Digital humanities

Maintained by: David J. Birnbaum ( [Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 Unported License] Last modified: 2021-01-18T19:30:31+0000

Studying digital humanities via Zoom: Spring 2021 (2214)


As you have likely already read on your schedule of courses or in our online Course description, our Computational methods in the humanities course will be conducted entirely online in the Spring 2021 semester. This format poses some challenges for both students and instructors, but last spring our course was able to make the transition to online instruction relatively smoothly, and the purpose of this page is to offer some suggestions about effective learning with Zoom in this particular course.

The relationship of homework to class meetings

Coding homework in our course is designed to help you learn how to understand, approach, and solve coding tasks you have never seen before, and, in that way, to develop your skill in doing what professional coders do every day: thinking up, researching, implementing, and trouble-shooting new solutions to new problems. We implement this approach to learning through what has come to be called a flipped classroom. In a traditional classroom, the instructor presents new material first, and students then practice what they have been told or what they have read in homework. That type of instruction may be effective when the primary outcome goal is learning a collection of facts that your instructor can impart to you, but coding is less about learning facts than about learning to develop original strategies and methods to deal with specific tasks. That type of learning happens primarily through working out your own solutions in homework, after which class time will typically be spent reviewing and trouble-shooting approaches to the homework tasks. The point of that review is not just to tell you the answer, but to work through, step by step, how you might go about developing a solution. These demonstrations and discussions are a very important part of the process of acquiring the ability to conceptualize and implement your own solutions to coding tasks, that is, of learning how to reach beyond what you already know to solve new coding challenges.

When we have taught this course in a traditional classroom setting, students have often found it helpful to type along on their personal machines while the instructor steps through the process of developing a solution to a coding task from the most recent homework. In a face-to-face classroom, this type of following along allows students to experiment and practice in a setting where they can easily ask for help from a neighbor or an instructor. In our online environment, however, being able to follow the instructor’s presentation and discussion while simultaneously typing along may become challenging for a variety of reasons.

Do not despair! Among other things, the instructors will post any code that they develop in class to our course web site (, so you will have access to the correct, working, finished code after the session without having to copy it all in real time. Recalling that the primary learning goal involves not so much winding up with code that works as learning how to make your own way toward developing working code, your main focus in class should be on remaining engaged and following the development as it unfolds, step by step, on the instructor’s shared screen. If you are able to type your own code as that happens, so much the better, but you will learn the most by prioritizing paying full attention to how your instructor closes in on a working solution. That is, the best way to be develop your skills as a coder is not typing what the instructor types, but being an active, engaged listener.


For reasons described above, coding along with the instructor is not required or expected, and it should not be your highest priority. With that said, if you are able to maintain your focus on the instructor’s development process while simultaneously typing along and writing your own code, you are welcome to do that, and below are a few suggestions for ways to continue engaging with and absorbing the material in an online environment. It may take some trial and error to find a system that works for you, and that is okay! These are just a few ideas you can try to implement which might help you engage with the material:

Remember that in order to avoid inhibiting questions and discussion, class meetings on Zoom will not be recorded, so it is most important to follow along and be present and focused during the session. Although the instructor may do most of the talking, your presence should not be passive; use class time to participate actively by asking questions in the Zoom chat (the instructional team will monitor the chat and respond quickly), and active engagement with the session will leave you with a stronger grasp of the material when you need to develop your own solutions to coding tasks. Not only will all code developed in class be made available after the end of the session, but all six instructors have regular scheduled office hours (see our online Course description), and we are also available by appointment as a resource.

Please reach out to an instructor at any point if you need help with the material or with determining a method that will work for you. We want to see you succeed!