Skip to main content

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.

Introduction

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 

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.

Pedagogy and Process

Creating public digital projects can be a useful aspect of pedagogy, encouraging the exploration of sources, the organization  of narratives, and the consideration of audiences. Digital projects—exhibits, presentations, compilations, and more—lend themselves to  collaborative work, and they are especially appropriate in classes taught all or in part online.

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.  For undergraduates, developing a digital project may be a class assignment (e.g., for a final project), the central activity for all students in a course, or may serve as a capstone project for a concentration. Graduate students may develop digital projects as a program requirement or part of their scholarly portfolios.  Faculty, individually or with student assistance, may also seek to develop digital projects as a form of scholarly or public-facing publication of their research.

This document begins with pedagogical questions: what is the purpose of your digital project? Who is the audience? What kinds of materials do you have available? Is it the final product of existing research, or is it created as an ongoing part of a research project? It continues with process: what to do, when. 

The final part of the document is concerned with choosing the right platform. There are many platforms to choose from in creating public digital projects, some through Brown, some commercial, some offered by nonprofits. Some are supported by Brown, others are not. Choose a platform based on the type of material you’re displaying, the story you’re telling, the kind of presentation you desire, and the audience you’re targeting. Different platforms are supported in different ways. This document describes some of the platforms, with examples of the kinds of digital projects that they can be used to create. 

Finally, this document offers links to Brown resources for creating these and provides information on the ways that the Center for Digital Scholarship supports this kind of work through workshops and consultations.

Choosing a Platform

What kind of material do you have to present and what kind of story do you want to tell?

A Collection of Digitized Objects or Digital Media 

If you are presenting images, artifacts, or media documents that can be described with a consistent metadata, consider Omeka. An online exhibit that is mostly a presentation of digital objects or media is easily created in Omeka. The basic packages do not allow for flashy presentations; most Omeka exhibits are list-based. If your exhibit includes Indigenous materials, consider Mukurtu. If graphic presentation is most important, or if the images are more important than the metadata about them, consider Wordpress, or one of the commercial website builders

If your images are art, or maps, or other images from ARTstor or Luna, and your audience is at Brown, consider building your exhibit within those platforms. (For tips on finding images, including the many collections available through the library, see this LibGuide.)

Geographic Information

There are tools with many levels of complexity for presenting geographic information. Google Maps and Google Earth are easily available and are excellent tools for sharing information that can be pinned to a map. StoryMaps provides an easy way to add narratives to geography; it is both easy to start with and can present complex geographic information. Full-fledged GIS systems like ArcGIS require significant training. Lynn Carlson, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Manager at the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, manages Brown’s ArcGIS software licensing.

Narratives

If your goal is to tell a story - if you want people to follow an argument, not explore a database of images or media - consider Scalar, or StoryMaps, Wordpress, or one of the commercial website builders

Oral Histories and other Audio/Visual Materials

Most of the platforms that allow the presentation of digital files can present audio and video files, or link to audio and video on platforms like Soundcloud and YouTube. Some have specific requirements as to  size, file type, and ability to import. Omeka has several plug-ins for oral history recordings and transcripts, and tools for oral history metadata. You might also consider making a podcast

Bibliography

If your project has a bibliography at its core, consider Zotero. Zotero can be included in other platforms so that it’s possible to include non-bibliographic material connected to a Zotero bibliography, or to include a Zotero bibliography as a supplement to other sites. Zotpress connects Zotero to Wordpress. Omeka Classic also has a Zotero importer. It is also possible to include Zotero entries in Scalar using locally written javascript code.

Platforms (presented alphabetically: A-L)

The platforms listed below are available from several sources and have varying levels of support from Brown staff. Some platforms are maintained and supported by Brown, for example Brown Blogs and ArtStor. Some are hosted and available for free such as Scalar, or through Brown, for example, ArcGIS StoryMaps. You can also request a domain from the library’s “Digital Scholarship at Brown” service, on which to host your own instance of some platforms, for ex. WordPress, Omeka Classic, Mukurtu and Scalar. Brown provides the hosting, but doesn’t support all of these. You can learn more about the “Digital Scholarship at Brown” service here, and more about Brown’s support here. 

ArcGIS StoryMaps

The name describes it well: StoryMaps is for telling stories using maps. Brown has a site license for this, available through Lynn Carlson at the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society. StoryMaps can present full-fledged GIS data, but can also be used for much simpler maps.

Examples: Wampanoag Homelands, Colonial and Native Memoryscapes

Support Level:  StoryMaps is supported by Lynn Carlson of IBES.

ArtSTOR

ArtSTOR has more than 2.5 million high-quality images, mostly of art and architecture, including many under copyright protection. It is available only with a Brown login. There are several presentation and collection tools that are built into ArtSTOR; the fundamental collection concept is the group. You can download groups of images into PowerPoint; citation data and links back to original images on ArtSTOR allow you to zoom into images. You can use ArtSTOR’s IIIF image viewer allows you to view images full screen and to compare up to 10 items at once while zooming in on details, and share that display. And you can curate groups of images (including images from outside of ArtSTOR) and share them.

Support Level: 

Supported by the Brown Library. Contact: Karen Bouchard

Further Reading:

Tips for Using ArtSTOR and Luna Insights

Teaching remotely with Artstor: a crash course

Commercial website builders

These website builders offer very fast websites that look good on computers and mobile devices. They are free; purchasing your own domain name (that is, not wix.com) has additional cost, and must be renewed each year. Most offer student and faculty pricing. If you are concerned about longevity or might want to move your material to a different platform later, you should make sure it’s possible in advance. 

Wix

Correspondencia personal y política de una anarcosindicalista exiliado: Jesús González Malo (1950-1965) 

Suffrage in Rhode Island: A Lippitt Family Perspective (Public Humanities class project)

Cuban America (Watson Institute student project)

Squarespace

The Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice has created online versions of its exhibits using Squarespace, including:

Memory Dishes

Changing America RI

Weebly

Support Level: These site builders are externally hosted and are not supported by CDS. 

Google Maps and Google Earth

You can use Google Maps and Google Earth to add your own data onto Google maps either by adding pins one at a time, or by importing data (with either longitude or latitude or place names) from a spreadsheet. You can also mark shapes on the map. Google Earth is slightly more complicated, but allows for 3D maps and the importation of historical maps (Rumsey Historical Maps are among the historical maps available).  Your maps, like Google docs, can be easily shared for group work or public display, and embedded into other sites.    

Support Level: CDS can provide limited support for Google Maps and Google Earth

Further Reading: Intro to Google Maps and Google Earth

 

Platforms (presented alphabetically: M-Z)

Mukurtu

Mukurtu, “a safe keeping place,” is a ‘free, mobile, and open source platform built with indigenous communities to manage and share digital cultural heritage.” It is designed to foster “relationships of respect and trust” by including Traditional Knowledge Labels, cultural protocols that allow fine-grained levels of access, and multiple descriptions of each object. 

To run Mukurtu you need a server; the Library’s “Domain of One’s Own” is a good choice for Mukurtu. Establishing protocols and defining roles makes Mukurtu better for a longer-term research project, not a semester class project. 

Examples:

 Passamaquoddy People: At Home on the Ocean and Lakes

 Tayôshq Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head –Aquinnah Tribal Digital Archive 

Support Level: 

Currently, CDS can provide access to Mukurtu but does not provide support for it.

Omeka

Omeka, an open-source program supported by the nonprofit Corporation for Digital Scholarship,  is an excellent tool for sharing digital collections and creating simple online exhibits from them. Plug-ins allow for integration with oral history metadata (more details here), maps, and timelines. 

There are several versions of Omeka to choose from. Omeka.net is a hosted site, managed by the Corporation for Digital Scholarship. A simple site is $35/year; sites that allow for more flexibility are $75/year. Details here. For more complicated Omeka sites - if you want to add plug-ins or have more control over the design, for example, you might want to install Omeka on your own site; it’s a push-button install on the Library’s “domain of one’s own.” 

Examples:

Brown Undergraduate COVID-19 Archives (class project using Omeka.net)

Philadelphia Immigration (oral history project)

Support Level: 

CDS can provide support for Omeka

Further Reading: 

Up and Running with Omeka

Creating an Omeka Exhibit

University of Chicago Omeka site

Podcasts

Podcasts can be a way of presenting class work to a wide audience. It’s most useful when there’s good audio available: oral histories, interviews, and the like. 

Examples:

Public Works: A Public Humanities Podcast (podcast produced by the Public Humanities program)

Now Here This (Brown student-run audio storytelling collective) 

Studio 395 (undergraduate history course podcast from JMU)

Further reading: 

Really nice extensive resource with some great ideas.

It starts from absolute zero, but there’s some good stuff in there.

  • The Podcast host
    Really speaking to a pro podcasting crowd, but the site is really extensive and there’s a lot of content there.

  • Beyond the 5 W's: What should you ask before starting a story?
    From NPR -- explores questions to ask yourself before starting a story: What is my story’s driving question?; What is the story not about?; How will I ensure my story is fair to the people and ideas it represents?; How will I engage my audience — and hold them?; What are my dream ingredients?; What will the audience remember when it’s over?

  • Podcast Structure: The 3 Acts Of Every Great Podcast Episode
    Covers the 3-act structure: “you should plan every episode with an end in mind. You should always know where you’re going. Most importantly, you shouldn’t reveal the climax early in the episode, otherwise you’ll never build tension.” Also includes a podcast episode on this topic 

Support Level: 

CDS has a simple, easy-to-use, accessible quiet recording space in the Digital Studio on the first floor of the Rockefeller Library. During the semester, student Studio Consultants are available to assist with orientation and setup, and CDS offers workshops by request on podcast production and audio communication.

Scalar

A free, open source authoring and publishing platform that’s designed to make it easy for authors to write long-form, born-digital scholarship online. Scalar enables users to assemble media (including audio and video) from multiple sources (including archival collections) and juxtapose them with their own writing in a variety of ways, with minimal technical expertise required. 

A helpful introduction to Scalar can be found here. A more complete introduction is here.

Example: 

Archiving the Ephemeral: Celebrating Ten Years of the Bryson Collection (a TAPS class project) 

Support Level: 

CDS supports Scalar and teaches a workshop on Scalar. 

Wordpress

Wordpress is the most widely used platform for blogs and other kinds of content. 

There are several different versions are available, each with its restrictions and possibilities.

  • BrownBlogs is Brown’s version of Wordpress. The platform has been customized to connect with Brown's authentication, to use Brown's groups infrastructure, and to contain a theme based on the Brown website design.  Many (but not all) of the most popular WordPress plugins and themes are installed for easy customization. Course blogs can be integrated with Canvas. A detailed guide to setting up a BrownBlog is here: LibGuide to Wordpress

  • A commercial Wordpress site allows for complete control of the appearance and functionality of the site. These are available through the “Digital Scholarship at Brown” Library service.  

  • Wordpress.com provides free, advertising-supported, wordpress sites. Custom domain names, more storage for audio and video, no advertising, and increased customization come with monthly fees. 

Support Level: 

Brown Blogs is supported by the Digital Learning and Design group. CDS can discuss the use of WordPress, and provide direction. WordPress is a very full featured website development tool, so it is not possible to support all uses. 

Zotero

Zotero is an open-source bibliographic tool that makes it easy to pull bibliographic information about books, articles, and other media from the web and create bibliographies. Bibliographic entries can include pdfs of articles, and they can be annotated and tagged. It’s easy to create collaborative bibliographies by setting up Zotero groups; these can be private or public. Zotero would be useful for a class bibliographic project, or to serve as the basis for cooperative writing projects. 

Example: 

DIgital History Reading Group

Further reading: 

Pedagogy Toolkit: Zotero

Support Level: 

CDS and the Brown library support Zotero and teach workshops on it regularly.