Teaching literature with new digital tools

moby-dickDigital tools are regularly used to enhance learning in science and engineering classrooms. Interactive problem sets, visualizations, and simulations are fixtures on the MIT campus and in MOOCs created by MITx. While these seem like a natural fit for technical subjects, teaching in the humanities is also being transformed by new approaches that allow students to approach and challenge texts in new ways.

Dr. Wyn Kelley, Senior Lecturer in the Literature Department at MIT, is a leading innovator in the field. On the Instructor Insights pages of the This Course at MIT section for her course, 21L.501 The American Novel: Stranger and Stranger, Dr. Kelley explains how she has incorporated two open-source digital tools into her classroom, allowing students to collaborate and think together in new ways about classic and contemporary works, from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick to Octavia Butler’s Kindred.

The first tool is Annotation Studio, which allows students to comment on passages they highlight as a way to record thoughts, mark observations, and develop ideas for papers. The students liked the Studio so much they found new uses for it, such as taking class notes and returning to their initial insights as they revised and rewrote their work.

The second tool, Locast, integrates customizable geographical maps with text, images, video, and other media tied to specific locations.  Dr. Kelley pre-populated the map with places mentioned in Moby-Dick. Each student was asked to give presentations on one of these places and explain its significance in the novel. Even Dr. Kelley was surprised by what the students found.

“There is one reference in the text to a Manxman, an inhabitant of the Isle of Man,” she writes. “The student found out that it’s where a lot of fishermen come from. The student gave a beautiful demonstration with pictures of the place that turned out to have tremendous relevance to the novel.”

Read more of Dr. Kelley’s insights, or visit the This Course at MIT pages of other OCW classes to learn more about how MIT faculty are teaching.

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