[Humanist] 24.408 ideal PhD programme

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Oct 15 18:38:28 CEST 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 408.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 14 Oct 2010 16:52:00 -0600
        From: Geoffrey Rockwell <grockwel at ualberta.ca>
        Subject: PhD Programs

Dear Willard,

At the University of Alberta we have been designing a PhD program. Here are some of the ideas we are considering.

- We decided not to call the degree "Humanities Computing" as we wanted to include areas of specialization like game design that might not fit well under that rubric. As we are interdisciplinary unit in a Faculty of Arts (Humanities, Social Sciences, and Arts) we are encouraged to reach across the Faculty (and beyond) and have therefore tentatively thought of calling the programme a PhD in Interactive Arts.

- We are trying to keep the interdisicplinary connections that characterize our MA in Humanities Computing. The idea is that for each area of specialization that we advertise there would be a partner department or two. Thus for game design we would partner with Computing Science where there are a number of colleagues that work in that area and those colleagues would be adjuncts able to supervise PhDs. It is common in Canada for PhD's to identify areas of strength - you would not expect to do any type of history at a particular history department, for example. 

- We are trying to imagine a PhD which is not designed solely for the purpose of training future professors. That would be the disciple model of academic reproduction. We believe that in this area there is the opportunity to design a programme that can lead to other careers in addition to academic.

- We would like the program to be run in a way that would allow part-time students, mature working students, and distant students to participate. We don't have that part worked out, but we are looking at issues around timing of courses. Could more courses be in the evening to accomodate working students (of which we already have many in the MA)? Could we have courses offered in a hybrid model where there is a two week residency with meetings every day and then a semester of online discussion and assignments?

- For our MA we have started designing "intensity" experiences to modulate the pace of the school year; we hope to extend this idea. The idea is that there we might have moments of the year where there are differently paced activities. Currently our incoming MA students (and those upper level students who want to) are organized in to teams at the start of classes and given a design challenge to complete within a week. This year they had to design a serious game for health learning and, if they had the time, implement it.

- We had a number of discussions about the comprehensives in our PhD program and decided that the heart of the program is the ability to imagine, theorize, design, manage, document and complete arts and humanities projects with significant computing. For that reason we have replaced the comps with 2 projects that PhD students will have to contribute to and defend. The expectation is that one of them might then morph into the ground work for their thesis. The comprehensive exam will thus be replaced by a project report, presentation and oral defense/discussion. We felt that would be a better way of assessing a student's competencies in the digital.

- As for courses we have kept the year of courses and we had the usual discussions about technical courses. One model we are seriously considering is having a number of 1 unit technical courses and expect students to complete 6 units worth of them. Students could challenge a short technical course and get the credit if they could show that they had the required level of competency. In theory these short courses could be shared with other programmes like Library and Information Studies so that there would a wide pool available. 1 unit courses can also be offered in other ways (online, over a weekend or self-study.) The down-side is that some skills like programming can't be taught in a 1 unit class. This model encourages breadth not depth. We will, of course, still have required and elective seminars that meet regularly and so on.


Geoffrey Rockwell

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