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students, a librarian and their professor sit at a round table in the library classroom using their laptops for research

Curricular Comrades: Fostering New Teaching Approaches with Digital Humanities

By Heidi Gauder and Liz Grauel

In the summer of 2023, University of Dayton history professor David Darrow began thinking about “toying around” with his fall 2023 seminar. This course engages history majors in deep research through primary and secondary sources, requiring them to demonstrate their ability to conduct original research and structure arguments within historical contexts. The seminar traditionally concludes with a 25-page research paper and an in-class presentation.

Interested in offering students an alternative to PowerPoint slides and traditional research papers, Darrow approached the Libraries to explore student-accessible digital platforms for research presentations. 

In our faculty roles as humanities and digital pedagogy librarians, we worked with Darrow to brainstorm opportunities for learning and teaching with a digital tool.  

After discussing learning outcomes and the course’s typical projects, we considered:

  • How could digital platforms augment or replace elements of the projects?
  • How will changes to the assignment impact learning outcomes?
  • How will the use of a digital platform benefit students’ learning?

Then we explored digital platforms, taking into consideration factors such as:

  • How difficult is the tool to learn?
  • Can students access it easily and without cost?
  • Are there privacy concerns? 

Partners in Pedagogy

Within the hour of discussion, ArcGIS StoryMaps emerged as the platform of choice. By ditching the requisite PowerPoint presentation, switching from a written final paper to an online format and working with students to write for a general audience instead of an expert audience of one, Darrow found a new way to engage his students in meeting course goals.

As teaching partners, we led several class lectures in the library. Heidi worked with students to situate their topics in historiographical context and locate primary sources that would drive the narrative and illustrate their work. Liz and library faculty member Ben Daigle teamed to teach the class how to develop storyboards and introduced students to ArcGIS StoryMaps. Throughout the semester, the librarians remained engaged with Darrow and his students. 

Storied Results 

While students were no longer required to write a 25-page paper, writing for a general audience necessitates the same deep understanding used in traditional projects. By semester’s end, each student had researched, curated and published an interactive research narrative. Topics ranged from animals and industries to institutions. A sampling:

  • “Silent International Agents: An Examination of Horses in Russia, 1864-1924”
  • “The Story of Vodka in Russia”
  • “The Smolny Institute of Noble Maidens (Smol’nyi Institut Blagorodnykh Devits) of St. Petersburg”

Although access to the projects was initially restricted to Darrow and members of the class, the authors can choose to make them public in the future.

Community & ‘Comradery’

Together with Dr. Darrow we reflected: Did students achieve the desired learning objectives and outcomes using the new project format? In this case, yes — with a bonus: community. In the shift from paper to StoryMaps, Darrow adapted class time to include in-person research and writing sessions. Students engaged with one another and their professor in scholarly conversations, shifting the focus from assignment production to thinking historically as members of a community. Darrow referred to the experience as “comradery” — a nod to his background in Russian history and an outcome that students, educators and librarians champion.

Darrow’s experience illustrates how small changes can transform a classroom. 

See our digital storytelling and digital project pages if you are interested in learning more.

— In the University Libraries, Heidi Gauder is professor and coordinator of research & instruction/humanities & performing arts librarian. Liz Grauel is assistant professor & digital pedagogy librarian. Classroom photo by Surya Deip Reddy Kesaram ’25.

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