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Dr. Anne McGrail: Connecting Community Colleges & the Digital Humanities

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By: Hayley Brazier and Heidi Kaufman

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Welcome back to the DH@UO Blog! This Friday, we hope you will join us for our first DH workshop of the spring term, Introduction to Podcasting. This workshop will dive into how academics are using podcasting in both the classroom and their scholarship. We will also provide a step-by-step tutorial on recording, editing, and uploading a podcast. The workshop is free and open to all. Please RSVP here.

Today on the blog, we are featuring Dr. Anne McGrail, who is an English faculty member at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon. McGrail is an innovative scholar who uses her teaching and research to bridge the gap between community colleges and the digital humanities.

In her open-access article, “The ‘Whole Game’: Digital Humanities at Community Colleges,” McGrail notes that although a large number of the country’s undergraduate students attend community colleges, “there has been a significant lag in community colleges’ engagement with digital humanities” in comparison to four-year institutions. Despite the fact that both community colleges and the digital humanities share the common goal of open-accessibility, an institutional and methodological partnership has been slower to flourish. In comparison to many four-year institutions, McGrail notes, community colleges have comparably fewer scholars teaching and writing about DH. Because DH has, until recently, been more of a scholarly than a pedagogical field, it has created a gap between DH and community college faculty whose primary workload is teaching, not research. Despite these disparities, “It is an opportune time to bring DH to the CC,” McGrail writes. Because faculty members at community colleges routinely teach students with a wide variety of learning levels, they are well-equipped to adapt these pedagogical skills into digital humanities courses. Likewise, students at community colleges now have increased access to technologies necessary to studying DH.

picture of Anne McGrail
Dr. Anne McGrail, English faculty at Lane Community College.
(Photo Source: https://www.hastac.org/u/doc-mcgrail)

McGrail has noticed that one important difference between Lane Community College and other four-year institutions is the use of the terms “DH” or “digital humanities.” McGrail tells DH@UO, “There is a lot of work that researchers and scholars in DH might call ‘DH’ but that faculty and staff here at Lane would not describe with that moniker. Our [community college] has degrees and certificates in Multimedia Art, and many Writing faculty embed multimodal composition into their writing courses. However, ‘digital humanities’ so-called is slow to catch on. There are deep infrastructure issues involved in this.”

Because “DH” is a less commonly used term at Lane Community College, McGrail calls her introductory online digital humanities course, “Reading, Writing, and Digital Culture.” Using descriptive language to title the course has proven to be a boon for enrollment (right now, the course has completely enrolled with a waiting list). McGrail wrote a blog post about this course, which you can read about here

In 2013, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) awarded Lane Community College a Start-Up Grant entitled “Bringing digital humanities to the community college and vice versa.” The NEH grant was an important moment in establishing DH at Lane Community College. As the grant’s project director, McGrail’s task has been toconsider how community colleges can better participate in and contribute to the multiple ongoing conversations about digital humanities teaching and research.” In the years following this grant, McGrail leveraged another grant to host an institute that invited faculty from across the nation’s community colleges to gather and strategize about DH for their home institutions.

Screen shot of Anne McGrail's blog
McGrail maintains a blog where she discusses the digital humanities and its presence within Lane Community College and community colleges more generally. Photo Source: https://blogs.lanecc.edu/dhatthecc/.

While teaching DH is an important part of McGrail’s job, she has also worked to build a scholarly presence in the DH field. As a faculty member at a community college, research does not typically take precedent in her workload. “I have found it difficult but obviously not impossible to do research and writing and scholarship and teaching as a CC faculty,” she writes, “but I’ve had to work at it, and I’ve had to do it simultaneously. It’s very rewarding but it’s hard work and it’s not for everyone.” You can find McGrail’s scholarship in places like the MLA Commons’ Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities: Concepts, Models and Experiments.

What advice does McGrail give to PhD students considering a career at a community college? Understanding how to teach a diverse group of students, McGrail tells us, is key. “Learning how to think about and teach humanities courses that are accessible and relevant to students who may never have read a full book until your class—that’s what takes a long time to learn. If you come in with a deficit perspective, then you’ll never be happy in a [community college] environment. If you approach it as a great challenge where you can make direct positive impacts on equity in our society, then you’ll be able to talk about that in job talks and then, if/when you get the job, enjoy it.”

Thank you to Dr. McGrail for allowing DH@UO to spotlight her important work and for contributing ideas and quotes to this post.

 

 

 

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