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.

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. Your articulation of the assignment and assessment criteria can help students in making the shift from just product to product and process.

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 and that your assessment has room for this exploration.

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 at for Duke University in 2013 titled “Augmenting Realities: Technoscience, Digital Art, & Electronic Literature”. 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” the traditional format of an essay by inserting media, links, and the integration of a “(Re)Mediated Element” into their assignment. Although this “(Re)Mediated Element” may have been clear to Dr. Gould, students had questions about it and logically asked whether they were just adding a media to a traditional essay.

Students’ questions provided the opportunity for Dr. Gould to (re)explain her vision of a “transmedia essay” to her students and to clarify what the assignment involved. Gould explained to her students that rather than adding media to a standard essay, “I want you to CREATE something or ANALYZE something or MAP something or REMEDIATE something.” This new media element, she explained, “should be chosen based on its ability to do something that paper cannot do.” In this way, she encouraged her students to “think of your media element as an experiment that extends and/or explores the questions you are asking in your work.” This element of their assignment would expand students’ critical exploration of the subject matter 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 an essay to creating and integrating media in an essay in a way to demonstrate, develop, or prove an argument – prepared students to think about the act of creation as central to their work. Gould emphasized 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 their ideas in the course. Gould also mentioned that she would bring in and show examples to the class, grounding her vision with references that she can discuss with her students.

Through these exchanges with her students, Gould identified what she wanted from a “transmedia essay,” explaining to students how her expectations were both similar and different to a traditional essay and how this work tied back to overall learning in the course. This is good pedagogical practice overall, as identified by Madeleine Hunter, but is especially important because of the newness involved in a DHSS assignment.

Dr. Shannon Mattern, Associate Professor in the School of Media Studies at The New School in New York, explored how to evaluate assignments with multiple forms of media, like the transmedia essay, and identified the key themes one should use to evaluate these types of students’ projects. These include:

  • 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 of that theme. I encourage you to visit her article in the Journal of Digital Humanities to read these questions and follow the links to the community discussion that inspired this work. Note the importance of process in the 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, which is a key aspect of the work of DHSS.

In your rubrics, we recommend providing expectations that cover:

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.