Polls, Mind-Mapping, and Variant Analysis…Oh My!

In Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom, Battershill and Ross emphasize the importance of continually connecting online activities to course objectives, not only to increase student “buy-in,” but also to ensure students’ overall accomplishments regardless of any possible technological failure. They assure us that in the event that an activity or exercise does not go as planned, as long as “the students’ efforts meet stated course objectives, then the activity is a success regardless of the outcome on the screen”(4). This seems to require a leap of faith on both the parts of the students and the instructor.

Scaffolding classroom activities throughout the semester in a way that enables students to not only learn the course material, but also to increase their knowledge of various DH technologies strikes me as a win-win situation, particularly if it is combined with some type of self-reflective practice on the students’ part. For example, while I have always incorporated online quizzes into my classes, I have never tried conducting any sort of a pre- or post-assessment poll, be it through sites such as Google Forms or BuzzFeed. That type of assessment seems to offer a great deal of potential though, both in terms of what I as an instructor can learn about my students’ perspectives and existing knowledge-base, as well as what the students can learn by seeing the (anonymous) results of those assessments/polls.

Another activity that I would like to try in a writing classroom is to use an online mind-mapping or visual diagramming program such as “Coggle” or “Free Mind.” I think that would be particularly beneficial in helping students work through the writing process, from brainstorming through their final drafts. For example, here is a visual map of Frankenstein posted on Coggle:

Students could use this program to work on their own, or collaboratively in pairs/small-groups, to create non-linear charts for thematic brainstorming, outlining, and/or other writing-related activities.

Of all of the suggested activities presented in our text, however, the one that most piqued my interest is to have students conduct a variant analysis of a text through an online site such as Juxta. For example, here is a screenshot of a side-by-side comparison of the 1818 and 1831 editions of Frankenstein:

I have only just begun to explore that site, but already I can envision multiple ways to incorporate it into the college composition classroom, both in terms of looking at model essays by published writers, as well as for students to compare and analyze their own writing drafts. Students would easily be able to see and compare textual variations and would then be able to reflect on those differences and revision choices.

Trying new DH technologies in the classroom requires “adaptability, creativity, and openness,” but even more importantly, the ability for us as instructors to “value the unforeseen, accidental, and contingent”(5). These tools offer a tremendous amount of pedagogical benefit to our students, but we must first be willing to take the proverbial leap into the unknown and unfamiliar. (498)

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