Welcome to our continuing series of conversations with Rutgers Camden faculty on teaching and learning. This month, TMAC sat down with James Brown, Jr., Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Digital Studies Center, to discuss his plans for the center as they relate to teaching.
TMAC: We speak for the whole campus in expressing excitement about a new Digital Studies Center taking root at Rutgers-Camden. In addition to being a hub for research and innovation, what can you tell us about the DSC as a site for teaching?
James: The Digital Studies Center’s mission statement was written before I arrived, but it’s one of the main reasons I was so interested in coming to Rutgers-Camden. It explicitly mentions teaching and education, meaning that the DSC has always been envisioned as a place where digital research and pedagogy could be linked together. That’s one of the most exciting things about the DSC to me.
TMAC: And how does the Digital Studies Center advance its pedagogical mission?
James: The Digital Humanities Certificate is 18 credits, and it allows students to take courses from across the University. In addition, students take a capstone seminar in which they work on a Digital Humanities project of some sort. This could be anything from a videogame (incidentally, our first DH Certificate student will be doing just this in the spring) to an extended piece of writing that examines some digital technology from a humanistic perspective. Students in the certificate program will also be required to teach a workshop on some component of their research. If they used a digital tool, they’ll teach a workshop on that, and if they used a specific theoretical approach that allowed them to study digital technology in a novel way, the workshop could address that approach. Workshops will be open to students and faculty, and we think this will offer students a great opportunity to both showcase and solidify what they’ve learned. As any teacher knows, the best way to really get to understand something is to teach it.
TMAC: That’s absolutely true. So how might a teacher work with the Digital Studies Center to advance his or her scholarship and teaching?
James: We’re also developing a Digital Studies Fellows program in which scholars from both within and outside of Rutgers-Camden will apply to simultaneously teach for the certificate program and conduct research at the DSC. Part of the application process for that program will involve pitching a brand new course for the certificate, and we’re hoping to attract scholars who are willing to link their digital research with their classroom practices. A scholar interested in computational analysis of historical texts could teach those computational methods to undergraduates, or someone interested in studying the links between physical computing and urban studies might teach students how to create objects that can record and track data in Camden. These are just a couple of fictional examples, but they get at the kernel of what we hope the fellows program will be: an invitation to experiment in the areas of both research and teaching.
TMAC: The Digital Studies Center celebrated its opening this week. What other exciting events can we look forward to?
James: We’re planning a number of workshops for the spring that we hope will address two different ways of thinking of digital pedagogy. The first would be a conceptual angle, one that might initially have little to do with specific digital technologies and more to do with workshopping learning outcomes or goals for an assignment. This kind of approach starts with an idea and then seeks out the technology that best helps an instructor execute that idea. Of course, this kind of approach always has to be paired with actual tools, and we want to provide space for teachers and students to just tinker with a new technology. So, we’re hoping to trigger innovation from both angles, in terms of concept and in terms of tool.
We’ll have a workshop on the Twine platform, which students are using in my “Literature and Videogames” class this semester. I’ve been working with a teaching assistant, Michael Russo, to teach students how to use Twine to create text-based games, and the platform is a really nice fit because it allows students who might not have written any code before to learn how to do things like create and track variables or construct narrative experiences that shift depending on an interactor’s choices. We’re also planning a digital video workshop. Given that our Associate Director, Robert Emmons, is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, this is a no-brainer. But beyond his skill at building narrative with video, Robert also brings a background in visual methodologies to the table. So, it won’t just be a “how to” workshop–it will also be one that addresses how the visual allows us to ask an answer different kinds of questions.
TMAC: It sounds like the Digital Studies Center is poised to have a transformational effect at Rutgers Camden (and beyond). We could not be more thrilled for you and for us. Good luck!