Initially supported by a CUNY-wide Strategic Investment Initiative grant with continued funding from the Provost’s Office, the GC Digital Initiatives hosted three week-long, interdisciplinary Digital Research Institutes between January 2016 and February 2017, which provided 85 total workshop sessions for participants who ranged from first year master’s students to adjuncts, librarians to senior tenured faculty from across CUNY. The Digital Humanities Research Institute adapts the administrative, curricular, and pedagogical successes of previous efforts to meet the needs of humanities scholars and to provide participants with resources that make it easier and more cost-effective to offer similar institutes at their home institutions.
The Digital Research Institutes built on four years of successful workshops run by the GC Digital Fellows at the Graduate Center, informing core pedagogical principles derived from teaching technical skills to graduate student and faculty researchers. These principles include challenge-based learning, theory through practice, multimodal delivery, a pragmatic approach to computer literacy, and an emphasis on foundational rather than instrumental learning.
"Digital Humanities Research Institute: Expanding Communities of Practice," the national DHRI model, was funded through a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in the form of an Institutes for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities grant and with support from The Graduate Center's Provost's Office.
Read more about the GC Digital Research Institutes, upon which the DHRI model is built by reading first-person accounts from students and faculty across the City University of New York:
For four consecutive days in January, I participated in the Graduate Center’s Digital Research Bootcamp (#GCDRB), a week of intensive workshops on coding and data management for academic researchers at various levels in their careers. Workshop members included new graduate students, Ph.D. candidates, junior faculty and senior faculty.
For myself, as an Assistant Professor of English at City Tech, I was interested in learning more about the nuts and bolts of coding, in order to improve my pedagogy when teaching writing to students who are majoring in technical fields, and I wanted to get some ideas for building digital projects with my students.
There were varied levels of proficiency and varied interests represented in the room. Some were researchers who were already working with data and had advanced experience with programming. Others, like myself, came with more limited knowledge of programming languages. The Digital Research Bootcamp was the perfect place to be introduced to some of these concepts, such as the basics of command line and Python, HTML functions, and working with GitHub.
On the fourth day, as we made introductions about our research interests, I found myself networking with other scholars whose work overlaps with mine, including others who work on higher education, literature and African-American studies. There were students and professors there from a wide range of disciplines including literature, art history, theater, biology, history, sociology, the philosophy of science, and others.
It was immersive, it was intensive, it moved fast, but that’s what a bootcamp is supposed to be. It seemed to be designed to give us just a bit more than we can handle, but that was an opportunity to push ourselves and find out how much we could do. I left the workshop with new knowledge and new resources to further my digital education.
And that education will always be an open-ended process. As GC Professor Matt Gold told us near the end of the workshop, (I’m paraphrasing), you will never truly understand how to code the way you want to. Some of the most important skills you learn come from the community around you.
Over the course of those four days, working together and making plenty of mistakes, we learned some specific languages and codes, but we were also reminded that the most important components of digital education are Participation and Collaboration, and we experienced plenty of both during our time together.
I recently participated in the inaugural Digital Research Bootcamp (DRB) at the GC. “Bootcamp” is an apt description for the rigorous 4-day workshop; from 10am to 5pm, huddled in the Science Center, 35 participants lived and breathed the command line.
At the end of the DRB, a few professors and Digital Fellows offered parting words of advice. Professor Matt Gold said, “The most important thing about digital projects is very often not the technology, but the people.” I couldn’t agree more. The digital research community at the GC is a unique resource for practical, technical (and emotional) support. If you are interested learning how to manipulate, visualize or simply make better use of your data, I would highly recommend reaching out. You’ll find novices and experts who will concur: fear not, you can code.
When I learned about the GC Digital Research Institute (GCDRI) I had already considered learning computer programming, and I was eager to jump in and learn more about how my mostly qualitative research on European right-wing parties could grow with the help of digital research tools. Impatient as I am, I was hoping that I, by attending the Institute, would become a programming expert at once. Silly, one might think, but without any prior knowledge about programming and digital research, I didn’t know any better.
The reality of attending the GCDRI was quite different. Throughout the week, the attendees learned the basics of the command line, Git, Python, databases, machine learning, text analysis, and more from the GC Digital Research fellows. The Institute focuses on exposing the participants to different aspects of digital research and, though I am still sadly only a novice when it comes to programming, the Institute has broadened my understanding of what my research can accomplish. Rather than centering on one aspect of digital research, the breadth offered at the GCDRI allows all students to think about their research in new ways. I met people who studied linguistics, sociology, and chemistry, and everyone was able to find some aspects of the GCDRI curriculum which was interesting and applicable to their research.
The greatest impact the GCDRI had on me is that it exposed me to different aspects of digital research. I don’t have all the skills yet, and I am still trying to master the basics of Python, but I know what resources to take advantage of to get there. Throughout the semester all students at the GC have the opportunity to attend workshops, Python user groups, and Digital Fellows office hours to get help to develop their project step by step. The GCDRI is the perfect step-off point to utilize these services.
Going in with the mindset that I would become an expert programmer in a week was unrealistic, to say the least. Nonetheless, GCDRI was a crucial experience because it gave me the nudge out the door to begin developing my digital research skills. A bonus is that I now can make my computer say random things (in multiple languages).
Graduate school is a challenging experience, so when opportunities to learn additional skills come up, it can seem like a stretch. I would, however, recommend anyone who has the vaguest interest in digital research to attend the GC Digital Research Institute because it provides the base for continuing to develop one’s research in directions one might not have expected before. Additionally, it creates a community across disciplines, and you get exposure to things you will not experience in your regular academic program.
I am fortunate to have been accepted to the week-long GC Digital Research Institute. Following Lisa Rhody’s warm greetings, she encouraged participants to draw their research project and to share it with the group. What an icebreaker it was to share with such a diverse cohort representing a wide range of academic programs.
The Digital Fellows patiently guided us through a series of hands-on activities in successive workshops that are built on each other. . . .
The core and advanced workshops were intense, but something I looked forward to participating in each day. I gained a deeper appreciation of digital research methods that can support my research interest in population health. In addition, talking to colleagues outside of my discipline has expanded my perspective of looking at a shared topic of interest from a different angle or using a different lens.
. . .
Soon after I decided to stay in New York during the winter break, I saw the calls for The Graduate Center’s Digital Research Institute. Over the years of my studies, I have always wanted to participate in these trainings and was never able to. Perhaps a better way to word it is that I chose not to. I do research on digital technology and the internet, but I had not prioritized learning about ways of using digital technology and the internet in the last six years. Maintaining my international status by teaching, taking part in various research projects, and of course, conducting my own research led me to think that I could learn about all that fancy stuff about programming, using GitHub, creating databases, and analyzing data without relying on expensive software like SPSS after I graduate and get a job.
Little did I know that I have been thinking wrongly all these years. After attending the four-day intensive workshop, not only did I realize that I could have used all the available resources available to me as a graduate student, but also could have developed these skills further, step by step over the last five years. When I look back on the past five years, I cannot help but have deep regret for not realizing the very first thing I convey in my teaching: Learning is a process.
Almost all graduate students, perhaps even academics with secure positions in universities, suffer from the endless list of academic responsibilities. For many of us, watching a movie, meeting with friends, reading fiction, playing with a child, or going to the gym may trigger guilt for not writing a manuscript, proofreading an abstract, grading student papers, emailing research participants, or analyzing data instead. We are all trying to be protective of our time to finish our academic tasks. The four-day commitment may seem excessive to some. Some may ask the very necessary question of whether spending time in these introductory workshops would have immediate impact in your career or not. Yet, once you learn how to access all the necessary tools where you have firsthand experience practicing basic skills taught in these workshops, you will never want to go back to relying on expensive software and stress over restrictions.
During the four-day workshops, every time I asked a question that was related to my research, the instructors responded in a friendly manner, which motivated me to attend further trainings and meetings organized by the digital fellows. Although I regret not starting earlier, I am very happy that I am getting closer to finishing my time at the Graduate Center while thinking of possibilities that were laid out in front of me. My time at the Institute was definitely worth the excitement I am experiencing for the later steps ahead of me in my career.