In the fall of 2012, Dr. H. Lewis Ulman, Director of Digital Media Studies, met with representatives from Special Collections to discuss the idea of an English class that utilized Special Collections to engage students. Although the first course idea we discussed did not work out, the end result was English 2269, Digital Media Composing.  English 2269 is a service learning course where (from the syllabus):

students will read about and practice digital media composing, analyze examples of digital media documents, and compose digital media documents….Student teams will have the opportunity to work with curators of The Ohio State University’s Special Collections to develop digital media documents that highlight the collections.

Although the curators of the Special Collections often work with undergraduate and graduate students, this opportunity was unique. Whatever projects (photos, audio, videos and so on) the students create will be offered to Special Collections. The course is a win-win for all involved. The students have a chance to work with curators and rare materials, and Special Collections gains a wealth of digital and audio materials.

The curators of nine collections across campus agreed to participate in the class in Spring of 2013. The collections that the students had the chance to work with are  Byrd Polar ArchivesUniversity ArchivesRare Books and ManuscriptsBilly Ireland Cartoon Library and MuseumCharvat CollectionHilandar Research LibraryOhio State Congressional ArchivesTheatre Research Institute , and Historic Costume and Textile Collection 

I visited both of  Professor Ulman’s sections of the course to introduce students to all the Special Collections participating. I gave them a brief overview of the treasures different collections offered and some examples of what sort of projects were possible. After hearing the students’ preferences for certain collections, Professor Ulman separated students into groups, depending on the Special Collection they were interested in working with. I served as a conduit to introduce students to the curator they would be working with so they could set up their first meeting.

The assignments for the class (an audio essay, an audio slideshow, an interactive data vizualization, and a video essay) are small in scope. The challenge for the groups is to create appropriate projects without taking on too much information. Another important aspect of the course is learning about the importance of copyright and licenses. Professor Ulman worked with the OSUL copyright librarian to create the forms and permissions needed for the students to allow OSUL to use the material from the projects in our own promotional materials and exhibits.

A big challenge so far has been keeping communication moving between all parties involved. Dr. Ulman keeps Special Collections informed of assignments and activities in the class, but there have been problems with students missing appointments and hoping to make last minute appointments. The curators are positive about their experiences with the students and have been impressed with the enthusiasm and engagement of the students with the collections.

Although we are still considering the long-term storage and use of the projects, we are all looking forward to seeing the results of the students’ work. Dr. Ulman is planning a showcase event for the end of the semester where students and curators can watch highlights from the projects.