It’s been a difficult year to say the least. My university has been in the news about MOOC-mania, our President’s potential censure, an alleged roaming gunman that had us sheltered in place for 2 hours, and now hate crimes and harassment in our dorms. We’ve seen massive, disruptive construction of buildings on campus while our current teaching rooms have tiles falling from the ceilings and students with no access to computer labs in the College of Arts & Humanities. The general morale is at an all-time low, according to an emeritus faculty who says that he hasn’t seen this since 1969.

Can we all take a breath? Please?

Maybe get back to the pedagogy?

I am.

At the beginning of the semester, my long-awaited article on Digital Pedagogy was published online, an article which grounds my theories about teaching at this particular institution and highlights my commitment to my students, my university, my Digital Humanities point of view:  “Play, Collaborate, Break, Build, Share: ‘Screwing Around’ in Digital Pedagogy.” 3:3 (Fall 2013) Polymath Special Edition on “Doing Digital Pedagogy at a Non-R1.” It’s my teaching statement after 8 years in my current position.

In Spring 2013, my department allowed me to teach a graduate seminar in Digital Humanities under the guise of Special Topics in Contemporary Theory. We threw out the syllabus on the first day because, quite frankly, I was bored of teaching Intro to Digital Humanities. Instead, I wanted them to make something, but they would have to get through the theory, define the project, educate themselves on history of the book and literary history topics, and grapple with issues of technology in a completely unfunded digital project. This, of course, made some of my colleagues anxious; but, I needed to see how this would work with our particular kinds of students. Would they be interested in this type of collaborative, process-driven work? Would they be engaged enough to drive the semester? It was certainly a bit scary for me and there are some changes that I will make for the next instantiation of this course, but overall, I was pleased.

…and then I was even more pleased.

At the conclusion of the semester, after writing a proposal for a Digital Humanities Center and drawing up the plans for the next version of this course, the students decided that a proper history of the project needed to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. A draft was put together and submitted to the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy because it focuses on DH and pedagogy in a way that other journals do not. We asked the editors to consider this a special type of article, one that highlights the student perspective in DH projects — not as trained monkeys, but those who are making decisions about a public project, not a one-off class project.  Then it got difficult. Everyone scattered at the conclusion of the semester. But, three intrepid grad students stayed the course and worked with the JITP editors to create a history of this project that included all of the variables and tribulations of the decision-making process, including the materials unearthed by the original students who worked on the project for a year without academic credit or recognition. These original Beardstairs (as we call them), went to conferences, applied for university award, and generally performed DIY or guerilla DH. The Beardstair graduate course was a step towards codifying DH projects into our graduate curriculum. Students would get credit for this screwing around.

What was the result?

Yep. A peer-reviewed article in a well-known, widely read online journal.

Please join me in congratulating this group of graduate students for the publication of their article about project management, constructing literary history, delving into history of the book, and screwing around in Digital Humanities:

BeardStair: A Student-Run Digital Humanities Project History, Fall 2011 to May 16, 2013” by David T. Coad, Kelly Curtis, and Jonathan Cook with contributions by Valerie Cruz, Dylan Grozdanich, Randy Holaday, Amanda Kolstad, Alexander James Papoulias, Ilyssa Russ, Genevieve Sanvictores, Erik White and the original Beardstair team who worked on the project out of joy instead of academic credit, Colette Hayes (MLIS School of Library and Information Science student), Doll Piccotto (MA English), and Pollyanna Macchiano (BA English).

There is still much work to be done on this project — read to the end to see where these intrepid English majors and graduate students would like you (the next version of Beardstair) to take up the mantle.

Congratulations, gang!!