In this section, Dr. Kurt Fendt and teaching assistant, Andrew Kelleher Stuhl, describe how situating students’ final digital humanities projects in real-world contexts prompted students to engage in processes of concept refinement and robust peer-feedback.
In this course, students develop digital humanities projects that meet scholarly, educational, or public needs. The goal is for them to create projects that fit into existing physical spaces (such as museums) and that use digital tools to engage a public audience with the humanities. We situate students’ course projects in real-world contexts because it helps students think deeply about all aspects of their projects, including their technologies, their audiences and the institutions within which the projects operate. These factors present certain possibilities and constraints. The constraints are particularly productive. They force students to rethink their concepts and approaches. This is especially useful for helping students think critically about the technologies they develop. You can create state-of-the art technologies, but if you can’t use them in real-world environments, they’re useless. Situating learning in real-world contexts engages students in a process of constant concept refinement, because it forces them to respond to dynamic environmental and social constraints.
Robust Peer Feedback
An additional effect of the final projects being work that was going to go out into the world was that the last four weeks of the course really took on the feel of rehearsal for the moment when the projects were going to be presented to the general public. That was a significant source of motivation for students to want to not only give each other feedback, but to take others’ feedback about their own projects to heart and to rethink and refine their projects as they went along.
Students became increasingly invested in other teams’ projects during this time. As they became more familiar with them, they spotted more and more opportunities and insights from their own work that might be applied to their peers’ projects. They also took up the critical frameworks put forth by their peers’ projects, wrestled with them, and suggested ways in which they might have been improved.
What was remarkable was that when we, as instructors, gave groups feedback during the last class session, we were not the only voices to which students were listening! The classroom climate felt collaborative—like we were part of a big team.
There were several factors that contributed to the kind of robust peer-feedback we observed, such as using Annotation Studio to promote collaborative close readings early in the course and using a shared website, managed through GitHub, to which students posted project updates, but situating the projects in real-world contexts with public audiences was definitely one of the strongest motivating factors for promoting productive feedback.