficient demonstration of the trait(s) associated with the course outcome(s), which could be further enhanced with revision.

C or C+: Effectively demonstrates the trait(s) associate with the course outcome(s), but less proficiently; could use revision to demonstrate more skillful and nuanced command of trait(s).

D: Minimally meets the basic outcome(s) requirement, but the demonstrated trait(s) are not fully realized or well-controlled and would benefit from significant revision.

F: Does not meet the outcome(s) requirement; the trait(s) are not adequately demonstrated and require substantial revision on multiple levels.

Final Audit (15%)
After the Final Project is submitted, students will conclude the course by auditing it.  In short, it will function as a way to reflect on the course as one mode (effective or not) of learning about and practicing the digital humanities, with students documenting what worked and what did not. A prompt for the audit will be circulated during before the last week of the course.  You will submit your Final Audit directly to me via a survey link that will distributed to all students in the class by the end of Monday, June 11.

POLICIES
Late and Missed Submissions

If writing assignments (i.e., Posts, Comments, and the Project Proposal) are submitted after the beginning of the class period during which they are due, credit will be deducted by 1/3 of a letter-grade per day, starting with the due date. Extension of a due date must be negotiated with me in advance, and medical or other emergency exceptions to this policy must be properly documented.

Barring extenuating circumstances, I will not accept the Final Project or Audit after it is due. Students are required to complete the Final Project and Audit in order to receive a passing grade for the course.

Communication

With the exception of holidays and weekends, I will be available to respond to student inquiries within 24 hours.  Rather than email, we will be using software called Mattermost to communicate. Mattermost is an open source realtime messaging platform with a free mobile app.  This platform supports both direct messages and group messages. The invitation link to our Mattermost space will be shared with all students in an introductory email Monday, May 7.  

If you have questions about the course or want to clarify instructions, please consider asking your question in this space so the entire class can benefit from the discussion.  If you have a inquiry you would prefer to remain private, you can either DM me in Mattermost or email me directly at Grant.Potter@unbc.ca

Learning Climate
The University of Northern British Columbia is committed to promoting, providing, and protecting a positive, supportive, and safe working and learning environment for all its members. Students and faculty members are expected to adhere to UNBC policies regarding conduct. Students should alert me immediately if they have any questions about these policies and applications, or if they have concerns about course proceedings or participants.

Academic Integrity
Any conduct that violates the standards of the University as set out in the Undergraduate University Calendar, particularly those related to academic honesty, is a serious offense.  The expectations of this course are in keeping with the standards of the University. Please ensure you are familiar with these as define at https://www.unbc.ca/calendar/undergraduate/regulations

Accessibility
Students with diverse learning styles and needs are welcome in this course. In particular, if you have a disability/health consideration that may require accommodations, please feel free to approach me and/or the UNBC Accessibility Resource Centre (ARC) as soon as possible. The ARC staff are available by appointment to assess specific needs, provide referrals and arrange appropriate accommodations. The sooner you let us know your needs, the quicker we can assist you in achieving your learning goals in this course.

SCHEDULE
The schedule is subject to change. If and when it is changed, I will notify the class and revise the course site accordingly.

— WEEK ONE: INTRODUCTIONS AND INTERFACES (May 7 to May 14)
In the everyday practice of digital research and knowledge production, documenting your work is key. That includes documenting when things do not go as planned. But how do we document our work in digital environments, which often appear far more ephemeral and fleeting than print? And how do interfaces influence how we—as well as our audiences—interpret our notes, clippings, ideas, and other kinds of work in progress? We’ll start answering these questions, looking at some research and notetaking tools as we do.

We’ll then transition into determining how you can use WordPress this term to collaboratively document, communicate, and revise your research. When choosing a WordPress theme, one thing to consider (among many) is its interface.   You will be provided with a means to establish your own domain and WordPress space this week.

The digital humanities likes to define and redefine itself. Why? Across definitions, what contradictions and tensions emerge? And, as undergraduates who are currently studying and participating in the field, what does the digital humanities mean to you?  Finally, how would digital humanities research apply to specific issues on (or related to) UNBC?

Required and suggested reading and viewing for the week will be posted at the course site along with required and suggested exercises.

— WEEK TWO: MODES OF RESEARCH AND COMMUNICATION (May 14 to May 21)
All digital projects have certain structural features in common. Some are built on “platforms” using software that has either been designed specifically from within the digital humanities community (such as Omeka, a possible platform you might use for your final projects), or has been repurposed to serve (eg: WordPress), or has been custom-built.

We will explore aspects of the “back end” and “front end” of digital projects, the workings under the hood (files on servers, in browsers, databases, search engines, processing programs, and networks) and the user experience.  But what creates the user experience on the back end? How are digital projects structured to enable various kinds of functions and activities on the part of the user? All digital humanities projects are built of the same basic structural components, even though the degree of complexity that can be added into these components and their relations to each other and the user can expand exponentially.

The basic elements: a repository of files or digital assets, some kind of information architecture or structure, a suite of services, and a display for user experience. While this is deceptively simple and reductive, it is also useful as a way to think about the building of digital humanities projects. At their simplest, digital projects can consist of a set files (assets) stored in an information architecture such as a database or file system (structure) where they can be accessed (services) and called by a browser (use/display).

All of the complexity in digital humanities projects comes from the ways we can create structure (in the sense of introducing information into the basic data) in the assets, organize the information

Required and suggested reading and viewing for the week will be posted at the course site along with required and suggested exercises.

— WEEK THREE: MARKUP, DATA, AND ANALYSIS (May 21 to May 28)
All content in digital formats can be characterized as structured or unstructured data. In actuality, all data is structured—even typing on a keyboard “structures” a text as an alphabetic file and links it to an ASCII keyboard and strokes. The distinction of one letter from another or from a number structures the data at the primary level. But the concept of “structured data” is used to refer to another, second, level of organization that allows data to be managed or manipulated through that extra structure. Common ways to structure data are to introduce markup using tags, to use comma separated values, or other data structures. The distinction between structured/unstructured data has ramifications for the ways information can be used, analyzed, and displayed.

Structured data is given explicit formal properties by means of the secondary levels of organization, or encoding. These use extra elements (ex: tags), data structures (tables, database collections), or other means to add an extra level of interpretation or value to the data. The term unstructured data is generally used to refer to texts, images, sound files, or other digitally encoded information that has not had a secondary structure imposed upon it.

How are documents encoded in order to be machine-readable? In the humanities, why is this done? Regardless of whether most people notice them, what are some everyday examples of markup? What encoding guidelines or standards might be relevant to projects in this class? And what are some approaches to reading (or “not reading”) large sums of text at once? How might analyzing a large sum of text brush against (if at all) investments in markup?

Required and suggested reading and viewing for the week will be posted at the course site along with required and suggested exercises.

— WEEK FOUR: Visualizations, Maps, and Timelines (May 28 to June 4)
Information visualizations are used to make quantitative data legible. They are particularly useful for large amounts of information and for making patterns in the data legible in a condensed form. All information visualizations are metrics expressed as graphics. The implications of this simple statement are far ranging—anything that can be quantified, given a numerical value, can be turned into a chart, map, timeline, diagram, or other visualization through computational means. All parts of the process—from creating quantified information to producing visualizations—are acts of interpretation. Understanding how graphic formats impose meaning, or semantic value, is crucial to the production of information visualization. But any sense that “data” has an inherent “visual form” is an illusion.  The challenge is to understand how the information visualization creates an argument and then make use of the graphical format whose features serve your purpose.

Required and suggested reading and viewing for the week will be posted at the course site along with required and suggested exercises.

Due this week: Project Proposal

— WEEK FIVE: PROJECT PROTOTYPING, DEVELOPMENT, AND CONSULTATIONS (June 4 to June 11)
No new topics or exercises will be introduced this week  During this week I will web-conference with each student in the class to discuss the project prototype you have underway.  We will use this opportunity to discuss any questions or address any technical and/or organizational challenges you require assistance with.

By the end of this week, you should be able to answer the following questions about your project:

  • Does it either express new information or present information in a new way?
  • How does it take advantage of the digital medium? What new affordances are made possible? Is the project an appropriate use of the digital medium? Does it produce work that could not be done as well in an analogue venue?
  • Is it accessible to an appropriate audience?
  • Is the design, interface(s), and presentation easily accessible?
  • Does the project produce something that can be built upon? Does it facilitate other work?
  • How will the project gain a user base? How long might it take for the project to achieve its stated goals?

— WEEK SIX: FINALIZE PROJECTS AND COURSE AUDIT (June 11 – June 15)
By the end of this week you will have completed your Final Project and submitted your course audit.

By the end of this week you should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What’s involved in bundling together various aspects of a project and making it presentable?
  • How are digital projects communicated effectively to a variety of audiences, through a variety of modes? For instance, how might oral presentations be blended with other forms of expression and persuasion?

Due this week: Final Project + Course Audit

 

CREDITS

This course is inspired and influenced by the amazing work of many Digital Humanities educators who share their resources and insights on the open web.   Significant elements of the topics, readings, and exercises in this course are adopted and adapted from their work.

Hearty gratitude to: