While these articles in some cases represent several years of work, a number of them speak specifically to how our teaching responds to such immediate external pressures. The COVID-19 pandemic has resurfaced some long-standing tensions about the role of educational technologies in teaching and learning. Instructors may be forced to adopt proprietary platforms that come with troubling implications for data privacy. An increasingly shifting landscape drives us to learn these new technologies while anticipating the continual changes in data standards, provenance practices, and platform ubiquity and ownership that will require future time and effort. Since exciting new research and teaching methods require extensive training, instructors set out to extend their network of collaborators and provide supportive infrastructure to this challenge. Individual scholars continue to incorporate technological and data literacy into their classes, impelling students to experiment with analytical practices that vary with institutional context and intellectual tradition.
A number of the articles deal explicitly with questions of loss, recovery, and intervention. In “Reading Texts in Digital Environments: Applications of Translation Alignment for Classical Language Learning,” Chiara Palladino argues for the creative use of translation alignment technologies as a means of facilitating Classical language learning. Classical studies requires that scholars attempt to synthesize information themselves without the benefit of consulting native speakers, and so Palladino offers translation pedagogy involving the comparison of multiple sources as a unique way of teaching slow, methodical information processing, a skill set particularly relevant to our present moment of information saturation. Palladino discusses a series of digital tools and assignments from her own course that, together, carry the pedagogical lesson that all reading is a reflective process. The translation process she describes does not establish one-to-one equivalences, but, rather, requires students to consider the “continuous dialogue between cultural and linguistic systems.”
In “Back in a Flash: Critical Making Pedagogies to Counter Technological Obsolescence,” Sarah Whitcomb Laiola seeks a similar remedy in the face of software expiration. As 2020 ends, so too does Adobe’s support of Flash, a medium in which e-lit has thrived. An NEH-funded project, AfterFlash, offers some balm to the loss, preserving access to texts born digitally in Flash and Shockwave, but it fails to preserve a means for generating them, and such generation, Laiola argues, is essential to student understanding of the texts themselves. She shares her experimentation to simulate that creative process, specifically investigating Stepworks as a classroom alternative, but also suggesting a path forward as one technology inevitably gives way to another. Preservation, after all, isn’t about rescuing only artifacts, but also the processes and pedagogies those artifacts enable.
Courtney Jacobs, Marcia McIntosh, and Kevin M. O’Sullivan are on a rescue mission of their own to collect and provide access to models of the printmaking tools of the past. In “Make Ready: Fabricating a Bibliographic Community,” they share their experiences creating 3Dhotbed, a repository of 3D-printable models, to investigate book production and printmaking. For scholars of book history, the files themselves can enable the critical hands-on work that has informed the discipline for nearly seventy years. The collection, though, is greater than the sum of its replicated parts. As the authors put it, “The future success of 3Dhotbed is not solely based on the volume, diversity, or rarity of individual items, but also on the ability of the platform to put these items in conversation.” Jacobs, McIntosh, and O’Sullivan’s work is meaningful to those outside their fields as well. In constructing 3Dhotbed, they have identified pitfalls and opportunities in navigating institutional partnerships, striking the balance between academic protocols and broader access, and continuing to expand the field beyond the Global North.
In “Using Wikipedia in the Composition Classroom and Beyond: Encyclopedic ‘Neutrality,’ Social Inequality, and Failure as Subversion,” Cherrie Kwok explores a different kind of loss—the damaging effects that can occur when attempts at neutrality gloss over difficult truths. Kwok invites instructors and students alike to leverage the power of failure to explore the very nature of language. Like others in her field, Kwok notes that Wikipedia can serve as a tool for teaching tight writing and edit-a-thons can generate deep student investment in intervening in the cultural record. But Kwok sees even greater value in what her students learn as they try to achieve Wikipedia’s second foundational principle of writing articles “from a neutral point of view.” They learn that language is not neutral and our attempts to make it seem so only cloak the systematic biases and issues of positionality.
As much of this issue makes clear, the people engaged in digital-pedagogy teaching and research provide essential infrastructure for this work. In “Interdisciplinarity and Teamwork in Virtual Reality Design,” Ole Molvig and Bobby Bodenheimer describe the evolution in logistics and pedagogy of a course they taught, Virtual Reality Design, at Vanderbilt University. In particular, they note that the interdisciplinary and collaborative requirements of their team-based course gave rise to a community of like-minded researchers over time. Regarding a growing demand for support of data visualization, Negeen Aghassibake, Justin Joque, and Matthew L. Sisk offer a different approach to cultivating such interdisciplinary collaboration: leveraging the library. In “Supporting Data Visualization Services in Academic Libraries,” the authors identify a host of factors that can lead to more successful support of responsible data visualization and the fundamental literacies that underpin it. Data visualization, they note, is not just about products, but about the scholarly processes that require well-aimed questions, research, data and data management, ethical practices, and design—in addition to software and hardware decisions.
The articles in our Forum on Data and Computational Pedagogy attend to how these concerns arise in the classroom when using computational methods to teach processes of data collection, transformation, and presentation. In our call for papers, we asked submitters to address the challenges and opportunities that arise when teaching with data and promoting data literacy. We were especially interested in how students and instructors grappled with issues of power and agency when acting as “data users” (Gonzalez and DeVoss 2016). The authors of the articles in this Forum span academic job roles and work in a wide variety of institutional contexts that inform their data pedagogy. What coheres their contributions is a humanistic approach to data analysis—one that understands working with data as an exploratory and iterative analytical process of regularization, and which foregrounds data’s context-embeddedness and malleability. As Katie Rawson and Trevor Muñoz (2016) remind us, this feature of data is too often obscured when we think about data “cleaning” as its preparation for scholarly work rather than recognizing “messiness” as an integral part of the work itself. By recognizing the analytical agency we have to remediate data, we may develop the commitment to using data-driven methods for justice, resisting the potential of data analysis’s associations with correctness and order to propagate bias and do harm (D’Ignazio and Klein 2020).
In “Ethnographies of Datasets: Teaching Critical Data Analysis through R Notebooks,” Lindsay Poirier writes on how her students confront datasets as cultural objects in an undergraduate course called Data Sense and Exploration at the University of California, Davis. Here, she draws from cultural anthropology’s experimental ethnography to guide students through a series of weekly lab assignments in which students record field notes while performing analysis of dataframes in R. Each of these labs invokes a concept: routines and rituals, semantics, classifications, calculations and narrative, chrono-politics, and geo-politics. She characterizes her students’ work with data as “ethnography” because of “their consistent, hands-on engagement with the data” and the opportunity it provides for “reflections on their own positionality.” This approach encourages students to see themselves as “critical data practitioners” who can account for, as well as critique, the “incompleteness, inconsistencies and biases” of publicly available data.
In “Thinking Through Data in the Humanities and in Engineering,” Elizabeth Alice Honig, Deb Niemeier, Christian F. Cloke, and Quint Gregory assess how students in two disparate fields engage with data’s embedded context. The authors describe an interdisciplinary effort at the University of Maryland, College Park, to teach the same historical network dataset to students in art history and engineering, as each group of students brought their entrenched disciplinary assumptions about data analysis and visualization to the same assignments. While the authors’ engineering students tended to value consistent design conventions in an approach framed by a pre-set analytical objective, their art history students tended to want to bring insights from visualization back to the dataset. On the flip side, the engineering students were less likely to incorporate context and “texture” in their visualizations, while the art history students tended to be less adept at properly labeling their graphs or ensuring their visualizations made effective communication choices. From the authors’ exploratory study, they conclude that emphases on digital training within humanities courses and project-based learning in engineering courses may not be enough alone for students to overcome these tendencies, and that additional formal training may be required.
In “Numbering Ulysses: Digital Humanities, Reductivism, and Undergraduate Research,” Erik Simpson describes the pedagogical implications of humanities data creation for Ashplant, a collaborative digital project developed in conjunction with Grinnell College students. As the students worked to describe James Joyce’s Ulysses in tabular form for presentation online, they were forced to reckon with the frustrations posed by data entry involving complex humanities materials. In the process, students found their digital humanities work placed in dialogue with analog methods of analyzing Ulysses, which already used numerical and hierarchical systems of classification. The piece closes by building on these pedagogical lessons to suggest a series of ways that undergraduate research might engage with the “creativity, resistance, and questioning” of digital work.
In “Data Fail: Teaching Data Literacy with African Diaspora Digital Humanities,” Jennifer Mahoney, Roopika Risam, and Hibba Nassereddine reflect, too, on the frustrations and failures of a data curation and visualization project. Situating their work within scholarship on Black Digital Humanities, they articulate the difficulty of reconciling “fragments of information” when trying to avoid reproducing or amplifying gaps in the archives they used for research. Having set out to plot networks of participation in Pan-Africanist intellectual and social movements, the authors describe the “virtually meaningless” initial results that revealed some flawed assumptions of their project’s methodology. Their writing, however, exceeds mere process narrative by reflecting on this realization’s implications for their own and others’ projects—their non-result, it turns out, provided an opportunity to reappraise their methods and identify the aspects of their dataset the methods didn’t capture. Moreover, as secondary-education teachers and students, the authors argue that high school students might have similar data epiphanies were such digital humanities projects featured in high school English language arts curricula, using students’ development of data literacy to promote inclusivity by way of representation and equity in the cultural record.
“Data Literacy in Media Studies: Strategies for Collaborative Teaching of Critical Data Analysis and Visualization” addresses intra-institutional partnerships between librarians and faculty to support teaching critical data literacy. In this article, Andrew Battista, Katherine Boss, and Marybeth McCartin provide a template they use to encourage a variety of instructors to teach visualization instruction sessions each term. The model distributes the labor of teaching across a set of collaborators and supports the professional development of these instructors as they create shared and reproducible pedagogical materials. The program they describe is one that is ultimately more sustainable and “has a broad and demonstrated impact on student learning, strengthens ties between the library and the departments we serve, and allows librarians and data services specialists the opportunity to learn and grow from each other.” While directed toward teaching librarians, the piece also proves useful for faculty considering library partnerships to enrich the data or information literacy offerings of their programs.
Like teaching, this issue results from the work of many hands. The editors would like to thank every member of JITP’s editorial board who contributed energy to its publication under such difficult circumstances. An issue of this size required an especially large number of reviewers, and the editors deeply appreciate their willingness to entertain the unexpected requests. And, of course, we are grateful to all the authors who shared their work with us for consideration. Future issues of JITP will, undoubtedly, share work specific to the particular pedagogies of the pandemic itself. Nonetheless, we hope that this collection of essays will encourage reflection on how our teaching has always been called upon to respond to changing circumstances and must continue to do so. What we need, especially now, is more teachers sharing what works and what doesn’t, more authors responding to change as they see it happening in their work, and more voices calling out for change where it is not yet happening.