New Digital Studies Minor Added to Curriculum

Digital studies is a new multidisciplinary minor that introduces students to the approaches and mindsets needed to engage in digital work within and across disciplines.

With a focus on ethics and collaboration, the minor is designed to provide students with curricular opportunities to develop the technical, analytic, and improvisational skills needed to become productive, engaged citizens in an increasingly digital world.

“Rather than have students specialize in learning a specific program, the goal of the minor is to help them understand what it’s like to learn new technologies,” said Kara McShane, assistant professor of English and co-coordinator of digital studies. We want students to become comfortable with exploring and messing it up as they go in these digital spaces.”

“If you know how to learn a new technology, you can learn any new technology.”

Although plans for the minor were already in the works before COVID-19 hit, the addition of digital studies feels quite timely to McShane, who said she hadnt used Zoom or Microsoft Teams until March.

We are obviously teaching students through the use of particular programs and technologies, but what they’re going to need will change.”

The proof is in the work that our alumni are already doing, such as an English major who has pivoted to instructional technology or an environmental studies major who works with geographic information systems (GIS) mapping technology.

“I want computer scientists to take an ethics course and think about what they’re doing with data just as much as I want my poets in English to go take a computer science course and understand how the algorithm works,” said McShane, whose current course about the psychology of digital storytelling has students making podcasts and videos.

The list of possible courses for the minor—which counts as linked inquiry for the core curriculum—is extensive and features classes from many departments. “It’s been exciting to watch it grow,” said McShane, who suspects there are even more courses that could be added. “For faculty who don’t think they teach in digital studies, I’d tell them to look at their syllabus again. They might be surprised to discover that they do.”

One collaboration she’s exploring is with Assistant Professor of Math and Computer Science Chris Tralie, who asked her to identify data sets in the humanities that his students could analyze. “It’s one of the benefits of Ursinus’s size,” said McShane. “At a larger institution, I might not know anyone in computer science. We’re leveraging our own nimbleness in putting the minor together.”