Sunday, January 25, 2015

Teaching Medieval Manuscripts Online: Digging Deeper

In February 2013, planning began for an online medieval manuscripts' course, called Digging Deeper (hashtag #DDMss). With a grant of $25,000 from Stanford's division of Online Learning (VPOL), the course was designed by four medievalists: me, Benjamin Albritton (Stanford), Orietta Da Rold and Suzanne Paul (Cambridge). At its heart was the idea to show manuscripts in their natural habitat inside a Special Collections Repository. At the same time, we wanted to introduce some of the technicalities of medieval manuscripts, and the way they were made, to anyone anywhere who might be interested in this wonderful subject.

We initially envisaged we'd have a Graduate Assistant to help us who would hold the video camera and help put together a set of framing materials that we'd compose and launch on an open access site. What this course actually turned into was an amazing experience, with a Special Collections Librarian (John Mustain), a professional cameraman and photographer, and team of OpenEdX platform experts (from Stanford's Online Learning division), a Graduate Assistant, an Academic Technology Specialist--Dr Kenneth Ligda, and a Production Manager. We had the approval of two main libraries to film and use materials--Stanford and Cambridge University Library--and we were permitted access to Trinity College, Cambridge, where we talked with Sandy Paul.

We filmed for eight hours a day for a week in each repository, which was an exceptional privilege. It is probably this more than anything else that makes our course special. We had a real team spirit by the end of this process, too, and a team song, which I'm happy to share with you, if you don't tell anyone else (it was Meatloaf's 'I'd Do Anything for Love [of Manuscripts]').

Filming at CUL with the team, July 2014

And I think we imagined once we'd spent two weeks filming that we'd got it pretty much sewn up: that once we had the manuscripts gloriously photographed, and our own filmed conversations in the can, we were done. We could not have been more wrong, though. That was just the beginning.

And filming at Stanford's Green Library, Special Collections

More on the course-design process to come next time!