Workshop: Slow Down! Teaching Students to Encode Their Close Reading


Teaching History in Higher Education.


8 September 2015


Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, University of London, London


This workshop is based upon my recent first-hand experience of teaching a core (120-student) module on digital history and the promise and pitfalls of teaching text-encoding in a limited time-frame (one seminar) to first-year students. The aim of the seminar was to encourage students to read primary sources more slowly by requiring them to create accurate transcriptions from scans of primary printed material. Rather than skim over the passage, looking for keywords, the need to carefully transcribe the text would promote reading each sentence multiple times. The students were then asked to encode (surround with computer tags) all named individuals, geographical locations and assertions made by the narrator. This, again, was to promote careful reading of each sentence to identify as much potentially useful information as possible and to actively research any unknown entities or dubious claims. Finally, these tags were populated with specific details, such as a person’s dates and occupation, the latitude and longitude of a geographical locations, or the veracity of a specific claim (using secondary material). Although successful in achieving many of these aims, the project also highlighted several pitfalls associated with teaching new technical skills in a time-compressed environment or with combining these skills and core historiographical competencies, some of which may themselves remained under-developed. The proposed workshop will work with participants to undertake a compressed version of the seminar, highlighting those areas where students (and tutors) struggled or thrived, to promote discussion about the usefulness of encoding and what steps can be taken to accommodate different learning styles and difficulties as well as make the experience meaningful both in terms of transferable skills and the historiographical aims of the particular module.


**Image Courtesy of stevecadman

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