Should the Digital Humanities be taking a lead in Open Access and Online Teaching Materials?

July 18, 2013, 13:30 | Long Paper, Burnett 115

The digital age has introduced new possibilities but also new problems for higher education. Academics within the same departments have always shared teaching materials but a cultural change is taking place in universities, with academics using the internet to share their research (Open Access) and teaching and learning resources (OER: Open Educational Resources) more widely. This spirit of collaborative working is increasing, and potentially opens up higher education to a wider and global market, giving students and teachers greater access and flexibility. Education for all has taken on a new meaning in the digital age and the true rationale of Openness is one of reclaiming original academic practice and collaboration; consequently the move towards openness extends beyond resources and also increasingly includes Open Educational Practices, or just Open Education. How do new initiatives such as OERu, Open Text Books, and iBooks Author contribute to this? To change academic culture and to encourage open educational practices requires much more than technological changes. It will require an understanding of the challenges facing the educational community today and how OERs can help them achieve their goals in teaching and learning. This is particularly pertinent in the Digital Humanities where there is great emphasis on the teaching of the collaborative and communication skills that are requirements for our researchers and research projects as well as important job skills for our students that do not stay in the academy.

This paper draws as case studies on the experiences and publishes the results of two completed and one currently in­progress JISC funded projects for the creation, use, and importantly re­use of OERs. Firstly, VirtualDutch (www.dutch.ac.uk) where a lesser taught language (despite being the one most closely related to English) subject community have collaborated in joint teaching projects. A wide range of Open Educational Resources has been developed since the start of the programme, including self­access reading skills courses, learner’s grammars, online reference works and some 30 multimedia study packs for autonomous learning. These resources cater for various levels of linguistic competence, ranging from topics such as individual Dutch or Flemish authors, like Multatuli or Louis Couperus, to the sociolinguistic situation of Brussels and the multicultural society in the Netherlands today. These are also being used in a series of distance­learning programmes.

The second is Digital Humanities Open Educational Resources (DHOER: www.ucl.ac.uk/dhoer) which was set up to create and release a comprehensive range of introductory materials on approaches, topics, and methods in the digital humanities; these are based on modules currently taught as part of the Master’s programme at the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities. Importantly, these resources go beyond the digital humanities sphere and support many cognate disciplines, including the whole spectrum of the arts and humanities, cultural heritage, information studies, library studies, computer science and engineering. Indeed by pushing the disciplinary boundaries DHOER has contributed considerably to the advancement of the OER idea and helped to start a movement to bring about the cultural change that the UKOER programme envisages.

The third project, OER CPD4HE/Sustexts (OER Continued Professional Development for Higher Education, Sustainable Texts and Disciplinary Conversations), a collaboration with HEDERA.org (HE Development, Evaluation and Research), recognises that subject discipline is a key part of academic identity and that narratives are important in both learning and professional development. It has set out to increase the reach of open practice and engage with institutional policy makers.

Each of these projects has been involved in the awareness­raising of OER, by presenting at workshops, conferences and organizing several UKOER programme­ and institution­wide events. The focus for each is on building communities of users and contributors to ensure sustainability and to develop standards of best practice. We can gather download statistics simply enough, just as we can for journal articles and other academic resources, but that is no indication of whether or not they have actually been used or indeed re­used as a teaching resource. How this might be achieved is one of the challenges addressed here. This paper develops themes introduced in a recent publication: ‘Open access and online teaching materials for digital humanities’, Warwick et al eds. (2012) Digital Humanities in Practice, charting the progress and results of new initiatives since that chapter was authored.

Digital humanities should be taking a lead in the development of open access online teaching materials. In our community we take openness and collaboration for granted and commitment to these principles should be central to the development of any of our teaching programmes. By making our teaching resources openly and freely accessable to all we make our ideas and methodologies available to the wider academic and research communities. It is in this way, by creating synergies rather than silos and making our educational practice, particularly our critical and methodological approaches to teaching and learning, available to others, that we will overcome the sometimes sceptical reaction to the value of the work that we do (see Bradley 2010, which is taken from a paper he gave at DH2009). Experience has shown that digital humanities teaching must be relevant to students’ studies and research interests and we must be clear that what we offer are not ‘skills training’ courses (although they too play a part) but new methodologies and new ways to think about our material. Institutional barriers need to be overcome. Colleagues across the arts and humanities and other faculties need to be able to see how students benefit from the digital humanities approach, and then they will better understand our work and support the training of future digital humanities students and researchers (see Mahony and Pierazzo, 2013).


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