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Public Digital Projects for Courses

This guide will help students and faculty create public digital projects, as part of a class, as a research project, or as a way of presenting their research or community-engaged scholarship.

Pedagogy and Process

Consider your goals

Course digital projects and presentations have to balance two goals, the pedagogical and the public. On the one hand, the main goal of a class project is student learning — learning about the subject matter of the course, not (in general) about how to create digital projects. On the other hand, there’s an audience for the project that needs to be taken into account. That’s especially true for community-engaged scholarship, but it’s true of any public presentation. 


Pedagogy begins with considerations of desired outcomes, or learning goals. Some courses might be focused on gathering data from archives or online sources, on compiling evidence, whether bibliographic, documentary, or pictorial, sources. Others might use data from creative introspection, or ethnographic or oral history work. In online projects in courses like this, describing and archiving sources or experiences might be a key part of the project. 


Some courses might be more focused on telling a story, either creating a narrative based on sources students gather, or compiling existing sources into a narrative. Creating a convincing narrative using digital tools might start with putting evidence into the right order, but includes the creation of rhetorical and graphic arguments. 


The design of both of these types of digital projects should consider their audience for the project. Is  the audience other students in the class, other students at Brown, a specific group (for example, the folks who provided their stories), or the general public? Considering audiences can not only determine what platform to use (some are only accessible to the Brown community; some allow for a more exciting presentation), but also serve a pedagogical end by forcing students to consider the value of their work beyond the classroom. Class work that reaches an outside audience can be more meaningful to students than projects that only the instructor reads. 


Process is important in digital project work. There can be a long lead time; choosing a platform and setting it up, organizing the material so that students can access and describe it, and teaching students to use the platform often takes longer than you expect. Start early. 


Think about your data - what’s available? Where is it? Do students need to create it? Do they know how to find it? Do you have permission to use it? That can be a legal concern with copyright or artists’ rights, but also an ethical concern, if you’re working with oral history or community sources. Do participants know what you plan to do with it and how widely it may be shared or displayed? In some cases Brown’s Institutional Review Board rules may apply. 


Choose your digital platform carefully, and become familiar with the software you plan to use. Start with this document, and consult with CDS as needed. CDS staff can work with you to shape your project and evaluate available software platforms for your project.  CDS supports several platforms that might be useful for these projects, although these are not the only options. CDS staff can work with your class, offering workshops and helping to set up the software. Note: This requires sufficient advance notice!


Consider the structure of the project, or set up a system to allow the students to consider the structure of the project. Make sketches, bubble diagrams, and the like, to see how the pieces connect. Build a draft of your project with a few items in it before you decide on the final structure. Test the structure with the audience you’re interested in reaching. 


Finally, think about how long you want your site to be available. Class projects do not need to last forever, and it’s a good idea to decide whether you see your site as an archive or a shorter-term exhibition. The Brown Digital Repository is useful for projects that require the longest-term preservation; it can provide a permanent home for shareable resources that the project uses, or (for a simple website) preserve the entire project. Commercial sites make no promises that they will last, and some require annual payments. It can be difficult to export your images and text from commercial sites.