Lessons Learned

Kalle Westerling 12/6/2018

In my capacity of coordinator for the Digital Humanities Research Institute, I have recently returned to and analyzed some of the feedback that we asked our participants for during the institute. As our participants are now preparing to host their own institutes, these may be helpful tips and guidelines to them. If you are considering leading a DH Institute of your own somewhere, we would love to hear about it, and you may find these ideas helpful as well.

As an overall comment: The notes in this post come from the exit slips that we used as part of the Digital Humanities Research Institute in June 2018. Participants were asked to complete "exit slips" following each day of the Institute. Exit slips included both quantitative and qualitative feedback about participants experience, as well as short assessments to make sure that participants were retaining core concepts introduced each day. Evaluations were overwhelmingly positive, with the majority of participants responding each day that they received help as they needed it, that the pace of the instruction was appropriate, and that participants felt increasingly comfortable with their learning environment. Each evening after participants left, the DHRI faculty reviewed qualitative comments from exit slips about the participant's individual requests, needs, and struggles. We made sure to respond to each the following day through pull-out tutorials and differentiated instruction, by beginning the session with a review, or by demonstrating a particular skill in practice through a live digital project that made use of the technology or skill of the day.

Some general guidelines we learned from the comments from the DHRI participants were:

  • Combining specific topics and general skills is a good approach, which can provide some variety to participants in these workshops. In our case, for instance, we had some panel discussions of larger topics such as ethics and access, while also focusing on learning basic programming in Python.
  • It is good to have many helpers on hand and a system for asking for assistance from others. Those seemed to be appreciated in our workshops.
  • Have snacks and many breaks or keep it open for learners to stretch and get some snacks to clear up their brains! It is intense participating in these workshops; we need to acknowledge that and help participants to the furthest extent possible in their learning processes.
  • Some people move faster than others who may feel overwhelmed. It is good to think in advance and come up with a system to address different skill levels in the room from the outset. In our case, we focused on trying to get some advanced learners to help out as teachers and peer-mentors to other learners. There's nothing better for skill development than teaching that skill to someone else. One participant suggested in one of our feedback forms that building in extra challenges earlier into lessons might be another way going about it.
Another important thing that came out of the exit slips were some things that it might be good to acknowledge in an institute of this kind:
  • Performing basic functions using a skillset after a workshop is a huge step in the right direction.
  • Another important outcome from any skill-building workshop is about embracing learning through trial and error and to be fearless when it comes to lead yourself into failure and figuring out how to get things right again.
  • The intensity of the experience needs to be emphasized: while some workshops can be challenging and frustrating (and make your head spin), the hopeful outcome is that ultimately you will feel that it is rewarding for your work.
Concretely, some things that we either realized we did well or were encouraged working more on:
  • Keep workshop engaging and student-centered as much as possible—generally, that is what generated the best feedback in our comments.
  • Stop and make sure learners are with you along the way.
  • Not jam too much into a workshop (remember to think about how dense the ideas are that you're presenting)
  • Balance fast pacing with slowness.
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat! Some of the comments on our workshops seemed to indicate that it would have been good to repeat more assignments in the workshops, since it would have helped with retaining some of the skillsets that we focused on.
  • Have concrete datasets that you want to illustrate with, or have learners themselves identify datasets early on that they may want to work with.
  • Take breaks (let the brain rest since the head-spinning can be intense here)
  • Evaluate each day and make sure to listen to responses from participants. (It is also nice to just hear all the good words about the things you do!)