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Practice

Step 4: Provide clear expectations

As with any assignment, students must be given clear expectations for a successful DHSS project. Product is important, but assessing students on process is even more important in a DHSS project where students may be working with concepts, tools, technologies, and materials that are different than what they are used to. Instructors must have patience with students so that students can come to understand the ways they are being pushed to do and think in new ways because of DHSS. This may involve explaining the expectations in different ways, providing clear rubrics, and pointing students back to the course’s overall learning outcomes. Most realistically, however, the assignment will require you to do all of those things.

For DHSS assignments, these considerations have to be articulated and shared with students. A traditional essay is (usually) just evaluated on the final product: the written paper. But DHSS, as it is framed in this Instructor’s Guide, is based on learning through experienceexperiential learning. Students’ experiences – the process behind the product – need to come to the fore in evaluation and assessment.

With clearly written assessment criteria, students learn what you want, how it fits into the course, and how it will be assessed. At the same time, however, you should also be open to a final product that may look different than you originally expected; time, resources, and space for interpretation can morph a final DHSS product in ways you may not be able to predict at the start. This is how students will learn from the experience of creating their DHSS project. They need to know that sometimes failures and false starts are part of the process of engaging in DHSS.

In an example of a professor needing to be clear about, and thus clarifying, her expectations for a DHSS assignment, Dr. Amanda Starling Gould taught a course entitled “Augmenting Realities: Technoscience, Digital Art, & Electronic Literature” for Duke University in 2013. The final assignment was a “transmedia essay,” which she described in the syllabus as “the equivalent of an 8-12 page (double-spaced) scholarly article.” She explained to her students that they would “augment” this traditional format by inserting media and links, and by integrating a “(Re)Mediated Element.” Although this “(Re)Mediated Element” may have been clear to Dr. Gould, students had questions about this assignment and logically asked whether this meant that they were just adding a media to a traditional essay.

The students’ question provided an opportunity for Dr. Gould to (re)explain her vision for a “transmedia essay” and to explain the overall purpose of how and what the students should expect. Gould explained to her students that “just adding a form of media is not enough – I want you to CREATE something or ANALYZE something or MAP something or REMEDIATE something.” This media element, she further explained, “should be chosen based on its ability to do something that paper cannot do.” In this way, she encouraged her students to think they “might think of your media element as an experiment that extends and/or explores the questions you are asking in your work.” This work would expand critical exploration because, she argued, “presenting data in a different format, if done thoughtfully and accompanied by a critical essay exploring what those different format presentations mean (or say, or do, or are commenting on, etc.), CAN be an argument or relevant contribution to a written work.”

Articulating this shift in expectations – from adding media to creating and integrating media in an essay in a way that demonstrates, develops, or proves an argument – prepares students to think about the act of creation as central to their work. Gould emphasizes that it was not just the final “transmedia essay” that students should focus on, but rather the investment in thinking about what a “(Re)Mediated Element” may, can, and will do in the service of advancing students’ ideas. Gould also mentioned to the students in the shared class blog that she would bring in and show examples in class. Through these exchanges, Gould identified what she wanted from her students, she explained to them how her expectations were both similar and different to a traditional essay, and she demonstrated the “big picture” thinking that tied this assignment back to the course and to her assessment. This is good overall pedagogical practice, as identified by Madeleine Hunter, but especially important with the newness involved with a DHSS assignment.

Dr. Shannon Mattern, Associate Professor in the School of Media Studies at The New School in New York, “revisited” the idea of evaluating assignments with multiple forms of media in them, like a DHSS assignment, and identified some key themes one should use to evaluate students’ projects:

  • Concept & content
  • Concept/content-driven design & technique
  • Transparent, collaborative development, and documentation
  • Academic integrity & openness
  • Review & critique

Under each theme she provided a list of questions that framed her evaluation. I encourage you to visit her article in the Journal of Digital Humanities to read these questions and also follow the links to the community discussion she drew inspiration from. Note the importance of process in her evaluation themes and questions. Also visit Dalhousie University Library’s Digital Humanities Project Planning template for a list of questions that align with the managerial, communication, and technical competencies that can be developed through DHSS. Both resources emphasize the experiential aspect of students’ DHSS assignments.

In your rubrics, we recommend providing expectations that cover:

    • Experiential learning
    • Project management – timelines, articulated goals for completion
    • Question/answer structure (thesis) and use of evidence
    • Presentation/use of tools and technologies
    • Collaboration (if relevant)

Visit Step 6: Assessment for links to helpful rubrics to engage in your DHSS assignments. Also see the different Assignment Guides in this Instructor’s Guide for tips about assignment-specific elements for evaluation and assessment. You may also find Evaluating E-learning: A Guide to the Evaluation of E-learning, edited by Graham Attwell, a helpful resource for thinking about evaluation and learning outcomes for e-learning more generally.