This week, we’ve gathered another selection of posts on digital humanities during a pandemic, covering topics from museums to transcription to prison education. You can find last week’s roundup here.
Sarah Emily Bond
As the pandemic known as COVID-19 grips the globe, thousands of instructors in the United States and elsewhere have been asked to transition their courses online for the remainder of the semester. To some instructors, such as the superb Classics professors at the Open University, distance learning has become a normalized pedagogy. To many others facing teaching online: this is uncharted territory. Although the SCS has compiled helpful lists of open access (i.e. freely available) resources for classicists migrating their courses into the digital realm, we might also consider the value in allowing our students to contribute to a number of online digital humanities projects that outsource the work of manuscript or documentary transcription to members of the public. In the process, students can acquire paleographical and linguistic skills; work directly with archival documents; and ultimately engage in a collaborative online space centered on enriching the public data available across the world.
We were all faced with some of the realest decisions of our careers, and we decided it’s better to do this one together. The shared google doc of closures blew up around Thursday afternoon, and in looking at it, I thought, maybe for the first time in my career, we are saving lives. The choice to close wasn’t easy. I read directors note after director’s note on websites about tough choices and challenging decisions. Our sector might employ large numbers but our budgets aren’t like the Microsoft and Google’s of the world. But, even in the face of challenge, museums made this choice.
Efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19 have fundamentally, and in many cases permanently, transformed the landscape of cultural consumption. As of Monday, March 16th, over 400 major US museums have closed their doors and ceased their traditional programming. While this is an essential part of collectively weathering a public health crisis that is likely to overwhelm the US healthcare system in a matter of days, these closures invariably introduce a deep degree of precarity for hundreds of beloved cultural organizations, and many are at risk of suffering grave financial harm as a result. Moreover, their mission is at risk of pausing, since they will for some time be unable to serve as spaces of respite, of learning, and of interpersonal exchange. But while buildings may be closed, museums and other cultural organizations should consider the real opportunities to serve their communities. Indeed, some have already begun to do so.
As the announcements of campus closures continue unabated, colleges and universities across the country are struggling to figure out how to adjust their teaching and learning practices, with many moving their courses online. But what does this mean for students who are incarcerated? Building on Ithaka S+R’s ongoing research on how technology can be leveraged towards increasing access to higher education in prisons and more equitable learning experiences, today we are taking a look at how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting prison education programs and the potential impact on incarcerated learners.
Lee Skallerup Bessette
I started teaching in an online program for people in prison. I’m teaching a writing course to incarcerated men and women scattered across the country. If you thought the LMS was bad, wait until you experience the prison LMS, let me tell you. The students have to download all materials on to a proprietary tablet during certain times, find time and space to write their essays and assignments, and then re-upload them at the appropriate time from a kiosk. The tablets are notoriously unreliable. Some students didn’t have access to a word processing program. Others were on lockdown. One prison was without water.
The previous week, even though the kids were in school, I couldn’t focus. The tension and uncertainty of when the schools (and daycares) would close was leaving me a total wreck. I muddled through, teaching the last two sessions of “Project Management and Ethical Collaboration for Humanists” via Zoom, with a carefully-placed phone camera showing the dice for our DH RPG. But it was hard to get much else done. How can you decide what to prioritize when you don’t know how much time you’ll have — next week, or into the indefinite future? Should I be tackling large projects with fervor, since I might not have an extended period of focused time free for a long while? Or should I just set those aside, and deal with all the immediate crises and emails? The result was a lot of angst, and not much accomplished on any front.
So the first week of pedagogy in the time of pandemic has come and gone and I am sure we all have feelings and thoughts. My first observation is just how willing faculty have been to think about different ways to help support their students at this time. If you have a teacher in your life, whether they teach K-12 or Higher Ed please thank them right now. They have done so much in such a short amount of time, sometimes with poor access to technology and it truly is to be commended. I have a few things I want to focus on in what will probably be many weeks of pedagogy in the time of pandemic.
James Harry Morris
Whilst I needn’t go into minute detail, the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has necessitated the use and indeed highlighted the importance of the digital for both educational and research purposes. Libraries, archives, and museums are temporarily closing and therefore those of us with inadequate collections of physical texts must, in the coming months, increasingly turn to e-books and other digitized materials. A large number of universities will take their teaching completely online during the next semester, and some seminars and other events will also enter the digital realm – for instance, the Centre for the Study of Religion and Politics at the University of St Andrews of which I am an Associate Researcher has announced that its seminars will continue online. Conferences and other events are also moving online.
The warning bells are chiming. Some faculty are wary. The Canadian Association of Universities Teachers, for example, warns against workload pressures that would now require “additional support for staff, such as assigning teaching assistants,” and cautions that academic bodies “involved in monitoring the pedagogical effectiveness of temporary online instruction and to decide on adjustments or discontinuance.” Dipping one’s toes into Twitter and you’ll see rhetoric as varied as how this devalues the hard work of online education, that it is an impossible task being given to instructors, and – in conspiratorial tones – how this might just be the first herald of a “neoliberal” move towards online education. Naturally, nobody would argue that any of this was ideal. Framing this as a move to “online education,” however, is deeply misleading.
Annotations are what set visual communication and journalism apart from just visualization. They often consist of text, but some of the most useful annotations are graphical elements, and many of them are very simple. One type I have a particular fondness for is the diagonal reference line, which has been used to provide powerful context in past news pieces, and is making a comeback in the COVID-19 charts.