Note: Digital Humanities can be defined in nearly as many different ways as the people speaking about the discipline. For the purposes of this post, we will be looking at this topic through the lens of activity at the intersection of digital technologies and the disciplines of the humanities only.
In Digital Humanities (DH), STEM is combined with humanistic material (for example, literary texts) providing students with new ways to learn and to apply digital skills. Basic literacies for the digital age are critical skill sets and DH provides opportunities to be engaged in this ongoing digital migration. From a big picture perspective, DH is fun, collaborative and meaningful. Let’s take a look at the ways it is used in each division at Harley.
Lower School: Technology, Design-Thinking and More
Jeanne Weber, our technology teacher, is on a mission. Her goal? A high level of digital proficiency and literacy in every student.
She begins with keyboarding and mousing so children are comfortable “getting around” computers. From there the curriculum tackles digital literacy and citizenship. Once basic concepts and skills are understood, the digital world opens up into a space for creating, exploring, and imagining.
Here are glimpses of the curriculum in different grades:
Grade 2: Students concept, design, and build their own model bridges taking into account structure, usage, and materials. This allows them to learn about engineering, design process, and the physical forces at play.
They research and investigate how bridges are made and different varieties of bridges. Since many of the bridges we have today would have seemed like fantasy ideas or not possible to build to ancient peoples, students are encouraged to go beyond what exists today and ‘invent’ a new kind of bridge.
Children document the project via slideshows and build narration into their presentation using Audacity software for sound-recording and manipulation.
Grade 3: This level tackles a unique design-thinking project each year. Recently, students created toys for nursery students (age 3) including a marble track, vehicles, and dolls. They interviewed nursery students and teachers, then brainstormed (ideas, size, color, shape). They wrote and delivered proposals to nursery—and, like real-life, these came back with “change orders” to take into account.
The students built prototypes and wrote about the project in their journals, tackling questions such as: What was my biggest challenge? or What surprised me the most?
One of the biggest benefits of design-thinking is actually pondering the thinking part and analyzing the process.
Grade 4: Music and art combine as these classes use exploratory technology as a tool to understand and express what they are learning. They create their own music or loops and sounds from existing music. By combining their soundtracks with videos, students are able to be very creative.
Grade 4 is also the year students are able to create 3D designs, strengthening their spacial awareness as they bring 2D ideas to 3D completion. They are very motivated to use two different programs to develop everything from hands to cars to storage boxes.
Middle School: The Best Part of Me
Connie Moore teaches English in our middle school. Her classes recently read The Best Part of Me: Children Talk About their Bodies in Pictures and Words by Wendy Ewald. The author is an award-winning photographer who asked children “What is the best part of you?” and presented their answers along with black-and-white photographs.
Because middle school is a time when students do not always realize, or focus on, their strengths Connie read the book aloud, then had the students take photos of a part of themselves they see as the best part.
“By writing about their best parts and seeing things objectively through the lens of a camera, the students found things to love—even though this age tends to be critical of their physical selves,” Connie says.
This project developed organically from an in-class discussion of empathy. Students contemplated questions such as, “How do we look at people?” and “Do we make judgements based on what they look like?”
As students presented their photos and writing to the class, Connie was struck by the reasons why students loved what they picked to share. One boy photographed his hands because when he looked at them he saw his ethnic roots, another girl focused on her hair because it was the same texture and look as her mother and grandmother—a connection through the generations.
For a teacher, the possibilities of melding the digital with the subject matter opens up a whole new way for students to express themselves.
Upper School: PhotoVoice Comes to Life
Jocie Kopfman traveled to Italy this summer in order to be trained in PhotoVoice. This is a process in which people – usually those with limited power due to poverty, language barriers, race, class, ethnicity, gender, culture, or other circumstances – use video and/or photo images to capture aspects of their environment and experiences and share them with others. The pictures can then be used, usually with captions composed by the photographers, to bring the realities of the photographers’ lives home to the public and policy makers and to spur change.
During her experience abroad PhotoVoice was used as a research tool in Borca, where the youth were feeling very disconnected/excluded from their community.
By tackling questions such as, “Where does the feeling of disconnection come from? What are parts of your community you care about? What could be improved?” PhotoVoice provided tools and process for the youth, and ultimately, inspired actions for them to become more included. This began through showings and gatherings about their photos where they could talk about what they documented. Then the community found ways to engage youth in change they showed was important to them via the photos.
“I thought this was a great way to help youth consider what they are passionate about and to engage—in a critical, but solution-seeking, way. By not feeling stagnant, or left out, they were able to begin to contribute,” said Jocie. “I wanted to bring this back to Harley.”
Her Rights and Responsibilities class has been evolving and tweaking the ways class members engage with social issues. It fosters the next step in learning about civic engagement and enabling long-term connections. PhotoVoice helps create narratives to inspire ongoing action so it is the perfect tool.
“There is a need to get students out of their bubbles as we continue to be a segregated community. We work with students to try and cross the borders we have created and prepare them to do so. We need to give them the skills to think meaningfully and understand their responsibility as a community member—to get out there and do something about inequity, to break the cycles that hold us in place,” said Jocie. “I want them to find a reason why this sort of work is important to them.”
By combining writing, photography, and activism, PhotoVoice takes Rights and Responsibilities students to a deeper level.
The inclusion of digital aspects intertwined with “traditional” areas such as reading, writing, civics and more allows both students and teachers to develop richer voices alongside confidence with digital tools.