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Digital Pedagogy: Texts, Stories, Essays


Complex textual edition initiatives undertaken by large research institutions that demand enormous resources, including coding knowledge, are often representative of Digital Humanities work. Though many DH methodology classes require students to learn basic textual encoding following the standards developed by the TEI (or Textual Encoding Initiative) consortium, there are many smaller-scale ways to approach the creation or manipulation of a text using digital tools. Because there are so many possibilities in addition to textual editing, such as adding visual/aural content to a traditional essay (Multimodal Long form Essay), telling a story in a visual format (Digital Storytelling), and Gamifying a text, I will outline some of them rather than present a sample assignment for this category. Since scholars continue to debate the relevance of and ability to maintain large-scale digital editions of texts that have many print corollaries, some may question the purpose of assigning students to contribute to these initiatives or create their own multi-modal texts. As with other digital assignments, developing and enhancing digital literacy, working in collaborative modes to build interpersonal and digital communities, and critical thinking in and facility with digital or multiple modes are objectives that often appear in text-based assignments with a digital component. Multimodal work can also address accessibility issues.


For big textual editing projects and any collaborative digital work that involves student researchers, the Student Collaborators’ Bill of Rights developed at UCLA is a useful model.


Collaborative Writing

Collaborative Online Writing Environments can be constructed with:

·       Google Docs

·       Wordpress

·       Wikispaces

·       SocialBook





Textual Editing and Distant Reading

Beginners can create small-scale textual editing projects, such as a digital edition of a poem, (see Shawna Ross's assignment here), and post on a course LMS, a course website, or a forum like Collaborating on an existing digital edition is another possibility. Many of the large textual editing projects housed at research universities, research libraries, or non-profit organizations are actually partnerships that embrace the spirit of collaborative research and community building. For example, The Early Modern Map of London, housed at the University of Victoria, welcomes partnerships with classes at smaller institutions that contribute to various portions of the whole and has a very clear protocol and review system in place. The Victorian Women Writers Project at Indiana University is another example of a large digital project that seeks contributions from other institutions. The site uses both audio and written texts, offering examples of slaves’ experiences in their own words and step-by-step instructions for contributing. It is not housed at a university, but this blog post in the Chronicle of Higher Education explains more about its inception and provenance.


For Intermediate to Advanced users, other common text-based assignments are data visualization and distant reading assignments. Both apply quantitative models to the understanding of literature by allowing us to visualize language as data (frequency of word use, sentence structure, etc.) or gain another, larger scale perspective on literary history by quantifying a large corpus of work rather than reading one text closely. If you’ve ever cut and pasted the Project Gutenberg text of a novel into Wordle to create a Word Cloud, or asked students to list the first five words that come to mind about a particular topic and then plugged those into Worlde to create a Word Cloud, you’ve used data visualization to make a point about the strength of various perceptions or repetition of certain words. Kathryn Schulz’s NewYork Times Book Review piece on distant reading offers a good quick introduction to the concept. Here’s a sample distant reading assignment by George Williams and a data visualization assignment by Shawna Ross.

Tools that can be used for these types of assignments include:

·      Hathi Trust’s Bookworm Tool, which can search the 4.6M public domain texts available from HathiTrust Digital Library for word frequency over time.

·      Google Books has a similar tool, Ngram Viewer. Here is a link to Katherine Harris’s Assignment using the NGram Viewer

·      Voyant, “a web-based reading and analysis environment for digital texts,” allows you to search and track word frequency in a text to create word clouds, graphs, and more.

·      Tapor 2.0 is a gateway created at the University of Alberta for textual analysis tools.

·      Textexture allows you to visualize any text as a network.

·      Juxta editions is “a professional editing suite for the creation of digital scholarly editions.”

Annotating and Using Sound and Video

There are many tools to help with annotation of text, including Video Annotation Tools for written texts. As a beginner, I created an annotation assignment for study-abroad students in a hybrid course to prepare for our time in country. They were divided into small groups and each group was given one Robert Burns poem to annotate. We used our LMS to post the finished projects with varying degrees of success. Formatting was often difficult, and since I allowed students to do footnote, endnote, or in-line annotations and glosses as they saw fit, some texts were more visually appealing and readable than others. A digital edition of a poem, annotated, using purpose-built software can yield more readable results if production value is a key objective for you.

Annotation tools include:


Sound and Video  files can also be used to annotate text. They can serve as the primary text that students annotate or analyze, or they can become the text itself. Video annotation, such as attaching video files with American Sign Language translations to enable the sighted deaf to understand text and sound, is increasingly common. Digital Storytelling, which is essentially telling a story using visual digital tools, is another way to have students relate narratives of all kinds. Writing with sound is something those of us who work primarily with printed texts often overlook, but multimodal assignments that make use of databases such as the British Library’s sound archive (includes accents, dialects, music, drama, literature, oral history, and environmental sounds) are possible, and certainly those who work in music and modern languages can appreciate the ways in which sound files can be integral to student work. Sound cloud allows users to comment on recordings and thus provides an annotation tool for those who are accustomed to working with sound but not text. Here is an example of a digital project that combines song, text, and historical inquiry: the Restoration Theatre Song Archive at the University of Monash. Katherine Harris has her students record a recitation of a literary text.

Tools and resources for visual  and sound include:

Multimodal Texts

Digital tools can be used to create all kinds of hybrid or multimodal texts. Examples include student-produced Commonplace Books, analogous to those created in the early modern era, created with popular pin board or blog platforms such as Pinterest or Tumblr. Here’s a way to use database collections of archival or primary textual material to get your students to come up with original research. Many instructors assign collaborative work for one portion of the grade with a final outcome of a web post, some sort of multi-modal text, and/or an in-class presentation and then have students write individual essays to reflect on or analyze the experience. 

Tools for publishing/E-books include:

·       Adobe InDesign:

·       Calibre: (Free, open-source)

·       Anthologize: “free, open-source, WordPress-based platform for publishing”

Gamifying a Text

One more way to manipulate texts is to turn them into games or to “Gamify” a Text. Gamification encourages creativity, risk taking, and critical decision making. Anastasia Salter argues that games are a “a great way to add experiential and playful learning to the humanities classroom” in the description of her workshop on using games in the classroom. Salter has written a ProfHacker post here creating a game with Twine Audio to address accessibility issues for low-vision users. Katherine Harris teaches an English class devoted entirely to gaming and narrative. The Ivanhoe project, created at the University of Virginia, is a role playing game that was designed to encourage critical interpretation based on relational thinking and can be used with any shared text.

Some tools for text gamification include:

Visual Storytelling Assignment