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Digital Humanities Support in the Scholar's Lab: The English Capstone Experience

by Megan Bernal 2/28/2014 11:06:00 AM
Faculty hoping to incorporate digital humanities tools and methods into their teaching and research may find recent use of the Library's new Scholar's Lab for a senior English capstone course of interest.  Winner of the 2013 Thomas and Carol Dammrich Faculty Innovation Award and entitled Literature in the Age of Intelligent Machines, this unique course was co-taught by Associate Professor of English John Shanahan and myself with the goal to explore the creation and interpretation of narratives from printed codex to current ebook and Twitter feed form through theoretical readings and technical skills training.
To help meet this goal, librarians with expertise in database design, data curation, programming, digitization, metadata, digital archiving, and digital publishing were tapped to provide hands-on activities using specialized tables designed for small group work in the Scholar's Lab.  One foundational activity involved teaching students how to use scanners and optical character recognition (OCR) software in order to transform a printed text into a digital object, thus making it fulltext searchable and "database ready" for new types of inquiry and analysis using search algorithms and visualization tools.  Another activity that addressed newer, "born digital" literary genres leveraged Google Fusion Tables to mine and archive real-time data feeds from Twitter.  Students kept all the digital objects they created, and, by the end of the course, learned how to self-publish their own scholarly or fictional work in a standardized file format used by major ebook distributors like Apple and Amazon.
The depth and breadth of active technology learning components in the course was rigorous and challenging for a group of students, who, in many cases, had not been formally exposed to such tools or techniques during their college careers, but several important steps were made by Prof. Shanahan and the library team to remedy this. First, students were provided with Web-based supplemental technology training for major course components using a low cost solution callled lyndaClassroom from the popular technology training service  A lyndaClassroom academic license allowed us to choose up to 5 topics for independent study by students anywhere, any time on the Web, including downloadable exercise files and certificates of completion for tracking purposes.  Second, librarians provided in-person and remote email support for group activities and projects during and after class in the Scholar’s Lab.  
Ultimately, it is people with expertise and interest and not just digital tools or technology alone that support digital humanities endeavors and the library welcomes opportunities to experiment with and subsequently learn further how complex academic computing software and systems like Adobe Creative Cloud or might be used to support future digital humanities programs and coursework.  Since opening its doors to Literature in the Age of Intelligent Machines students in Fall 2013, the Scholar's Lab has shown itself to be a flexible and powerful space where DePaul community members from any discipline or department can gather to explore new models for teaching, learning, and research, whether as a capstone course, interest group, or research project in need of technical support.  
I welcome your inquiries and requests to use the Scholar's Lab space and associated resources.  Visit the Scholar's Lab web page here for more information about available technology and services or contact me via phone or email any time.

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