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Digital Humanities Librarian Krista White is PI for $10,000 Rutgers–Newark Seed Grant

August 1, 2017
Krista White

Krista White, digital humanities librarian at John Cotton Dana Library, has been awarded a $10,000 Rutgers–Newark Chancellor’s Seed Grant for her proposal of the Digital Storytelling as 21st-Century Pedagogy (DS21P) course suite.

Krista White, digital humanities librarian at John Cotton Dana Library, has been awarded a $10,000 Rutgers–Newark Chancellor’s Seed Grant for her proposal of the Digital Storytelling as 21st-Century Pedagogy (DS21P) course suite. Drawing on the expertise of partners across the university and the city of Newark, these courses will improve students’ critical thinking and information literacy skills while providing them with a broader perspective on the city and its disparate communities.

Slated to begin in the spring semester of the 2018 academic year, DS21P will consist of three undergraduate courses designed by instructors in different disciplines but connected by the concept of digital storytelling—using multimedia authoring tools to produce scholarship through new media such as web comics, blogs, digital exhibits, and podcasts. As primary source material for their projects, students will turn to oral histories from Rutgers University—the Kruger-Scott African American Oral History Collection, the Rutgers–Newark in the 1960s and 1970s Oral History Collection, the Queer Newark Oral History Project, and the Jazz Oral History Project—in addition to the Newark Public Library’s Latino Oral History Collection.

Working with these collections will encourage students to reflect on the experiences of real Newarkers and relate those experiences to their own lives through the media they create—an especially valuable undertaking given many Rutgers–Newark students are natives of the city themselves. According to White, this approach sets the foundation for the publicly engaged scholarship that has become a hallmark of the Rutgers–Newark experience.

“One of the things that I really love about working at Rutgers–Newark is the focus on community engagement,” she said. “There is so much in Newark that people don’t know about—so much history, so much culture. I think it’s really important that the students who come here are aware of what the heritage of the city is and see themselves, their neighbors, and their families reflected in that culture.”

Students will be able to take DS21P courses either as stand-alone modules or as a suite in which they can develop a single project over several semesters. “This opportunity to engage in sustained, independent research is one not typically made available to undergraduates, especially those in the humanities,” White said.

The first course in the suite, “Visualizing Oral Histories: Comics and Graphic Novels,” is supported by the Seed Grant funding. Offered by the Department of English, this class will include a lecture component with assistant professor Patricia Akhimie as well as a digital humanities lab component taught by White. In the lecture, students will read and discuss major comics and graphic novels, using the latest criticism and visits to the Newark Museum and Newark Public Library to deepen their understanding of the genre. The digital humanities component will implement the concepts learned in class by asking students to interpret stories from the oral history collections in their own digital comics, which will be collected and made available to the public in an online anthology.

“I love the idea of offering students the opportunity to do more hands-on creation of comics while improving digital literacy,” said Akhimie. “This is a vital skill for work and for life, and I hope students will come away from the class with a sense of the power they have to shape and disseminate knowledge through digital media.”

“Researching Writing on Oral Narratives in the Digital Age,” the second course, will be taught by John Aveni of the Rutgers–Newark Writing Program with information literacy instruction provided by White. In this writing-intensive course, students will develop a formal research paper contextualizing an oral history within an existing scholarly discourse and blog about their process as they work. They will design digital presentations as capstone projects, and the best papers will be showcased in an online journal.

The final course in the series, titled “Urban History through Oral History,” is being developed for the Federated Department of History by Katie Singer, who recently earned her doctorate in the American Studies Program at Rutgers–Newark. In this course, students will explore how history is created through narratives by researching, writing, and creating podcasts about oral histories. The final project will ask students to use a family history to tell the larger story of a particular geographical or social location. White will instruct students on using library and archives resources while Molly Graham, associate director of the Rutgers Oral History Archives, will lead them in a series of podcast workshops.

The DS21P courses will share more than just a theme, however. With White’s assistance, instructors will create grading rubrics for assignments using elements of the Association of College & Research Libraries’ Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. These standards for information literacy articulate concepts that will help instructors communicate assignment goals more clearly as they teach their students to think more critically about information and to conduct scholarship ethically.

“If you look at the framework elements, these are concepts that teaching faculty are already incorporating into their courses—they just may not have been explicit about it,” said White. “Using the same framework elements across assignments allows you to watch how a student progresses over time and is improving their information literacy skills, both from assignment to assignment and over the span of several courses.”

Additional plans for DS21P activities include a public speaker series as well as workshops offered via the P3 Collaboratory at Dana Library, where faculty can learn how to integrate digital humanities components and DS21P pedagogical techniques into their own courses.

Ultimately, while students who work through the DS21P suite will emerge with honed critical thinking skills in addition to new practical abilities that will make them stronger candidates in the job market, perhaps their most important takeaway will be the experience of what White describes as “edification through identification.”

“Especially when you’re dealing with oral histories coming out of marginalized communities—the African American community, the LGBTQ community, the Latino community—students need to connect the digital audio that they’re hearing with real people’s lives,” she said. “We learn from other people’s experiences. I think it’s incredibly important for us to be exposed to lives that are lived very differently from our own so that we can learn to walk through the world as better human beings.”