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title subtitle chapter URL authors editor publisher type
Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities
Concepts, Models, and Experiments
family given
Jeffrey W.
family given
Matthew K.
Modern Language Association


Jeffrey W. McClurken

University of Mary Washington |

Publication Status:
  • unreviewed draft
  • draft version undergoing editorial review
  • draft version undergoing peer-to-peer review
  • draft version undergoing MLA copyediting
  • published


Teaching and learning can be most powerful – and most “public” – when students work in open spaces and conduct their work in outward-facing ways. Digital pedagogy offers an opportunity to transcend the closed system of knowledge production that characterizes most undergraduate and even graduate courses. What a chance to share student work and voices where possible and safe. What a chance to make the case for the value of higher education in general, and of the humanities in particular, at a time when they are under attack. What a chance for teachers to collaborate with their students in creative acts of scholarship and sharing. What a chance to take advantage of digital publishing tools to contribute to the greater sum of human knowledge.

The link selections here are shaped by the author’s experiences teaching at a small, public, liberal arts university, by conversations at digital humanities and digital liberal arts workshops and presentations, and particularly by the work that undergraduate students have done in the seventeen different courses, all with some kind of public-facing component, mentioned here. The curated list is certainly not a complete list of public pedagogies nor is it representative of all the definitions of public that one might pursue. It is, however, informed by notions of “public” from public history, the digital humanities, and from cultural studies. In particular, public history, as explored in numerous forms by the National Council on Public History, is scholarly work that is intended for an audience beyond academia (NCPH, “What is Public History”). The Digital Humanities, in many of its articulations, has pressed for connecting the public with accessible academic work and accessible academics (Stommel, “The Public Digital Humanities”). Cultural studies scholarship on teaching and learning embraces a role for teachers and students in public spaces as ways to empower both in challenging existing narratives (Giroux, “Cultural Studies, Public Pedagogy, and the Responsibility of Intellectuals”). Ultimately, the list reflects a strong impulse to make undergraduate humanities students’ work more visible and to encourage students to claim their work in a reflective way that allows them to create a nuanced, intentional digital identity. Links are organized into three sections, first addressing the complexities of students creating in public (including the notion that some student work shouldn’t be public), then looking at platforms, and finishing with a set of examples of projects and assignments that occur in public.

When they consider creating public projects with their students, faculty members often express concerns that student work may not be good enough, which may lead students to fail in very public ways. Certainly, students should have a safe space to work, but teachers also need to figure out ways to build iteration into students’ creation process because it is a key part of successful digital humanities projects and of learning more generally. [Other notions of "failure" can be seen in Croxall and Warnick's keyword.]

Any discussion of public pedagogies and projects, however, would be remiss if it did not address questions of privacy and students. While there are certainly many good reasons to work with students on public-facing projects, in today’s world students need to be conscious of what it means to do so. Basic digital fluency means understanding how the connected web works, what it means to create in public spaces, and how to manage the risks of a public, digital identity. Teachers need to provide students with options (and help them work through those options) for claiming their public work or remaining anonymous. Such discussions are particularly important since many students have never confronted these issues in an academic setting before.

Ultimately, students understand the value of public projects. They are proud of them, sharing them with family and friends. They point to them in job portfolios and graduate school applications. They welcome the chance to share all they have learned. Students consistently indicate that they invest more effort, time, and attention on public class projects because they know that their creations are viewed by an audience that goes well beyond their instructors, that those creations live on beyond the class, and that they are engaged in meaningful, relevant contributions to public discourse.


Concerns about Producing in Public

“Men Explain Technology to Me: On Gender, Ed-Tech, and the Refusal to Be Silent”


This brilliant text from a presentation that ed-tech journalist Audrey Watters gave in the Fall of 2014 reminds faculty that when they talk about students (and faculty) creating in public spaces, they need to start with an understanding that not everyone experiences those spaces the same way (and that not everyone behaves well in them). Watters’ essay (and many others that she and others have written) remind teachers that a) students need support in their creations in public and b) teachers need to be sensitive to students who might have good reasons for not having their names attached to their public work. One point of Watters’ piece, of course, is NOT to withdraw from public spaces, but to engage in those spaces with a sense of what they are. These are lessons that are important for students to learn early on in their experiences with public work.

“Guidelines for Public, Student Class Blogs: Ethics, Legalities, FERPA and More"


One of the barriers for some faculty in doing public projects with students is FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), the federal law about protecting student educational records. While this is on some level a legal issue, Kevin Smith’s brief advice in this post is very helpful in addressing most situations that would face faculty in working with students in public digital humanities class projects. Other relevant discussions of FERPA in the classroom include Jim Groom, “You Can’t Spell FERPA without FEAR,” and Ethan Watrall, “Understanding FERPA & Educational Records Disclosure.” But questions about FERPA should not prevent student work in public. Faculty focus should be on providing students with a fair understanding of what it means to create in public but within the context of developing a public, thoughtful digital identity.

Platforms for Public Work

A Domain of One’s Own--University of Mary Washington


  • Artifact Type: Student controlled web hosting and domain
  • CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies, University of Mary Washington

Begun at UMW, and now with programs at over 60 other institutions, including Davidson, CSU-Channel Islands, University of Oklahoma, Domain of One’s Own provides students with their own choice of domain (URL) and web hosting that allows installation of WordPress, Omeka, and other cloud-based tools. Just as important as the technology, however, is that UMW and other schools integrate these tools into classes and programs. UMW’s History program builds DoOO into methods classes as part of their professional training as historians. Students use these Domains for a variety of things, including class projects, and the portfolios they create are particularly compelling (for example). But DoOO also teaches students that they can establish and claim their own digital identity, they can influence what comes up when anyone searches for them, they can take control of their data, their class work, their digital life back from large corporations, and they can take control of their education.

“Teaching with Wordpress”


Given the flexibility and ubiquity of WordPress in digital publishing, it is arguably both the easiest way to get students’ work in public, and the most widely applicable tool for them to learn. WordPress is a powerful and flexible platform with a wide community of supporters. This tutorial video by Alex Galaraza explains the difference between and, how WordPress works, how and why to use WordPress in the classroom, and how to create a course site in Other useful guides to WordPress in the classroom can be found from Maggie Hobson-Baker, William and Mary, Joseph Adelman, and Mark Sample.

Sharing Primary Sources on Twitter


This post from Caleb McDaniel’s Spring 2014 Digital History Methods class at Rice University reveals how and why the students created a Twitter-bot to automatically tweet out primary sources about slavery, in particular nineteenth-century runaway slave ads. In addition to being a good example of how to use Twitter as more than just an alternative communication channel, the post discusses an intro to the Python programming language and the value of building on and with existing public projects (in this case, Andrew Torget’s Digital History class at University of North Texas. Other assignments from McDaniel’s class are also valuable fodder for advanced projects such as mapping, text mining, and topic modeling.

Scalar in the Classroom


This post from Anne Cong-Huyen is an excellent introduction to how and why one might use the digital publishing platform Scalar with classes. Cong-Huyen's presentation is helpful in distinguishing this open-source platform created by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture to create digital books from other publishing tools like WordPress. In particular, Scalar is intended for public, scholarly projects; while platforms such as WordPress and Twitter can be used for such work, they are built around less scholarly notions of public interaction. The Scalar examples she cites show the range of this platform and the ways that it allows for rich media incorporation, for collaborative authorship, and for public, accessible projects.

Public-facing Digital Projects with Students

Century America


  • Artifact Type: Collaborative student project
  • *Permission granted by instructors
  • Ellen Holmes Pearson, Jeffrey McClurken, and Century America Course Students, Spring 2014 & 2015.

One powerful possibility that digital tools offer is the ability for students from all over to contribute to the creation of a larger public project. The Century America site is the product of students from 15 public liberal arts schools, brought together in two semesters, Spring 2014 and Spring 2015, under the direction of faculty members from UMW (McClurken) and UNC-Asheville (Ellen Holmes Pearson). Students met twice weekly via video conference to talk about digital humanities tools as well as the subject of the semester and the project, life in their school’s town during the Great War and Influenza outbreak. [See syllabus.] Students built individual WordPress sites off of the Century America domain (e.g.,, and used TimelineJS and Google Maps to add interactive elements to primary sources collected from their institution and town. The project was the foundation for a Mellon grant COPLACDigital to expand to twelve courses.

The True-Born Englishman


Stephen Gregg of Bath Spa University offers English Literature students working on their independent research project the opportunity to create a public digital literary edition. Luke Dawson’s 2014 project presents the complete text of Daniel Defoe’s first edition of “The True-Born Englishman” in multiple forms, including a TEI-XML edition (with editorial principles), and features extensive commentary. Gregg’s guidelines and links to other digital literary editions can be found at his site. Some helpful tips for replicating the process can be found in the reflection he wrote with student Jess McCarthy.

Immigrant Alexandria


This public project was done in partnership with the City of Alexandria. Building on public sources and other primary sources identified by Professor Krystyn Moon, the upper-level undergraduates in this course on immigrants to the US South since the mid-nineteenth century engaged in a scaffolded process of researching and writing about immigrant experiences in this Virginia city. Student blog posts on primary sources became sources for the final project, four group multimedia essays on the experiences of specific ethnic groups in the city. The Chinese Immigration project, for example, mapped out the locations of Chinese Laundries over a 40-year period, and in doing so they identified distinctive patterns of ownership. Overall, the project demonstrates the kind of work that can be done with students who don’t necessarily have many digital skills coming in to the course and could easily be replicated in other locations.

Goin’ North: Stories from the First Great Migration to Philadelphia


  • Artifact Type: Student Omeka Project
  • CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
  • Janneken Smucker, Charles Hardy,, West Chester University

This award-winning Omeka project is the result of a collaboration between graduate and undergraduate students at West Chester University in a Digital Storytelling class (Syllabus) and a number of community institutions. Students took existing interviews from the 1980s and used the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer to link them to a wide variety of other materials, including geospatial information, photographs, and digitized newspaper articles. The students then created a series of curated stories from all these materials. In particular, this project shows the value that students can bring in linking and making public materials that exist in various places with varying degrees of access, providing a model for others to follow.



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