Dr. Carrie Helms Tippen – English

Project Overview

The main goal of the project is to introduce students to digital humanities, a new and growing subfield of literary and interdisciplinary studies. The technology and the skills are transferable to other fields because the assignment is project based, independently driven, and gives students experience researching, collecting, publishing, and being aware of audience. The project meets my pedagogical and philosophical goals of the public intellectual by making the work of the university freely available to real audiences.

  • At the beginning of the semester, students were assigned a primary text from the syllabus. They were allowed to work independently or in small groups.
  • By the end of the semester, the student(s) added a minimum of 5 items to a collection hosted on Omeka (an online archiving tool) related to their assigned text. At least one item should be an original document demonstrating their own interpretation of the text using digital humanities methods: a video, slide show, map, graphic, database, website, transcription, etc. Other items could be links to other DH projects, PDFs, images, scholarly archives/research, any existing scholarship or archives that interpret or give context to the text.
  • When we read their text in class, the student(s) assigned to it offered a presentation and lead discussion of the historical context surrounding that text. This presentation was meant to be informative, based on academic/scholarly research, and general internet searches (focusing on sources associated with libraries, universities, archives, etc.). This was a step in the process of creating materials for the Omeka archive. The class gave feedback about what is included in the presentation and what further research could be added.

Project overview


Planning Process

The primary challenge in planning this project was figuring out how to add an introduction to digital humanities and instruction in tech tools to an already full syllabus of reading and discussion. Every primary text I eliminated from the reading schedule also eliminated an option for students to research. I was also aware that in order for students to have the most time to complete their projects, they would need to make a lot of decisions about this project at the very beginning of the semester with very little prior knowledge or experience. I would have to get them from zero to independent in the first four weeks of class. So I planned a series of readings and “Digital Humanities Project of the Day” features to get them maximum exposure.
I also had to plan in a lot of check-points to ensure that students were working steadily and felt continuously supported in this foreign task. I asked them to think of me as an unofficial group member and project consultant. I met with each group independently to discuss their ideas, write a proposal, make recommendations for tools, and provide sample projects.

I used the SAMR model for planning. I did not want this project to be a “substitution,” like putting a paper online or using Omeka to make essentially an annotated bibliography. Instead, I really wanted students to use tech tools to create something they could not summarize in a five-paragraph essay, or to discover something about the text that was not obvious from traditional close reading practices. My goal was “redefinition:” a new way of reading or presenting the text that cannot be accomplished without tech tools.


STEPS FOR STUDENTS (working individually or in groups)

  1. Choose a primary text from the syllabus to be the focus of the project. Read ASAP and begin preliminary research right away.
  2. Write a project proposal.
    1. Describe your group’s contribution to the Course Archive (excluding the new item that you will create). What is your primary text? What have you found so far that will be appropriate for our course archive? What kinds of items or objects are out there? Have other scholars already done DH-type projects with your text?
    2. Describe the new item that your group will create for the archive. What do you hope this finished product will be? What technologies will you be using to create the project? What data will you collect from the text? Can that data be overlaid with existing data?
    3. Why is this the project you want to create? What conclusions do you think you can draw from the data you will collect? What does this project add to the scholarly conversation about your text? Clearly articulate the goals and purposes of your project.
    4. Provide a timeline for your project with due dates for specific tasks. Assign roles to group members.
    5. Attach examples of the materials you intend to produce. These could be very rough draft versions, outlines, or storyboards of the materials you will produce OR materials that could serve as a model for yours.
    6. Describe what support you may need from the instructor (ideas and advice, connect with resources, learn technology, etc).
  3. Meet with instructor to discuss proposal.
  4. Keep records of process in a Work Log. Record all activities associated with this project: reading, researching, thinking, planning, outlining, writing, revising, note-taking, drafting, working with tech, learning new tools. Note time spent. Reflect often on progress and learning.
  5. In class presentation and discussion leading when your text is assigned on the syllabus.
    1. 5 items in the class archive on Omeka: at least one new item plus links to archives, scholarly articles, images, etc.
    2. Present findings to class in the final exam period.


  1. I was afraid that students did not have enough information or familiarity with DH to come up with a new project on their own; the parameters might be too open and paralyzing.
    1. DHPOTD: Digital Humanities Project of the Day. I made links available and talked through the projects with students as a class to show many options.
    2. I created a set of pre-approved projects to choose from that could be applied to most any text (maps, timelines, wordclouds,etc).
    3. I should have had more in-class status updates and project sharing so that students were aware of ideas in other groups.
  2. My meetings with students around their proposals showed that they needed a lot of tech support or direction.
    1. I set up special office hours just for this class.
    2. I brought in a senior student with DH experience as a contact person.
  3. Students proposed projects that were far more ambitious than could be completed in one semester without additional support.
    1. I talked them through priority setting and gave permission to modify or limit the scope of their projects.


I informally assessed students’ familiarity with Digital Humanities at the beginning of the course. As expected, students had very little exposure to DH as a scholarly activity, though they had much experience with tech tools and writing in online spaces. After reading an introduction to DH, they rated their understanding at about 2 on a scale of 1-5. After discussing that article and looking at many examples of projects, the class average moved to 4.
At the end of the semester, I administered a survey and collected 17 responses from a class of 23 students.

  1. Define Digital Humanities.
    1. All 17 answers were acceptable definitions. They centered on using digital tools to analyze written texts. Most responses emphasized accessibility: both the texts and the discoveries made from the projects were meant to be accessed in digital spaces by ordinary citizens. They also emphasized creativity in that the researcher was inventing methods of research or applying tools in innovative ways to create new knowledge.
  2. On a scale of 1-5, rank your feeling of anxiety when you first learned of this project. (1 = low anxiety, 5 = high anxiety)
    1. The average was 4. 2.
    2. Only one student responded with a low anxiety.
  3. On a scale of 1-5, rank your feeling of excitement when you first learned of this project. (1 = low excitement, 5 = high excitement)
    1. The average was 3.1.
    2. No students responded with the highest level of excitement, but only 2 responded with the lowest level of excitement.
  4. Now that you have finished the project, on a scale of 1-5, rank your feeling of satisfaction in the product you made (1 = low satisfaction, 5 = high satisfaction)
    1. The average was 3.5
    2. No students responded with the lowest level of satisfaction. Only one responded with the highest level of satisfaction.
  5. Did you work on this project alone or in a small group?
    1. 8 respondents worked alone.
    2. 9 respondents worked in groups.
    3. The average satisfaction for students working alone was the same as for students working in groups.
  6. Estimate how many total hours you think you will individually spend on this project by the time it is complete.
    1. 4 students chose the maximum (more than 25 hours)
    2. 4 students chose 15-25 hours
    3. 8 students chose 5-15 hours
  7. What (if anything) do you think you learned from this project that is applicable to other classes or scholarly work? Could you repeat any factor of this assignment in another class or in your future work?
    1. 4 students did not respond to this question
    2. The other 13 were generally positive and noted research skills as useful in other classes.
    3. “It’s important to force tech to catch up to the humanities. I would like to do something like this in other English classes.”
    4. “I can tell you it’s applicable, but I can’t word how”
    5. “It forced me to thoroughly utilize our library databases to find what I was looking for, and made me familiar with some that I hadn’t previously used, but of which I am now familiar enough with to know when to search through that database according to the content I’m looking for.”
  8. If you were assigned a project like this again, what would you do differently as an individual or group member?
    1. Students may have misunderstood this question as asking if they would change their group formation. 7 responses were about working individually or in a group (ex. “No I would still work in a group” was a typical but inappropriate response.)
    2. Recommendations from the other 10:
      1. Set checkpoints for amount of work
      2. Define search parameters earlier in the project
      3. Choose a different final project, perhaps more complex (“instead of just a map,” “I might try a more ambitious project, or have a partner.”)
      4. Choose the tool first then the text.
      5. Choose a text with more personal interest
  9. If you were the instructor giving this assignment, what might you change, add, or eliminate next year?
    1. More checkpoints during the semester (updates, meetings with instructor, in-class work sessions)
    2. More focus on the project, fewer assignments outside of project
    3. OR make it a short-term project
    4. Show more examples

Reflections and Next Steps

As I suspected, students were brand new to the idea of Digital Humanities, and even at the end of the semester, one student in particular responded, “it’s all too new to me to find a good answer” to the reflection questions. I succeeded in communicating to students the potential for creativity and the many possibilities for DH project, but that openness did not produce the best results for most students. A few really standout projects showed deep engagement with the methods of DH and the goals of the field. For example: Ben’s Excel spreadsheet of uses of the word “evil,” or Isabella and Katy’s Google Map of Samson Occom’s Life. But on the whole, as I suspected, students did not really have enough prior knowledge to be creative or the skills to meet their ambitions.

I think the next time I teach this class, I will keep the DH focus, but I will make the final a shorter-term project. It is an introductory survey class and the first introduction to an entire field of study with a class of mostly non-majors, so the assignment should be more supported and introductory. Instead of asking students to choose their projects in the first week of class, I will work with them through a few practice projects (maps of placenames, timelines of events, wordcloud analysis) as a whole class, demonstrating the decision-making processes and the technology in class, before putting them into groups to execute their own. I met with several students in the last week of classes who had made no progress on their projects since our initial meeting about the proposal in week 3, so even though DH projects are by nature time-consuming, they do not have to take 12 weeks to complete.

Overall, I think the project met my goals for introducing DH in the same way that tossing a person in the deep end of a pool “introduces” them to swimming. The immersive experience led to some really creative projects for a few upper-level students, but most students responded with safe projects and pedestrian ideas. I think the project can be revised so that the creative students can still maximize their creativity while providing enough support that more students can feel comfortable improvising and reach for creativity.

Dr. David Rossbach – Political Science

Project Overview

Conflict. Mission: Zhobia is a web-based simulation that places the student in the position of a non-governmental organization (NGO) worker tasked with developing a plan to reconstruct the justice system in the fictional conflict-ridden country of Zhobia. Students must perform background research into My project involved incorporating the Mission: Zhobia simulation-game into POL 302 Ethnic the conflict, interview a variety of political and social stakeholders, and ultimately provide recommendations regarding the location of the court, training structure for legal staff, and the underlying legal framework for the new justice system. Upon submitting this report, the students are then told what the after-effects of their plan were.

Planning Process

As Mission: Zhobia simulation is a free, pre-packaged website there was little planning involved in its implementation from a design stand-point. The simulation came at the end of the introductory unit of the course where we focus on different institutional design issues in managing ethnic conflict situations.  The lectures leading up to the simulation consistently stress the trade-offs one must consider in designing post-conflict political instructions and the notion that no one institutional structure alone will solve all the problems.


Zhobia map


I scheduled the simulation for the week following class readings and discussion regarding political institutions in conflict situations. We devoted the first one-hour and fifteen-minute class meeting of the week to students playing the simulation, and the second class meeting was a discussion and debriefing session. Students were asked to bring their own laptops to class that day and everyone was able to do so. The only logistical concern was whether students would be able to complete the exercise within the hour and fifteen minute time period. All but two students were able to and those students completed their exercise immediately after class.


I assessed the exercise with a combination of formal and informal tools. Formally, the students were asked to complete a questionnaire asking them to share specific decisions they made along the way and to reflect on their experience.  Informally, we devoted the class session following the simulation to a discussion of the students’ evaluations and observations.

For the reflective portion of the questionnaire, the students were asked 1) what they felt were the three most important items critical to success in the simulation, 2) what they would do differently along their own path of completion, and 3) what they learned through the process that they had not realized beforehand.

In response to question 1, student consistently stated that the most important consideration was gaining the trust of regional stakeholders was the most important element to consider. They observed that more decision options were presented to the player as they engaged with local leaders. The second most cited consideration was adequate background preparation. A number of students seemed to jump quickly to engaging the local leaders without doing their homework on the conflict in Zhobia. When leaders would ask them questions pertaining to the conflict, if the student answered incorrectly they would lose trust, limiting their options down the line.

Question 2 yielded results consistent with the prior observation. Students said they would have spent more time on the background materials and preparing for the stakeholder interviews. They also indicated that they would have avoided decisions early on that restricted their options later in the simulation.

Finally, in response to question 3 the key lesson the majority of students took away was the difficulty in finding solutions to the conflict that all sides would find acceptable. In our class discussion, numerous students indicated that they had chosen options they felt were sound and yet found that the situation descended back into violence after their report was submitted.

Reflections and Next Steps

I feel the simulation was a resounding success. I was concerned that the game setting would appear frivolous in the context of a course with such a grim topic. And yet watching the students reactions while they were participating indicated that they were actively engaged. The assessment results indicated that the primary lessons to be learned were in fact taken to heart by the students.

It would be possible to run this simulation outside of actual class time and devote the same time to post-simulation assessment activities. This is something I would consider next time. On the other hand, being available to address questions and potential technical glitches was also important. The time restriction within class may have rushed some students yet I found that 1 hour 15 minutes was adequate time for background research and questioning. Most students completed in the time as well.

In the final analysis, I found the Mission: Zhobia! simulation to be a very useful classroom exercise. The simulation showed them through experience what I could only stress in lecture: the importance of preparation and openness of dialogue when engaging in peace-building measures. Numerous students indicated that they went back and played the simulation multiple times to try and achieve a perfect score. This is final evidence that they themselves found the simulation to be an engaging experience. I look forward to running this experiment again the next time I offer POL 302 Ethnic Conflict and comparing that student experience with this one.

Dr. Lou Martin – History

Project Overview

My goal has been to design the first digital humanities course for the History program, and I am teaching that course this semester.  The course is titled HIS 309 Digital Local History, and in it, students learn about an aspect of local history, study some of the primary opportunities and challenges of using digital media to analyze and interpret histories, and then use available primary and secondary sources to create an online local history exhibit.

Digital Humanities has recently become an important subfield in multiple disciplines, including history.  It encompasses using digital technologies in research as well as presentation of findings.  In the field of history, scholars are increasingly relying on digitized texts and images in their research.  More and more archivists are using optical character recognition software to translate typewritten documents of the past into searchable text for current researchers.  And finally, historians and curators are creating online exhibits with the goal of stretching beyond the written word or the museum wall to online media that not only make their work more accessible to a broader audience but also incorporate new ways to visualize information and allow more user interaction.

All of this means that it is important for Chatham history students to learn about these developments, learn some of the techniques of digital humanities, and to use new skills on projects of their own.  Furthermore, this is another opportunity for students to make the transition from being consumers of information to historians in their own right.  Finally, this course incorporates project based learning that is typical in many museums, archives, and historical societies doing the work of digital humanities.

Planning Process

In the summer and fall of 2016 as part of the Tech Fellows program, I researched digital technologies that students might use to create an online exhibit.  Lauren Panton recommended Timeline JS by Knight Lab of Northwestern University as the umbrella tool for bringing various elements of the project together.  Timeline can display photographs, images, infographics, and maps as well as play audio clips.  Becky Borrello recommended a variety of platforms for the website including WordPress, Weebly.com, and Wix.com as well as a storyboarding technique for web design.

I chose an online textbook by Daniel Cohen and Roy Rozenzweig titled Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web for the students to read to learn about the challenges and opportunities of digital history as well as some of the basics of planning on online exhibit and questions historians must ask themselves  http://chnm.gmu.edu/digitalhistory/

I also am having students read articles on local African American history as well as selections from David Kyvig’s Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You.  These additional readings should help to ground students in the secondary literature and give them ideas for finding primary sources.

Finally, I modeled the course schedule on a similar class being taught by one of my colleagues at Shawnee State University.  Dr. Andrew Feight has been teaching a digital history course where students add to a growing digital archive of local records and photographs as well as a smartphone app that helps people explore local history.  Feight uses project-based learning to encourage students to identify goals and learn the skills needed to meet the goal.  The students also identify roles for themselves within the group and recognize the need for different people to have different and complementary strengths.


The course started in January 2016 and the students spent the early weeks reading local history, learning about potential primary sources in nearby archives (including our own), and discussing their own project.  This project will focus on the history of Westinghouse High School and will incorporate the school’s “Wall of Fame”—itself an effort to preserve the school’s history—as well as oral history interviews that past Chatham students have collected.

The students only recently began the process of designing the website and gathering materials.  They identified roles for themselves.  To start, they all decided to explore individual topics:  music, sports, women, civil rights, WHS in Homewood history, and education.

At the beginning of the process, I asked students to identify values for the group from then on.  They identified values such as respect for participants, respect for the past, positive stories, and commitment to the project.

I also asked the students to imagine a process to hold one another accountable and to be the basis of grades.  One student recommended progress reports, and I suggested they be biweekly.  Another student suggested the final project be graded on three C’s:  creativity, content, and citations.

During the project gathering phase, the only grade they receive is on their biweekly reports, but they get feedback from the group on their contributions and informal presentations.

Sam Houston State University’s Center for Project Based Learning recently identified common elements of all project based learning:

  • There must be the presence of a driving question or central concept.
  • Students must learn through investigation of defined goals and should be constructive and knowledge building.
  • Projects are student-centered with teacher facilitation or guidance.
  • Projects are real-world and have significance to the student.
  • There is a task, a process, a product and a reflection.

Digital Local History uses all six of these elements.


In Digital Local History, there are three assessments of the project based learning.

The first is the feedback and grades I give on the biweekly progress reports.  So far, I have based these grades on the level of effort and introspection on the reports.  Students who have spent times crafting the reports, detailing significant efforts, and contemplating their results in the context of the larger project have received A’s.  Students whose reports show evidence of sloppiness and superficial thought and a lack of significant efforts to gather materials have, so far, received C’s and encouragement to rediscover their passion for their topic and to fall back on skills they have read about in class.

The second feedback will be from community partners.  This is a common practice in PBL, and we are scheduled to present a nearly finished product to community partners near the end of the semester.  This will be an opportunity for them to comment on the project’s accuracy, creativity, and its spirit—does it capture the history of Westinghouse High School as the community understands it?

Finally, I will give the project an overall grade based on criteria suggested by a student and agreed to by the others:  creativity, content, and citations.

Successes and Challenges

One of the successes has been getting the students out of the classroom and into the local archives and brining community partners to the classroom.  This has made the project all the more real for the students.  Students have seemed to value their interactions with people who experienced the history they are discovering.  And getting in the van to take a short trip has injected some feeling of going into “the real world” to explore history.

One of the challenges has been that this particular group of students is not particularly talkative, especially not the students who are most prepared for class.  This has led to stilted conversations instead of exciting brainstorming sessions.

Furthermore, one of the essential elements of PBL is to have students develop their own goals and then learn skills along the way to achieving those goals.  It has been hard to get student to visualize a “desired outcome” that encourages them to learn new skills.  Instead, students want me as the instructor to tell them what to do, and they want me to show them templates for them to fill in.  This undermines one of the elements of PBL, but given that the students are unaccustomed to PBL and are afraid to fail, this is one of the concessions I am making.

Reflections and Next Steps

Ultimately one of the biggest challenges for me is relying on the students to deliver a finished product for community partners to see and evaluate.  Like most instructors, when I am in control of the content of the course and structure the class to ensure certain outcomes, I am in my comfort zone.  This course has forced me to leave the comfort zone and entrust the students with more control and has forced me to have faith that they will deliver.

Over the next month, the students will bring together their text, images, and audio, assemble them into timelines and webpages, present them to community members, and make some revisions based on community feedback.