What Do Students Actually Think About Digital Pedagogy? (Pt. 3)

{This post continues my series of reflections on quantified student feedback regarding the use of digital pedagogy in the classroom. Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2, as well.}

My previous posts on digital pedagogy tended to emphasize the helpfulness of resources drawn from the digital humanities in lower-level undergraduate coursework. And while it might seem more obvious to deploy such resources in a large undergraduate survey, I’m confident that digital tools can still help us get the job done in senior-level courses, as well.

Examples of such resources that reward more sustained engagement would include:

(1) Podcasts: While podcasts might strike some as primarily entertainment media, there are a number of series out there that aim to bridge any supposed gap between the ivory tower and the public square. One of the best, in my view, is Peter Adamson’s History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps podcast, which breaks much of ancient and medieval intellectual history down into bite-size, twenty-minute chunks. Adamson manages to capture the best of both worlds, crafting episodes that are as listenable as they are edifying.

(2) Apps: One of the most labour-intensive yet rewarding applications in the field of the Digital Humanities is the creation of apps tailored to certain historical figures or texts. Villanova University has recently developed (and continues to develop) an app devoted to the Confessions of Augustine of Hippo, which happens to be a text near and dear to my own heart. Having used this app in a classroom setting already, I can attest to its efficacy. It really succeeds in its mission of making Augustine’s masterwork more accessible for students living about sixteen-hundred years after the Saint’s death.

In the end, it’s all about calibration. It’s all about fitting the amount and usage of digital resources to the level of the course, as well as to its theme and desired learning outcomes. If those three factors are kept in mind, digital pedagogy can work at almost any stage of undergraduate education.

To back up my claim that digital pedagogy can work at higher levels of undergraduate learning as well, please see the following data drawn from a fourth-year seminar on theories of time in antiquity. This course included 13 students, all of whom decided to participate in the feedback questionnaire. Again for reference purposes, here are the questions to which the charts supply quantified responses:

  1. Overall, I found completing the digital humanities assignments to be:
    1. Educational: 13/13 = 100%
    2. Confusing: 0/13 = 0%
    3. Pointless: 0/13 = 0%
    4. None of the Above: 0/13 = 0%
  2. Before the digital humanities assignments, my sense of the digital humanities was:
    1. Quite Good, Actually: 1/13 = 8%
    2. Limited & Incomplete: 10/13 = 77%
    3. Non-Existent: 2/13 = 15%
  3. These assignments improved my grasp of what “digital humanities” means:
    1. True: 12/13 = 92%
    2. False: 1/13 = 8%
  4. The difficulty-level of the digital humanities assignments was:
    1. Too Hard: 1/13 = 8%
    2. Too Easy: 1/13 = 8%
    3. Just Right: 11/13 = 84%
  5. If these kinds of assignments required deeper engagement with digital resources, that would:
    1. Be More Fun: 4/13 = 31%
    2. Be Too Burdensome: 4/13 = 31%
    3. Not Change Anything: 5/13 = 38%
  6. What is your attitude about the idea of the “digital humanities” generally?
    1. It Was a Refreshing Change: 8/13 = 62%
    2. It Sounded Easier But I Didn’t Really Get Much Out of It: 2/13 = 15%
    3. I Would Prefer to Just Write a One-Page Reading Response: 3/13 = 23%
  7. Which digital humanities assignment did you find most useful?
    1. Podcast Review: 8.5/13 = 65%
    2. App Reflection: 4.5/13 = 35%
    3. Neither Were Useful: 0/13 = 0%
  8. How did listening to a podcast episode compare to an in-class lecture on the same material?
    1. Listening to a Podcast is Preferable: 1/13 = 8%
    2. Listening to an In-Class Lecture is Preferable: 4.5/13 = 35%
    3. Both Are About Equally Effective: 7.5/13 = 57%
  9. What did access to the Confessions app change about your approach to the text itself?
    1. The App’s Resources Helped Me Understand Augustine Better: 10/13 = 77%
    2. App Was Cool But Didn’t Help Me Understand Augustine Better: 3/13 = 23%
    3. The App In No Way Aided My Understanding of Augustine: 0/13 = 0%

And because, once again, numbers never tell the whole story, here’s a selection of student comments regarding the use of digital resources in History 476:

If you could pass any advice on to Dr. Peter Adamson, proprietor of the History of Philosophy podcast, what would it be?

  • “If possible. I would love to get an outline or actual script of his podcast, since I usually have to listen to the podcast multiple times (which is a good thing). But I still hope there is something I can actually read.”
  • “Make his voice less soothing.”
  • “I enjoyed the emphasis on the history aspect, but there wasn’t quite as much info on the actual philosophy I was trying to focus on.”
  • “Make it more user-friendly to find subjects. Have a stronger search engine.”
  • “I found the podcast to be very enlightening. Having some more in-depth discussions and info would be great!”
  • “Keep doing what you’re doing! I loved it.”
  • “Keep doing what you’re doing. I found the podcast to be both interesting and useful.”
  • “Make them longer, since some sections seem too oriented toward surveying topics that merit more depth.”
  • “Subtitles, please! Sometimes I cannot hear the words clearly, especially during the interview episodes.”

If you could pass any advice on to the team at Villanova University that made the Confessions app, what would it be?

  • “It helped my understanding of the text, but the app needs a little work.”
  • “Break up the long book audio clip segments.”
  • “Emphasize external sources less.”
  • “Involve more reflections and commentaries (possibly longer ones).”
  • “The commentaries in the app gave me just a taste, but not enough.”
  • “I found the app to be very useful and didn’t have many problems with it.”
  • “As somebody not entirely familiar with sections of the Bible, abbreviated citations were initially confusing.”
  • “I learned to make a pretty good cake from it!”
  • “The app is well made and helped me quite a bit. I would suggest having discussion boards where app users can have discussions with the app creators.”
  • “Work out the small bugs to make the whole process smoother.”
  • “Great job! Thank you for the hard work. My only advice has to do with the audio format. A different interface might be easier. Other than that, it’s fantastic.”
  • “The app was useful, but also expensive. It needs work.”
  • “The difference between our translation [Hammond] and the app’s translation was too big. I understand why, but it made it hard to use in conjunction with our text.”
  • “There should be a better way of finding quotes.”
  • “Keep doing what you’re doing. I found the app to be very helpful.”
  • “Reformatting the footnotes would be appreciated, as would an index, specifically for the interpretive articles.”
  • “Make it easier to search for keywords while reading through the chapters.”Do you have any ideas about other digital resources that you’d like to use when completing assignments in a Humanities context?

Is there anything else you’d like to recommend to further the work that the digital humanities can accomplish in the classroom?

  • “Visual clips.”
  • “No, but I do think it’s a good idea to do assignments like this. It was very interesting to work with podcasts.”
  • “More podcasts would be helpful, not as an assignment but as an ‘extra’ for topics in class.”
  • “I personally use YouTube when I don’t understand a concept (in all of my courses). This may be useful to other students if credible videos are available.”
  • “I would like the addition of more audio books.”
  • “Creating a podcast or other digital project such as a wiki or website would be fun.”
  • “Video resources would be cool.”
  • “Perhaps some form of video content or supplementary lecture material from other speakers or authorities or YouTube or online lectures.”