End-of-the-semester Review

Back in 2011, ProfHacker recommended (and has continued annually to recommend) an end-of-semester re-cap.  Now that my students’ final projects are in, I thought it would be a good time to publicly take stock of what worked, what didn’t, and what’s next.

What worked really well for each course you taught?

I’m lucky enough to be a postdoc this year, so I was only responsible for one course – Digital Maps, Space and Place.  This was my first time teaching a course “native” to Digital Studies – that is, one that didn’t combine digital humanities methods into a history course, but was designed to put those methods at the center of what happened in my classroom.  I was afraid that students would have trouble learning the many new technologies that I threw at them, and I was pleased to find that they were willing to take on tools that they were previously totally unfamiliar with.  I’m hoping to lean into this willingness more in future, and spend a bit less time teaching the tools, and a little more talking about the theory behind tool design.  I hope that this will prove engaging for students, and will also make it easier to link what I teach with theoretical debates in other disciplines.

What didn’t?

Having never taught a technical skills-based class before, I struggled early on to figure out how to teach tools.  Talking students through step-by-step was fairly boring (for them and for me) and meant that they didn’t necessarily retain what we’d done in class without a tutorial hand out.  I ended up borrowing some techniques from colleagues in the sciences, and asking students to work on a small problem on their own at home (in lieu of lab time) and to bring projects in process (of either success or failure) to class where we could work on them as a group.

What ideas did you form that could be applied the next time you teach this course?

In addition to leaning into students’ embrace of new tools, I also want to lean into a lab model for the humanities.  In the spring, I’m teaching a class on information and communication technology in Antebellum America, and I’m using a group work format borrowed from a colleague in history.  Students work in groups to produce collective historiographies, primary source analyses and archive reviews, before turning to individual and self-directed projects.  I’m hoping that these groups – which remain static over the course of the semester – will provide students with a small learning community, and a support group for developing their own work.

I was also much more comfortable this semester changing things on the fly if what I was doing didn’t work.  In the past, when teaching classes I’m more familiar with, I’ve adhered to a pretty strict schedule, but I liked the flexibility of throwing a lesson plan out and starting from scratch the day before if the previous class had opened up new possibilities.  I do worry about unnerving those students who meticulously plan out the semester, but I’m convinced that a bit of spontaneity can be good for pedagogy, and for course morale.

Did you tuck away any digital or printed materials that you think would be great for inclusion the next time around?

Well, today I spent a lot of time tooling around in the U.S. Patent office online archive.  I’d not thought about using that next semester, but I might build it in.  I’m also excited about using the Davidson College Archives to show students what the architecture (both physical and informational) of an archive looks like before sending them off to evaluate digital ones.


How will you know where to look for these materials when it comes time for you to teach the course again?

When in doubt, www.dp.la !

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