A Digital Teaching Praxis

As I make the transition to MSU, I recognize that a praxis I built at Rollins College is not easily forgotten. From Eatonville and Zora Neale Hurston to Hannibal Square and Tuskegee Universe, I find myself trying to sort through structures I built and the practice I want/need to continue. In the context of the Central Florida DH community, I was starting a process linked the UCF Center for Humanities and Digital Research (CHDR) around digital pedagogy and community engagement that was setting the foundation for the future. Thanks to ACS/R1 grant from the Associated Colleges of the South, I was able to organize a DH workshop with Scot French that took a cohort of faculty from Rollins College and UCF through a process of scaling up for using technology in the classroom.



As you can see from my little video highlight reel, rather than a workshop on a specific tools, this workshop was formulated around the idea of “digital intervention” within a course the instructor was designing. Using my “the simplest tool is the best" mantra, we were aiming to support the participants in a process of exploration linked to digital humanities practice. The final outcome were lesson plans created by the participants based on the tool they judge most effective for this course. You can see them online here. This was a requirement for the grant and the final home for these lesson plan is intended to the Florida Digital Humanities Consortium website. We were deep in a discussion about creating a teaching portal, but that process continues and I’m not around. As always, if you are not online easily, there is a question of whether or not you can get access to the information. I decided to make a pdf, which required some kind of cover image.

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The physical takeaway is often useful for DH project outcomes. I’m not sure this PDF is going to be widely circulated, but having it give me an option. My hope in designing the workshop was to create a cohort of faculty that would growing into a digital humanities practice together and participate in THATCamp Florida and support greater DH engagement on campus. My generative practice weaves classroom, community, and scholarly question into a practice. I think that process can be useful. I hope the 2017 cohort continue their engagement with DH, but now that I’m at MSU, the size and scope of the DH community on campus make for a different set of challenges.

More to come.

The Tool Rule: Keep it Simple, but...

Anchor is one of those digital tools that came out in the last few years and I was not sure it would survive. Originally Anchor functioned sort of like a personal radio station.  Not surprisingly, they have revamped the app to take advantage of the podcasting culture developing in the United States.  While I think radio and podcasting have some things in common, the reality is that podcasts use a long-form logic and radio is more immediate. So, if you want to tell a story, you can do it on the radio. If you want to tell that same story in a long-form,  you switch to podcasts. You see this logic at play on National Public Radio every day. It seems that almost every show has a companion podcast and it is obvious they record the material in one session, but edit it down to shot snippets for broadcast and use the remaining audio for podcast episodes. The benefit is that people come to the material when they are ready and because they are interested. Anchor's decision to re-design the app to be more podcast specific makes a lot of sense.

I keep my eye on the app landscape, in part because those tools are available for students to use in the free (ish) price point. A big percentage of the population carries a powerful computer in their pocket. The smartphone is the most common digital tool.  We don't often think of it as a tool, but it is a tool and like all tools, it can be put to use for a project. The most common use is talking to the world, but with the application ecosystem, most professional people use the phone as a personal interface with their digital self.  From a teaching standpoint,  allowing students to use their phone for a digital project is not really a difficult argument.  Most of them have smartphones by the time they arrive at college.  They are familiar with the phone and therefore anxiety about technology is cut down by working with that tool. MARA (Mobile Academic Research Application) basically grew from the idea that the functionality of the phone could be leveraged to give students a device they could use in the field to more effectively collect, categorize, and store information while doing a research project.  MARA is in a transition (ask me about my Death Star Problem), but I keep my eye on the app world.  These are tools that have been tested and approved for use. They tend to have good interfaces and they work. The problem is that any data on a commercial tool is basically unsafe. By unsafe, I don't mean that your identity is exposed. While privacy is a real issue and I always talk with students about their digital self and managing it, the reality is that if I work with a tool like Anchor, I must assume at some point it is going to disappear.  Ask people about GitHub and see what they say. The purchase by Microsoft has many people worried about the site's often used function as a repository for digital projects. With Microsoft now in charge, many users will get off GitHub, but many more might join the platform.  

For me, Anchor is worth testing as I pursue the idea of documenting an ongoing project between myself and Scot French.  We have been working on a new narrative of Winter Park History.  Telling the story of that project is not about the academic narrative, it is about a public humanities practice that highlight process.