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Schreibman, S., Benardou, A., Clivaz, C., Durco, M., Huang, M., Papaki, E., Scagliola, S., Tasovac, T., Wissik, T. (2016). #dariahTeach: online teaching, MOOCs and beyond. In Digital Humanities 2016: Conference Abstracts. Jagiellonian University & Pedagogical University, Kraków, pp. 354-356.
#dariahTeach: online teaching, MOOCs and beyond

#dariahTeach: online teaching, MOOCs and beyond

1. Background

Online education has been advocated as the ultimate way of democratizing knowledge, but recent research indicates that there are reasons for concern. As the Allen & Seaman 2014 report underlines, 66% of higher education institutions report that online education remains critical to their long-term strategy while 74% of chief academic officers consider the learning outcomes for online courses to be ‘as good as or better’ than traditional face-to-face courses. But “despite this confidence in online education, researchers continue to report ‘compromised quality in online courses’ as one of the concerns of faculty, administration, and the general public” (Kidder, 2015; Selingo, 2014). In the landscape of online teaching, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have received much attention in both academic and popular publications  (Bayne and Ross, 2015; Bulfin et al., 2014; Clara and Barbera, 2013) despite the fact that they are not representative of the diverse modalities of online teaching.

Siemens (2012) makes a useful distinction between xMOOCs (behaviorist MOOCs) and cMOOCs (connectivist MOOCs). The former emphasizes “a more traditional learning approach through video presentations and short quizzes and testing” with a focus on “knowledge duplication”, whereas the latter focus on “knowledge creation” (Siemens, 2012). Along the same lines, Ozturk recently reported that new variations of MOOCs have emerged becoming more market oriented “aligning with instructivist, cognitive, and behaviourist pedagogy” (Ozturk, 2015). Moreover, the financial model of the MOOCs raises questions about the audience for and motivations behind this method of teaching (Ozturk, 2015; Manjoo, 2015).

Conscious of this present situation, the #dariahTeach project (funded by an Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership) is developing a  network based in seven partner countries exploring the production, dissemination, and promotion of high quality, dynamic, extensible, localisable, and integrated educational materials for the digital humanities specifically tailored for third level education. It is adopting a cMOOC philosophy which focuses on ‘creation, creativity, autonomy, and social networked learning’ (Siemens, 2012) to provide pedagogical content that can be easily integrated into diverse teaching and learning situations.

A key consideration in the design of the platform is interoperability between courses/modules (and units within those modules) since DH draws on a wealth of methods and tools from a variety of disciplines. Moreover, it is envisioned that these modules will be used beyond the DH community as the societal impact of a culturally-driven digital transition grows opening up new ways of collaborating on productive theory and critical thinking (Hayles, 2012). Thus a goal of #dariahTeach is to develop rich educational materials that 1) instructors in the growing number of Digital Humanities programmes can use as appropriate to their own institutional settings and learning outcomes; 2) instructors in other disciplines can draw on and; 3)  students who are not at institutions that have DH expertise can use to develop the skills and methods, as well as understand the theoretical basis, to engage in digital humanities and humanities research.

The project team is currently developing the infrastructure and design of the modules based on the production of five modules: Introduction to Digital Humanities, Text Encoding, AudioVisual Media and Multimodal Literacies, Retrodigitizing Dictionaries, and Ontologies and Knowledge Management. This paper will present the results of preliminary research carried out through an extensive study of user requirements, as well as desk research on module and platform design informed by a workshop in Belgrade funded by the Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities (DARIAH) on developing open educational materials.

2. Analysis of User Requirements

The design and the implementation of a successful platform-based learning environment  melds concepts from psychology, education, and human-computer interaction. Poor interface design can become a serious obstacle to the learning outcome, as it may slow the process down and impose cognitive obstacles. To this end, a qualitative analysis and interpretation of online teaching practices and recommendations in the DH domain and the elicitation of corresponding user requirements was based on a series of semi-structured interviews with experienced instructors of online courses within Europe.

Findings of the user requirement process are a key component of the development of the #dariahTeach platform. These indicate that the platform needs to cater for the following needs: be adaptable to different learning methodologies; allow for persistent roles; provide an API or advanced forms of web services so that new unforeseen components can be added to the environment; support  ad hoc groupings and grouping of materials across modules and units; allow for both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration and communication and enable user customization.

3. Module Design

#dariahTeach modules are designed as building blocks tailored to the exigencies of teaching situations in different educational and cultural contexts, allowing  for localization and adaptation (via translation, subtitles, domain-specific examples etc.). By offering examples of and encouraging further adaptation of training materials to specific linguistic/cultural contexts, #dariahTeach will dispel any notion that the use of ICT methods leads to abstract representations of culturally impoverished outputs.

It is important to stress two levels of translatability of module design: 1) translatability and adaptability of the language of instruction; and b) selectability, translatability and adaptability of primary sources and materials that are used in instruction. This means that an English-language module on Text Encoding, for instance, is localizable both in terms of the instructional narrative, as well as the kind of texts that are used to exemplify the taught principles and methods of text modeling: different genres (poetry, prose, drama) but also language (Latin, Greek, Serbian, Dutch etc.)

Our “Introduction to DH” module will also not attempt to impose a single pedagogical narrative on what is a constantly evolving and highly diverse, interdisciplinary field. Instead, our Introduction to DH is based on a micromodular, polycentric approach: a collection of mutually-linked, cross-referenced, metadata-rich short videos that shed light on DH as a community of practice from multiple perspectives without creating a false sense of uniformity.

4. Platform Design

Modules will be made available via an online portal/ web application based on existing solutions. This paper will explore the decision tree in adopting a solution including whether to use a well-established Content Management Systems (eg Drupal, WordPress, Joomla) with Learning Management System plugins and appropriate customizations or the use of a customizable Learning Management System (such as  Moodle or Blackboard). Considerations feeding into the decision tree include the platform being open source, freely available, well documented and customizable with plugin development support;   support for multilinguality; an embedded xml editor; collaboration and interaction functionalities (eg chats, forums and wikis); test and assessment functionalities; extended search functionalities for available metadata (mapped to Dublin Core and LOM to facilitate sharing and support interoperability and reusability (Roy et al., 2010); and copyright attribution and licence management functionalities.

5. Conclusion

The paper will conclude with longer-term prospects for the project. Oversight of #dariahTeach will be maintained after the grant has ended by a General Editor and Editorial Board under the oversight of the DARAH’s Research and Education Competency Centre.

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