Digital v. Digitized in the Classroom

Throughout the semester, we (and by we, I mean me constantly bringing it up in class) have spent a significant portion of time discussing the differences between digital and digitized (hello, Johanna Drucker!). This important distinction from our very first week of class is something that has stuck with me throughout the semester (hello, my many blog posts referencing Drucker’s article) not just because I think it is a foundational article in the field of Digital Art History, but also because I truly believe that it reveals a great deal about our own conception of what the “digital” is. By using the distinguishing question of is it truly digital or is it simply digitized, we are able to meditate on whether we are using the technology as a new mode of scholarship, or if we are simply using this new technology because it is available to us and it makes our lives easier. Just as using a database or publishing an article on a digital format doesn’t necessarily make the research a digital project, just like utilizing digital tools doesn’t make it a digital pedagogical shift.

But, unlike the very distinct difference between digital and digitized for academic research, I think that there needs to be a bit more nuance, or even flexibility, in the differentiation between digital and digitized. I feel this way, mostly, because the advent or including digital technologies in a classroom can affect a learning objective or one of the outcomes of the course.

Smarthistory, from the Khan Academy, is a great resource for introductory level classes in their discussion of art. In the class I TA for, I showed this example of a formal analysis as an introduction to the topic in our own class.

using digital technologies can create engaging classroom settings. This past week, my recitation group started a collaborative Google Doc for their final exam so that they can have a place to study, ask questions, and synthesize some of the main ideas or themes from that week. This didn’t affect a learning objective or create a new avenue of research, but it did offer a new opportunity for a mode of study, communication, and collaboration for the students.

In our class discussion this week, we looked at two distinctive pedagogy examples that specifically integrate digital technologies in their classroom. Additionally, I think that they are interesting examples to use as points of comparison because each had a similar aim: to critique the canon of Western Art History.

The first example that we looked at was from Duke University:

In this article, Art Historian Caroline Bruzelius and Digital Humanities Specialist Hannah Jacobs discussed their teaching of an introductory level art history survey course with the use of an interactive, mapping syllabus. Not only would the syllabus show the chronological space of the time of their course, but it would also show the chronology of the art that they were studying in the class.

Screenshot of the “Living Syllabus.” To view the full site, click here

This course approach is really interesting to me because the students are still exposed to the traditional canon of art, but already within these introductory discussions, they are exposed to the issues inherently built into this canon. Bruzelius and Jacobs discuss them as such:

Although we used the canonical objects illustrated in the standard introductory textbooks, we approached these places, objects, and the raw materials of which those objects were made as points of departure for a semester-long meditation on the lives (and trajectories) of things. As a result, we practiced visualizing narratives about:
● Why did certain works of art (and not others) “make it” into the canon, an why are these almost always objects from the major museums of America and European capitals: the Louvre, the British Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example?
● What is the significance of the materials from which works of art were made?
● Why do we find certain types of objects in certain types of places (for example, Egyptian obelisks in Rome, Paris, and London)?
● How were these or other objects transported, and what part did they play in networks of exchange?
● What are the dynamic relationships between objects and spaces?
● What were the systems of exchange—what were valuable materials (ivory, lapis, and gold, for example) traded for, and why?

Bruzelius & Jacobs, “The Living Syllabus,” p. 6

For art history majors, many professors will expect them to be aware of and know the objects that make up the canon of art history, despite how problematic and filled with white European male artists it is. Introducing the topic in this way, where the class is built around the concept that makes you question not only why certain art objects and periods are prioritized, but also gets you to think about how and why the Louvre has the works that it does is a unique foundation to have the study of art history. Moreover, the course includes days in which the students are able to learn, hands on, some of the digital technologies that are being employed in the world of digital art history.

In a contrasting example, Prof. Nancy Ross at Dixie State University decided to completely disregard the typical survey class and instead teach an introductory course on women artists of the twentieth century. During this class, students were also asked to research a women artist, particularly their connections with one another. In doing this, they were able to make a complex network of women artists.

The network analysis that Dr. Ross’s students made

Upon first reading the article which was published in 2013, my first thought was, wow, I really wish that they had the tools that we learned this semester to create their visualizations because it would be much more dynamic (and probably easier!).

After reading the article, it was really fulfilling to hear about how Ross felt as if her students were much more engaged in the course material not only because they were interested in it, but also because they felt as if they were making contributions to actual research on the topic. It is extremely easy to rely upon survey texts and secondary resources when teaching, especially when teaching large introductory courses, but the result of this is that many younger students believe that scholarship is finite and complete. Ross remarked that, while creating the data for the visual network, students were able to clearly see the gender biases in many of the traditional art history texts and also the different in the way male and female artists were treated in these texts. Allowing them to actually participate in the creation of the scholarship (similar to what I talked about earlier in a blog post about collaboratively creating Google Maps) usually leads to a greater interest about the project and the end results then what a paper assignment may produce.


Pinterest. Not something you would really expect to see in a post about digital pedagogy, right? Well, just like you might not think of the ability of Google Maps to be used in the classroom (or museum or other cultural heritage institution), Pinterest might surprise you! One way we talked about it in class was the creation of a collaborative “site” where each student could make their own exhibit- this provides a much more collaborative, as well as perhaps easier, alternative than to say, Omeka.

My experience with Pinterest has mostly been in museum education internships. As most art history or history students (or perhaps only female students, but I will not devolve into a gender discussion in this blog post) may relate, the idea of education in some way, shape, or form usually arises as a possible idea as a career path. For me, this resulted in two education internships: one at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, VT and one at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA (the MFA internship was intended to be focused on adult education programing, but children’s activities need a lot more hands to help clean up after). In both of these internships, I relied heavily on Pinterest to use as inspiration and ideas to create activities, crafts, and educational tools. This is a really great opportunity for institutions with lower budgets to find already pre-made lesson plans.

Example of a useful “user” on Pinterest:

One Reply to “Digital v. Digitized in the Classroom”

  1. Veronica, I am so glad that you were able to discuss Joanna Drucker one more time before the end of the semester! I agree that the distinction between digital and digitized is an important distinction. The difference between the two is, I think, is one of the main hurdles that keeps art historians from embracing digital art history projects. Many art historians look at something which would fall into the category of “digitized,” and think it is interesting, but not relevatory, and therefore not work the time and effort to learn a new software program or technology. Your point about using a database or publishing an article on a digital format not being a “digital” project is well-taken, but unfortunately, that is what a large proportion of art historians believe, which is part of the problem. Your statement about how including digital technologies in a classroom setting can affect a learning objective or one of the outcomes of the course is intriguing. I completely agree that using digital technology in a classroom is a great way to engage the students. I also think that it is a great way to engage different types of learners. As a visual learner, I know that I retain information much better when it is presented in a visual format. You point out that using digital technology enabled the students to not only learn about the canon of art history, but also to think about how and why the Louvre has the works that it does is excellent, as is your statement about it being a more active, hands on way to learn the information. I think digital technology is a great way to engage students, and your point about them feeling that they are making a contribution to the field of art history is a significant one. Student engagement is crucial to learning, as well as to critical thinking. The project you discuss, that of Professor Nancy Ross at Dixie State University is a good example. Her students researched a woman artist, and then created a network to show how these artists interacted or intersected with one another. This enabled the students to feel that they were making a contribution to the field of art history, rather than just memorizing dates and facts. This project also enabled the students to clearly see the gender bias that exists in many art history textbooks. A well-crafted digital technology product can not only engage students more in the course material, it provides a route to critical thinking, which is such an important skill in research, but also in life as well. And this is the reason that art historians who are also educators should find some area of digital technology they can participate in with their students. It truly can make a subject ‘come alive’ for students, and get them into a role as an active participant in their own learning process. It also makes them feel that what they are doing matters, and gives them a sense of ownership to their work. Thank you for your perspective, Veronica! As always, another great post that helped me to view digital technology from a different perspective.

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