Digital Humanities: When Classroom Privacy Meets the Online World
By BETH HARPAZ
It’s a buzz phrase in academia these days: “digital humanities.” But what happens when requiring students to engage in online discourse puts them in the public eye before they’re ready?
For one professor, teaching a course in “The Digital Caribbean” posed challenges and even ethical concerns. In an article published in The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, Professor Kelly Baker Josephs (York College) explored questions that “repeatedly haunted” her about the blogs she required her students to write. “Could I strike some balance between public encouragement of their work and the traditional private safe space of the classroom?” Josephs wrote.
A related concern, she wrote, “was that all of my students were students of color and I did not know which approach to public writing would most benefit them in an academic system and space ill-designed for their success.”
She’d made “public blogging” a requirement because she “wanted the ‘pressure’ of public writing to shape” their work. It was also a way to generate content for the site. But while some students took to blogging easily, others did not. “Half had never blogged, even more had never blogged using WordPress,” and most had not used CUNY Academic Commons, her chosen platform for sharing coursework, she said.
The blogs also took on a life beyond the classroom: They were cited in a book about reader reactions to a novel on Josephs’ syllabus, As Flies to Whatless Boys.
In conceptualizing the class, Josephs had sought to chart “new ground” in Caribbean studies with an interdisciplinary approach incorporating digital technology. She drew parallels between the internet and Caribbean culture: “born out of disparate pieces and peoples … predicated on an elsewhere as home or authority … working to ignore geography … as barriers to connection.” But she says she’s still grappling with balancing her quest to create more online content on Caribbean studies, while providing students opportunities to “create, and revise, and perhaps even refuse work in ways ultimately invisible” to outsiders.
Kelly Baker Josephs(Associate Professor, English) | Profile 1
Colleges and Schools
“The Caribbean Commons”