A Whole New World

Prior to my first year in university I remember various high school teachers cautioning me about laptop use in the classroom. “You’re in the Arts, you don’t need that computer for much” they said, installing in me a belief that Arts students should only use their computers for research, essays and nothing more. Flash forward to fourth year where I learned that the digital world can benefit Arts students as they use online platforms to share ideas and work together on projects. Although this will be a gradual process presenting certain challenges, students who engage online with one another (for educational purposes) expand their understanding of what it means to be in academia.

My university experience largely consists of various one-way exchanges with professors in which I research, outline an argument and then hand in an essay for a mark. When I read about academics using open source notebooks to share their research it came as a startling revelation. It turns out that my research process and essay crafting has the possibility for a much more dynamic life. In articles discussing the academic use of Github and Twitter, the imaginary wall existing between the online community and university students shattered. Through talking with classmates on Slack and ‘following’ scholars on Twitter I realized that there is a community out there (potentially) interested in my academic pursuits. Or, at the very least, this community can point out inconsistencies and errors along the way.

It will take a while before others scholars share the view that students should interact with academics on Twitter and collaborate on projects through online platforms. Unless a course focuses explicitly on digital humanities or the professor is an avid spokesperson for online platforms, Arts students will not discover their place in the digital world. There is still too strong of a belief that Arts programs should not go anywhere near platforms used by computer science majors. Until students consistently use online platforms for academic purposes, the barrier between the Arts and the digital world will remain stronger than ever.

For students to benefit from online academic engagement they must first be able to access these resources. If we want to encourage students to use online programs is the onus on educational facilities to provide laptops or tablets for everyone? If universities decide to provide these resources will it increase tuition? I can say that students should use their laptops to work together along but I speak from the privileged assumption that everyone has to access a computer.

Using online platforms to share ideas and research as well as social media to observe interactions between academics expands my understanding of how one can learn. A history degree does not necessarily exclude me from learning about Markdown or Github, instead I can develop my research through these (initially) computer-science based programs. For all those high school teachers warning Arts students about computers in the classroom rather than contributing to this barrier they should consider the positive side to embracing technology and the digital world. 

One Reply to “A Whole New World”

  1. It’s a shame that so many of your high school teachers told you that you wouldn’t have any use for a computer outside of research and essay-writing, but as you point out, that seems to be the prevailing attitude toward technology in the fields of arts and humanities. Modern post-secondary education so heavily emphasizes specialization (not, of course, without merit) that sometimes I feel like the value of interdisciplinary skill sets and analytical thinking is left by the wayside. It is often true that a jack of all trades is a master of none, but I think that is increasingly important in the 21st century — with so many people connected across the world, with so many developments affecting so many more people — that we are able to think holistically about how we develop and apply knowledge.

    This is not quite related to the main point of your post, but in these discussions, I frequently think about the broader pedagogical philosophy of transforming STEM-based education into STEAM-based education. I was reading an article (here: http://theconversation.com/steam-not-stem-why-scientists-need-arts-training-89788) on the importance of bringing arts/humanities training into science-and-tech-based fields, where the author argues our educational institutions need “to engage students with issues of ethics and responsibility in science and technology,” with “required arts and humanities courses not as some vague attempt to ‘broaden minds’ but rather as a necessary discussion of morals, values, ethics and responsibility.”

    I don’t think any of us in this program would disagree with that assessment (hopefully I am not being presumptuous), but on the flip side, how do we properly incorporate technology (and/or science) into history education, and the dissemination of historic knowledge? What are our larger goals? How does a tool like GitHub improve our understanding or our ability to do research, and where is it most effectively applied? You mention a couple of things that I think are good signposts and jumping-off points for discussion: the connection to a larger academic community, and the issue of accessibility. As a person interested in public history, I am also intrigued by the possibilities technology offers in bringing history to life for people who otherwise are not engaged in academia.

    I come at this topic with rather significant personal investment, since my career aspiration is to one day be a conservator working with historic objects, which is a field that combines history and chemistry/materials science (and archaeology, and anthropology, among many others). Museum collections also frequently come loaded with colonial histories, and one of the ways colonial violence continues to be enacted today is through concerns about conservation of those collections, used as a justification to refuse repatriation of objects. Using a cross-disciplinary lens, how do we move forward on these issues?

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