Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom: A Practical Introduction for Teachers, Lecturers, and Students

Chapter 4: Designing Syllabi

Sample Syllabi

For one of the biggest repositories of syllabi available online in nearly every subject area, check out the Open Syllabus Project, which we discuss further below. For DH-specific syllabi, there are a few main curated lists available online: one curated by CUNY; one hosted on MLA Commons; the next can be found in the relevant folder in Lisa Spiro’s Zotero group here; one here by Tona Hangen; and finally, this one from Scott Weingart’s blog. We have also found some additional shared syllabi to be particularly helpful as starting points as you’re thinking about teaching DH. Note that many of these are found on full-scale course websites, which you might also be interested in perusing in their entireties for further inspiration. Our purpose here is not to be comprehensive, but rather to gesture toward the larger ecosystem of online syllabi that contain digital humanities components. As you construct your syllabus, you can also feel free to consult the sample activity prompts, tutorials, assignment sheets, and grading rubrics that are also available in this web companion. 

ICLT 311-W01: Lit & Culture of Early Twentieth Century: Global Modernisms
Amanda Golden (New York Institute of Technology, Spring 2016)

Miriam Posner (University of California, Los Angeles, Fall 2014)

INF 383H: Introduction to Digital Humanities
Tanya Clement (University of Texas, Fall 2014)

HIST 381/581: Digital History
Leslei Madsen Brooks (Boise State University, Fall 2014)

HON202-007: Reading Literature in the Digital Age
Paul Fyfe (North Carolina State University, Fall 2014)

LA 512/ARCH 462: Digital Mapping and Geospatial Humanities
Fred Gibbs (University of New Mexico, Summer 2014)

HURC 604: Introduction to Digital Humanities
Lisa Spiro (Rice University, Fall 2013)

Johanna Drucker (University of California, Los Angeles, Fall 2013)

Lit 306: Digital Humanities
Jesse Stommel (University of Mary Washington, Spring 2013)

LCC 3843: Digital Humanities
Lauren Klein (Georgia Institute of Technology, Spring 2012)

Huma 150: Intro to Digital Humanities
Jentery Sayers (University of Victoria, Fall 2011)

ENG 389: Introduction to Digital Humanities
Brian Croxall (Brown University, Fall 2011)

How to Make a Course Website

The list below offers links to tutorials and resources for creating websites using any of the platforms mentioned in Chapter 4.

has a “Learn” section of its own website that includes guidance about how to get started, how to set up an account, and how to publish and configure your site. There are also extremely detailed video tutorials published by individuals that can help provide a more visual, rather than text-based guide to the process. For a detailed “course” on Wordpress, this 110-minute demo could also be useful. For a specific argument in favour of building course websites with Wordpress, see “10 reasons for building course websites in Wordpress.” You might also be interested in this post on Making a Scholarly Website with Wordpress.  

Wix: has a built-in tutorial function so that when you start up the service you will be guided step by step through the process of creating a site. Some further documentation for beginners is available, as well. Wix’s YouTube Channel provides tips and tricks for specific effects and processes, and the “Learning Centre” includes further detailed instructions in text form.

Squarespace: Like Wordpress and Wix, Squarespace has a fairly intuitive interface and is quite easy to pick up through trial and error. There’s also a video series to get you started and one for next steps. If you want further instruction, you might also see if your local public library or your institution subscribes to, which is an online learning environment for creative and technical skills. It has a couple of different levels of extensive Squarespace tutorials available

University Web Space: This will vary considerably by institution, so our best advice here is to find resources through your own library or IT department.

Weebly: For Weebly, the Help Center is the place to start in order to find a basic guide to setting up your site and creating the basic functions you need.

Tumblr: With Tumblr the trick is less about learning tech basics and more about learning the nature of the beast. In this way it is quite a lot like social media such as Instagram or Twitter: you’ll want to familiarize yourself a bit with common practices (and one thing to be aware of here is that Tumblr is very much a sharing resource - people steal from others’ Tumblrs freely and openly all the time. Mashable’s “Beginner’s Guide to Tumblr” is a good place to start in understanding Tumblr culture.

Wikis: The use of wikis is widely variable, so in order to get started you will likely want to use an education-specific resource, such as this one, to tailor your setup to your specific needs.  

Jekyll with Github: There’s an excellent tutorial (along with a good discussion of what Jekyll + GitHub actually is and does from the Programming Historian).

Custom Site: Note the major caveat here that creating a custom site if you have no prior experience with coding is highly, highly ambitious, and probably not worth it if your main goal is to create a course website (especially since there are such excellent out-of-the-box options available). However, if you want to take the plunge, Code Ecademy offers a 4-hour course in HTML and CSS.

Drupal: Quinn Dombrowski’s book Drupal for Humanists is the best and most comprehensive DH-specific resource, but Drupal’s own tutorials and community discussion boards are also very helpful for specific questions. Note that installation of Drupal can be one of the most challenging parts, so if you find that part stressful, do not worry that the rest of it will be as difficult! It won’t be!

Scalar: If you are intrigued by the design and format of this Web Companion, you might want to give Scalar a try! Scalar takes a little bit more time than, say, familiarizing yourself with WordPress, but Scalar is well worth the extra effort. You can not easily host not just your syllabus and your schedule, but also your course readings and related media files (including image and video), and making links between them (say, by pointing students to a video on a particular day in the schedule) is a cinch.

Principles of Syllabus Design

The choices we offer in the above two sections reflect our approach to constructing syllabi inspired by digital humanities principles. If you are curious about how we developed these ideas, check out some of the sources we mention in the chapter. First, try Ryan Cordell’s “How Not to Teach Digital Humanities,” an influential argument that has circulated not only as a blog post, but also as a conference presentation and a book chapter. Zach Whalen’s post on teaching with Slack also featured in this chapter. We also mentioned definitions of digital literacy that you can use to craft your learning objectives; try this post, which not only defines digital literacy, but also provides subcategories within the broader concept of digital literacy, as well as links to some fantastic other source materials to help you tell your students what skills they will learn by taking your course. You might also be interested in Seth Denbo’s post about digital literacy and graduate students: it is relevant for undergrad as well.

If you are teaching a course on literature, Adam Hammond has generously created a teaching companion for his book, Literature in the Digital Age (Cambridge, 2016). Many of the principles in this companion can be applied to other fields as well. Furthermore, although the teaching companion itself is free and open-access, if you assign his book to your students, this can be a fast, dependable, “out-of-the-box” syllabus for you to use. Alternately, you can read his book and his teaching companion as a way to teach yourself an array of DH-centered approaches to teaching literature, and then create your own syllabus afterwards.

In the chapter, we also stress the importance of providing a digital version of your syllabus so that students can easily follow relevant links and will immediately know that your course requires digital savvy. The University of Illinois’ Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning also offers some tips about posting syllabi online. If you are skeptical about sharing this work, Timothy Burke has written a fascinating post that tries to allay various fears about putting your work online. One simple way is to participate in the Open Syllabus Project, which will host your syllabus for you (so long as you agree to share it with others). This is, of course, also a great source for ideas for your own syllabi. And as you do so, building on others’ ideas, bear in mind that you may want to cite others’ syllabi, just as you would their research. (ProfHacker has a great post discussing citing syllabi, if you would like further information about when and how to do so.)

If you have followed the instructions above to create an online syllabus or course website, you may also wonder how to make your course readings all electronic, open-access texts. Robin deRosa has written a wonderful post, “My Open Textbook: Pedagogy and Practice,” which explains, step-by-step, how you can create an open-access textbook. She not only explains why she does this for her own classes, but also how to source help (ethically!) from your students and how to license your resulting textbook so that others can use it (but within boundaries you have defined). If you happen like us to be in the field of literary modernist studies, you might want to check out an open textbook project we’ve both been working on: Open Modernisms. More and more of these subject-based repositories are in the early stages of development, so it’s worth checking what’s available in your own discipline this way.

Last but not least, make sure that you've thought about copyright and about accessibility. if you do decide to put any of your course materials online, remember to consult the Creative Commons License information and additional resources about copyright from Chapter 2. And if you want to learn more about creating an accessible syllabi (beyond the information included in Chapter 3 and its Web Companion materials), refer to this great set of resources from a team at Tulane led by Anne-Marie Womack.

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