Our goal is to make the DiTF program a hub, linking DiTFs, faculty, and staff across campus to provide the technological training and pedagogical space they need to develop digital projects and encourage innovation in the classroom. Our initial emphasis has been on three key areas: evaluation, documentation, and infrastructure development.
With regards to evaluation we are working in conjunction with the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning on a suitable assessment framework for the program. Our ultimate goal is to gather feedback on teaching practices and their effectiveness as part of a systematic effort to evaluate, in a fair and effective way, the impact and specific contributions of digital approaches in the classroom. In order to achieve this, we hope to develop a range of evaluation techniques and criteria that can be targeted to different scenarios to elicit information from various perspectives on different characteristics of teaching.
We expect the DiTF program to foster a community of digital literacy, and an expectation of use, that will become entrenched in our teaching, giving busy faculty strong incentives to do the hard work of course redesign.
As we expand the program beyond the Department of History, there is every reason to believe that the departments have much to learn from one another, and, in principle, pedagogical innovations should be useful for other courses, with suitable adjustments. There are significant blockages to the lateral flow of pedagogical innovation from department to department, however, because of the lack of an infrastructure dedicated to the task. This is even more the case for the flow of ideas between departments. In the same way that scholarship in some fields has traditionally been based on the single author working within a single discipline, so too has course design.
Thus, a key way to integrate a community of practice across several departments is to effectively document methodologies and approaches in a way that facilitates the sharing of knowledge and resources. A key initiative for this year has been the creation of a Knowledge Base, a repository for the documentation of ideas, practices, assignments, tool evaluations, tutorials, and modules, as a way to build institutional memory and create an infrastructure for seeding innovation and encouraging the lateral sharing of new pedagogies.
A program such as the DiTF requires a great deal of infrastructural support in the form of IT resources (tools, servers, and storage), assistance and training, and suitable spaces for teaching.
Thus far we have relied mostly on commercial and open-source services, and technologies available off-the-shelf. Some of these we supported internally and for others we relied on ad-hoc partnerships with several campus organizations, including Harvard University Information Technology (HUIT), Academic Technology Group (ATG), the Digital Arts and Humanities group (DARTH), and the Center for Geographical Analysis (CGA).
This approach is not sustainable in the long term, however, since many of these digital platforms are not integrated with internal Harvard systems, are only available at a cost or in limited fashion, and usually do not support the kind of long term preservation that is required. Because of this, their use often creates a number of problems, such as administrative overhead, that detracts from the pedagogical goals of the exercises. A better-integrated, University-supported infrastructure is, therefore, a key objective of the program.
To achieve this goal, we are actively working to solve some of the roadblocks that currently stand in the way. The very nature of digital technologies, for example, makes the program inherently experimental. The range of available platforms and tools for achieving our ends is immense and growing, and the use-patterns vary considerably, often according to the idiosyncrasies of a given discipline. Even more importantly, the performance of various approaches within classrooms is also highly variable, and depends as much as anything on the kinds of readings and assignments given to students. The DiTF program cannot assume a stable canon of digital technologies to shape the training of graduate students, as this would severely limit our range of innovation. The changing needs of the program and its philosophical commitment to evolving semester-by-semester pose a challenge to traditional approaches to IT support.
This spring, we began working closely with HUIT, ATG, and DARTH on building a flexible technical-and-support infrastructure. Following this pilot phase, we hope to put in place a system of support based on a specified level of HUIT staff support and software provisioning rather than an inflexible list of technology services. This offers an exciting opportunity for faculty, staff, and students to explore technologies as true partners and collaborate to identify software to be supported. It also streamlines a process to curate, maintain, and export, when necessary, student and faculty generated data.
Another infrastructural challenge has been the relative lack of dedicated spaces suitable for both the training of DiTFs and participating faculty, and for the teaching of classes and sections.
Our initial response to this issue will be to renovate three classrooms in Robinson Hall. These classrooms will be completely rebuilt as the kind of flexible, technology-rich learning spaces necessary to seed and sustain digital innovation. This classroom development is being carried out in partnership with HILT, the Office of Physical Resources and Planning (OPRP), and the division of Media and Technology Services (MTS). We expect that the process of designing these new classrooms will offer the larger community some ideas about the types of technological investments that need to be made in classrooms and libraries across campus going forward.