Teaching This Class Was Crazy”: Digital Liberal Arts and the Power of a Consortium

AHA Session 160
Friday, January 6, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Centennial Ballroom H (Hyatt Regency Denver, Third Floor)
Kelly Schrum, George Mason University
Carey Heatherly, University of Montevallo
Jeffrey W. McClurken, University of Mary Washington
Ellen Holmes Pearson, University of North Carolina Asheville
Whitney Snow, Midwestern State University
Deborah Tritt, University of South Carolina Aiken

Session Abstract

This class was crazy, made me angry, wore me out, strained my people skills, over-estimated my abilities, and was one of the greatest college courses I have ever taken –because it made me think, try new things, do what I had never done before . . .” These are words that liberal arts college professors love to hear, especially when they too have stretched their comfort zones in order to give their students new experiences. The COPLACDigital initiative is designed to do just that, and more. Many small- to medium-sized liberal arts colleges, and especially public liberal arts colleges, lack the infrastructure, faculty technical expertise, and requisite fiscal resources to integrate digital scholarship into the curriculum. In an effort to address this challenge, the Council of Public Liberal Arts (COPLAC) leveraged their consortium to create innovative multi-campus seminars in which students journeyed well beyond the traditional classroom setting to gain experience in collaborative archival research and website design. These multi-campus digital liberal arts seminars foster a community of faculty expertise and practice, expand undergraduate research options on each campus, afford students the opportunity to study under digital scholars from a range of disciplines, and prepare them for careers in which liberal arts thinking is essential.

      This project links levels of experience in a variety of ways. The subject matters of these seminars invite students to explore their campus and community’s history and culture, while connecting their local stories to other North American communities’ experiences through their websites. But this roundtable moves beyond historical scale to link levels of experience in scholarship, teaching, and digital literacy. COPLACDigital brings together junior and senior faculty, archivists, and instructional technologists in order to give the consortium’s students richer experiences than they could receive from their own campus resources alone.

       Participants in this roundtable will offer 10-minute presentations on their experiences teaching these unique distance mentoring initiatives. Professors Ellen Holmes Pearson of the University of North Carolina Asheville and Jeffrey W. McClurken of the University of Mary Washington will discuss the pilot course “Century America,” which brought together student researchers from a total of 15 public liberal arts campuses over two semesters, to build websites about their campuses and communities’ experiences during World War I. Whitney Snow, Assistant Professor of History at Midwestern State University will reflect on her course, “Festivals: Cultures in the Making,” in which students created websites about festivals in their respective institutions’ home cities, using primary-source research, oral history and ethnography. And archivists Carey Heatherly of the University of Montevallo and Deborah Tritt of the University of South Carolina Aiken will discuss their experiences teaching “Voices of Industrial America,” which involved student-driven digital projects telling the stories of individuals and companies of the Second Industrial Revolution in their communities. The presenters will then invite comments from the audience.

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