DCW Volume 1 Issue 12 – DH Challenges and Meta MOOCs

by Korey Jackson on August 17, 2012

Challenges to DH in the Library
Zach Coble

Libraries have long been central to digital humanities (DH), but providing support for DH has not been a central issue for many libraries. Of course, there are many exceptions as numerous DH centers are located within libraries (see centerNet’s listing of DH centers), but on the whole, DH and libraries have had developed piecemeal and without much collaboration between library or DH organizations.

An upcoming issue of the Journal of Library Administration (due out in January) plans to address some of these challenges. Miram Posner (@miriamkp) is contributing an article and recently wrote a post to begin identifying these barriers, such as insufficient training in library schools, lack of administrative support, and difficulty in wrangling the resources (personnel, technology, etc.) required to do a DH project. Mike Furlough (@surleyF) wrote a response that sheds light on many of the realistic, day-to-day obstacles facing all academic departments, including a very intriguing question: “Is research antithetical to the University’s core business?” If you have thoughts or challenges you’d like to contribute, post a comment to either one!

Coming from the library side of things, I can attest that there are many levels of barriers. Last fall, my library formed a digital humanities working group to gauge interest among faculty on campus for DH and how the library might support DH projects. Our group fizzled out after a while because there was not a strong enough need for DH support among faculty and the library realized it was not prepared to dedicate and fight for the amount of resources required to do it right. However, it’s promising to note that other librarians in similar positions are congregating around the recently formed ACRL Digital Humanities Discussion Group (already 600 subscribers to the listserv). The group’s first meeting at ALA in June was full of librarians interested in supporting DH although many were unsure exactly how to do so. It’s reassuring to see so many librarians interested in DH collaboration because such an asset will help all of us to overcome the current challenges as we move forward.

On MOOCs We Want and MOOCs We Don’t
Roger Whitson

As a member of the Hybrid Pedagogy editorial board, I’ve been knee-deep in their MOOC MOOC event this past week. Advertised as a MOOC about MOOCs, it promises to be a “lively, playful scrutiny and consideration of the Massive Open Online Course.” Examples of MOOCs include Coursera, which made headlines recently when several Universities signed deals with them publish video content; Udacity, which also made headlines when its founder split from Stanford University to run MOOCs full time; and MITx, which was an earlier adopter and inspired people from Forbes magazine to argue that MOOCs will democratize education.

Of course, MOOCs have also had their fare share of critics: for their high drop out rate, for their inability to engage students adequately, and for their status as being essentially a marketing ploy. Jesse Stommel, one of the organizers of MOOC MOOC, calls them “monsterous” and “incessant” and argues that “there is something wild and playful about the form” that can “disrupt assumptions about what online learning can be.” Perhaps, but it is even more interesting to see the wild and playful attitude amongst MOOC MOOC participants. As a seven day participatory event, MOOC MOOC has produced (appropriately enough) a massive amount of content. Blog posts, Storified Twitter chats, a collaboratively authored statement about MOOCs, several videos, and even personally designed MOOCs.

I had remarked playfully in a post on Monday “‘il n’y a pas de hors-MOOC.’ There is no outside-MOOC, or there is nothing outside the MOOC.” There is, however, something truly compelling about the sheer amount of stuff this event has produced. Perhaps even more compelling is the way that Jesse’s project brought together very different thinkers and professionals. Participants and lurkers in the event include graduate students, professors, educational technology professionals, #altac scholars, adjuncts, and other interested parties. And I also learned quite a bit from the posts and activities sprinkled throughout the week. One post charted the MOC (Massively Online Course) piloted by Michel Foucault in the 1970s and 1980s. Apparently Foucault was required by the French government to teach a course open to the public for the last fifteen years of his life, and all of these courses were recorded. Foucault repeated many of the critiques that are leveled at modern day MOOCs. “It is often rather difficult,” Foucault remarks to an interviewer in 1983, “giving a series of lectures like this without the possibility of comebacks or discussion, and not knowing whether what one is saying finds an echo in those who are working on a thesis or a master’s degree, whether it provides them with possibilities for reflection and work” (1).

MOOC MOOC ends on Saturday. After all of the conversations, I still question the usefulness and the openness of the MOOC form. I also think that learner-centered pedagogy and teacherless classrooms are powerful ways that MOOCs can engage with a culture that is becoming increasingly networked and digital. If anything, MOOC MOOC has illustrated how creative and wild MOOCs can potentially be, even if — in their current form — they rarely live up to that potential.

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