I was asked yesterday how I would evaluate students’ digital projects, and today I just came from #AHA2015 #s195, where a lot of the discussion centered on the challenges of having your work evaluated for promotion.
Regarding the question of evaluating student work: I was quite prepared to be asked that, but probably didn’t answer it as fluently as I might have because to my mind this question, which everyone asks, gets it backwards. Essentially, I regard the appearance of a digital project in a similar fashion to the cover and contents of a book: it might look interesting and well done, but I can’t tell from a quick glance whether it is logically and analytically rigorous. I need to dive in, look at the structure, understand the argument, examine where the choices were made, and assess how it has been received at large. In other words, I’m more concerned with logic and argumentation than with the way in which a particular work is packaged or presented. Perhaps it’s due to my training in debate, and then going on to medieval studies, but I want to see how you’re reasoning and arguing. In the Middle Ages, the “humanities” as such didn’t exist; history and literature weren’t courses, and the social sciences hadn’t been invented. Instead, you learned the mechanics, process, and metaphysics of reasoning, which you then applied to politics, history, theology, philosophy, etc. At the same time, foregrounding argument and debate is also a touch democratic, since audience always matters. You stand or fall by your ability to convince, and anything that promotes democratic habits of mind is a plus, in my opinion.
So, asking how I would evaluate a digital project versus a typed paper, while a necessary question given the (improving) reception of DH in academia, just doesn’t make sense in my way of approaching the problem. The biggest challenge, to my mind, isn’t whether I have a grasp of genre, it’s awakening my students’ minds to the excitement and challenge of reasoning from concept to data and back to concept. Another way of putting it is that my criteria for a successful project do not derive from the discipline of the project itself. Mills Kelly just said more-or-less, in essence, the same thing in #s195, which suggests to me that I’m on the right track. It’s not about content and discipline, per se, it’s about showing me (and even better, your wider audience) how you’re using your intellect. It might be a semi-“medieval” approach, but that’s my two cents, for what it’s worth.