Tagged education

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A Survey of Digital Humanities Programs

Abstract

The number of digital humanities programs has risen steadily since 2008, adding capacity to the field. But what kind of capacity, and in what areas? This paper presents a survey of DH programs in the Anglophone world (Australia, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States), including degrees, certificates, and formalized minors, concentrations, and specializations. By analyzing the location, structure, and disciplinarity of these programs, we examine the larger picture of DH, at least insofar as it is represented to prospective students and cultivated through required coursework. We also explore the activities that make up these programs, which speak to the broader skills and methods at play in the field, as well as some important silences. These findings provide some empirical perspective on debates about teaching DH, particularly the attention paid to theory and critical reflection. Finally, we compare our results (where possible) to information on European programs to consider areas of similarity and difference, and sketch a broader picture of digital humanities.

Introduction

Much has been written of what lies inside (and outside) the digital humanities (DH). A fitting example might be the annual Day of DH, when hundreds of “DHers” (digital humanists) write about what they do and how they define the field (see https://twitter.com/dayofdh). Read enough of their stories and certain themes and patterns may emerge, but difference and pluralism will abound. More formal attempts to define the field are not hard to find—there is an entire anthology devoted to the subject (Terras, Nyhan, and Vanhoutte 2013)—and others have approached DH by studying its locations (Zorich 2008; Prescott 2016), its members (Grandjean 2014a, 2014b, 2015), their communication patterns (Ross et al. 2011; Quan-Haase, Martin, and McCay-Peet 2015), conference submissions (Weingart 2016), and so forth.

A small but important subset of research looks at teaching and learning as a lens through which to view the field. Existing studies have examined course syllabi (Terras 2006; Spiro 2011) and the development of specific programs and curricula (Rockwell 1999; Siemens 2001; Sinclair 2001; Unsworth 2001; Unsworth and Butler 2001; Drucker, Unsworth, and Laue 2002; Sinclair & Gouglas 2002; McCarty 2012; Smith 2014). In addition, there are pedagogical discussions about what should be taught in DH (Hockey 1986, 2001; Mahony & Pierazzo 2002; Clement 2012) and its broader relationship to technology, the humanities, and higher education (Brier 2012; Liu 2012; Waltzer 2012).

This study adds to the literature on teaching and learning by presenting a survey of existing degree and certificate programs in DH. While these programs are only part of the activities that make up the broader world of DH, they provide a formal view of training in the field and, by extension, of the field itself. Additionally, they reflect the public face of DH at their institutions, both to potential students and to faculty and administrators outside of DH. By studying the requirements of these programs (especially required coursework), we explore the activities that make up DH, at least to the extent that they are systematically taught and represented to students during admissions and recruitment, as well as where DH programs position themselves within and across the subject boundaries of their institutions. These activities speak to broader skills and methods at play in DH, as well as some important silences. They also provide an empirical perspective on pedagogical debates, particularly the attention paid to theory and critical reflection

Background

Melissa Terras (2006) was the first to point to the utility of education studies in approaching the digital humanities (or what she then called “humanities computing”). In the broadest sense, Terras distinguishes between subjects, which are usually associated with academic departments and defined by “a set of core theories and techniques to be taught” (230), and disciplines, which lack departmental status yet still have their own identities, cultural attributes, communities of practice, heroes, idols, and mythology. After analyzing four university courses in humanities computing, Terras examines other aspects of the community such as its associations, journals, discussion groups, and conference submissions. She concludes that humanities computing is a discipline, although not yet a subject: “the community exists, and functions, and has found a way to continue disseminating its knowledge and encouraging others into the community without the institutionalization of the subject” (242). Terras notes that humanities computing scholars, lacking prescribed activities, have freedom in developing their own research and career paths. She remains curious, however, about the “hidden curriculum” of the field at a time when few formal programs yet existed.

Following Terras, Lisa Spiro (2011) takes up this study of the “hidden curriculum” by collecting and analyzing 134 English-language syllabi from DH courses offered between 2006–2011. While some of these courses were offered in DH departments (16, 11.9%), most were drawn from other disciplines, including English, history, media studies, interdisciplinary studies, library and information science, computer science, rhetoric and composition, visual studies, communication, anthropology, and philosophy. Classics, linguistics, and other languages were missing. Spiro analyzes the assignments, readings, media types, key concepts, and technologies covered in these courses, finding (among other things) that DH courses often link theory to practice; involve collaborative work on projects; engage in social media such as blogging or Twitter; focus not only on text but also on video, audio, images, games, maps, simulation, and 3D modeling; and reflect contemporary issues such as data and databases, openness and copyright, networks and networking, and interaction. Finally, Spiro presents a list of terms she expected to see more often in these syllabi, including “argument,” “statistics,” “programming,” “representation,” “interpretation,” “accessibility,” “sustainability,” and “algorithmic.”

These two studies form the broad picture of DH education. More recent studies have taken up DH teaching and learning within particular contexts, such as community colleges (McGrail 2016), colleges of liberal arts and science (Alexander & Davis 2012; Buurma & Levine 2016), graduate education (Selisker 2016), libraries (Rosenblum, et al., 2016; Varner 2016; Vedantham & Porter 2016) and library and information science education (Senchyne 2016), and the public sphere (Brennan 2016; Hsu 2016). These accounts stress common structural challenges and opportunities across these contexts. In particular, many underscore assumptions made about and within DH, including access to technology, institutional resources, and background literacies. In addition, many activities in these contexts fall outside of formal degrees and programs or even classroom learning, demonstrating the variety of spaces in which DH may be taught and trained.

Other accounts have drawn the deep picture of DH education by examining the development of programs and courses at specific institutions, such as McMaster University (Rockwell 1999), University of Virginia (Unsworth 2001; Unsworth and Butler 2001; Drucker, Unsworth, and Laue 2002), University of Alberta (Sinclair & Gouglas 2002), King’s College London (McCarty 2012), and Wilfrid Laurier University (Smith 2014), among others. Abstracts from “The Humanities Computing Curriculum / The Computing Curriculum in the Arts and Humanities” Conference in 2001 contain references to various institutions (Siemens 2001), as does a subsequent report on the conference (Sinclair 2001). Not surprisingly, these accounts often focus on the histories and peculiarities of each institution, a “localization” that Knight (2011) regards as necessary in DH.

Our study takes a program-based approach to studying teaching and learning in DH. While formal programs represent only a portion of the entire DH curricula, they are important in several respects: First, they reflect intentional groupings of courses, concepts, skills, methods, techniques, and so on. As such, they purport to represent the field in its broadest strokes rather than more specialized portions of it (with the exception of programs offered in specific areas, such as book history and DH). Second, these programs, under the aegis of awarding institutions and larger accrediting bodies, are responsible for declaring explicit learning outcomes of their graduates, often including required courses. These requirements form one picture of what all DHers are expected to know upon graduation (at a certain level), and this changing spectrum of competencies presumably reflects corresponding changes in the field over time. Third, formal DH programs organize teaching, research, and professional development in the field; they are channels through which material and symbolic capital flow, making them responsible, in no small part, for shaping the field itself. Finally, these programs, their requirements, and coursework are one way—perhaps the primary way—in which prospective students encounter the field and make choices about whether to enroll in a DH program and, if so, which one. These programs are also consulted by faculty and administrators developing new programs at their own institutions, both for common competencies and for distinguishing features of particular programs.

In addition to helping define the field, a study of formal DH programs also contributes to the dialogue around pedagogy in the field. Hockey, for example, has long wondered whether programming should be taught (1986) and asks, “How far can the need for analytical and critical thinking in the humanities be reconciled with the practical orientation of much work in humanities computing?” (2001). Also skeptical of mere technological skills, Simon Mahony and Elena Pierazzo (2002) argue for teaching methodologies or “ways of thinking” in DH. Tanya Clement examines multiliteracies in DH (e.g., critical thinking, commitment, community, and play), which help to push the field beyond “training” to “a pursuit that enables all students to ask valuable and productive questions that make for ‘a life worth living’” (2012, 372).

Others have called on DH to engage more fully in critical reflection, especially in relation to technology and the role of the humanities in higher education. Alan Liu notes that much DH work has failed to consider “the relation of the whole digital juggernaut to the new world order,” eschewing even clichéd topics such as “the digital divide,” “surveillance,” “privacy,” and “copyright” (2012, 491). Steve Brier (2012) points out that teaching and learning are an afterthought to many DHers, a lacuna that misses the radical potential of DH for transforming teaching and professional development. Luke Walzer (2012) observes that DH has done little to help protect and reconceptualize the role of the humanities in higher education, long under threat from austerity measures and perceived uselessness in the neoliberal academy (Mowitt 2012).

These and other concerns point to longstanding questions about the proper balance of technological skills and critical reflection in DH. While a study of existing DH programs cannot address the value of critical reflection, it can report on the presence (or absence) of such reflection in required coursework and program outcomes. Thus, it is part of a critical reflection on the field as it stands now, how it is taught to current students, and how such training will shape the future of the field. It can also speak to common learning experiences within DH (e.g., fieldwork, capstones), as well as disciplinary connections, particularly in program electives. These findings, together with our more general findings about DH activities, give pause to consider what is represented in, emphasized by, and omitted from the field at its most explicit levels of educational training.

Methods

This study involved collection of data about DH programs, coding descriptions of programs and courses using a controlled vocabulary, and analysis and visualization.

Data Collection

We compiled a list of 37 DH programs active in 2015 (see Appendix A), drawn from listings in the field (UCLA Center for Digital Humanities 2015; Clement 2015), background literature, and web searches (e.g., “digital humanities masters”). In addition to degrees and certificates, we included minors and concentrations that have formal requirements and coursework, since these programs can be seen as co-issuing degrees with major areas of study and as inflecting those areas in significant ways. We did not include digital arts or emerging media programs in which humanities content was not the central focus of inquiry. In a few cases, the listings or literature mentioned programs that could not be found online, but we determined that these instances were not extant programs—some were initiatives or centers misdescribed, others were programs in planning or simply collections of courses with no formal requirements—and thus fell outside the scope of this study. We also asked for the names of additional programs at a conference presentation, in personal emails, and on Twitter. Because our sources and searches are all English-language, the list of programs we collected are all programs taught in Anglophone countries. This limits what we can say about global DH.

For each program, we made a PDF of the webpage on which its description appears, along with a plain text file of the description. We recorded the URL of each program and information about its title; description; institution; school, division, or department; level (graduate or undergraduate); type (degree or otherwise); year founded; curriculum (total credits, number and list of required and elective courses); and references to independent research, fieldwork, and final deliverables. After identifying any required courses for each program, we looked up descriptions of those courses in the institution’s course catalog and recorded them in a spreadsheet.

Coding and Intercoder Agreement

To analyze the topics covered by programs and required courses, we applied the Taxonomy of Digital Research Activities in the Humanities (TaDiRAH 2014a), which attempts to capture the “scholarly primitives” of the field (Perkins et al. 2014). Unsworth (2000) describes these primitives as “basic functions common to scholarly activities across disciplines, over time, and independent of theoretical orientation,” obvious enough to be “self-understood,” and his preliminary list includes ‘Discovering’, ‘Annotating’, ‘Comparing’, ‘Referring’, ‘Sampling’, ‘Illustrating’, and ‘Representing’.

We doubt that any word—or classification system—works in this way. Language is always a reflection of culture and society, and with that comes questions of power, discipline/ing, and field background. Moreover, term meaning shifts over time and across locations. Nevertheless, we believe classification schema can be useful in organizing and analyzing information, and that is the spirit in which we employ TaDiRAH here.

TaDiRAH is one of several classification schema in DH and is itself based on three prior sources: the arts-humanities.net taxonomy of DH projects, tools, centers, and other resources; the categories and tags originally used by the DiRT (Digital Research Tools) Directory (2014); and headings from “Doing Digital Humanities,” a Zotero bibliography of DH literature (2014) created by the Digital Research Infrastructure for Arts and Humanities (DARIAH). The TaDiRAH version used in this study (v. 0.5.1) also included two rounds of community feedback and subsequent revisions (Dombrowski and Perkins 2014). TaDiRAH’s controlled vocabulary terms are arranged into three broad categories: activities, objects, and techniques. Only activities terms were used in this study because the other terms lack definitions, making them subject to greater variance in interpretation. TaDiRAH contains forty activities terms organized into eight parent terms (‘Capture’, ‘Creation’, ‘Enrichment’, ‘Analysis’, ‘Interpretation’, ‘Storage’, ‘Dissemination’, and ‘Meta-Activities’).

TaDiRAH was built in conversation with a similar project at DARIAH called the Network for Digital Methods in the Arts and Humanities (NeDiMAH) and later incorporated into that project (2015). NeDiMAH’s Methods Ontology (NeMO) contains 160 activities terms organized into five broad categories (‘Acquiring’, ‘Communicating’, ‘Conceiving’, ‘Processing’, ‘Seeking’) and is often more granular than TaDiRAH (e.g., ‘Curating’, ‘Emulating’, ‘Migrating’, ‘Storing’, and ‘Versioning’ rather than simply ‘Preservation’). While NeMO may have other applications, we believe it is too large to be used in this study. There are many cases in which programs or even course descriptions are not as detailed as NeMO in their language, and even the forty-eight TaDiRAH terms proved difficult to apply because of their number and complexity. In addition, TaDiRAH has been applied in DARIAH’s DH Course Registry of European programs, permitting some comparisons between those programs and the ones studied here.

In this study, a term was applied to a program/course description whenever explicit evidence was found that students completing the program or course would be guaranteed to undertake the activities explicitly described in that term’s definition. In other words, we coded for minimum competencies that someone would have after completing a program or course. The narrowest term was applied whenever possible, and multiple terms could be applied to the same description (and, in most cases, were). For example, a reference to book digitization would be coded as ‘Imaging’:

Imaging refers to the capture of texts, images, artefacts or spatial formations using optical means of capture. Imaging can be made in 2D or 3D, using various means (light, laser, infrared, ultrasound). Imaging usually does not lead to the identification of discrete semantic or structural units in the data, such as words or musical notes, which is something DataRecognition accomplishes. Imaging also includes scanning and digital photography.

If there was further mention of OCR (optical character recognition), that would be coded as ‘DataRecognition’ and so on. To take another example, a reference to visualization and other forms of analysis would be coded both as ‘Visualization’ and as its parent term, ‘Analysis’, if no more specific child terms could be identified.

In some cases, descriptions would provide a broad list of activities happening somewhere across a program or course but not guaranteed for all students completing that program or course (e.g., “Through our practicum component, students can acquire hands-on experience with innovative tools for the computational analysis of cultural texts, and gain exposure to new methods for analyzing social movements and communities enabled by new media networks.”). In these cases, we looked for further evidence before applying a term to that description.

Students may also acquire specialty in a variety of areas, but this study is focused on what is learned in common by any student who completes a specific DH program or course; as such, we coded only cases of requirements and common experiences. For the same reason, we coded only required courses, not electives. Finally, we coded programs and required courses separately to analyze whether there was any difference in stated activities at these two levels.

To test intercoder agreement, we selected three program descriptions at random and applied TaDiRAH terms to each. In only a handful of cases did all three of us agree on our term assignments. We attribute this low level of agreement to the large number of activities terms in TaDiRAH, the complexity of program/course descriptions, questions of scope (whether to use a broader or narrower term), and general vagueness. For example, a program description might allude to work with texts at some point, yet not explicitly state text analysis until later, only once, when it is embedded in a list of other examples (e.g., GIS, text mining, network analysis), with a reference to sentiment analysis elsewhere. Since texts could involve digitization, publishing, or other activities, we would not code ‘Text analysis’ immediately, and we would only code it if students would were be guaranteed exposure to this such methods in the program. To complicate matters further, there is no single term for text analysis in TaDiRAH—it spans across four (‘Content analysis’, ‘Relational analysis’, ‘Structural analysis’, and ‘Stylistic analysis’)—and one coder might apply all four terms, another only some, and the third might use the parent term ‘Analysis’, which also includes spatial analysis, network analysis, and visualization.

Even after reviewing these examples and the definitions of specific TaDiRAH terms, we could not reach a high level of intercoder agreement. However, we did find comparing our term assignments to be useful, and we were able to reach consensus in discussion. Based on this experience, we decided that each of us would code every program/course description and then discuss our codings together until we reached a final agreement. Before starting our preliminary codings, we discussed our understanding of each TaDiRAH term (in case it had not come up already in the exercise). We reviewed our preliminary codings using a visualization showing whether one, two, or three coders applied a term to a program/course description. In an effort to reduce bias, especially framing effects (cognitive biases that result from the order in which information is presented), the visualization did not display who had coded which terms. If two coders agreed on a term, they explained their codings to the third and all three came to an agreement. If only one coder applied a term, the other two explained why they did not code for that term and all three came to an agreement. Put another way, we considered every term that anyone applied, and we considered it under the presumption that it would be applied until proven otherwise. Frequently, our discussions involved pointing to specific locations in the program/course descriptions and referencing TaDiRAH definitions or notes from previous meetings when interpretations were discussed.

In analyzing our final codings, we used absolute term frequencies (the number of times a term was applied in general) and weighted frequencies (a proxy for relative frequency and here a measure of individual programs and courses). To compute weighted frequencies, each of the eight parent terms were given a weight of 1, which was divided equally among their subterms. For example, the parent term ‘Dissemination’ has six subterms, so each of those were assigned an equal weight of one-sixth, whereas ‘Enrichment’ has three subterms, each assigned a weight of one-third. These weights were summed by area to show how much of an area (relatively speaking) is represented in program/course descriptions, regardless of area size. If all the subterms in an area are present, that entire area is present—just as it would be if we had applied only the broader term in the first place. These weighted frequencies are used only where programs are displayed individually.

Initially, we had thought about comparing differences in stated activities between programs and required courses. While we found some variations (e.g., a program would be coded for one area of activities but not its courses and vice versa), we also noticed cases in which the language used to describe programs was too vague to code for activities that were borne out in required course descriptions. For this reason and to be as inclusive as possible with our relatively conservative codings, we compared program and course data simultaneously in our final analysis. Future studies may address the way in which program descriptions connect to particular coursework, and articulating such connections may help reveal the ways in which DH is taught (in terms of pedagogy) rather than only its formal structure (as presented here).

Analysis and Visualization

In analyzing program data, we examined the overall character of each program (its title), its structure (whether it grants degrees and, if so, at what level), special requirements (independent study, final deliverables, fieldwork), and its location, both in terms of institutional structure (e.g., departments, labs, centers) and discipline(s). We intended to analyze more thoroughly the number of required courses as compared to electives, the variety of choice students have in electives, and the range of departments in which electives are offered. These comparisons proved difficult: even within an American context, institutions vary in their credit hours and the formality of their requirements (e.g., choosing from a menu of specific electives, as opposed to any course from a department or “with permission”). These inconsistencies multiply greatly in an international context, and so we did not undertake a quantitative study of the number or range of required and elective courses.

Program data and codings were visualized using the free software Tableau Public. All images included in this article are available in a public workbook at https://public.tableau.com/views/DigitalHumanitiesProgramsSurvey/Combined. As we discuss in the final section, we are also building a public-facing version of the data and visualizations, which may be updated by members of the DH community. Thus, the data presented here can and should change over time, making these results only a snapshot of DH in some locations at the present.

Anglophone Programs

The number of DH programs in Anglophone countries has risen sharply over time, beginning in 1991 and growing steadily by several programs each year since 2008 (see Figure 1). This growth speaks to increased capacity in the field, not just by means of centers, journals, conferences, and other professional infrastructure, but also through formal education. Since 2008, there has been a steady addition of several programs each year, and based on informal observation since our data collection ended, we believe this trend continues.

A bar chart showing the number of new Anglophone DH programs each year from 1991 to 2015. A line showing the cumulative total of programs increases sharply at 2008.
Figure 1. Digital humanities programs in our collected data by year established

Program Titles

Most of the programs in our collected data (22, 59%) are titled simply “Digital Humanities,” along with a few variations, such as “Book History and Digital Humanities” and “Digital Humanities Research” (see Figure 2). A handful of programs are named for particular areas of DH or related topics (e.g., “Digital Culture,” “Public Scholarship”), and only a fraction (3 programs, 8%) are called “Humanities Computing.” We did not investigate changes in program names over time, although this might be worthwhile in the future.

A stacked bar chart comparing the titles of Anglophone DH programs. The segments that make up each bar are color coded by degree type (e.g., doctoral, master’s, bachelor’s, certificate, other).
Figure 2. Titles of digital humanities programs in our collected data

Structure

Less than half of DH programs in our collected data grant degrees: some at the level of bachelor’s (8%), most at the level of master’s (22%), and some at the doctoral (8%) level (Figure 3). The majority of DH programs are certificates, minors, specializations, and concentrations—certificates being much more common at the graduate level and nearly one-third of all programs in our collected data. The handful of doctoral programs are all located in the UK and Ireland.

A stacked bar chart showing the number of Anglophone DH programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The segments that make up each bar are color coded by degree type (e.g., doctoral, master’s, bachelor’s, certificate, other).
Figure 3. Digital humanities programs in our collected data (by degree and level)

 

In addition to degree-granting status, we also examined special requirements for the 37 DH programs in our study. Half of those programs require some form of independent research (see Figure 4). All doctoral programs require such research; most master’s programs do as well. Again, we only looked for cases of explicit requirements; it seems likely that research of some variety is conducted within all the programs analyzed here. However, we focus this study on explicit statements of academic activity in order to separate the assumptions of practitioners of DH about its activities from what appears in public-facing descriptions of the field.
Half of DH programs in our collected data require a final deliverable, referred to variously as a capstone, dissertation, portfolio, or thesis (see Figure 5). Again, discrepancies between written and unwritten expectations in degree programs abound—and are certainly not limited to DH—and some programs may have not explicitly stated this requirement, so deliverables may be undercounted. That said, most graduate programs require some kind of final deliverable, and most undergraduate and non-degree-granting programs (e.g., minors, specializations) do not.

Finally, about one-quarter of programs require fieldwork, often in the form of an internship (see Figure 6). This fieldwork requirement is spread across degree types and levels.

A stacked bar chart showing whether Anglophone DH programs require independent research as a part of their degree requirements. The segments that make up each bar are color coded by degree type (e.g., doctoral, master’s, bachelor’s, certificate, other).
Figure 4. Independent research requirements of digital humanities programs in our collected data

 

A stacked bar chart showing the final deliverable requirement (dissertation, portfolio, etc.) of Anglophone DH programs. The segments that make up each bar are color coded by degree type (e.g., doctoral, master’s, bachelor’s, certificate, other).
Figure 5. Final deliverable required by digital humanities programs in our collected data

 

A stacked bar chart showing whether Anglophone DH programs require fieldwork as a part of their degree requirements. The segments that make up each bar are color coded by degree type (e.g., doctoral, master’s, bachelor’s, certificate, other).
Figure 6. Fieldwork requirements of digital humanities programs in our collected data

 

Location and Disciplinarity

About one-third of the DH programs in our dataset are offered outside of academic schools/departments (in centers, initiatives, and, in one case, jointly with the library), and most issue from colleges/schools of arts and humanities (see Figure 7). Although much DH work occurs outside of traditional departments (Zorich 2008), formal training in Anglophone countries remains tied to them. Most DH concentrations and specializations are located within English departments, evidence for Kirschenbaum’s claim that DH’s “professional apparatus…is probably more rooted in English than any other departmental home” (2010, 55).

A bar chart showing location of Anglophone DH programs within an institution (college/school, center, department. etc.)
Figure 7. Institutional location of digital humanities programs in our collected data

The elective courses of DH programs span myriad departments and disciplines. The familiar humanities departments are well represented (art history, classics, history, philosophy, religion, and various languages), along with computer science, design, media, and technology. Several programs include electives drawn from education departments and information and library science. More surprising departments (and courses) include anthropology (“Anthropological Knowledge in the Museum”), geography (“Urban GIS”), political science (“New Media and Politics”), psychology (“Affective Interaction”), sociology (“Social and Historical Study of Information, Software, and Networks”), even criminology (“Cyber Crime”).

The number of electives required by each program and the pool from which they may be drawn varies greatly among programs, and in some cases it is so open-ended that it is nearly impossible to document thoroughly. Some programs have no elective courses and focus only on shared, required coursework. Others list dozens of potential elective courses as suggestions, rather than an exhaustive list. Because course offerings, especially in cross-disciplinary areas, change from term to term and different courses may be offered under a single, general course listing such as “Special Topics,” the list of elective course we have collected is only a sample of the type of courses students in DH programs may take, and we do not analyze them quantitatively here.

Theory and Critical Reflection

To analyze the role of theory and critical reflection in DH programs, we focused our analysis on two TaDiRAH terms: ‘Theorizing’,

a method which aims to relate a number of elements or ideas into a coherent system based on some general principles and capable of explaining relevant phenomena or observations. Theorizing relies on techniques such as reasoning, abstract thinking, conceptualizing and defining. A theory may be implemented in the form of a model, or a model may give rise to formulating a theory.

and ‘Meta: GiveOverview’, which

refers to the activity of providing information which is relatively general or provides a historical or systematic overview of a given topic. Nevertheless, it can be aimed at experts or beginners in a field, subfield or specialty.

In most cases, we used ‘Meta: GiveOverview’ to code theoretical or historical introductions to DH itself, though any explicit mention of theory was coded (or also coded) as ‘Theorizing’. We found that all DH programs, whether in program descriptions or required courses, included some mention of theory or historical/systematic overview (see Figure 8).

A table of Anglophone institutions and DH programs showing whether researchers coded ‘Theory’ or ‘GiveOverview’ for the program or required course descriptions.
Figure 8. Theory and critical reflection in digital humanities programs in our collected data

Accordingly, we might say that each program, according to its local interpretation, engages in some type of theoretical or critical reflection. We cannot, of course, say much more about the character of this reflection, whether it is the type of critical reflection called for in the pedagogical literature, or how this reflection interfaces with the teaching of skills and techniques in these programs. We hope someone studies this aspect of programs, but it is also worth noting that only 6 of the 37 programs here were coded for ‘Teaching/Learning’ (see Figure 12). Presumably, most programs do not engage theoretically with issues of pedagogy or the relationship between DH and higher education, commensurate with Brier’s claim that these areas are often overlooked (2012). Such engagement may occur in elective courses or perhaps nowhere in these programs.

European Programs

All of the 37 programs discussed above are located in Anglophone countries, most of them in the United States (22 programs, 60%). We note that TaDiRAH, too, originates in this context, as does our English-language web searches for DH programs. While this data is certainly in dialogue with the many discussions of DH education cited above, it limits what we can say about DH from a global perspective. It is important to understand the various ways DH manifests around the globe, both to raise awareness of these approaches and to compare the ways in which DH education converges and diverges across these contexts. To that end, we gathered existing data on European programs by scraping DARIAH’s Digital Humanities Course Registry (DARIAH-EU 2014a) and consulting the European Association for Digital Humanities’ (EADH) education resources webpage (2016). This DARIAH/EADH data is not intended to stand in for the entirety of global DH, as it looks exclusively at European programs (and even then it is limited in interpretation by our own language barriers). DH is happening outside of this scope (e.g., Gil 2017), and we hope that future initiatives can expand the conversation about DH programs worldwide—possibly as part of our plans for data publication, which we address at the end of this article.

DARIAH’s database lists 102 degree programs, 77 of which were flagged in page markup as “outdated” with the note, “This record has not been revised for a year or longer.” While inspecting DARIAH data, we found 43 programs tagged with TaDiRAH terms, and we eliminated 17 entries that were duplicates, had broken URLs and could not be located through a web search, or appeared to be single courses or events rather than formal programs. We also updated information on a few programs (e.g., specializations classified as degrees). We then added 5 programs listed by EADH but not by DARIAH, for a grand total of 93 European DH programs (only 16 of which were listed jointly by both organizations). We refer to this dataset as “DARIAH/EADH data” in the remainder of this paper. A map of these locations is provided in Figure 9, and the full list of programs considered in this paper is given in Appendices.

A map of Europe showing the number of DH programs in each country, based on DARIAH/EADH listings.
Figure 9. Geographic location of programs in DARIAH/EADH data

 

The DARIAH/EADH data lists 93 programs spread across parts of Europe, with the highest concentration (33%) in Germany (see Table 1). We caution here and in subsequent discussions that DARIAH and EADH may not have applied the same criteria for including programs as we did in our data collection, so results are not directly comparable. Some programs in informatics or data asset management might have been ruled out using our data collection methods, which were focused on humanities content.

Table 1. Summary of programs included in our collected data and DARIAH/EADH data
Country Programs in our collected data
N (%)
Programs in DARIAH/EADH data
N (%)
Australia 1 (3%)
Austria 1 (1%)
Belgium 2 (2%)
Canada 6 (16%)
Croatia 3 (3%)
Finland 1 (1%)
France 8 (9%)
Germany 31 (33%)
Ireland 3 (8%) 4 (4%)
Italy 4 94%)
Netherlands 16 (17%)
Norway 1 (1%)
Portugal 1 (1%)
Spain 2 (2%)
Sweden 1 (1%)
Switzerland 6 (7%)
United Kingdom 5 (14%) 12 (13%)
United States 22 (60%)

Program Titles

A cursory examination of the DARIAH/EADH program title reveals more variety, including many programs in computer linguistics and informatics (see Appendix B). We did not analyze these titles further because of language barriers. And again, we caution that some of these programs might not have been included according to the criteria for our study, though the vast majority appear relevant.

Structure

Most programs in the DARIAH/EADH data are degree-granting at the level of master’s (61%) or bachelor’s (25%) (see Figure 10). While we are reasonably confident in these broad trends, we are skeptical of the exact totals for two reasons. In DARIAH’s Registry, we noticed several cases of specializations being labeled as degrees. Though we rectified these cases where possible, language barriers prevented us from more thoroughly researching each program—another challenge that a global study of DH would encounter. On the other hand, it’s also possible that non-degree programs were undercounted in general, given that the Registry was meant to list degrees and courses. Based on our inspection of each program, we do not believe these errors are widespread enough to change the general distribution of the data: more European programs issue degrees, mostly at the master’s level.

A stacked bar chart showing the number of European DH programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, as listed by DARIAH/EADH. The segments that make up each bar are color coded by degree type (e.g., doctoral, master’s, bachelor’s, certificate, other).
Figure 10. Digital humanities programs (by degree and level, DARIAH/EADH data)

Location and Disciplinarity

Most European programs are also located in academic divisions called colleges, departments, faculties, or schools (see Figure 11), depending on country. Only a handful of programs are located in institutes, centres, or labs, even less frequently than in our collected data.

A bar chart showing location of European DH programs within an institution (college/department/faculty/school, centre, institute. etc.), as listed by DARIAH/EADH.
Figure 11. Institutional location of digital humanities programs (DARIAH/EADH data)

We did not analyze disciplinarity in the DARIAH/EADH data because the programs span various countries, education systems, and languages—things we could not feasibly study here. However, 43 programs in the DARIAH/EADH data were tagged with TaDiRAH terms, allowing for comparison with programs in our collected data. These speak to what happens in DH programs in Europe, even if their disciplinary boundaries vary.

DH Activities

To analyze the skills and methods at play in DH programs, we examined our TaDiRAH codings in terms of overall term frequency (see Figure 12) and weighted frequency across individual programs (see Figures 13 and 14). Several trends were apparent in our codings, as well as DARIAH-listed programs that were also tagged with TaDiRAH terms.

In our data on Anglophone programs of DH programs, analysis and meta-activities (e.g., ‘Community building’, ‘Project management’, ‘Teaching/Learning’) make up the largest share of activities, along with creation (e.g., ‘Designing’, ‘Programming’, ‘Writing’). This is apparent in absolute term frequencies (see Figure 12, excepting ‘Theorizing’ and ‘Meta: GiveOverview’) and in a heatmap comparison of programs (see Figure 13). Again, the heatmap used weighted frequencies to adjust for the fact that some areas have few terms, while others have more than double the smallest. It is worth noting that ‘Writing’ is one of the most frequent terms (11 programs), but this activity certainly occurs elsewhere and is probably undercounted because it was not explicitly mentioned in program descriptions. The same may be true for other activities.

A series of bar charts showing the number of times each TaDiRAH term appeared in the datasets. Terms are listed under their parent terms, and subtotals are given for each parent term. Data collected by researchers (Anglophone programs) are displayed in blue, and DARIAH data are displayed in orange.
Figure 12. TaDiRAH term coding frequency (grouped)

 

A heatmap of Anglophone DH programs and TaDiRAH parent terms. The saturation of each cell shows the number of times that terms within that parent term were coded for that particular program, whether in program descriptions or course descriptions.
Figure 13. Digital humanities programs in our collected data and their required courses (by area)

Many program specializations seem to follow from the flavor of DH at particular institutions (e.g. the graduate certificate at Stanford’s Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis, University of Iowa’s emphasis on public engagement), commensurate with Knight’s (2011) call for “localization” in DH.

In contrast with the most frequent terms, some terms were never applied to program/course descriptions in our data, including ‘Translation’, ‘Cleanup’, ‘Editing’, and ‘Identifying’. Enrichment and storage activities (e.g., ‘Archiving’, ‘Organizing’, ‘Preservation’) were generally sparse (only 1.9% of all codings), even after compensating for the fact that these areas have fewer terms. We suspect that these activities do occur in DH programs and courses—in fact, they are assumed in broader activities such as thematic research collections, content management systems, and even dissemination. Their lack of inclusion in program/course descriptions seems constituent with claims made by librarians that their expertise in technology, information organization, and scholarly communication is undervalued in the field, whether instrumentalized as part a service model that excludes them from the academic rewards of and critical decision-making in DH work (Muñoz 2013; Posner 2013) or devalued as a form of feminized labor (Shirazi 2014). Ironically, these abilities are regarded as qualifications for academic librarian positions and as marketable job skills for humanities students and, at the same time, as a lesser form of academic work, often referred to as faculty “service” (Nowviskie 2012; Sample 2013; Takats 2013). We suspect that many program descriptions replicate this disconnect by de-emphasizing some activities (e.g., storage, enrichment) over others (e.g., analysis, project management).

Generally, there seems to be less emphasis on content (‘Capture’, ‘Enrichment’, and ‘Storage’ terms) and more focus on platforms and tools (‘Analysis’ and ‘Meta-Activities’ terms) within programs in our collected data. In interpreting this disparity, we think it’s important to attend to the larger contexts surrounding education in various locations. The Anglophone programs we studied are mostly located in the United States, where “big data” drives many decisions, including those surrounding higher education. As boyd and Crawford note, this phenomenon rests on the interplay of technology, analysis, and “[m]ythology: the widespread belief that large data sets offer a higher form of intelligence and knowledge that can generate insights that were previously impossible, with the aura of truth, objectivity, and accuracy” (2013: 663). Within this context, programs advertising analysis, visualization, and project management may appear as more attractive to prospective students and supporting institutions, two important audiences of program webpages. This influence does not mean that such activities do not occur or are not important to DH, but it again turns attention to questions about the way in which these skills are developed and deployed and whether that occurs against a backdrop of critical reflection on methods and tools. How these broad program-level descriptions play out in the context of particular courses and instruction is beyond the scope of this program-level study, but we think that surfacing the way programs are described is an important first step to a deeper analysis of these questions.

When comparing our 37 programs to the 43 TaDiRAH-tagged European ones, several differences emerge—though we caution that these findings, in particular, may be less reliable than others presented here. In our study, we coded for guaranteed activities, explicit either in program descriptions or required course description. In DARIAH’s Registry, entries are submitted by users, who are given a link to another version of TaDiRAH (2014b) and instructed to code at least one activities keyword (DARIAH-EU 2014b). We do not know the criteria each submitter uses for applying terms, and it’s likely that intercoder agreement would be low in absence of pre-coordination. For example, programs in the Netherlands are noticeably sparser in their codings than programs elsewhere—perhaps submitted by the same coder, or coders with a shared understanding and different from the others (see Figure 14).

A heatmap of DH programs and TaDiRAH parent terms, as listed by DARIAH. The saturation of each cell shows the number of times that terms within that parent term were coded for that particular program.
Figure 14. Digital humanities programs (by area, TaDiRAH-tagged subset of DARIAH data)

We tried to compare directly our codings with DARIAH data by looking at five programs listed in common. Only one of these programs had TaDiRAH terms in DARIAH data: specifically, all eight top-level terms. When examining other programs, we found several tagged with more than half of the top-level terms and one tagged with 40 of 48 activities terms. These examples alone suggest that DARIAH data may be maximally inclusive in its TaDiRAH codings. Nevertheless, we can treat this crowdsourced data as reflective of broad trends in the area and compare them, generally, to those found in our study. Moreover, there does not appear to be any geographic or degree-based bias in the DARIAH data: the 43 tagged programs span ten different countries and both graduate and undergraduate offerings, degree and non-degree programs.

Comparing term frequencies in our collected data and DARIAH/EADH data (see Figure 12), it appears that enrichment, capture, and storage activities are more prevalent in European programs, while analysis and meta-activities are relatively less common (see Table 2). While both datasets have roughly the same number of programs (37 and 43, respectively), the DARIAH data has over twice as many terms as our study. For this reason, we computed a relative expression of difference by dividing the total percent of a TaDiRAH area in DARIAH data by the total percent in our study. Viewed this way, ‘Enrichment’ has over five times as many weighted codings in DARIAH as our study, followed by ‘Capture’ with over twice as many; ‘Analysis’, ‘Interpretation’, and ‘Meta-activities’ are less common. Thus, Anglophone and European programs appear to focus on different areas, within the limitations mentioned above and while still overlapping in most areas. This difference might be caused by the inclusion of more programs related to informatics, digital asset management, and communication in the DARIAH data than in our collected data, or the presence of more extensive cultural heritage materials, support for them, and integration into European programs. At a deeper level, this difference may reflect a different way of thinking or talking about DH or the histories of European programs, many of which were established before programs in our collected data.

Table 2. Summary of TaDiRAH term coding frequencies (grouped)
TaDiRAH parent term (includes subterms) In our collected data
N (%)
In DARIAH
N (%)
Factor of difference overall (weighted)
Capture 13 (6.1%) 73 (15.7%) 5.6 (2.55)
Creation 35 (16.5%) 74 (15.9%) 2.1 (0.96%)
Enrichment 4 (1.9%) 48 (10.3%) 12.0 (5.46)
Analysis 47 (22.2%) 77 (16.5%) 1.6 (0.75)
Interpretation 27 (12.7%) 40 (8.6%) 1.5 (0.67)
Storage 11 (5.2%) 43 (9.2%) 3.9 (1.78)
Dissemination 24 (11.3%) 63 (13.5%) 2.6 (1.19)
Meta-Activities 51 (24.1%) 48 (10.3%) 0.9 (0.43)

Reflections on TaDiRAH

Since TaDiRAH aims to be comprehensive of the field—even machine readable—we believe our challenges applying it may prove instructive to revising the taxonomy for wider application and for considering how DH is described more generally.
Most examples of hard-to-code language were technical (e.g., databases, content management systems, CSS, and XML) and blurred the lines between capture, creation, and storage and, at a narrower level, web development and programming. Given the rate at which technologies change, it may be difficult to come up with stable terms for DH. At the same time, we may need to recognize that some of the most ubiquitous technologies and platforms in the field (e.g., Omeka, WordPress) actually subsume over various activities and require myriad skills. This, in turn, might give attention to skills such as knowledge organization, which seem rarely taught or mentioned on an explicit basis.

A separate set of hard-to-code activities included gaming and user experience (UX). We suspect the list might grow as tangential fields intersect with DH. Arguably, UX falls under ‘Meta: Assessing’, but there are design and web development aspects of UX that distinguish it from other forms of assessment, aspects that probably belong better with ‘Creation’. Similarly, gaming might be encompassed by ‘Meta: Teaching/Learning’, which

involves one group of people interactively helping another group of people acquire and/or develop skills, competencies, and knowledge that lets them solve problems in a specific area of research,

but this broad definition omits distinctive aspects of gaming, such as play and enjoyment, that are central to the concept. Gaming and UX, much like the technical cases discussed earlier, draw on a range of different disciplines and methods, making them difficult to classify. Nevertheless, they appear in fieldwork and are even taught in certain programs/courses, making it important to represent them in the taxonomy of DH.

With these examples in mind and considering the constantly evolving nature of DH and the language that surrounds it, it is difficult and perhaps counterproductive to suggest any concrete changes to TaDiRAH that would better represent the activities involved in “doing DH.” We present these findings as an empirical representation of what DH in certain parts of the world looks like now, with the hope that it will garner critical reflection from DH practitioners and teachers about how the next generation of students perceives our field and the skills that are taught and valued within it.

Conclusion and Further Directions

Our survey of DH programs in the Anglophone world may be summarized by the following points.

  • The majority of Anglophone programs are not degree-granting; they are certificates, minors, specializations, and concentrations. By comparison, most European programs are degree-granting, often at the master’s level.
  • About half of Anglophone programs require some form of independent research, and half require a final deliverable, referred to variously as a capstone, dissertation, portfolio, or thesis. About one-quarter of programs require fieldwork, often in the form of an internship.
  • About one-third of Anglophone DH programs are offered outside of academic schools/departments (in centers, initiatives, and, in one case, jointly with the library). By comparison, most European programs are located in academic divisions; only a handful are offered in institutes, centres, or labs.
  • Analysis and meta-activities (e.g., community building, project management) make up the largest share of activities in Anglophone programs, along with creation (e.g., designing, programming, writing). By contrast, activities such as enrichment, capture, and storage seem more prevalent in European programs. Some of these areas may be over- or under-represented for various cultural reasons we’ve discussed above.

As with any survey, there may be things uncounted, undercounted, or miscounted, and we have tried to note these limitations throughout this article.

One immediate application of this data is a resource for prospective students and those planning and revising formal programs. At minimum, this data provides general information about these 37 programs, along with some indication of special areas of emphasis—a compliment to DARIAH/EADH data. As we discussed earlier, this list should be more inclusive of DH throughout the globe, and that probably requires an international team fluent in the various languages of the programs. Following our inspection of DARIAH’s Registry, we believe it’s difficult to control the accuracy of such data in a centralized way. To address both of these challenges, we believe that updates to this data are best managed by the DH community, and to that end, we have created a GitHub repository at https://github.com/dhprograms/data where updates can be forked and pulled into a master branch. This branch will be connected to Tableau Public for live versions of visualizations similar to the ones included here. Beyond this technical infrastructure, our next steps include outreach to the community to ensure that listings are updated and inclusive in ways that go beyond our resources in this study.

Second, there are possibilities for studying program change over time using the archive of program webpages and course descriptions generated by this study. Capture of program and course information in the future might allow exploration of the growth of the field as well as changes in its activities. We believe that a different taxonomy or classification system might prove useful here, as well as a different method of coding. These are active considerations as we build the GitHub repository. We also note that this study may induce some effect (hopefully positive) in the way that programs and courses are described, perhaps pushing them to be more explicit about the nature and extent of DH activities.

Finally, we hope this study gives the community pause to consider how DH is described and represented, and how it is taught. If there are common expectations not reflected here, perhaps DHers could be more explicit about how we, as a community, describe the activities that make up DH work, at least in building our taxonomies and describing our formal programs and required courses. Conversely, if there are activities that seem overrepresented here, we might consider why those activities are prized in the field (and which are not) and whether this is the picture we wish to present publicly. We might further consider this picture in relationship to the cultural and political-economic contexts in which DH actually exists. Are we engaging with these larger structures? Do the activities of the field reflect this? Is it found in our teaching and learning, and in the ways that we describe those?

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Allison Piazza for collecting initial data about some programs, as well as Craig MacDonald for advice on statistical analysis and coding methods. Attendees at the inaugural Keystone Digital Humanities Conference at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries provided helpful feedback on the ideas presented here. JITP reviewers Stewart Varner and Kathi Berens were helpful interlocutors for this draft, as were anonymous reviewers of a DH2017 conference proposal based on this work.

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Appendix A

List of Digital Humanities Programs in our Collected Data

  • Minor (undergraduate) in Digital Humanities, Australian National University
  • Minor (undergraduate) in Digital Humanities & Technology, Brigham Young University
  • Minor (undergraduate) in Interactive Arts and Science, Brock University
  • BA in Interactive Arts and Science, Brock University
  • MA in Digital Humanities (Collaborative Master’s), Carleton University
  • MA (program track) in Digital Humanities, CUNY Graduate Center
  • Minor (undergraduate) in Digital Humanities, Farleigh Dickinson University
  • BS in Digital Humanities, Illinois Institute of Technology
  • MPhil/PhD in Digital Humanities Research, King’s College London
  • MA in Digital Humanities, King’s College London
  • BA in Digital Culture, King’s College London
  • MA in Digital Humanities, Loyola University Chicago
  • Certificate (graduate) in Digital Humanities, Michigan State University
  • Specialization (undergraduate) in Digital Humanities, Michigan State University
  • MA in Digital Humanities, National University of Ireland Maynooth
  • PhD in Digital Arts and Humanities, National University of Ireland Maynooth
  • Certificate (graduate) in Digital Humanities, North Carolina State University
  • Certificate (graduate) in Digital Humanities, Pratt Institute
  • Certificate in Digital Humanities, Rutgers University
  • Certificate (graduate) in Digital Humanities, Stanford University
  • Certificate (graduate) in Digital Humanities, Texas A&M University
  • Certificate (graduate) in Book History and Digital Humanities, Texas Tech University
  • MPhil in Digital Humanities and Culture, Trinity College Dublin
  • Certificate (graduate) in Digital Humanities, UCLA
  • Minor (undergraduate) in Digital Humanities, UCLA
  • MA/MSc in Digital Humanities, University College London
  • PhD in Digital Humanities, University College London
  • MA in Humanities Computing, University of Alberta
  • Specialization (undergraduate) in Literature & the Culture of Information, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Concentration (graduate) in Humanities Computing, University of Georgia
  • Concentration (undergraduate) in Humanities Computing, University of Georgia
  • Certificate (graduate) in Public Digital Humanities, University of Iowa
  • Certificate (graduate) in Digital Humanities, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Certificate (graduate) in Digital Humanities, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Certificate (graduate) in Digital Humanities, University of Victoria
  • Certificate (graduate) in Certificate in Public Scholarship, University of Washington
  • Minor (undergraduate) in Digital Humanities, Western University Canada

Appendix B

List of Programs in DARIAH/EADH Data

A table of European institutions and DH programs. For each program, the type (e.g., Bachelor’s, Master’s) is listed, as well as whether the program was listed by DARIAH, EADH, or both.
Figure 15: European institutions and DH programs

Appendix C

Data

In addition to creating a GitHub repository at https://github.com/dhprograms/data, we include the program data we collected and our term codings below. Since the GitHub data may be updated over time, these files serve as the version of record for the data and analysis presented in this article.

Data for “A Survey of Digital Humanities Programs”

About the Authors

Chris Alen Sula is Associate Professor and Coordinator of Digital Humanities and the MS in Data Analytics & Visualization at Pratt Institute School of Information. His research applies visualization to humanities datasets, as well as exploring the ethics of data and visualization. He received his PhD in Philosophy from the City University of New York with a doctoral certificate in Interactive Technology and Pedagogy.

S.E. Hackney is a PhD student in Library and Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh. Their research looks at the documentation practices of online communities, and how identity, ideology, and the body get represented through the governance of digital spaces. They received their MSLIS with an Advanced Certificate in Digital Humanities from Pratt Institute School of Information in 2016.

Phillip Cunningham has been a reference assistant and cataloger with the Amistad Research Center since 2015. He received a BA in History from Kansas State University and MSLIS from Pratt Institute. He has interned at the Schomburg Center’s Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, the Gilder-Lehrman Institute for American History, and the Riley County (KS) Genealogical Society. His research has focused on local history, Kansas African-American history, and the use of digital humanities in public history.

Featured Image "Nucleus cochlear implant Graeme Clark" courtesy of Flickr user adrigu.
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This Week: Issue 9 Submissions: Calling All Cyborgs!

Each week, a member of the JITP Editorial Collective assembles and shares the news items, ongoing discussions, and upcoming events of interest to us (and hopefully you). This week’s installment is edited by Carlos Hernandez and Tyler Fox.

 

Michael Chorost’s memoir Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human is no cyborg valentine to technology. Chorost describes how, after he lost his hearing completely in 2001, he decided to undergo a radical surgery that would install a computer interface in his head that would interact with a computer he clipped onto his belt. With these, he would be able to hear again.

Well, “hear.” The interface between hardware and wetware took a long period of learning and adjustment. At the beginning of the process, the world Chorost heard made different sounds altogether: “In my experience,” writes Chorost, “paper made sounds like blap, snip,and vrrrrr, and if rudely treated, szzzzz. It didn’t go bingggg” (73). Different software for his computer-alternative hearing offered varying affordances; in a way, he was able to choose how he heard, which on the surface might sound like a cyber-blessing. But when every sound is a simulacrum, an ersatz version of the Platonic ideal of what you think sounds should sound like, you too might say, as Chorost does, “the implant [was] a tool that would enable me to do something which resembled hearing. It would not be hearing…. How bizarre” (79).

Chorost’s hearing never returned to what it had been prior to its loss. But his computer-assisted audition gave him a kind sound detection, one that proved useful, emotionally satisfying, and in the words of the book’s subtitle, humanizing. His vision for what humanity’s future could be–it’s a hard-one dream, arrived at only after a long katabasis–imagines a Haraway-esque incorporation (quite literally) of technology into our lives:

“When I think of the future of human potential in a hypertechnological age, I imagine a generation of people who have been educated to focus intensely on the world of matter and spirit, while also using powerful tools for mediating their perception of reality. They will bond with machines, but they will not be addicted to them. They will analyze while looking at art, and laugh while reading computer code. They will make exquisite use of floods of information, while not allowing themselves to be stunned into passivity” (181).

But such a thoughtful, critical, considered and salubrious relationship to technology will not happen by itself. Quite the contrary: we can expect Facebook to continue experimenting on its users (and issuing apologies after the fact); governments to continue tracking us through backdoors they pay corporations to create for them; and untold numbers of companies to continue collecting, in ways ranging from ignorant to willfully irresponsible, massive amounts of information from its users, only to have it stolen by hackers–to draw only three examples from the inexorable flood of news reports emerging about how increasingly, and how thoughtlessly, we lead our cyber lives.

As educators, our greatest ethical mandate is to create an informed and thinking citizenry. JITP exists to help us meet that obligation. We focus specifically on the interaction between technology and education, drawing from the educational traditions of critical pedagogy, constructivism, and the digital humanities. We are devoted leveraging both theory (writ large) and experimentation to serve as the twin foundations for best practices in the class. You can read more about our mission here.

We invite you to join us. We have a number of different formats to which you may submit your work to JITP, ranging in length and levels of formality. Full-length articles are peer-reviewed, but we don’t stop there; putting our own theories into practice, we work closely with authors in a pre-publication conversation about their work that our authors have found enriching and beneficial to their intellectual work (and you can see here and here [for the latter, jump to around 22:20 for soundbite!]).

Issue 9 has no theme; we welcome papers from all disciplines and all theoretical/experimental approaches. We promise you a thorough review process, and we seek not only to produce the best possible scholarship but to benefit you personally as a writer and researcher.

At one point in Rebuilt, Chorost reminds us that even chalk is technology. If we don’t believe him, he challenges us to try making our own. To my mind, that moment serves as not only a piece of wit, but a call to action: we are always already awash in technology. As educators, our job is to think critically about the technologies we employ, and to help our students understand our technology-inundated world. That’s why JITP exists, and why you should write with us.

P.S. Here’s an interview Michael Chorost conducted with NPR about Rebuilt.

 

Stark & Subtle Divisions
Graduate students from UMass Boston curate an Omeka site on desegregation in Boston.
http://bosdesca.omeka.net

Gender Equality in Science
A recent study indicates that poor nations are leading the way in gender equality in science.
http://www.scidev.net/global/gender/news/poor-nations-gender-equality-research.html

ECDS: 2016 Digital Scholarship Residency
ECDS is now accepting proposals for a 3-day digital scholarship residency at Emory University during the Spring semester 2016. Scholars from any discipline who use and promote digital scholarship methods in research and teaching are encouraged to apply.
https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/ecds/2015/09/09/ecds-2016-digital-scholarship-residency/

Editorial Violence…
http://www.theonion.com/article/4-copy-editors-killed-in-ongoing-ap-style-chicago–30806

Lastly, HASTAC/Futures Initiative is offering an online forum and live-streamed workshop on “Peer Mentoring and Student-Centered Learning,” part of The University Worth Fighting For #fight4edu series. http://bit.ly/peer-mentoring The forum will be open all month, and our live-streamed workshop will be this Thursday @ 1 pm EST.

 

Featured Image “Nucleus cochlear implant Graeme Clark” courtesy of Flickr user adrigu.

 

Toward Digital, Critical, Participatory Action Research: Lessons from the #BarrioEdProj

Edwin Mayorga
Swarthmore College

Abstract

The Education in our Barrios project, or #BarrioEdProj, is a digital critical participatory action research (D+CPAR) project that examines the interconnected remaking of public education and a New York City Latino core community in an era of racial capitalism. This article is a meditation on the ongoing development of #BarrioEdProj as an example of strategically coupling digital media with the theories and practices of critical participatory action research (CPAR). The author describes the project and the theoretical and political commitments that frame this project as a form of public and participatory science. The author then discusses some of the lessons that have been learned as the research group implemented the project and decided to move to a digital archiving model when our digital media design was initially ineffective. The author argues that rather than dropping digital media, engaged scholars must continue to explore the potentially transformative work that can come from carefully devised D+CPAR.

 

Introduction

The co-researchers of the Education in our Barrios Project (#BarrioEdProj) and I had spent seven months reflecting on how to expand our social media reach in East Harlem when Mariely said, “Edwin, this whole technology thing doesn’t work in El Barrio.” Mariely’s comment made explicit a set of concerns I had been contemplating for some time, namely, that trying to politically and intellectually engage the community through digital social media was not going to effectively encourage participation, or the development of more connections to local history, or a discussion of relevant educational and social issues.   If digital media was not working in El Barrio, as Mariely suggested, I wondered if we should drop digital tools from a project primarily concerned with collaboratively documenting the interconnected remaking of public education and Latino core communities in an era of racial capitalism altogether (Melamed 2011). Ultimately, we chose not to drop social media from the project and instead to critically and continuously question why, when, and how we want to integrate it into participatory and community-based research.

This paper asks, What can we learn from integrating digital tools and social media platforms into critical participatory action research (CPAR) projects? Drawing on project field notes that were collected between June and December of 2013, I trace the evolution of #BarrioEdProj to cull lessons for “engaged” or activist scholars doing public science work in our digital age (Hale 2008).  I begin by giving some background on the project and our research site, East Harlem and its schools. I provide an overview of the project’s design and highlight some  theoretical underpinnings of what I describe as digital critical participatory action research (D+CPAR). Then I discuss how we grappled with the realization that the social media aspect of our project was not working in El Barrio.

In the months that followed Mariely’s comment, we would rework our research design in a way that centered digital, participatory archiving as part of our D+CPAR design (Caswell 2014). This reworking was guided by giving regular attention to how our varied uses of social media shaped our collective approach to research, teaching, and learning for social justice. Our social media aims were twofold: we wanted to deepen and solidify our engagement with people in East Harlem (El Barrio), and we wanted encourage more public engagement among people in East Harlem and across New York City.

I describe this evolution of #BarrioEdProj and discuss some of the lessons we learned from navigating this change. The challenges we faced made it clear that the traditional challenges ethnographers face, both in gaining community entry and building trusting relationships, remain issues in digital social science (DSS). We also learned that embracing digital media presents new perspectives and new questions for the researcher. Questions of digital access, infrastructure, and practices of participation, for example, are important considerations that engaged scholars must interrogate as part of their work.  I conclude by arguing that #BarrioEdProj should remind researchers that the “universal digital turn” amplified the terrain for intellectual and political struggle, where inequity is reproduced, and transformative public science can be born nyc.

 

Background 

I am an educator-scholar-activist-of-Color who has labored, and fought, for educational and social justice before, during, and after the 12 years that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg managed the city and controlled the public school system (Suzuki and Mayorga 2014). I locate my scholarship at the intersection of critical education studies, cultural political economy, critical theories of race, digital social science, and social movement theory.  It is my view that activist research plays an important role in making transparent the circulation and material effects of the period of racial capitalism  in which we live (Melamed 2011; Robinson 1983). Following Melamed (2011), I argue that this state-driven, racio-economic partnership adapts and revises white supremacy and capitalism in order to maintain dominance. In these circumstances, my research program and conceptual frameworks aim to trace the contours of structural oppression and histories of resistance through participatory and digital methods in order to foster social justice (Anyon 2009). In #BarrioEdProj, my primary concern is the relationship between the cultural political economy and neighborhoods, communities, and schools—what I describe as the school-community nexus. The nexus is a frame for thinking about the shifting, discursive, and material linkages between what happens in and around schools and larger society.

I think about the school-community nexus across New York City neighborhoods, but I pay particular attention to what Ed Morales described as Latino core communities and their local schools (Morales forthcoming). Initially majority-Puerto Rican, the New York City Latino population has rapidly increased and diversified since the late 1960s. During the twentieth century, certain neighborhoods, like East Harlem, Williamsburg, the Lower East Side, the South Bronx, and Washington Heights, would become cultural, political, and economic, hubs for Latinos. These neighborhoods would experience waves of extreme economic hardships, political strife, urban renewal, displacement, and vibrant social life. My work is focused on exploring the reformation of these core communities in relation to struggles within education.

While Latinos have been a major voice in struggles over public education since the early twentieth century, only certain aspects of the Latino education story, like bilingual education, have received significant attention. Recently, Latinos became the largest population of students in the public school system (NYC IBO 2013); nationally, there has been increased concern over a “Latino education crisis” (Gándara and Contreras 2009). It was in working through the convergence of community and educational crisis that I opted to look at the Latino core community of East Harlem (El Barrio) as a window into racial capitalism, its circulation, and its effects.  A map of the distribution of public schools in East Harlem is shown in Figure 1.

 

Map1.EH_.EHSchools.Map_-1024x955Figure 1. Map of East Harlem and East Harlem Schools, Image created with http://maps.nyc.gov/, #BarrioEdProj collection.

 

East Harlem and its Public Schools

Once a home to Italian and Eastern-European Jewish immigrants, East Harlem would become a Puerto Rican stronghold following en masse migration to the US mainland between the 1930s and 1970s. Over the course of the twentieth century, the Black (non-Latino) community would also make up a large portion of East Harlem (Dávila 2004). Since the 1960s, when US immigration laws opened the door to more Asian, Latino and Middle Eastern immigrants, the diversity of Latinos moving into different parts of New York broadened and complicated Latinidad (Latinoness) in New York City and East Harlem (Dávila 2004; Flores 1997). In the midst of demographic change, East Harlem would become a symbol of urban poverty and a site of political struggle , as people dealt with varying cycles of organized abandonment and urban renewal (Freidenberg 1995). More recently, East Harlem has experienced change through a rise in luxury housing over affordable housing, a cultural rebranding of the neighborhoods as Upper Yorkville or SpaHa (Spanish Harlem), and an increasing displacement and departure of long-time residents (Dávila 2004; Morales and Rivera 2009; Padilla 2012).

As East Harlem has undergone economic and social change, the city and East Harlem’s public school system has also experienced significant and often difficult change. Change in the schools has often revolved around governance and the voice of the citizenry in the education of youth. Between the early 1900s and the 1960s, the schools were operated through a highly centralized bureaucracy.  During those decades, East Harlem was known as an area with some of the worst performing schools in the city (Fliegel and MacGuire 1993; Nieto 2000). The tumultuous struggle for community control of schools–the struggle in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville (Brooklyn, NY) is the most widely recalled example of this larger phenomena–would be ended by the implementation of a decentralized governance formation that dispersed bureaucracy and gave families limited but varied forms of choice between 1970 and 2002. During decentralization, East Harlem launched bilingual education programs and a “progressive” small schools movement that would have a profound effect on East Harlem education (Fliegel and MacGuire 1993; Meier 1995; Pedraza 1997). Then in 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg re-centralized the system as a Department of Education rather than a Board of Education, a governance reorganization that, critical scholars have argued, is part of a broader, neoliberal assault on public education (Buras 2011; Lipman and Hursh 2007; Lipman 2011).

 

The #BarrioEdProj

#BarrioEdProj is comprised of a trio of co-researchers that includes two young Latina women from East Harlem: Mariely, age 19, and Honory, age 23. With funding provided by the CUNY Graduate Center’s Digital Initiatives grants program, Mariely and Honory were hired as co-researchers to help develop and steer the project (the research team is shown in Figure 2).  We met, and continue to meet, three to four times a month to discuss readings about East Harlem, education reform, and qualitative research methods; participate in digital media and research trainings; analyze collected data; construct our website; and plan next tasks. Together we have conducted interviews, observed public meetings, and conducted archival research. Data analysis has primarily involved thematic analyses of transcripts, observations, archival data, and online dialogue (Boyatzis 1998).

 

image1.barrioedproj_nycore_2014Figure 2. #BarrioEdProj research group (and son), Photo by http://www.sindayiganza.com/

 

Because this was a place-based project, we focused our attention on connecting with the neighborhood through in-person and online outreach to individuals and organizations from East Harlem and East Harlem schools. The outreach was geared toward raising awareness about the project, identifying potential interviewees, and building relationships where we would offer to promote events and make note of issues that were of concern to these individuals and organizations. The local Community Board (CB11) has been extremely supportive and has provided space to conduct interviews. In addition, East Harlem Preservation, a volunteer advocacy group dedicated to promoting and preserving the vibrant history of East Harlem, has endorsed the project and shares relevant information and events with #BarrioEdProj on an ongoing basis. The Community School District (CSD 4) offices and the local Community Education Council (CEC) are two other key entities we have developed relationships with over the life of the project.

In June of 2013 we launched http://barrioedproj.org (WordPress site via OpenCUNY.org) to serve as an information clearinghouse and interactive space for discussion. At the moment, the website uses a language translation plug-in to offer content in Spanish and English, but a companion site, solely in Spanish, is a being explored as a possibility. The bulk of the digital data thus far comes from digitally recorded, semi-structured video interviews, with a multi-generational, bilingual (English/Spanish) group of stakeholders connected to East Harlem education.  Interviewers asked interviewees about their relationship to East Harlem and its schools, their perspectives on cultural and economic change in the neighborhood and the schools, and, finally, their views on the future of the neighborhood and the schools. Excerpts of interviews were edited, produced, and then embedded on the website, where viewers can make comments. In addition to the interview segments, we are continuing to collect images of East Harlem via Flickr and Instagram, scan archival material and self-created informational maps, and collect music produced by East Harlem groups. All this material will eventually be placed on the site.

We also used the voice journalism tool Vojo.co. Based on the Drupal-based VozMob, Vojo is a multilingual tool that allows participants to share stories through voice messages, texts (SMS), and images (MMS). Vojo was the tool used by the creators of the award-winning participatory documentary Sandy Storyline. For #BarrioEdProj, Vojo provided a bilingual venue for individuals who wished to remain more anonymous than video interviewees to share their views. This included teachers and families who have a more critical stance in the educational system but who also did not want to make themselves vulnerable to losing their jobs for speaking out. Vojo was also used as a way to conduct interviews at events when the video camera seemed more invasive for prospective interviewees. Like the interviews, Vojo entries are edited and produced through CowBird and then posted on the website for public commentary.

In addition to interviews and Vojo entries, relevant readings and resources about education and gentrification were posted on the website, our Facebook page, and our Twitter account (@barrioedproj).  Resources included a “tips sheet” about getting into college and a blog post with different financial resources to pay for college. Finally, RebelMouse, a social media tool that brings together various social media feeds from many social media platforms, was also embedded on the website.

 

Literature

Critical, Participatory Action Research (CPAR)

D+CPAR is an attempt to begin defining a strand of the still-nascent field of Digital Social Science, where digital media and social media are integrated into critical participatory action research (CPAR).

CPAR is both a way of knowing and fertile ground for generating ways to contest inequity. Torre et al. (2012) write, “Rooted in notions of democracy and social justice and drawing on critical theory (feminist, critical race, queer, disability, neo-Marxist, indigenous, and poststructural), critical PAR is an epistemology that engages research design, methods, analyses, and products through a lens of democratic participation” (171).  CPAR places the processes of problem posing, research, analysis, and data sharing in the interlocking hands of adults and youth, the focus community, and partnering scholars and activists. While CPAR projects develop their own structures depending on the needs and capacities of participants, there is a commitment to contesting traditional “asymmetrical relationships” in which scholars are seen as experts and those outside of the academy are framed as lacking knowledge and thus incapable of meaningfully participating in research (Young 1997). Instead, CPAR projects are premised on collaborative practices where the voices of all participants are equally valued in decision-making and research work. As such, a democratic thread runs through all aspects of the research process.

Guided by democratic principles, CPAR work goes further by asking, Research to what end?  In the 1960s and 1970s, strands of participatory and action research were conceived by activists and engaged scholars “to systematize and amplify local knowledge” in order to transform “it into social activist movements that contested the power of elites and struggled for greater socioeconomic justice” (Lykes and Mallona 2008, 109).  While PAR and CPAR have evolved over time, the commitment to facilitating people’s movement from inquiry to social action remains a key component. As Torre et al. (2012) note, “critical participatory projects are crafted toward impact validity, anticipating from the start how to produce evidence that can be mobilized for change” (181). As projects that are driven by the interests and knowledge of local people, the research process is designed to inform and inspire social action. Gathered evidence can be mobilized for change in a number of ways, including the presentation of participant-generated reports (Watters and Comeau 2010), data performances (POLLING FOR JUSTICE Part 1 of 3 2010), and speeches at governance body meetings (Torre et al. 2012). Each of these forms of evidence-sharing scale-up local knowledge as a means to engaging a broader public and working toward justice.

It is the democratic spirit of CPAR and the commitment to using evidence as a mobilizing tool for change that motivated me to use CPAR as a framework for the #BarrioEdProj. This turn would soon cross with my contemplations of digital social science research. 

 

Digital Social Science (DSS)

Without overstating it, digital humanities as a field has gained traction (Spiro 2014; Terras, Nyhan, and Vanhoutte 2013), whereas DSS is only beginning to emerge (Spiro 2014). The Economic and Social Research Council (n.d.), a British organization, defines DSS as:

the application of a new generation of distributed, digital technologies to social science research problems. The aim is to enable social research by developing innovative and more powerful, networked and interoperable research tools and services that make it easier for social scientists to discover, access and analyse data, and to collaborate so that they may tackle increasingly complex research challenges.

And Spiro (2014) adds that DSS:

encompasses both quantitative and qualitative approaches; it involves new data sources (such as social networking data), methods (such as social network analysis), capability (such as collaboration tools), scholarly practices (such as new publishing models), areas of study (such as Internet studies), and scale (such as global collaborations).

DSS is very wide open and, as such, integrating DSS concepts and tools into critical participatory projects is an opportunity for engaged scholars to “make the road while walking” (Horton et al. 1990). It is important to note that scholarship in interdisciplinary areas like Community Informatics (CI) and Participatory Design Action Research (PDAR) can potentially fall under the umbrella of DSS (Carroll and Rosson 2007; Gurstein 2000). With respect to #BarrioEdProj, CI’s commitment to the application of information and communications technology (ICT) and PDAR’s exploration of Action Research (AR) are of particular relevance (Gurstein 2007). With that said, our project began by looking at literature on digital ethnography for the design of #BarrioEdProj as a DSS project. As such, I focus on digital ethnography in this paper as a way to think about creating new data sources, new ways to present data stories.

For social scientists like Underberg and Zorn (2013) and Murthy (2008), digital ethnography is, like traditional ethnography, about gathering, sharing, and analyzing stories. The availability of digital video cameras and digital voice recording tools, along with online data storage (Cloud) and online video tools (Vimeo/YouTube), can potentially reshape how ethnographic stories are collected, analyzed, and shared. Being able to store digital video in a cloud, for example, can allow research groups to look through data on our own time in our own location. If research groups have already viewed this data, then face-to-face research meetings can focus on collective analysis or other relevant activity. Moreover, stored data can “be re-analyzed, examined for inter-coder reliability and retrieved by future generations of researchers” (Shrum et al. 2005). Of course, this is not all new. What is new, or perhaps not something not sufficiently embraced by researchers, is the opportunity to provide more continuous data sharing with a broader public.

Additionally, these tools make it possible to share data over the course of project implementation or at the end of a study. Researchers can thus make strategic decisions about when, why, and how, data can be made public. The Morris Justice Project (MJP), for example, was a critical participatory project in the Morris Avenue section of the Bronx. MJP participants documented community member experiences with the police through a survey of over 1000 people. After the survey was completed and studied, the group collaborated with the Illuminator—a cargo van equipped with video and audio projection tools, born out of the Occupy Wall Street movement— to share data on an open wall of a Morris-area apartment building. This digital data share served as an open letter to the NYPD and as a space for community discussion and data analysis.

Similarly, the #BarrioEdProj website was conceived as an open wall where data would be shared and conversations could be had among site users. Through Vimeo, #BarrioEdProj made interviews segments and video coverage of public events available to the public on an ongoing basis. Public engagement with the data online provides another source of data concerning digital participation practices that can be examined at a later point.

In both MJP and #BarrioEdProj, there is a curatorial dimension as stories are told and re-told differently through the selective presentation of data. Using hashtags on a website allows researchers to connect different data pieces across multiple themes. In our case, interviews that discussed education history in East Harlem could be tagged as education governance (#EdGov) and education history (#EdHistory). The segment would then be available through different streams on the website depending on what users were interested in exploring. For researchers, tagging data can also mirror traditional forms of coding qualitative data in thematic analysis (Boyatzis 1998, Braun & Clarke 2006), as data with the same tag can be seen collectively and then analyzed. Finally, digital tools like RebelMouse allow researchers to gather posts from across the various social media tools being used through hashtags. Once the posts have been collected, RebelMouse users can then move them around to emphasize certain posts over others. In each example, researchers are able to exercise curatorial powers over how data is organized and made available, leaving platform users with various trails of crumbs to follow and jump between.

There are many more ways to think about the merging of digital social science and critical participatory research projects, but I want to briefly move to public engagement as a part of the D+CPAR process and as an object of study.

 

Public Engagement

Using a D+CPAR framework, we considered how digital environments and social media could contribute to creating more equitable spaces for public engagement. It is clear that “’everyday life’ has become increasingly technologically mediated” (Murthy 2008), making it “difficult to distinguish between digital and non-digital activities” (Leonard & Losse 2014). Public engagement in the digital age is a concern to researchers, marketers, and political advocates, to name a few. Research on practices among internet users looks at a number of different areas, including political activity, personal interests, and social uses (Smith 2011). Our working notion of public engagement is grounded in education studies and political advocacy.

Orr and Rogers (2011) argue that “[p]ublic engagement cannot be reduced to individual acts such as voting, speaking with a teacher, or choosing a school. Public engagement emerges as parents, community members, and youth identify common education problems and work together to address them” (xiii). Historically, education has been a key site for political struggle in the U.S., and it has been particularly important for marginalized communities. In some instances, engagement in school politics has meant opportunities for exerting voice and demanding concessions from the state. At other times, the elimination or curbing of engagement has been part of maintaining control and inequity.  Today, the voices of members of US society are heard unequally, as “[t]he privileged participate more than others and are increasingly well organized to press their demands on government” (Orr & Rogers 2011, 2). In light of this, we contemplated how #BarrioEdProj could provide spaces for various stakeholders concerned about education to come together through the Internet and social media.

For researchers, creating spaces for engagement can take many directions, but for #BarrioEdProj the focus remained primarily on creating opportunities for individuals to interact and using social media to share information relevant to the community. With our website and social media platforms, the underlying idea was to invite people to view collected material and then have them respond to the material and the comments of other participants. Recent studies note that approximately 60% of American adults use social media, and 66% of social media users — or 42% of all American adults — use social media for some form of political engagement (Rainie 2012).  Taking this statistic into consideration, the digital holds promise as a site for political work, though it should not be considered a panacea by any stretch. In having digital participants engage one another through #BarrioEdProj sites, the idea was to identify key educational problems that could be addressed collectively through continued dialogue and action planning.

While the use of the Internet and social media in research has many promising aspects to it, including democratizing communication, expanding opportunities for public engagement, and expanding networks of relations, it cannot go un-critiqued.  First, membership in social media communities are “inherently restricted to the digital ‘haves’ (or at least those with digital social capital) rather than the ‘have nots’” (Murthy 2008, 845). This is both a cultural and material problem that emerges in “societies structured in dominance” (Hall 1980, 320). Public engagement is increasingly contingent on digital infrastructure (access to Wifi, broadband quality, etc.) and digital savvy (Prensky n.d.). As I discuss later, infrastructure and the digital practices of our participants were key issues that would inform the redirection of #BarrioEdProj.

A second point to consider is the way that capital and digital participation are deeply entangled.   In a recent article in Dissent, Jung (2014) compares Tronti’s theory of the “social factory” to social relationships in the Web 2.0 age. The “social factory,” according to Tronti (as discussed in Jung 2014), is where “every social relation is subsumed under capital and the distinction between society and factory collapses, so that society becomes a factory and social relations directly become relations of production” (48). Jung argues that the social, playful labor of participation in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms is tracked and farmed as a new source of value extraction and accumulation of capital—relationships are thus commodified. Around 70% of the social media market is dominated by Facebook (Jung 2014). Users of Facebook and Instagram are high frequency users, checking their sites at least once daily (Jung 2014). These realities present engaged researchers with an ethical dilemma in which one must consider whether one’s use of digital technologies is merely contributing to commodification and the reproduction of social inequities.  Open source tools like elgg and Dolphin provide ways to create social networking alternatives to the proprietary platforms, but the comparatively limited reach of these platforms can make them difficult for participatory research projects that seek to be far-reaching and accessible. In the end, #BarrioEdProj proceeded with proprietary platforms (with the exceptions of WordPress and Vojo) because we felt that East Harlem’s public institutions did not have a strong digital presence in the community. I go into more details about the digital landscape of East Harlem in the next section.

 

Results & Analysis: Lessons from #BarrioEdProj

Evaluating #BarrioEdProj

Evaluating the effectiveness of a D+CPAR project involves looking at both academic impact and external, or public, impact (see JustPublics@365 and the London School of Economics and Political Science for more). We understood impact in this context as referring to our ability to create public engagement opportunities that would be used by a growing number of people. One way we can look at impact through social media is by “measuring links, downloads, views, usage, and re-mixes” (JustPublics@365 2013).  We found limited success in attracting people to create and engage a public through the digital environments we offered. According to our WordPress analytic tool (Jetpack), we had received around 828 visitors between June and December of 2013. Looking at both the number of “likes” and “reach” on Facebook, we found that during this period we had very few people (28) “like” our page, and our outreach was equally modest, averaging around 15 to 20 people being reached organically (The project has never paid for advertising on Facebook or any other proprietary platform). On Twitter we had 110 followers and had a reach of about 1,000 people a month (according to SumAll). These initial bits of data showed us that Mariely was right in suggesting that our social media was not working in East Harlem. We began to ask, Why not?

We think that there were a number of reasons our digital participation work was failing to take hold in East Harlem. Some the problems were internal issues that we could change, while others were more external issues that require further research to verify. I will briefly highlight three potential issues.

First, trying to build on-the-ground connections at the same time that we were trying to launch the social media work was a major misstep. Establishing a strong digital presence in D+CPAR work requires strong “community anchors.” Like traditional ethnographies, DSS researchers need to develop trusting relationships with community organizations and individual advocates. Having established the majority of our on-the-ground relationships a few months prior to the launch, we lacked sufficient entry into the study site. In addition, not having stronger relationships with local organizations meant that we missed out on having a larger pool of prospective digital participants. To take from the marketing world, a successful digital project requires brand awareness and brand confidence (Michaels 2013). We had not established sufficient brand awareness or brand confidence. Moreover, the time and labor needed to improve our digital presence was too much for a group of three researchers with limited funding. (For more on digital labor, see Scholz 2012.) These missteps were problems of design and would be addressed internally. There were other, more external factors, that our ineffectiveness would lead us to consider further.

One external issue was the uneven and unidirectional use of social media for public engagement in local, civic, issues on our site. New York City began publishing a Digital Road Map (DRM) (2013) in 2011 as a vision for making New York “the number one digital city” in the US (1). One of the core tenets of the DRM is improving “digital engagement” by identifying “the right technology and tool to reach their constituency and achieve their aims” (27). As such, the DRM defines engagement as a unidirectional activity in which governing bodies see themselves as information disseminators for a public composed of consumers. This runs contrary to our own understanding of public engagement, in which participants are seen as active and equally legitimate.

As I mentioned earlier, about 42% of people in the US use social media for some form of political engagement. Still, of those 42%, the largest group of users are white males under 50 years of age (Rainie, Smith, Schlozman, Brady & Verba 2012). Among our co-researchers and interview participants (N= 23), there was varying interest in and experience with the use of social media for public and political engagement. Participants who were under 30 years of age reported that they primarily used Instagram, and they used it primarily to connect with their friends and family. They expressed not having used social media for political or public engagement very much. These patterns mirror national trends in social media use (Duggan 2013).

Participants over 30 were more varied. Some noted being digitally engaged, primarily through Facebook and Twitter, while others stated that they were on social media (mostly Facebook), but rarely used it for either public or personal engagement.  Anecdotally, one interviewee in the over-30 group, who reported he was “old school” and didn’t use email and social media very much, noted that Twitter was vital to promoting a proposal he worked on for the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP) in his district. PBP is a community-focused project through which ten city districts are deciding, along with district residents, how to spend $14 million (PBNYC n.d.). The most recent PBP evaluation report focuses on how organizers engaged local residents and advocates, but makes little mention of the role of social media (Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center 2013). Still, this interviewee’s comments made clear that the potential impact of social media for public engagement is understood and used by local advocates, but it is not necessarily a part of the practice of the broader neighborhood.

In addition, we found that the local school district did not use a website or social media to engage the public. Parents at one local school did request that the school use a mass text (SMS) tool to provide families with more school updates. There were also a few individual schools that used Twitter to reach out to families. In sum, our data suggests that using social media for public engagement was not a common practice across East Harlem, and this potentially reproduced inequities of voice in political decision-making. Equitable engagement was further inhibited by an unclear vision of digital practices among local institutions and government bodies.  In the future, #BarrioEdProjwould like to conduct a broader neighborhood survey to document how social media is used in the neighborhood as a way to contribute to developing a neighborhood vision for engagement through social media.

A final external factor I want to highlight concerns digital infrastructure and specifically access and adoption of high-speed broadband. According to Digital Road Map (2013), 99% of New Yorkers have residential access to high speed broadband, 300,000 more low income residents had access to broadband in 2013 than in 2011, there are fifty parks with free Wifi, and the city has served 4,000 resident living in public housing (NYCHA) through its digital van initiative (New York City, 3).

Certainly, these advances are positive, but the DRM leaves open a number of questions concerning the scope of these improvements. For example, questions about broadband access and broadband adoption must be asked. Nationally, consistency of access to broadband remains varied, though more narrowly, along geographic, racial/ethnic, and social class lines, and types of social media used vary along age and educational levels (Zickuhr 2013). East Harlem is still a low-income, primarily of-Color neighborhood where 31% of people live in poverty and twenty-four public housing projects (14,700 units) make up large parts of the landscape (Figure 3). According to NYC Open Data maps (New York City 2014), there are very few public Wifi spots available in East Harlem, including McDonald’s restaurants and the local libraries (see Figure 3).

Certainly, these advances are positive, but the DRM leaves open a number of questions concerning the scope of these improvements. For example, questions about broadband access and broadband adoption must be asked. Nationally, consistency of access to broadband remains varied, though more narrowly, along geographic, racial/ethnic, and social class lines, and types of social media used vary along age and educational levels (Zickuhr 2013). East Harlem is still a low-income, primarily of-Color neighborhood where 31% of people live in poverty and twenty-four public housing projects (14,700 units) make up large parts of the landscape (Figure 3 Map of EH-NYCHA Housing 2). According to NYC Open Data maps (New York City 2014), there are very few public Wifi spots available in East Harlem, including McDonald’s restaurants and the local libraries (Figure 4 Map of wifi spots).

Mayorga_Figure3-374x1024Figure 3. Public and Rent Stabilized Housing Units Map, East Harlem 2011, from Regional Planning Association. (2012). East Harlem Affordable Housing Under Threat: Strategies for Preserving Rent-Regulated Units.

 

Map2.FreewifiSpots.EH_.2013-980x1024 (1)Figure 4. Free Wifi in East Harlem, map created through NYC Open Data. #BarrioEdProj collection.

 

The two public parks with Wifi are not mentioned in the map, nor are some of the other small businesses that offer Wifi (openwifispots 2014). Still, limited Wifi access intersects with the poor conditions of East Harlem libraries (Anderson 2014), and the neighborhood has one of the lowest levels of parkland per resident in the city (Chaban 2012). Additionally, as a neighborhood with one of the highest densities of public housing in New York (Hunter 2014), disparities in access to computers and the Internet are particularly stark (Wall 2012). The 4,000 people served by the NYCHA Digital Vans city-wide make up a very small percentage of the 178,557 residents that comprised NYCHA’s conventional housing program in March 2014 (New York City Housing Authority 2014). All this suggests that public access remains underdeveloped, leaving low-income residents with limited options for adopting broadband. Adoption is primarily mediated by financial constraints, including “high monthly fees, [h]ardware costs, hidden fees, billing transparency, quality of service, and availability” (Dailey, Bryne, Powell, Karaganis & Chung 2010, 3). At this point, data about access to and adoption of high speed broadband in East Harlem is not available, and is something that we also want to address in future surveying.

 

Looking back to move #BarrioEdProj Forward

While we were struggling with the social media aspects of the work, the digitally mediated research aspects of our D+CPAR process were flourishing educationally and affectively. Our community-centered historical work involved collectively reading relevant texts, conducting and producing digital interviews, and collaboratively analyzing data. Having been members of the East Harlem community for most if not all of their lives, Honory and Mariely were being exposed to East Harlem-focused social science and archival information for the first time. This elicited feelings of surprise and dissatisfaction. They were pleased to learn some of the rich history of the neighborhood, but at the same time they were disappointed by the way these histories had been denied to them over the course of their educational career.  There was also a growing anger as they began to recognize the devastating impact of gentrification and education reform on their lives and the lives of others in the neighborhood.

As a research group, we took our new understanding into interviews, where we heard from a cadre of multigenerational community stakeholders who had participated in the historical moments we had been studying. The interviews would have an emotional effect on the participants and the researchers. Interviewees in the under-30 group, for example, mentioned that being asked about their community was an educational experience for them. Gentrification was a notion that most were familiar with, but they appeared to find the opportunity to link their abstract notion of gentrification to their own lives a positive experience. Participants in the over-30 group also mentioned that they appreciated being able to share their perspective. One participant also noted that she appreciated the mission of #BarrioEdProj and saw it as a potential space to “light a spark” for change.

Upon returning to our group meetings we would engage in a reflective process to make sense of what we observed in the interviews in relation to our readings, archival work, and our subjects’ lived experience. In these discussions the voices of generations of East Harlem education community members enlivened the very complicated situations residents dealt with as they faced displacement from home, urban restructuring, and disconnections from levers of power within the state education apparatus. For our co-researcher Honory, for example, seeing a parent discuss struggles over education led her to think about the complexities families face and the necessary work parents must do in order to provide high quality education for all children.

Figure 5. Meibell Contreras, parent of children at Central Park East I (CPE I). Ms. Contreras discusses her engagement with the schools and some of her concerns about the system. #BarrioEdProj Vimeo Collection.

 

What was happening in these more personally connected aspects of the work was as much emotional as it was scholarly. As Lynch (2009) reminds us, humans are “deeply relational beings, part of a complex matrix of social and emotional relations that often give meaning and purpose to life, even though they can also constrain life’s options” (4).  This historical and interview-based work was where trust amongst participants was built and the purpose of work was most clearly defined.

Making sense of all the data we had collected and the emotional highs and lows we had experienced, the question we asked ourselves was fundamentally one about taking action: The community is in trouble, so how can we help people realize what’s going on? We were thinking about what engagement would look like and how digital media might or might not fit into this aspect of the work. This was the point at which Mariely importantly noticed that “technology was not working in El Barrio.” In the months that followed we began to develop short-term and long-term changes in our design. First, we decided that we wanted to create a newsletter to report our data, posting it in our digital platforms and holding a public forum to share the newsletter. Second, we decided to slow down our social media efforts and turn our attention to organizing and expanding our digital content and doing more on-the-ground relationship-building with various community stakeholders.

We hoped these changes would help us find ways to scale up some of the transformative experiences that we had had within our historical work. Moreover, our digital engagement efforts needed stronger roots in the community and better, more compelling content, before it could gain traction in East Harlem and beyond. As such, our D+CPAR framework would include a digital, participatory, archival component that would serve as a springboard for digital engagement.  Digital, participatory archiving is a growing area that is seen as scholarly, educational, and political work (Caswell 2014, Povinelli 2011). This activist archiving has been particularly important for humanities and social science scholars who study populations and histories that have traditionally been marginalized and rendered invisible to the public. Like our supporting organization, East Harlem Preservation, our goal is to not only document histories, but to use those histories to inform the public and bring people together to incite change. 

 

Conclusion

The first year of the #BarrioEdProj sheds light on some of the promises and challenges that public social science researchers must consider in the digital age. What became evident was that digital critical participatory action research (D+CPAR) provides opportunities to reimagine qualitative research methods, offers new perspectives on what and how data can be collected, and expands how data can be shared and discussed. Our project also brought attention to the importance of public engagement as the nature of engagement is changing. In addition, old barriers like relational trust and new barriers like broadband access and adoption in under-resourced communities present engaged scholars with challenges that can be addressed through collective, interdependent efforts that are socio-politically and financially supported—all solutions that existed long before the digital came into vogue. What is distinct about this era, and what I think researchers must be most vigilant about, is how the digital must explicitly be part of our understanding of the terrain of struggle.  As Murthy (2008) notes:

[t]he challenge for us is not only to adapt to new research methods, but also, as Saskia Sassen (2002: 365) stresses, to ‘develop analytic categories that allow us to capture the complex imbrications of technology and society’. Doing these in tandem, with an eye to ethics and the digital divide, will be the benchmarks by which sociology’s engagement with new media technologies will be judged.

As new critical participatory projects begin to take root and digital media are integrated into projects, research collectives must continue to interrogate how digital media shapes the everyday as the everyday shapes the digital. #BarrioEdProj looks to community-based projects like the Red Hook Initiative’s Digital Stewards program and academic endeavors like JustPublics@365 as examples of work that centers the imbrications of technology and society. We contend that by working through an analytical and activist framework that sees the digital as part of the fabric of social inequity and social justice, D+CPAR can contribute to the production of holistic research and a more just and sustainable future.

 

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About the Author

Edwin Mayorga is a parent and educator-scholar-activist who is completing his doctoral work in Urban Education at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His dissertation, Education in our Barrios #BarrioEdProj, is a digital critical participatory action research project (D+CPAR) based in the New York City Latino core community of East Harlem.  Working with two youth co-researchers (Mariely Mena and Honory Peña), #BarrioEdProj traces the discursive and material effects of neoliberal education reform and urban restructuring on, in, and through East Harlem and New York City since the 1970s. Most recently, he was a co-author of “Slow violence and neoliberal education reform: Reflections on a school closure” and “Scholar-activism: A twice told tale.” In the fall of 2014, he will be an Assistant Professor in the Educational Studies department at Swarthmore College. Edwin does educational justice work with the New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCoRE), is a participant in the National Latino Education Research & Policy Project (NLERAP), and on the community advisory board of the Participatory Action Research Center for Education Organizing (PARCEO). You can find Edwin on Twitter @chinolatino78 and @barrioedproj.

 

Thinking Critically about Technology in the Classroom: Assignment Design for Pre-Service Teachers

March 7, 2013

Amanda M. Greenwell, Central Connecticut State University

This reflection examines two writing assignments within the context of the course design insofar as their success in prompting pre-service teachers to think critically about the use of educational technology in their discipline-specific pedagogy. Read more… Thinking Critically about Technology in the Classroom: Assignment Design for Pre-Service Teachers

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