II: Putting theory into practice in digital humanities online classrooms

Using the theoretical foundations outlined above, two online teaching scenarios — one in an undergraduate level classroom and the other for a graduate level course in an online program are outlined below. These scenarios have been developed using online pedagogical best practices and are grounded in the educational theories described above. While these scenarios can easily be adapted for either an in-person or online course in the digital humanities, extra care must be taken in the online teaching and learning environment to ensure student-instructor interaction is prioritized.

Scenario one: Promoting motivation and active learning in an undergraduate level online course

Course context

Individual learning occurs in a myriad of settings, reaching far beyond today's traditional classroom. An increasingly popular learning environment is the virtual classroom in which students and teachers work asynchronously. Such a class is DH 281: Introduction to the Digital Humanities, a requirement for all students pursuing a major in the digital humanities in a public, higher education institution in the southeastern region United States. Accessible via the Canvas learning management system, this 3 credit, 15-week semester-long course provides students with an introduction to basic concepts and methods used in the digital humanities. There is one online instructor and 25 students, typically in their freshman or sophomore year. Ages range from 19-year-old recent high school graduates to middle-aged adults.Technology skill levels are diverse and range from those who are highly confident to others with minimal technology experience. Though live, face-to-face interaction is not part of this course, active online engagement with the (1) course content through readings, videos, and practice exercises, the (2) instructor through a homework and project submission/feedback process, and (3) peers via the course discussion board all help to ensure that the triadic reciprocity that is the hallmark of social cognitive theory is present.

The instructor serves as facilitator, a guide who communicates and shares instructional materials via the Internet including video tutorials, required readings, online discussions, personal journaling, and assigned projects. Course projects include writing a grant proposal, designing and delivering an audio/ visual online presentation, and researching and creating a multimedia website related to a digital humanities topic of interest.

Audio/visual digital presentation assignment

To enhance student learning, many motivational processes are applied in this online classroom including modeling, reinforcement, shaping, and self-efficacy. Application of these processes in relation to the audio/ visual online presentation is described below. This two-week assignment, presented in the later part of the semester, requires students to create and publish an online presentation using either Voice Thread or Prezi, two freely available online tools. This assignment may seem daunting to those who have never used these tools before.To assuage anxiety and enhance students' motivated learning, the instructor models use of the online tools by creating video tutorials to demonstrate how to use each tool to create sample presentations. In the tutorials, students watch the instructor’s movements on the computer screen while listening to the instructor's audio narration. In the video, the instructor occasionally missteps, but with “think aloud” narration students can see and hear how the mistakes are corrected. Additionally, students are provided with models of student work from prior semesters — both high level and lower level (all “A” work) so students can realize that this assignment is manageable, regardless of incoming skill level.

By the half-way point of the course (approximately week 7 in a 15-week course),students have completed and received feedback and grades for all homework and project assignments submitted to date. Students have consistently been given positive reinforcement in the form of personalized, positive feedback, grades of As or B's, and encouragement for each assignment. Grades are typically high because a mastery approach is utilized such that, if student work is not optimal when first submitted, corrective feedback is provided with an option to resubmit. Throughout the two-week duration of this assignment, prompt instructor responses are provided for all student inquiries and encouragement is given in all communications. Based upon feedback from prior course evaluations, students find personal satisfaction in a job well done, good grades, and personalized positive feedback to be reinforcing, thus motivating them to learn and do well on future projects.

Shaping is an important motivational learning process utilized throughout the course.To assess incoming student knowledge about technology, each student was asked to complete a brief survey before the first day of class. Since technical proficiency varies from novice to proficient, the instructor creates and includes video tutorials demonstrating the use of technology for each assignment and provides exemplars of student work samples so students can visualize the desired outcomes for each unit. Based upon prior teaching experiences with this course, the instructor identified several reinforcements that include prompt, positive, assignment-specific feedback, opportunities to receive good grades, and the pride of completing a final product that can shared with prospective employers or used in their future classrooms. Written instruction is broken into small, easy-to-manage, sequential steps that students can follow while working on their projects. Since this is a two-week assignment, the instructor utilizes a student check-in process whereby students share their progress and questions part way through the assignment period, thus allowing the instructor to provide reinforcement and corrective feedback before the due date.

Building, maintaining, and attending to student self-efficacy is a key motivational learning process used in teaching this course. At the onset of the course, many students expressed concern about their abilities to manage course requirements. As they progress through the semester, students’ self-efficacy typically improves as they create projects of which they are proud while also receiving instructor praise and favorable grades. To further build self-efficacy, student work samples are provided (both high and lower level — all “A” work). Viewing other students’ work may help strengthen self-efficacy as students perceive that they can do as well or better than shown in the samples. Further, instructor modeling through video tutorials may help build self-efficacy as students realize that assignments are manageable. Students can select their topics, are encouraged to be creative, and are given a choice of which presentation program to use. Allowing students choice may promote self-efficacy as they select material that is familiar or of interest and a technology tool they feel is manageable. Persuasive encouragement is given to all students across all assignments.

In review, instructors play a critical role in motivating students to learn. By helping to promote self-efficacy through modeling desired behavior, reinforcing student performance, shaping responses to the desired outcomes, and strengthening students' confidence that they can be successful, instructors will create a rich learning environment in which students are motivated to learn and are able to achieve their desired outcomes.

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