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Liz Regosin and Eric Williams-Bergen '91 Liz Regosin and Eric Williams-Bergen '91
Learning For The 21st Century

Moving Scholarship from Isolation to Inclusive and Involving

A St. Lawrence initiative gives professors and students the chance to work within digital environments where knowledge itself becomes interactive.

Choose a virtual-reality experience to jump into:

  • It’s the year 1844 and you’re helping former inmates navigate new lives after their release from New York State Prisons, including Sing Sing.
  • In present-day Bering Sea, you’re on a fishing boat when a shipmate shouts “Aksik!” the Siberian Yupik word meaning, “Danger! Turn now!”
  • Explore a changing Nairobi and the evolution of the St. Lawrence Kenya Program. You can pick any time throughout the program’s 50-year history.

Actually, you can choose to immerse yourself in all these experiences — and dozens more, just as varied and captivating. These are digital scholarship projects at St. Lawrence and they’re expanding the way we teach and learn.

Research conducted by St. Lawrence faculty and students has unearthed volumes of information (texts, photos, and even videos) that can be used to create virtual replicas of places, objects, and even cultures. To learn about these things, you’ll soon be able to peruse these aggregated and curated sources of information and even explore digital environments built by combining this research and computer code.

For historians, like St. Lawrence Professor Liz Regosin, digital scholarship has the potential to usher in beneficial changes.

“Archival work can be quite isolating,” she says. “When the archives are digitized, though, we can also create a digital platform where we can process and share our findings. This enables me to work collaboratively with students on my research in ways my colleagues do in other disciplines, the sciences in particular.”

She’s teaching a new course this semester, Doing History. The semester-long project will focus on what it means to produce histories, both written and digital. A key element of the course is the diary of Isaac Hopper. He was one of an American first prison reformers, the people who believed imprisonment could — and should — rehabilitate criminals the incarcerated and prepare them for constructive lives after serving time. Starting in 1844, it was Hopper’s job to work with parolees of New York State prisons. Regosin recently found Hopper’s diary, which she said, “had been hidden on the shelves of the New York Public Library for so long.”

To build the digital project, she’s working with Judith DeGroat, associate professor of history at St. Lawrence and Eric Williams-Bergen '91, the University’s director of research and digital scholarship.

Williams-Bergen sees these projects as another way professors and students build and share knowledge.

“In academics,” he says, “the written word and a digital build-out are simply different forms of scholarship. And we all learn in different ways. Reading Hopper’s diary can help us envision mid-19th-Century incarceration. Recreating the Sing Sing of 1844, in a modern digital format, can help us understand the experience of a released inmate who emerges from a dark cell into the light outside the prison. We can walk with her, as Hopper did. Maybe her steps are shaky because she’s about to have the freedom she’s wanted for years, but she’s scared of the unknown world that awaits her.”

It’s similar to the difference between a book and documentary film. The words on a page spark learning and imagination. Visual representations on a screen give us a sense of place, texture, and time. Together, they offer the context and nuance that can teach us more than either medium could alone.

Digital scholarship offers other benefits to St. Lawrence students:

Their research can expand the virtual landscape and its impact on learning. For example, a student could find information about historic Ossining, NY (home to Sing Sing) and digitally render its streets, shops and gathering places. This would offer future scholars more information about that time and the challenges that parolees faced.

The ability to produce the digital work involved in these projects will be increasingly important to graduates in all fields.

“Students who create a digital narrative using Drupal or WordPress or some other open-source platform,” Williams-Bergen says, “maybe they go to Europe, Africa, South America, or Lake Placid, these are the students most likely to be asked to work on social-media, web-based, or other digital projects. Our graduates who demonstrate aptitude on this kind of work are the ones who will quickly assume leadership roles managing their company’s digital assets.”

Digital scholarship is a priority of The Campaign for Every Laurentian. These digital initiatives and their impacts are an important part of Learning for the 21st Century, one of The Campaign’s “Big Ideas.”

“You could consider this learning for the 22nd Century, as well,” Williams-Bergen says. “Our graduates are increasingly likely to create, work and continue learning in digital environments. And so it’s important — it’s vital — that these platforms become optimized for St. Lawrence students and faculty.” 

The University is raising the funds necessary to support three key elements of digital scholarship:

The Technology and Infrastructure that Support Learning

Digital scholarship demands robust technology. Fortunately, recent construction and upgrades within the Owen D. Young (ODY) Library have created an environment optimized for learning and for the technology that deepens our students’ efforts to continually learn more.

 To reach its greatest potential, however, the digital scholarship initiative will need financial support for digitization and imaging (processes that include computer-assisted rendering of documents, pictures and video, objects and even spaces), a studio space that can host the people and technology dedicated to this work, and renewable energy sources (current plans call for a solar-energy system that can meet the needs of this initiative).

Giving to the digital scholarship initiative also supports improvements to the ODY Library’s archives and the preservation of the University’s rare books, letters, and other historic artifacts.

A Digital Curriculum that Reflects St. Lawrence Leadership in Education

The University is seeking grants, faculty fellowships, and Laurentian donors able to support the development of curricula that meet the real needs of research, teaching and learning within the evolving field of digital scholarship.

Support for the Digital Scholarship of Our Students

For St. Lawrence students, funding digital-scholarship initiatives will mean more opportunities, including student fellows and summer fellowships. When these fundraising goals are met, stipends will be offered to those students who apply for and earn these positions.

For more information about Digital Scholarship at St. Lawrence, please visit www.campaign.stlawu.edu and contact Terri Selby, executive director of major and planned gifts: tselby@stlawu.edu | (315) 229-5542.

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Between Humans and Tech

St. Lawrence has added a 10th learning goal:

“a capacity to examine critically the relationship between humans and technology”

Judith DeGroat, St. Lawrence associate professor of history, is moderating discussions about this goal and its impact on students. She was also director of the Mellon "Crossing Boundaries" grant, which made significant contributions to developing digital scholarship (DS) at St. Lawrence. With several ongoing DS projects, including the women Together digital archive, DeGroat is actively engaged in the sophomore DS Fellows program.

“The collaboration between faculty and staff in Libraries & Information Technology to create opportunities for students to explore DS is an ongoing and valuable project,” DeGroat says. “Students learn about and employ the tools of digital technology in an increasing number of settings. It is equally important that students are learning to ask questions about and reflect on the role of digital technologies in our society. Both the skills and ability to use them critically are central to the world students currently live in and will be part of in the future.”