From Brick to Click, Overnight

Draft version updated, 5 March (1945, GMT +4) I will update this as I think more. The situation seemed to call for publishing it in draft form as I write it.

This semester all of the instruction in all of the institutions of higher education in my country of residence has undergone rapid conversion to online delivery. School and university closures were declared necessary by the MoE for combatting the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

I have been teaching with an LMS and online presence for many years, and with student work in digital humanities (DH) done in web hosting for six. It may seem counter-intuitive that teaching digital humanities online would be difficult, but in fact, an undergrad DH class in a liberal arts (LA) environment isn’t a MOOC (Cordell). In a classroom where there is already such intense transmedial engagement with technology, we depend a lot on brick-and-mortar infrastructures (projectors/large screens, standalone and web-based platforms, seating configurations, the ability to move around the room) as well as the small classroom environment supporting both discussion and technical problem solving. The immediate switch to a synchronous online course raised a lot of issues in my mind. I had to think quickly what could be done to make the shift, literally overnight. I have my last face2face course today, for at least one month. My course is Reading Like a Computer, CDAD UH-1024Q at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Luckily the students in the class have web hosting set up and they are somewhat comfortable in it for course materials and written work (we also use Drive and an NYU-wide LMS). The suggestions for creating a rapport with students and setting up expectations that we find in the literature about online teaching are not as crucial since as I am writing this we have arrived at midterm. What follows are some ideas that I have been gleaning from the literature about online delivery and some thoughts on how the delivery of a transmedial undergrad DH class can be adapted to online environments, both quickly and meaningfully.

Right now my ideas are in the form of questions:

How can the combination of Zoom (the video conferencing built into the LMS), web hosting and other media work together to “help mimic the collaborative environment” of the classroom (Bidaisee)? How will we manage the Zoom calls so that there is direct interaction between myself and students, as well as between them? We already have computational notebooks published, but how and when will I share my screen most effectively so that we can go through the exercises as I do in face to face? How will we handle the inevitable debugging of open source software like R?

What are some strategies for using the chat function to the best effect? For taking notes that could be annotated by the instructor and posted in Drive ? For writing down key words?

How in a moment of “social distancing” can students be encouraged to “partner up” to review the material? (Goldberg) to complete group exercises? What is the “architecture of engagement” (McKay) required to transition abruptly to synchronous video classes (cognitive/instructor/social presence)?

If I have a course site already, do I really need to pull the content into NYU Classes? I feel that I will need the space of the course WordPress site even more to post notes and key concepts.

Some reading I found (with more to come):

Cordell, R. 2016. 36. How Not to Teach Digital Humanities. In Gold, M. and Klein, L. (Eds.), Debates in Digital Humanities 2016. University of Minnesota Press.

Research Instructional Technology Services NYU Shanghai. 2002 “Digital Teaching Toolkit”

Spiro, L. 2012. 14. Opening up Digital Humanities Education. In Hirsch, B. D. (Ed.), Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles and Politics. Open Book Publishers. Retrieved from

2 replies to “From Brick to Click, Overnight”

  1. I thought about this myself for some time and I have three points which might be applicable:

    First, about screen sharing. If you have to do it on screen anyway, I think it would be best to prepare some (video) snippets with exercise prep and instructions and set a time frame for their completion. That way, everybody can do it in their own time, rewind parts if needed, and your hands are free to virtually descend on whomever needs help.

    Second, partnering up. I don’t know if this is specifically serves you’re goals, but platforms like Github with the git version control as backbone are set up to allow remote collaborative work, and it provides mechanisms to check who did what when and if it sticks together correctly in the end. It is incredibly frustrating to get into, but it is an important life skill to learn nowadays.

    Third, the chat function. I don’t know what you have to work with. Personally, I think it would be best to emulate a platform like Reddit, where every post is somewhat fixed and citable. It is also customary to split up topics into subreddits and general discussions. I would also encourage the usage of clearly denoted keywords (i.e., #hashtags) for later evaluation.

    Thank you for bringing this up, even if you have to. I think this is a discussion we should be having now in less afflicted places, especially also going forward beyond current circumstances. Not only could it happen here, it is happening here.

    All the best,


    1. Thanks for these thoughtful remarks, Victor. I got the same suggestion as your #1 from the Center for Teaching and Learning tutorial today and I will do small snippets, followed by time to complete and then open synchronous discussion and chat. For #2 and #3, there can be no face to face interactions, but I will most likely not use an open #reddit like environment, but revert to some built in functionality in our LMS (I have resisted it for so long!)

      Going back to a conversation that we had a while back, I am thinking about changing some of the assignments in the direction of those “something we want every DH student to be able to do” program objectives. I was thinking that everyone can produce a short You Tube-style video tutorial about their corpus and some of the things they have learned to do with it. Maybe you can remind me of some of the other things we mentioned in passing.

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