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Students and scholars in the humanities generally rely on prefabricated tools to guide and instruct their learning and research. They are reluctant to engage with computers and technology through coding. This remains a major distinction between the humanities and the sciences. The sciences design, create and maintain their own relevant digital research enviornments and tools, while the humanities make do with prefabricated, and often inappropriate, tools.

At the moment, there are no broadly available academic programming courses aimed at humanities scholars. For various reasons, however, coding skills are needed now more than ever, and even more so in the future:

  1. Knowledge of programming helps students and researchers to understand the various technologically mediated objects that they are studying.

  2. Developing custom tools, rather than using ready-made ones, can improve the actual practice of humanities research as well as (the quantity and quality) of its output.

  3. There is an ever-growing demand in the public and private sector for academics who can read and write code.

Online First


Online academic education is currently mainly offered in the form of Massive Open Online Courses. There is a reasonable fear, however, that the lack of individual feedback and direct interaction in those MOOC will lead to a decay of quality of education and scholarship.

how we avoid MOOC problems

We believe, that a different, more creative use of online teaching and learning environments can actually help us educate both larger numbers of students as well as give more attention to the individual student. We call this approach "online first". It combines an interactive, dynamic teaching and learning environment with large Q&A sessions and smaller peer-feedback groups.

what Online First Courses need

Online First Courses contain the following elements:

  • Online reading material and exercises with behaviour-driven feedback
  • Collaborative assignments (working out online exercises together)
  • Peer-feedback in small groups, via online platform and offline meetings (Not Just Online)
  • Large Q&A sessions where students get direct feedback from teachers (requires calendar-based schedules, although course could still be open outside the schedule for DIY learning)
  • Detailed individual feedback (from teachers? from online learning environment?)
  • Detailed metrics of the course to monitor progress of individual students and groups of students (to indicate where they encounter problems).

What most MOOCs have

MOOCs open up access to education for large numbers of students via the Web, while keeping the amount of work for the teacher manageable. MOOCs across the world often contain the following aspects:

  • Online enrolment, allowing students across the world to participate
  • Students engage with course material on an interactive, collaborative online platform.
  • Online interaction with material and other students allows tracking of progress and problems

What most MOOCs don't have

Some important aspects for Online First Courses that most MOOCs lack are:

  • Broadcast MOOCs rely on automated feedback but lack peer-feedback and teacher feedback
  • Connectivist MOOCs rely on peer-feedback but lack teacher feedback
  • Detailed personalised feedback (often limited to specific feedback on most common mistakes)

Problems with most MOOCs

Many MOOCs suffer from the following problems:

  • Only a small fraction of enrolled students are active
  • MOOCs are often in an uninspiring format of short video lectures and online quizzes
  • Lack of serious pedagogy

Group Projects

Programming offers opportunities for new kinds of collaborative work. Larger research projects no longer need to be divided into several topics or objects, but people can divide labor through different tasks and skill sets, using tools developed by humanities scholars for humanities scholarship. The various research techniques that can be explored programmatically include:

  • parsing

  • visualization

  • mapping

  • interfacing

  • searching

  • computation

  • translation

  • linking

This kind of large scale collaborative projects will make the humanities more attractive for external funding.


The kind of humanities teaching that we propose will give the UvA Humanities Faculty a unique profile, which will not only lead to innovative forms of humanities research but also make our students more employable. It will also provide a test-bed for innovative new forms of on-line learning developed specifically for the needs of humanities teaching and learning. The proposed course, with its corresponding learning and teaching environment, is the first step in achieving this vision.

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