My College Degree as an Open Digital Humanities Project

Digital Humanities by Craig Bellamy CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

m developing a new model for adult learners so they can avoid the experience I had while trying to improve my skills at a Community College. Combining Self-Directed Learning, Computational Thinking, Digital Pedagogy, Open Education and Open Social Scholarship theories with Open Education Resources (OER), Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and ePortfolios, I intend to create a free platform for any adult learner to document and reflect on their diverse learning experiences. I think simplifying all these dense and often conflicting learning theories into an approach (Praxis) any adult student can use to design their own self-directed education pathway will be useful. (Heutagogy)

I’ve been working on these ideas for three years, starting with attending a presentation by faculty from Evergreen College in Washington on integrating individual courses’ homework assignments across institutional silos. That led me to eportfolios as a way to collect all types of evidence (digital objects) of learning. Learning about tagging and metadata for discoverability on the internets, I observed the need for a controlled metadata vocabulary to allow searches for emerging patterns. These new ways of looking at one’s learning has the potential to suggest new constructions of learning experiences and new areas of research.

I belong to the Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEEBL) and have attended their conferences, including a session at this year’s 8th Annual Forum on Digital Learning and ePortfolios at the 2017 AAC&U conference in San Francisco. The ePortfolio Forum is jointly sponsored by AAC&U’s project, VALUE: Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education; the Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEEBL), the association of ePortfolio professionals; and the International Journal of ePortfolio (IjeP). At this year’s Conference I joined the AAEEBL Practices and Pedagogies Special Interest Group (SIG) and convinced them to take on my idea for an ePortfolio Ontology as their first project. I’ve also joined the Association for Learning Technology, the UK group to “advance education through increasing, exploring and disseminating knowledge in the field of Learning Technology for the benefit of the general public.”

The Hurley Information and Technology Convergence Center at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Photo by MCW

recently realized my idea of ‘finishing a Bachelor’s degree while using Free and Open Source Software to create a learning eportfolio on my own domain and blogging about it in public’ is an Open Digital Humanities project. In 2016 I attended the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute at the University of Mary Washington, VA, home of ds106 and the Domain of One’s Own initiative. I learned about UMW while attending the Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria, BC, where I took Critical Pedagogy and Digital Praxis in the Humanities from Jesse Stommel and Chris Friend. This year I took two courses during DHSI to support my project; ‘Open Access and Open Social Scholarship’ and ‘TEI and Metadata.’ That led me to explore metadata ‘triples’ which led to the concepts of graph databases and ‘faceted’ searches.

Now I want to learn how to integrate a FOSS graph database (Neo4j?) with FOSS curation tools (WP, Omeka, Zotero, GitHub?) to utilize the power of humanities computing and the semantic web to document and reflect on my learning experiences. And then document my reflections and be able to do faceted searches of everything I’ve created together with everything I’ve curated into my database. I need to learn to appropriately tag all these digital objects with metadata so they integrate seamlessly with the semantic web. Hopefully this can be automated to a large degree.

My plan is to structure my Metro State University’s College of Individualized Studies Bachelor’s degree as a Digital Humanities project using an eportfolio to document, reflect on and publish my learning.

“My goal is to develop a (free and open source) digital approach to a liberal arts education, both heutagogy (theory of self-directed learning) and praxis, that will support anyone with access to a computer as they learn how to learn. From savants in the global south to illiterate inmates of America’s prisons, having a way to document, reflect on and share one’s learning should help people collaborate to improve their lives.” 

Which tagline do you like: Learning in Public or Learning Out Loud? Or suggest another.


  • Thanks for writing up the concept; I have to wonder if calling this an “eportfolio” accurately describes it, as compared to the legacy concept, which connotes more like cutting pictures and papers out and pasting them in a scrapbook.. Not finagling at the name, but somehow describing it in a sense of being powered, fueled by this dynamic ecosystem of structured data inputs.

    Not crazy about either tag line, it sounds no different from the idea of blogging a learning process. It needs again something that gets at the approach of a data supported reflective practice. The exact words are not coming yet.

  • Marissa Candiloro

    I’m excited to follow this project! Personally, I think “Learning Out Loud” has a nice ring to it..

  • This is a fascinating project Mark and the very best of luck with it. I was wondering if you’ve had any thoughts or discussions around how to preserve it once it’s completed?

    • Thanks Garret, I’m still imagining and researching but I do talk to librarians and will try to remember to ask about designing with the intention to archive.

      • You should be in good hands so. I’ve no doubt there will be a great interest and willingness to engage with you to support your research and help preserve the outcomes.

  • johnbwisr

    First I was going to say I like “learning out loud” because it’s in “ordinary talk” and has a nice ring. However, “learning out loud” reminds me of thinking out loud, but still not as pointedly and emphatically public as the approach you are taking is. Since it is importantly both personal and making the personal accessible to others, I do like “Learning in Public”. Admittedly, I’m not the best at coming up with catchy labels. One of the biggest challenges to working with inmates is that they almost never have computer access–but working with recently released inmates could be really valuable. You could discuss this with your fellow WISR student, Sajad Shakoor, who completed his Master’s about 2 years after having spent almost all 20 years of his adult life in prison. He is quite publicly open about this (google him), so that’s why I’m using his name–he won’t mind.–I’ll give you his contact info.

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