Response from Brett Hirsch

Apologies for the lateness of my post. I’ve only just returned from an extended North American trip to what is being characterized as one of the worst heat-waves Perth has seen in decades. I’ve greatly enjoyed reading the responses so far, and look forward to our meeting in Boston.

Others have offered as many as seven readings. Rather than cover the same ground, I offer two off-list readings:

  • Charles Ess, “Wag the Dog? Online Conferencing and Teaching.” Computers and the Humanities 34 (2000): 297-309.
  • Ian Lancashire, “The Open-Source English Teacher.” Teaching Literature and Language Online, ed. Ian Lancashire. New York: Modern Language Association
    of America, 2009. 410-26.

I chose Charles Ess’s article because it speaks to an abiding concern that I have about digital humanities pedagogy and research. An early proponent of using hypertext and other forms of computer-mediated communication in the humanities classroom, Ess stresses the “importance of not letting the technological tail wag the pedagogical dog” (298; emphasis original). I would extend Ess’s canine metaphor beyond teaching, since an uncritical adoption of new technologies has important implications for humanities research as well.

In The Psychology of Science (1966), Abraham Maslow famously remarked, “It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail” (15). Almost half a century later, we have a new range of hammers at our disposal, from data mining and visualization to social networking, etc. I needn’t belabour the point, nor do I wish to come across as a reactionary. I introduce Ess’s paper because it reminds us all to temper our enthusiasms, “by keeping in front of us the simple question: as new technologies become available, how can we adopt and adapt them to our prevailing pedagogical [and research] interests and challenges — as one set of tools among many, not as a ‘silver bullet’ that will overcome every challenge we face?” (299; emphasis original).

Another issue close to my heart — and relevant to our discussion — is that of “open source” and “open access” to teaching and research materials, and so I offer Ian Lancashire’s “The Open-Source English Teacher” for consideration. Lancashire begins by describing the “open-source teacher” as someone that “puts instructional materials online, uses decentralized peer review collaboratively to improve their quality, and deposits them under terms and conditions like those in ‘copyleft’ used by software developers”, terms that allow “other teachers to modify and redistribute all modified versions of original materials” provided due acknowledgement is given and the “indelibly free terms of usage are retained” (410).

While Lancashire’s “open-source case study” of teaching a poetry course using Representative Poetry Online — an open-access, peer-reviewed, electronic scholarly edition of some 4,079 poems, from Old English verses by Caedmon to the works of modern authors — is instructive, I would like the group to consider the wider implications of his article. To do so, I propose the following questions for our discussion: Is an open-source Shakespeare course possible and, if so, what would it look like?

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