TITLE: Not Content With Content AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: March 12, 2014 3:55 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Last week, the Chronicle of Higher Ed ran an article on a new joint major at Stanford combining computer science and the humanities.
[Students] might compose music or write a short story and translate those works, through code, into something they can share on the web. "For students it seems perfectly natural to have an interest in coding," [the program's director] said. "In one sense these fields might feel like they're far apart, but they're getting closer and closer."
The program works in both directions, by also engaging CS students in the societal issues created by ubiquitous networks and computing power. We are doing something similar at my university. A few years ago, several departments began to collaborate on a multidisciplinary program called Interactive Digital Studies which went live in 2012. In the IDS program, students complete a common core of courses from the Communication Studies department and then take "bundles" of coursework involving digital technology from at least two different disciplines. These areas of emphasis enable students to explore the interaction of computing with various topics in media, the humanities, and culture. Like Stanford's new major, most of the coursework is designed to work at the intersection of disciplines, rather than pursuing disciplines independently, "in parallel". The initial version of the computation bundle consists of an odd mix of application tools and opportunities to write programs. Now that the program is in place, we are finding that students and faculty alike desire more depth of understanding about programming and development. We are in the process of re-designing the bundle to prepare students to work in a world where so many ideas become web sites or apps, and in which data analytics plays an important role in understanding what people do. Both our IDS program and Stanford's new major focus on something that we are seeing increasingly at universities these days: the intersections of digital technology and other disciplines, in particular the humanities. Computational tools make it possible for everyone to create more kinds of things, but only if people learn how to use new tools and think about their work in new ways. Consider this passage by Jim O'Loughlin, a UNI English professor, from a recent position statement on the the "digital turn" of the humanities:
We are increasingly unlikely to find writers who only provide content when the tools for photography, videography and digital design can all be found on our laptops or even on our phones. It is not simply that writers will need to do more. Writers will want to do more, because with a modest amount of effort they can be their own designers, photographers, publishers or even programmers.
Writers don't have to settle for producing "content" and then relying heavily on others to help bring the content to an audience. New tools enable writers to take greater control of putting their ideas before an audience. But...
... only if we [writers] are willing to think seriously not only about our ideas but about what tools we can use to bring our ideas to an audience.
More tools are within the reach of more people now than ever before. Computing makes that possible, not only for writers, but also for musicians and teachers and social scientists. Going further, computer programming makes it possible to modify existing tools and to create new tools when the old ones are not sufficient. Writers, musicians, teachers, and social scientists may not want to program at that level, but they can participate in the process. The critical link is preparation. This digital turn empowers only those who are prepared to think in new ways and to wield a new set of tools. Programs like our IDS major and Stanford's new joint major are among the many efforts hoping to spread the opportunities available now to a larger and more diverse set of people. -----