Learning in a New Place

Until spring break, I never fully appreciated how communication links to learning. Living and learning on campus, everything is how it should be. I go to class and we all discuss what we’ve learned for homework and how to move forward. Now that there’s a pandemic and classes have shut down, it becomes a little bit more difficult to learn, for a reason I never saw coming; a lack of mass communication.

Now, of course there is still communication. The professors will always have time to meet with the students and discuss any issues. In fact, this class has a two hour period to chat with the professor during the scheduled class hours, a help page to write to the professor for help, a fill-out sheet to request a one on one video chat with the professor, and ti’s willing to help as well. However, there is still a missing out on general communication with everybody. Being on campus, you can talk with other students outside of class, study together, even just try to further understand what was discussed in class. If somebody missed a day, they can still get notes from a friend in the class. Now, you can’t really do that.

Communication is central to learning, but it is central to everything else too. James Gleick compares the telegraph to biological wiring. He says “…comparing cables to nerves; the nation, or the whole earth, to the human body”. Without communication, there wouldn’t be life as we know it. Communication expanded society at a much quicker rate. Instead of multiple nations trying to come up with something while having minimal communication, most of that being a messenger that can take weeks to months to arrive somewhere, communication began to be almost immediate. Telegraph stations were set up everywhere to quicken the time it takes for information to spread. Then the telephone got involved, having a voice transmitted across the world within a second like it’s nothing. Gleick describes this as ‘…begin to turn society, for the first time, into something like a coherent organism”. People can work together on the same projects around the world, at the same time, at a pace they’ve never been able to before.

Now that I am stuck with remote learning, it becomes difficult for me to learn, because i cannot communicate with everybody in a real time, class setting. I would love to join the scheduled class time video sessions, but unfortunately I have to work during the week now that I am home. It is not only this class that has gotten more difficult. Every class requires a scheduled class time because communication is a key to learning, so every class is becoming more challenging to learn in. However, every obstacle is something that can and should be overcome. We are still learning how to adapt to remote learning, but the more we do it, the more we find a way or a time to communicate with the right people, and still get the information that is needed to pass the class. After all, we have real time communication methods that are way more advanced than the telegraph.

Computing the Humanities

When I think of the humanities, I usually think about old, dusty books about religions, or big events, like the holocaust or the great migration. I never think about using technology to study humanities. however, that is exactly what I started doing when I got into the 340 English class, Digital Humanities.

In order for me to study the humanities, I would need information about past events. Now of course, I can go to a library and pull out whatever books I need to study, but that becomes a tedious task. I would have to sort through the library’s selection of thousands upon thousands of books just to find maybe three certain books that have to do with my topic. Even with a good organizational system, it could take hours to find the right books. This is where technology comes in to help. Nowadays, almost all libraries have all of their books mapped out through an online system. Finding a physical book can become as simple as searching certain keywords in their website and having the computer find it for you. This can make a process that usually take hours turn into only a few minutes. Now sometimes, you don’t get access to a library because maybe there’s none in your area, or maybe your library gets asbestos and closes down until 2024. Either way, that doesn’t mean that information isn’t available anymore. In fact, there’s so much information floating out in the world it becomes hard to keep track of physically. According to what James Gleick says in his book The Information: a History, a Theory, a Flood, “As the role of information grows beyond anyone’s reckoning, it grows to be too much.” With so much information out there, how do you keep it all under one library roof? Again, this is where technology comes in to help. The internet has unlimited storage, so infinite information can be stored there. Now, finding information to study the humanities is as simple as just looking up the keywords and clicking on whatever I need. That is only the beginning of digital humanities.

Another part of digital humanities doesn’t include past information of what people did or big events; a big part is the computers themselves. If you really think about it, the development of computers is a huge event for humanity. One day, when people study the humanities, they’ll be learning about the first computers, the first coders, and the super rapid advancement that all happened within a lifespan. Gleick’s book talks about the different ways people communicated. It goes through different methods like talking drums and even cuneiform. Not only are these considered languages, but it’s communication. With the introduction of computers, people can write to each other from across the world, in different languages, and the other person can read it immediately in whatever language they speak due to high speed internet and translation services. In order for technology to do this, somebody needs to code it into existence. Coding itself is a whole new language. It isn’t the language of people, but rather the language of technology. So far in this Digital Humanities class, we’ve began to learn html. html is one of the most basic computer languages, or at least it is easier than other computer languages like JavaScript or C++. So technology is obviously a large part of studying the humanities now. Not only does it include language and communication, but it also has almost all information that has ever been recorded, as long as somebody takes the time to upload it to the internet.