Three Reasons MOOCs Should Include Digital Humanities Projects

Of all the things Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) have to offer, their potential to spread digital humanities work beyond a single campus, library, or museum excites me most. By incorporating the digital humanities into a MOOC, these courses could open humanities research up to faculty who don’t have access to a strong digital humanities culture at their institution and students who are outside the academy. Could this type of project work in a MOOC? This is why I think we should try:

1. Universities Without Digital Humanities Centers (or Cultures) Can Share Resources

While there are some schools that have amazing resources for digital humanities work, far more don’t. Even if there is grant funding available for starting a digital project, there still might not be a culture at a particular school for adding digital projects to a humanities curriculum. Since I have been at W&M, I have noticed that faculty can find the huge amount of energy required to start a digital project in the classroom, but they often cannot sustain the project without a great deal of support. (Very few can carve out the time it takes to manage such a project on their own year after year.) Having students and faculty collaborate via MOOCs to create digital humanities scholarship would help share resources among universities and allow faculty and students at a more diverse set of universities participate in Digital Humanities projects.

2. Some of the Research Is Bound to Be Cool

Like any assignment, not all student work for a MOOC-based digital humanities project would be amazing (or necessarily something you would want to put on the Web). However, there will be some students who create amazing things. If the goal was to share the student research on the Web, you could find different ways to “capture the good” (To borrow a phrase from the editors of Digital Humanities Now). The output of research, if well guided, could be tremendous.

3. Humanities Research Builds Connections

Doing humanities research was the thing that made me pursue a PhD. While there many other reasons for spending nearly a decade in graduate school, I enjoyed reading and analyzing texts more than anything else. While this type of work won’t appeal to everyone, I do think that a lot of people would like the type of analytical thinking required for participating in a digital humanities project. Why would this matter? It would help more people outside the academy see the benefits of a liberal arts education.

If you’re interested in reading more about MOOCs on this blog, here are a few posts that you may want to take a look at: Thoughts from a MOOC Pioneer, What We Can Learn from Bryn Mawr’s Online Learning ExperimentThe Final Last Word on MOOCsInconvenient Truths about MOOCs, and The MOOCs that (Almost) Ate UVA.

About Evan Cordulack

Evan Cordulack is a Web Applications Specialist for Academic Technology. He helps faculty members with Web-based projects related to their research and teaching. He earned his PhD in American Studies at William & Mary in 2013. Find him at