Humanities classes taking a digital approach
Ken McAllister, planning director of the UA School of Information, looks at graphics for the UA’s new school of information at the Transitional Office building on Friday. A group of researchers and professors at the school is helping students learn digitally.
Through the use of virtual programs and the development of an iSchool, the UA is taking a digital approach to teaching its students.
Ken McAllister, planning director of the school of information, explained that the iSchool is a collection of researchers and professors who are interested in finding out where information comes from and how it’s gathered, used and stored.
“Universities are disciplinary, problems are not, and the idea of a school of information is that, instead of focusing on discipline, we focus on problems and issues and questions and challenges in the world and we bring people together,” McAllister said.
McAllister added that digital humanities are an important component of the iSchool. The departments associated with the iSchool are working to develop different applications and ways to use the digital humanities to expand teaching and research.
Two professors are currently using technology to teach humanities through virtual worlds.
Bryan Carter, assistant professor of the Africana Studies Program, created Virtual Harlem from 1996 to 1997 and introduced the program to classroom settings earlier this year. Malcolm Compitello, professor and head of the department of Spanish and Portuguese, similarly created “Cibola,” a virtual hispanic world.
Both programs allow students to experience these worlds, their cultures and their languages. Compitello explained that the purpose of these virtual worlds is to recreate spaces where people can participate in social events, do research and learn about the relationship between real and virtual spaces.
“[Students] like [virtual programs] a lot,” Compitello said. “They are interesting and something different and it’s important for language learning because students lose a lot of their inhibitions about the language, and the instructors find that they are much more willing to participate in using Spanish and Portuguese creatively.”
The iSchool will be beneficial for students, both graduate and undergraduate, McAllister said. Students will have a number of faculty to work with and will have more resources available to them. McAllister also said that the iSchool would be a home where people could talk about the new challenges of the information age.
Compitello said that understanding technology is important for both students and faculty members.
“It’s really important for students today to get a sense of where culture production is going and the role of digital humanities in this process,” Compitello said. “It is important for us to understand technology, and digital culture is a way of connecting with students who are much more digitally connected than they would have been [in the past].”