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A note to my Obermann colleagues in preparation for our upcoming seminar

Topics/tags: CSC 151, things I was writing anyway

Through a series of circumstances [1], I’m giving my second presentation at an Obermann seminar this coming Wednesday. Two weeks ago, I said that I’d present the final project at this week’s seminar. And, while I wrote the description of the project a bit later than I’d planned, I have written not only one description but also a second. I’ve also developed an accompanying rubric for the first model [2]. Now it’s time to send things out. I tend to make it a practice to add some contextual notes, so I’m using this musing to put those together [3]. I realize that it won’t be of interest to many readers [4], but it’s my prerogative to write what I want.

Dear Obermann Colleagues,

As you may recall, my plan was to present my draft description of the final project at this Wednesday’s meeting. With this message, I hope to provide some context for the materials and raise some questions for us to discuss. I don’t think this material will require a full thirty minutes of discussion, and I am happy to cede time to Nathan’s first presentation to the group.

For more than a decade, we’ve ended our introductory course with a group final project. Whenever possible, we’ve tried to structure the project so that it has two goals: They are to develop something that exercises their algorithmic chops, as it were, and they are to develop something that someone outside of CS would find interesting. For example, when we teach sections of the course that focus on image making, we have a visitor from studio art visit to look at their work. The project also gives them an opportunity to communicate about their work; they turn in a project report and give a short presentation in class.

The project is two weeks long. In the first week or so, they plan the project and write a short proposal. In the second week, they implement the project. We reserve a few class periods for them to work in class, but they do most of the work outside of class.

It feels to me like the project for the digital humanities version of the course will necessarily be a bit different. As you may recall, one of the perspectives I hope to develop in the students is that most computational digital humanities work is only part of a larger study; digital humanities work always requires humanistic approaches as well as computational approaches.

In putting together the project, I’ve come up with two different models. In the first, I’m giving students free reign to choose a collection of materials to work with and the approach that they will take to those materials. In the second, I’ll choose the set of materials and students will choose the approach they take to the materials. If I use the second approach, I expect to use different sets of materials each time we teach the class (and, probably, for each section of the class). Here’s a sample statement to ground the second approach

A few years ago, Professor Timothy Arner and his students created The Grinnell Beowulf, a translation of the epic along with appropriate scholarly apparatus to support classroom use. While that work provided Arner with a deep understanding of the material, recently, Arner has been wondering whether the tools of the digital humanities might permit him to discover new aspects of the text and has asked our class to conduct some analyses that might provide some preliminary new directions for his scholarship. Over the next two weeks, you will form small teams, develop new algorithms, and use those algorithms to provide some potential insights into the text.

The primary advantage I see for the first model is that it will give students more chance to pursue their own interests and, therefore, to have a sense of ownership. The primary advantages I see for the second model are that students will not need to spend as much time locating and preparing materials, that students will know that they are contributing to a larger whole, and they will have a particular audience for their work.

I’ve also put together a draft grading rubric for the open-ended project. I admit that I have mixed feelings about grading rubrics. On the one hand, they provide students with clear guidelines as to what they are expected to achieve, and they help avoid bias in grading. On the other hand, they feel much too mechanistic, and I find that they tend to cluster grades rather than distinguish work.

I’m attaching three documents.

  • open-ended-project.pdf, a project description for the more open-ended version of the project.
  • restricted-project.pdf, a project description for the more restricted version of the project.
  • rubric-open-ended-project.pdf, a grading rubric for the open-ended project.

I’ll have a more detailed list of questions by the time we meet. For now, it may be useful to think about the following issues.

  • Which project model do you prefer and why? (You might consider this question from the perspective of an instructor and of a student.)
  • How much detail is appropriate for the list of selected approaches? I’ve given a relatively high-level overview. Would I be better off giving more details, perhaps even a sample project? (In subsequent semesters, I hope to use projects from prior semesters to help provide direction.)
  • If I choose the more restricted version, is it okay if I invent the audience?
  • Do any other approaches naturally come to mind?
  • What do you think about the use of this rubric?

Thanks for your help!

-- SamR

[1] These circumstances include too few slots at the end of the semester, my desire to try to speak to the seminar twice, and my assumption that signing up would give me an incentive to work harder.

[2] I may write about the rubric in a future musing.

[3] By the time you’ve read this musing, I will have already sent out the notes. Timing is not always what I want it to be.

[4] Or perhaps to any readers.

Version 1.0 of 2018-10-29.