Digital field scholarship and the liberal arts: results from a 2012–13 sandbox
We summarize a recent multi-institutional collaboration in digital field scholarship involving four liberal arts colleges: Davidson College, Lewis & Clark College, Muhlenberg College, and Reed College. Digital field scholarship (DFS) can be defined as scholarship in the arts and sciences for which field-based research and concepts are significant, and digital tools support data collection, analysis, and communication; DFS thus gathers together and extends a wide range of existing scholarship, offering new possibilities for appreciating the connections that define liberal education. Our collaboration occurred as a sandbox, a collective online experiment using a modified WordPress platform (including mapping and other advanced capabilities) built and supported by Lewis & Clark College, with sponsorship provided by the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education. Institutions selected course-based DFS projects for fall 2012 and/or spring 2013. Projects ranged from documentary photojournalism to home energy efficiency assessment. One key feature was the use of readily available mobile devices and apps for field-based reconnaissance and data collection; another was our public digital scholarship approach, in which student participants shared the process and products of their work via public posts on the DFS website. Descriptive and factor analysis results from anonymous assessment data suggest strong participant response and likely future potential of digital field scholarship across class level and gender. When set into the context of the four institutions that supported the 2012–2013 sandbox, we see further opportunities for digital field scholarship on our and other campuses, provided that an optimal balance is struck between challenges and rewards along technical, pedagogical, and practical axes. Ultimately, digital field scholarship will be judged for its scholarship and for extending the experimental, open-ended inquiry that characterizes liberal education.
KeywordsDigital Field Scholarship Liberal arts Mapping Mobile device
We acknowledge student, staff, and faculty participants from our four institutions, who played a key role in ensuring a successful and worthwhile DFS sandbox. The staff at Lewis & Clark Watzek Digital Initiatives assisted with website development and maintenance. Ultimately, the support of The Andrew Mellon Foundation, via a grant to Lewis & Clark’s Environmental Studies Program, afforded us the opportunity to pursue this pilot initiative, for which we are grateful.
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