Digital Humanities and Undergraduate Education by Rebecca Frost Davis

I explained Digital Humanities in the Liberal Arts as best I understand it in a previous post. Now let me introduce you to someone who is an expert in this topic. Rebecca Frost Davis at St. Edwards University in Texas and was a NITLE fellow on Digital Humanities and introduces the state of Digital Humanities in small liberal arts colleges and how to become involved.

Here is what she has to say:


Online Education and the Cultural Shift in Higher Education

Who will fill these seats?

Anyone paying attention to the news or non-fiction section of booksellers will see that Higher Education is under increasing public scrutiny for its cost and its efficacy. Books like Academically Adrift hit the marketplace and stimulate discussion about what is being learned and at what cost to the student. Top institutions are now embracing the Web to reach new audiences by offering free classes through services like, Coursera, a partnership of Stanford, Michigan, Princeton, and Penn and EdX, a partnership of MIT and Harvard.

These efforts bring to the forefront another aspect of institutions of higher education; their heterogeneous cultures. Engaging the Six Cultures of the Academy by Bergquist and Pawlack discusses four core cultures and two emerging ones that are interrelated and support and challenge each other. The six cultures are the collegial, managerial, developmental, advocacy, tangible, and virtual.

These new models of free college courses illuminates the last two but first let’s define all six briefly:

Collegial: Describes the faculty of an institution who have deep knowledge of a field and deeply value the autonomous pursuit of it.

Managerial: Hierarchical system determined to produce results and influenced by Catholic or Community College structures as well as a strategy needed as institutions grow larger.

Developmental: Grew out of the need to help faculty members develop their teaching skills and collaborate with different disciplines.

Advocacy: Born out of the desire for equal treatment for all and in part as a reaction to efforts of the managerial culture to control the institution.

Virtual: Globally concerned and connected group enabled by technology to communicate and connect.

Tangible: Institution that values roots in history and tradition and a learning experience grounded in face-to-face contact.

The Virtual and Tangible cultures were already in tension with the maturing practice of online education and for-profit Universities. These free classes add an additional dimension to this balance because more people can access these educational resources and it brings the difference between the Tangible and Virtual into greater focus.

Take the Computer 101 course from Stanford as an example. The participants will be close to the same age between 18-22 in most cases and money will be a factor. A computer science course in a traditional, tangible liberal arts school will likely consist of students who either can afford the cost or have been supported to overcome the cost barrier. Because the school is limited in space in California in the United States students will predominantly be from the US with variety that a top-tier institution would normally include.  This free online course includes hundreds of people from all over the world and spanning the ages of 14 to 70s.  There are even parents who are taking the class with their teenage children. This is a feature of the Virtual culture that is both very exciting and very challenging.

Appreciating how all six cultures contribute to the academic setting is immensely more helpful than the tired polemics of how online education is either ruining or saving higher education.  Engaging these new models of delivery and placing them in context is one of my goals for taking this course and along with a better understanding of computer science, I hope to have a better understanding of how higher education is changing and productively and wisely adapt and move forward.

[Image from Fredjk – Stock.xchng]


Academic Shortcuts and Profitable Plagiarism

Your institution uses software services like so you can rest assured that student cheating will be caught, right?

Not so, says Thomas Bartlett of the Chronicle of Higher Education in an article on March 20, 2009. While many professors are aware of different services that help students write their papers for them, they may not be aware that it is a profitable and global industry they are up against.

These companies called essay mills write custom papers for students who pay per-page, and avoid software like Turnitin because the essays are original works; they just aren’t created by the student. The Chronicle tracked one of these companies, Best Essays, from Virginia to Ukraine to the Philippines, back to the US.
John Gordon of Future Tense interviewed Bartlett about the story on March 27 and it is well-worth the four minutes to listen.

What is a professor to do?  Solutions using technology can help but as Bartlett concludes, having a relationship with the student and their work is still the best deterrent.


Relevant User Guides in a Web 2.0 World

This post is a summary of a presentation given by two Information Literacy Librarians from Wartburg College, Kimberly Babcock Mashek and Kari Weaver,  at the Library Technology Conference on March 19, 2009.  They compare different user guide models and present best practices to make them more interactive and effective. 

The main points of the presentation are to:

  1. Understand what your users want
  2. Understand what resources you have available
  3. Choose the most appropriate resources according to points 1 & 2.
  4. Continue to evaluate and maintain your services.
  5. Share their experience and successes at Wartburg College

Brief History of User Guides

Pathfinders or Static Web Pages


  • Don’t know if people are using them
  • No standardization
  • Users don’t understand library jargon

Why user guides?

  • Enhances Info Lit Instruction
  • Virtual Access
  • Model proper research behavior

What is expected?

  • Be specific
    • by class or assignment
  • Allow customization
    • what are primary databases in their field
  • Need to be current
    • link checking (can pay or have student workers do it)
  • Want sophisticated search but not have to struggle to use it
  • Easy to find library Web page
  • Familiarity/comfort with interface
    • use Wikipedia platform (MediaWiki)
  • Explanation of resources and context
  • Minimal clicks
  • No library jargon
    • research help
  • Anytime, anywhere convenient

Continue reading


Meeting them Halfway: You Tube for Information Literacy

Beth Hillemann and Aaron Albertson, Reference and Instruction Librarians, Macalester College

First year college students are used to gathering information through resources such as YouTube and Google. They need to learn about the approach scholars take to disciplinary inquiry. We designed a standardized session that asked students to critically evaluate a message conveyed through a YouTube video. In the session, they used library and network resources to produce a short bibliography of academic articles and books on the topic.

library ITs First Year Sessions

All different courses – econ., chem,


Hard to put in context

Not every course had library research, not always at time of assignment

Involving more IT skills

Baseline assessment


Give students a common  experience, engage them (use YouTube for familiarity) , mimic scholarly work

Session components

  • Intro – goals
  • Lib – network intro
  • Student Scholars: Be critical
    • Blue Man Group video (mimics airline announcement – addresses global warming)
    • Who is having these conversations? – discuss places – Google
    • Find evidence (Where to go?)
      • Google, Wikipedia – students also mentioned JStor, ASP
      • Intro resources -Lib website, catalog, database
    • Worksheet
      • Group them by twos
      • Very structured
        • Section 1 – Cover Catalog, how to search, how to request items, subject terms
        • Section 2 – Had to think of themselves as scholars in specific discipline
          • upload bibliography of what they found
          • Activity: assume a discipline and brainstorm in a group where you would look

Goals met?

  • Easier to schedule and less prep
  • Teachers less familiar with instruction were more comfortable
  • Students were engaged
  • Met baseline goals, begins with”The information literate student…”
    • can determine nature and extent of info needed
    • efficient and effective informatin gathering
    • evaulated information and sources critically and incorporate know. base and value system


  • Discussion
    • more critical of Google and Wikipedia than expected
    • inventive and interesting sources sought (art exhibits)
  • Hands on resources
    • Both Library and IT were more comfortable
  • Less difficult
  • Students liked it, so did faculty

Question: What do you do to facilitate discussion?

A: Developed Tip Sheet to deal with lack of participation, graduated questions.

Lessons Learned

Streamline so that discipline portion can happen (60 minutes)

Discussion is critical 

Include Refworks for 90 minutes

New Video and topic (should include broad topic and key argument)

Q: Formal Assessment?

A: Yes, will do another in the spring, but mostly informal.

Q: Did faculty attend?

A: Yes, strongly encouraged by Library.

Q: Do you see more students because of session (removing “mystique of librarian” because of non-judgmental presentation)

A: No formal numbers, but consultations have gone up in last couple of years. At orientation, introduced selves as Liaison librarians even to parents to emphasize that they are here for students.

Q: How do get class time.

A: Part of 12 year program which has “trained” faculty. All first year courses must have library component.


Tech Tools for Teaching: Google Docs

While lecture still has its place as an effective method of teaching students, it shouldn’t be the only one. Today’s students want to be engaged in involved in their learning more than ever, especially through the medium of the Internet.  Google Docs provides a flexible platform for teachers and students to collaborate inside and outside the classroom.  Students can do group work on one single document and teachers can observe and comment in real time as the project progresses. This presentation briefly explains:

  1. What Google Docs is.
  2. Its unique features
  3. How they can be used in the classroom with examples