The second Annual Northern Bridge Training Programme Summer School was held at The Great North Museum at Newcastle University from 4-5 June 2015. I has the distinct pleasure of participating, sharing and learning about the impact of the digital on humanities scholarship. I would like to thank all participants for a stimulating and thought provoking session and conference.

The first half day session on Exploring the Digital in the Arts and Humanities challenged participants to gather in disciplinary groups to consider the question of how the digital impacts on personal research agendas. A short questionnaire was circulated in advance to stimulate thought. All groups were invited to share with the larger group of 66 student participants following discussion.

The followup exercise involved taking the ideas and points raised to multidisciplinary groups imagining how the Northern Bridge Training Partnership and its strategic partners could best meet the needs of emerging digital scholarship and evolve a global leadership position in doctoral scholarship in this area. The feedback from groups after even short discussion was brilliantly illuminating. It exposed a variety of real opportunities and concrete steps to make the NBTP a world leader in addressing the ‘Digital Challenge’. The longer term hope is that these suggestions will find their way into an iteratively-refined manifesto or charter for the Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Programme.

One of the most profound admissions of the session:

“If we don’t do this for ourselves – who will?”

The first group provided an enumerated set of solid steps and values to guide the programme:

  1. Quality over Quantity;
  2. Tweet Everything;
  3. Get into the News – BBC;
  4. Focus on interaction with public – Public Impact;
  5. Maintain an evolving web presence that might include aspects such as:
    • Presenting digital profiles;
    • A curated group blog;
    • A gallery to display Northern Bridge research outputs;
    • A facility to map out our research interests and to have an internal and external awareness of who is doing what.
  6. Know each others’ emails;
  7. Cultivate interdisciplinary focus.

The second group involved a strategic partner who helped to provide some additional perspective and also appreciated gaining a sense of Northern Bridge students’ perspectives. This discussion raised more questions than providing definitive answers.
In this group, discussion ranged around questioning whether digital humanities really matters:

  1. How does it impact on day to day scholarly practise?
  2. Should there be more collaboration – How can Northern Bridge facilitate this?
  3. How do we deal with how students ‘fall off the cliff’ of Northern Bridge Training Programme?

Group three provided definitive suggestions in specific areas including:

The website can do much more than it currently is and could be improved in two specific ways:

  1. Provide a means to share research interests to encourage discussion amongst NBTP members;
  2. Provide an eternal facing facility to build the reputation of NBTP – particularly with the AHRC;

This group raised the need for digital facilitators – those that can be turned to for consultation on the needs and demands of specific doctoral projects.
Crowdsourcing was raised as a concept that has great potential in the minds of NBTP practitioners;
And finally more material and possibly links to gain better understanding of what Digital Arts and Humanities is all about and what sort of tools and methods are available.

Group 4 discussed the role of social media as a medium for presenting one’s work and wondered how NBTP might be able to support development of this as an initiative.
There was a concern expressed around IPR and how this can be done in an open fashion – this highlighted a responsibility as academic to share with one another and outside of academia as well.
This wide ranging discussion concluded with the observation that ‘With great research comes great responsibility’.

Group 5 expressed a specific need for an internal tool to find collaboration opportunities amongst one another – even employing something as simple as the tag cloud of interests as was demonstrated to kick off the discussion (created in Textal).

Screenshot 2015-06-06 13.51.33
There could be a facility within the NBTP  by sharing internal research papers/working papers.
There is a need for external engagement and the possible solutions raised were:

  • An NBTP youtube channel
  • An annual TedX Northern Bridge

There is a need to augment skills development through training programmes with tools and methods and skills:

  • Website development – ranging from the simple to more advanced;
  • Use and editing of video editing;
  • How to engage with the public – PR skills
  • How to take advantage of crowdsourcing.

The final recommendation was to develop opportunities for digitisation placements with strategic partners (possibly 6 month placements).

Group 6 self-identified as being mainly composed of non-NBTP students and brought a unique perspective to the programme as a result.
The members felt that NBTP could help to shape NBTP research for public impact (impact beyond the REF);
A question was raised to whether NBTP could:

  • Provide specific guidance in creation of a professional profile, through social media and other platforms;
  • Offer training in PR and public engagement;
  • Provide skills to gain confidence as practitioners;

There was a distinct challenge that emerged to liberate digital collections from the ivory tower and this followed into a need to have training in digital methodology to deal with emerging digital collections.

Group 7 made the very bold, but contested suggestion that there should be a mandatory digital output required from all NBTP PhD candidates. Although this had a sense of being onerous or harsh, there was a sense expressed that if the programme wasn’t expecting to do so, employers might demand this anyway.
Participants asked about what training could be made available, possibly in coding – even in the simple form of a two hour session on WordPress usage. This training provision should allow for introductory level instruction with the option to take further with more advanced training specific to individual project needs.
It was expressed that this calls for some form of dedicated specialist or at least a point of contact for NBTP that may not necessarily be able to help but could direct to where assistance might be found.
The individual project requirements may be diverse but pending logistical availability detaining needs it would be beneficial to have a project-by-project consultation.

Group 8 identified a major challenge for the NBTP as the diversity of student research agendas and wondered would it be possible to make digital arts and humanities workshops less generic. One way that this might be accomplished they felt was in the use of presentations of case studies by successful practitioners as a means of seeing what is current, what is being done, what works and what might be applicable.
This digital support required more dialogue with supervisors.
There is a need for a workshops on the legalities of digital practice covering: IP, copyright, etc. essentially what is good digital legal practise.
A specific workshop on digital textual interpretation.
It would be beneficial to provide a means to encourage looking at research blogs and if possible peer reviewed blogs.
A need to provide training in how to work with interview material with nVivo.
Pointers to lists of available tools and methods in the digital arts and humanise to which NBTP participants might be able to match their own needs.

Great suggestion and great ideas on how to make the programme a world leader in the digital arts and humanities.

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