An Exploration of a New Digital Humanities Programme in Higher Education and its Meaning Making by Community Partners
AbstractINTRODUCTION Today we live in a rapidly evolving environment supported by high-quality technology and fast communication, which has impacted professional, commercial and academic aspects of the society. In higher education there is a constant need to keep respective fields up-to-date with the changing needs of the society. A comprehensive approach to address this challenge is the creation of interdisciplinary or cross-disciplinary programmes. The field of Digital Humanities (DH), lying at the intersection of humanities and computing is such an example which may be instrumental in creating the change by serving as a platform for novel interdisciplinary connections to address societal challenges. DH has been identified as a tool that assists in furthering research, studies and collaboration between distantly related fields which have not been connected conventionally in the discipline of humanities (e.g., Kirshenbaum, 2010). Further, higher education and its array of offerings is influenced by market economies. For example, Newman, Couturier and Scurry (2010) study the dynamics of market influences on higher education and point to the inevitable transformations due to agendas of political parties, public policies, corporate goals and market structures. Recent EU political discussions emphasize the need for addressing societal needs through fields like DH, where Humanities and Social Sciences are viewed as “essential to maximise the returns to society from investment in science and technology” (European Commission, 2016). Higher education is viewed as central to the objectives of public and private institutions and related economic development, employment, skills development and talent acquisitions. The development of new courses with a unique course offering helps to position the universities and higher education institutions differently from the others and helps counter global competition. The local community stakeholders can provide assistance in identifying the required set of skills for the job market. They can guide on how interdisciplinary connections can be built up so as to expand the possibilities. Not the least, courses and programmes informed by actual needs will enable the highly skilled professionals, whose education has been markedly enhanced by practice-informed education and joint, cross-sector innovation, to address future societal challenges. All this is applicable to the field of humanities and the newly evolved Digital Humanities. METHODOLOGY The paper reports on a pilot study undertaken with the purpose of informing the developments of DH courses at Linnaeus University (LNU) in the way that reflects actual societal needs, based on input from the relevant stakeholders in the LNU region encompassing south-eastern Sweden. To this purpose, a focus group interview of representatives from relevant public institutions and organizations was conducted. While the invitation was sent out to 9 representatives from the LNU’s DH Initiative network (https://lnu.se/en/research/searchresearch/digital-humanities/), 4 were able to attend the focus group interview, and 1 provided his views via an email interview. The five participants represented:
- Kulturparken Småland (encompassing the biggest group of local cultural venues, http://www.kulturparkensmaland.se/22.214.171.124/108/1/) in Växjö,
- Kalmar Castle (http://www.kalmarslott.se) in Kalmar,
- Det fria ordets hus (The House of Free Speech, http://www.vaxjo.se/-Det-fria-ordetshus-/Om-Det-fria-ordet-hus/) in Växjö, and
- AV Media Region Kronoberg (publically financed institution for media and IT in schools, http://avmedia.kronoberg.se).
- Views about DH as a general topic and as the specific LNU initiative;
- Relevance of DH to the Linnaeus University region;
- The skills and talent pool in the market in relation to DH; and,
- Points of attention for the DH project to aid needs of the society and local industry.
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