Virtual DH Open Office Hours – Online Pedagogy

The DSG held its first Virtual Open Office Hours on Wednesday March 25th, to stay connected with others practicing DH in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.  

Since students, faculty and staff are still transitioning to our new online work and learning environment, we focused our discussion on tools, resources and tips for navigating this new environment.  Both faculty and staff shared their experiences so far, and as a result of the discussion provide a great list of tips and suggestions for online pedagogy practices. 

Below is are the main points that came from the discussion: 

Shared Examples: 

  • Semi-asynchronous assignments and class sessions increased student communication because it takes the focus off the professor/s.  However, it does increase the amount of preparation for the class and leaves less room for improvisation by the instructor.
    • An example from Julia Flanders and Sarah Connell’s DH Certificate Seminar course: pre-online instruction, students were meant to be giving short presentations on their project methods.  Rather than present during a class video session, the students posted notes in a Google Doc and commented on each other’s posts. Then for the class session, they held a group discussion over Slack about methods.  This also created a long lasting document of the students’ notes on methods. 
  • In some cases, the move to online instruction may require altering the syllabus, especially if it included hands-on assignments. Still, there may be opportunities to explore topics that previously could not be fit in the syllabus schedule.
    • Victoria Cain shared the challenges for her Museum and Exhibits course which originally was based on museum visit assignments and assessments.  For the remaining classes, she has shifted the focus to the topics that have come the the forefront of challenges for museums but remain an important topic outside of the pandemic.  Such as digital media in museums and the ways museums can reach groups for which it is challenging to reach the physical museums.
  • Positive learner experiences for workshops using screen-sharing require a slower pace.
    • Amanda Rust shared an example that worked well for her when taking an online workshop for a specific platform.  A step would be demonstrated using screen-share, then participants would have a chance to try the step on their own.  The instructor would check-in to see how everyone did, then continue. 

Thoughts on Structuring Classes: 

  • Being specific and more structured with less spontaneity may help students to adjust to online learning.
  • Smaller groups are more comfortable and more productive for video sessions and online working groups. Large chats make it difficult to have a dialogue.
  • Classes may need to be smaller with more sessions to accommodate this long term if need be.  Or there are more instructors/moderators per class to help monitor video, chat threads, etc. The alternative is that classes are much less personal.
  • For large lectures, where including students in discussion may not be possible, students might consider forming small discussion groups or chat threads to help each other follow along (ie: “can someone tell me what page number the professor said” or “would someone repeat that last point for me”)

Student Comfort and Needs: 

  • Try to create ways for students and instructors to stay connected with each other and still feel invested in their classes and work.
  • Be conscious of technical accessibility and try not to make assumptions about students’ technical  options and capabilities. Not all students have the same access to technology and resources or the same skills in using digital technology and online platforms.
  • Recognize that students need to feel connected, but are potentially being asked to give up much of their privacy.  For example students may be trying to participate in classes amongst family members and roommates. For video calls, they may be using their bedroom as their new classroom space. Platforms like Zoom do offer virtual backgrounds that can increase privacy. 


  • Take the time to implement accessibility practices into online learning from the start. 
  • Try out some different teaching practices that provide the time an space for accessibility
    • This might mean assigning note takers or adding pauses for screen readers and closed captioning. 

Platform Management:

  • Trying to navigate and juggle multiple platforms may be a challenge for instructors and students.
  • If you need to use more than one platform to meet the needs of your class, try finding platforms with complimentary features. 
  • Avoid using overlapping features across multiple platforms.  If you need to use multiple platforms give each one a distinctive purpose and designate the functions that will be used. 
  • Try to keep the number of platforms and windows that need to be open simultaneously for a class session to a minimum. This helps make it easier to manage everything on the desktop and do things like take notes without feeling like you have to leave the meeting “space.” 


  • When in doubt, remember the course objectives. 
    • For research and skill based courses it’s easier to give students more independence and teach asynchronously.
    • For content based classes, more scaffolding and structure is needed to keep students engaged and avoid vagueness.  
  • Keep students invested. 
    • Allow students to have more responsibility, such as assigning a chat monitor or note taker for each session.
    • Ask students what options are best for them.
  • Better pedagogy practices may come of this and there is the potential to transform teaching practices in a positive way for the long term.
  • And finally, there’s room for experimenting now and it’s okay if things don’t work the first time!