Discussion of digital humanities courses…

On Ideal informatics training – c/o Digital Medievalist. FYI, and as an active debate.

As many of you know, I’ve been wondering for quite some time about the
basic information studies literacy we should be teaching across
programmes at the university (i.e. not just humanities computing, but
more broadly what should university graduates know as basic information

We’re looking into establishing a campus wide certification in
informatics here which we have the luxury of building more or less ex
nihilo–i.e. lots of willing people and departments, very few existing
institutional silos and/or jealousies that need to be worked in or
around. The goal is to build this as a companion programme–something
like a big minor, a certification, or an emphasis–that would in theory
be open to combination any domain baccalaureate. In the end you could
graduate with “English and informatics”, or “Biology and informatics,”
etc. The informatics certification would not be intended to cover all
possible informatics angles (so somebody doing bio-informatics or
advanced humanities computing would have to do additional work). But the
goal would be to produce students with domain competency and a core set
of informatics skills and knowledge.

I am looking at some existing programmes–e.g. Melbourne, Syracuse,
etc.  But I’m also asking people helping put the programme together to
think on the basis of a blank page: what skills, knowledge, experience
should an undergraduate have when they finish such a programme. Here are
some of mine. What do others think?

  • Knowledge of basic internet infrastructure and protocols: what a
    server is, how pages are served out, what packets are, how domain-names
    are registered and looked up, all the various transfer protocols
  • Knowledge of basic languages and standards like xml, html, unicode
  • Experience in setting up a multipage interactive website at an
    arbitrary domain name (i.e. buy a domain name, point it at an IP
    address, set up the server, write the pages
  • Knowledge of the major genres and applications and an ability to
    analyse existing sites in terms of their use of these (e.g. know what a
    wiki is, newserver, version control, other things)
  • Have some sense of constraints that affect the use of cyberspace:
    gender, economic, legal issues, etc.
  • Have a knowledge of various social organisations and processes on the
    web: communities of practice, crowd sourcing
  • Be able to analyse information flows and other aspects of a problem
    and design technological solutions to it
  • some experience with data design, analysis, and retrieval

These seem to me to be too much of a mishmash of different types of
scope, categories, and the like. And also too much focussed on the type
of thing I do. Any suggestions for the skills, knowledge, and experience
a typical undergraduate ought to have if they were to be certified as
being basically competent in contemporary web technologies alongside
their core domain?

— Daniel Paul O’Donnell
Associate Professor of English
University of Lethbridge
Chair and CEO, Text Encoding Initiative (http://www.tei-c.org/)
Founding Director, Digital Medievalist Project (http://www.digitalmedievalist.org/)
Chair, Electronic Editions Advisory Board, Medieval Academy of America

> In Britain (and probably elsewhere in Europe) there is the European
> Computer Driving Licence (ECDL). See for example the page at my
> University:
> http://www.liv.ac.uk/csd/training/ecdl/index.htm
> or the general site:
> http://www.ecdl.org/publisher/index.jsp

We used to teach this here, but found demand was dropping as more and
more of the “digital natives” came on stream.

> Cynics might say it is simply about training people to use all the
> Microsoft Office packages.

They would be right. On the other hand, there’s no reason why the same
course could not be customized to impart the same skills using e.g.
Open Office. It should be all about transferable skills, surely!

> Looking at the information there seems indeed to be a much greater
> emphasis on using desktop packages than on teaching generic IT skills.
Now there’s a distinction worth unpacking. I assume that “desktop”
packages are also the same as the things I use on my laptop, so what
exactly are “generic” IT skills? command line abilities? knowing about
the hardware? programming? project management? systems analysis and
database design? These seem a bit ambitious for such a course!

(Godfried Croenen, University of Liverpool)

Message: 1
One of the UG modules we run here at CCH is an Introduction to Digital
(follow the link for teaching materials for what we actually cover)

Many would like to see this or something similar rolled out as a core
component of all UG Humanities degree programmes.

For a programme that integrates DH stuff in a wider humanities programme
the Informatica Umanistica course at Pisa

(Simon Mahony, Digital Classicist, Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King’s College London)

Message: 2 (+3 same info)

Here http://www.infotext.unisi.it you can find some informations (in
Italian) about a Master in “Informatica del testo- Edizione elettronica”
that is running just now at the University of Siena in Arezzo (Engineering
& Letters Faculties), with some collaborations from CCH and Ecole des
Chartes and many connections with archives, libraries, publishers and
e-learning firms. It schedules on 10-11 July in Montepulciano an
international round-table about the status quaestionis on Digital Editions
that could be interesting for many of us.
One could think of a joint application for the Erasmus Mundus programme.
Other informations about the situations of digital learning in Italy are
to be find on the website

(Francesco Stella, Università degli Studi di Siena)

Message: 4

Over here in Cologne, Germany, we have a special chair for “Humanities
Computer Science” which is involved in a number of BA/MA programs. Beside
these, it offers an “IT Certificate” for students in the humanities faculty
(students from the specialized degree programs, i.e., media informatics,
digital media and cultural heritage studies, and information processing in
the humanities are excluded).

The certificate for the “normal” humanities student includes the following
four courses:
– Course 1, common technologies I: operating systems, office
applications (e.g. open office), image processing, webserver (installation,
configuration, maintenance)
– Course 2, common technologies II: networks, internet
technologies, html/css/javascript, programming by example (PHP), online
databases by example (MySQL) – all applied in a hands-on course project
(“transform a humanities information resource (a.k.a. “book”) into an
online database”)
– Course 3, dedicated systems: CMS by example (Typo3), digital
repository systems by example (DSpace)
– Course 4, data- and metadata standards: XML (with Schema and
XPath), XSLT, metadata theory, data standards in the humanities and the
cultural heritage sector, DC, TEI, METS/MODS, EAD, CDWA, semantic web, RDF,
OWL – X-technologies and TEI applied in a hands-on course project
(“transform a humanities information resource (a.k.a. “book”) into a
markup-based and XSLT-generated online presentation”).

You can find further information here:

(Patrick Sahle, Historisch-Kulturwissenschaftliche Informationsverarbeitung, Universität zu Köln)

Message: 5

I’d like to thank contributors for the information on programmes and
standards they’ve passed on. This is going to be very helpful. And I
appreciate any others: I’ll be putting together suggestions for the
committee next weekend.

I found this “driver’s licence” interesting, as indeed Lou’s comments
about the change coming with the arrival of more digital natives. I have
been deeply impressed in the last year or two at the on-going changes in
how our students work with computers. I think we really are just now
getting first years who really can’t imagine what it was like without
the net, computers, and social networking. Even our fourth year students
seem less native in their interactions.

The range between basic desktop apps and dbms is what we are trying to
negotiate here. I’m thinking the answer might be to have a “driver’s
licence” type course as something that many students who are not
interested in adding an informatics component to their degrees might
find useful. And I am still amazed at how shallow some of the student’s
knowledge of basic office software really is.

But for the larger programme in informatics, it is exactly the issues
Lou mentions at the end that are the skills we’re considering:

knowing about the hardware? programming? project management? systems
analysis and database design
The goal is that in a programme of eight or nine semester-long, North
American style 3-credit courses, our students would graduate with an
understanding of how ICT can be applied to research questions in their
home domain, have some experience analysing information flow, in project
management, HCI, and various other topics that would leave them equipped
not so much to become ICT technicians or experts, but domain experts who
would know enough about ICT to allow them to apply it intelligently and
work with ICT technical experts in solving problems and designing solutions.

I’m hoping that we might find a variety of different paths in this area:
one aimed at producing students with the type of skills we associate
with programme at CCH or the University of Alberta (to name two) on the
one hand, but that can also accommodate students with interest in other
aspects of informatics or who only want to brush up immediately
necessary skills.

Apart from perhaps a remedial course on standalone software, I think
we’d be aiming primarily at covering networked technologies. And re
Word–I’m also wondering if we could responsibly take an ideologically
open source position without it becoming “tenured radicals” pushing
their hobby horses.


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