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Ursinus Conference Aims to Grow the Digital Humanities

Ursinus College will host a mini-conference June 20-21 for faculty and students from three institutions to create digital humanities initiatives throughout their curricula.

Building on the growing interest in the digital humanities, Ursinus is partnering with Gettysburg College and Muhlenberg College on the project, which is supported by $17,000 from the Pennsylvania Consortium for the Liberal Arts (PCLA) as part of a $250,000 grant it received from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.

The funding aims to enrich consortial efforts in faculty development, blended/digital learning, and interfaith initiatives.

“The digital humanities is a rapidly growing field, and this conference offers a forum for creativity, professional development for students, and support for faculty and staff to experiment with the use of digital tools to enhance teaching and student engagement,” says Meredith Goldsmith, a professor of English at Ursinus and assistant to the president for strategic initiatives. Goldsmith is leading the project at Ursinus with Kara McShane, an assistant professor of English.

The two Ursinus scholars are collaborating with Lora Taub-Pervizpour, a professor of media and communication and associate dean for digital learning at Muhlenberg, and Robin Wagner, dean of the library at Gettysburg.

“The planned workshop will give us access to training opportunities that we wouldn’t otherwise have, which of course is what makes membership in this consortium so positive for those of us that serve at smaller schools,” Wagner says. “We can do more and do better things together, by pooling our human and financial resources—far more than we could do alone.”

Digital projects have already taken shape on the three campuses. At Ursinus, students are writing the history of the nearly 150-year-old institution through Bears Make History, which brings the college’s written and oral past online. A growing number of faculty are now integrating digital assignments into their courses.

Last year, the librarians at Gettysburg College launched a digital scholarship program with three undergraduate fellows who spent the summer learning digital tools and creating digital projects based on the college’s Special Collections and Archives. This summer, the program expands to six fellows. Fellows are introduced to a wide range of topics ranging from picking the right digital tools to examining the user experience and writing for the web during the 10 week curriculum. The intention is to “trickle up” and have these summer fellows assist faculty throughout the year in introducing digital assignments into their courses.

At Muhlenberg, eight digital learning assistants provide peer support for students working on digital projects and facilitate in-class workshops with faculty partners. Recognized for innovation and excellence in digital peer learning with the OLC Innovate Solution Design Summit 2016 award, Muhlenberg’s Digital Learning Assistant program provides peer assistance on an expanding array of digital platforms, tools, and practices.  

“Our success with digital learning and scholarship, and our ability to help students, faculty, and staff develop a meaningful digital presence, is rooted in a model that prioritizes and values students as peer leaders and mentors,” Taub-Pervizpour says.

The mini-conference will help the three institutions develop a concrete plan to help the institutions enhance digital components in the classroom, develop new programs, hire students as digital fellows, and explore new ways for collaboration.  —By Ed Moorhouse