Paige Morgan

My #1 tenet for DH program development

I was tweeting about this, and it occurred to me that it would make a good short blog post. Here it is:

Do nothing in isolation: always connect the events.

If you have a guest speaker talking about a particular platform/technology/project, consider offering a Very Short Introduction to their work/the platform/project. By very short, I mean around 45-50 minutes.

The week after the guest speaker’s talk, aim for a similarly short participatory session. The focus could be something along the lines of “Guest Speaker was working with Omeka/Neatline, so let’s look at the bare minimum that you’d need if you wanted to work with Neatline in Omeka.”

Follow that up with a session where people bring a tiny bit of data/material that they want to work with.

Avoid the temptation to focus on leveling-up. That can lead to a steep slope that excludes people as soon as they’ve missed one session. Instead, aim to create multiple entry points into the process of learning the platform. Depending on the project, depending on the learner, the entry points may be significantly different.

Do nothing in isolation is my primary rule because returning to an idea or tool — practicing it — is central to learning. Many people know this — but making time for practice, especially in our current overscheduled culture, can be extraordinarily difficult. I would argue that finding occasions for practice are the most challenging hurdle that new-to-DH learners face. Some people will disagree with me, arguing that “if someone really wants to learn, they’ll find a way to commit to it on their own.” They’re not necessarily wrong. I’m just not a fan of the “survival of the fittest” as a pedagogical philosophy. The more I build things in code, the more it prompts me to think about how we arrange educational experiences. What I’ve suggested above is only one specific approach — depending on your population, and the resources available, the types of events you create may be different.

How easy is it to connect the dots, er, events? Not too difficult in one sense, because the idea is not to overwhelm people. Instead, you’re being proactive about managing the experience of being a new learner. The content isn’t rocket science, or it shouldn’t be.

However, neither is this the sort of planning you could do in your sleep, or in that spare 5 minutes of the day. It requires planners to be alert, and to think carefully about the building block sessions that support bigger events. How might you create a series of short building block sessions that progress between two speakers, and make a tacit connection or contrast explicit?  What sorts of short handouts/videos/etc. might you put on your central website in between these sessions? How do you ensure that your learners know that you’re trying to create multiple entry points, so that they don’t assume that they’re being excluded/don’t know enough to participate? That’s work. It can be incredibly functional work, though — both for the target population, and for the planners, who are essentially finding ways to lightly teach the subject matter, and thus learning (or re-learning) it themselves.

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