What Happened to Digital Humanities?

Remember digital humanities? It's not gone, but it's not thriving. It is an academic field concerned with the application of computational tools and methods to traditional humanities disciplines such as literature, history, and philosophy.

Do you recall the slide that Steve Jobs often used to close a presentation?

JobsJobs said that "technology alone is not enough - it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yilds us the result that makes our heart sing."

In "The Digital-Humanities Bust"  Timothy Brennan, a professor of cultural studies, comparative literature, and English at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, says that "After a decade of investment and hype, what has the field accomplished? Not much."

"...the dream that algorithmic computation might reveal the secrets of complex social and cultural processes has suffered a very public and embarrassing results crisis. These setbacks have also led to some soul-searching in the university, prompting a closer look at the digital humanities. Roughly a decade’s worth of resources have now been thrown in their direction, including the founding of an Office of Digital Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities, unheard-of amounts of funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a parade of celebratory anthologies backed by crossover articles in high-profile magazines, and academic job openings in an era of tenure-track scarcity. So, with all their promise, and all this help, what exactly have the digital humanities accomplished?"

The rise of STEM and the attention and the grant money money that came with that rise made many humanities departments decide to embrace new tools. Okay, that is harsh. I was in one of those humanities departments and it was in a STEM university. But many of us really believe in using digital tools. Brennan even notes that a number of "digital techniques conform beautifully to some types of humanistic work."

Maybe the digital humanities haven't met the hype or the goals that were originally envisioned, maybe the goals were unrealistic, but they are not going away.




The UX of Course Design

UXI stumbled upon a post on Medium by John Spencer called "8 Ways UX Design Theory Transformed My Approach to Course Design - How a Small Side Project Changed the Way I Teach."  As someone who has taught for a quartet of decades and done UX design and even taught UX, I was intrigued by what he might have learned about "how to build community, communicate clearly, and set up effective systems as we design our courses."

A few basics to start: User experience design theory is confusingly abbreviated as XD, UX, UXD or UED, But it is about focusing on the user experience of a device, tool, platform or web application. In doing this, a designer considers accessibility, usability and the easy to overlook pleasure someone might get from the interaction. Do you think Facebook would be as popular if people didn't get pleasure from using it?

Spencer says he first embraced UX design when he worked on creating a blogging platform for students called Write About.

As with any design, you make the best that you can, add features you think users will want - but then you have to deal with how users react and use it.

Is there a connection to teaching?

Every lesson has a design and teachers learn to design based on what works with a course or even with a specific group of students. Even larger in the design scheme is our current use of classroom systems and course architecture.

Building tools and systems that can be used intuitively understand with a minimum of additional instruction or training is key to UX. If you as a teacher spend a lot of time teaching procedures and methods rather than teaching your content and concepts.

Some of Spencer's takeaways make a lot of sense to me. For example, embrace onboarding. Onboarding is the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members. When you sign into a website or register for a service, you might get virtual tour and buttons have pop-ups or rollover text. The designers want you to feel comfortable as you navigate that first experience. Do we offer that to students when they enter a course?

Read Spencer's post, but maybe think about course design as a system that should seem invisible. I don't know that you need to be a UX designer to teach, or that we can all create a course that when you enter it you immediately know where to go and what to do, but we can certainly put the learner at the center of the design.

MOOCs are the Zombies of Online Education

The death of the MOOC has been declared since 2013 (the year after it was the "year of the MOOC") but they seem to come back to life again.

Udacity vice president Clarissa Shen said recently “they are dead.. a failed product, at least for the goals we had set for ourselves, Our mission is to bring relevant education which advances people in careers and socio-economic activities, and MOOCs aren't the way.”

Back in 2013 after only a year, Udacity’s co-founder, Sebastian Thrun, announced a “pivot” away from MOOCs. But Udacity still offers  a form of the MOOC in its paid sequences of courses called “nanodegrees” that it produces in cooperation with large tech employers and still offers free versions of its course videos for those who don’t want or need a certificate of completion.


And a Sharing Economy

I wrote recently about the Gig Economy which is part of a shifting cultural and business environment in the world of work. A friend reading that post asked me what the difference is between that and the "sharing economy."

It is easy to get confused because besides gig and shared economies, you will see mention of the gift economy and the barter economy.

None of these are new things. A gift economy is one in which services or goods are given without an agreement as to a suitable payment or trade to be made in return. It almost does not sound like it should be an "economy" because instead of monetary gain, the rewards are more intangible things like a sense of contribution, community, honor or prestige.

The oldest of these is a barter economy which you probably learned about is some school history class. This is a cashless economic system in which services and goods are traded at negotiated rates. This very early economy predates monetary systems and even recorded history.

Aspects of the barter and gift economies are part of the newer term "sharing economy" and sharing certainly isn't new. You let a friend stay at your house while they are visiting nearby. You give someone a ride to work and it's not a carpool and you're not an Uber driver. It's a gift, like going to the supermarket for your elderly neighbor. Maybe it's barter because that neighbor gives you fresh vegetables from her backyard garden.

But in a "sharing economy" is that you are not helping out for free. You provide services to a stranger for money. A prime example is Airbnb.

In The Sharing Economy, Arun Sundararajan, says we are transitioning to what he describes as "crowd-based capitalism." He describes it as a new way of organizing economic activity beyond the traditional corporate-centered model.

In any peer-to-peer commercial exchange, the distiction between the personal and the professional. Do you ask the person , how will the economy, government regulation, what it means to have a job, and our social fabric be affected?

The Harvard Business Review argued that "sharing economy" is a misnomer and suggested that a better term is yet another kind of economy - the "access economy." The authors say that when "sharing" is market-mediated, such as when a company is an intermediary between consumers who don't know each other, it is no longer sharing and consumers are paying to access someone else's goods or services.

Unfortunately, the distictions betweeen all these supposed economies are very gray. Though I do feel the Gig Economy is having some impact on education, I am less convinced about the Sharing Economy's impact.

Read More

The Sharing Economy Comes to Campus

Is the Sharing Economy Education’s Future?

How the Sharing Economy Can Transform the Educational Ecosystem