Teaching the TEI-Panel

As part of the Text Encoding Initiative Consortium’s annual conference I participated in a panel organised by Elena Pierazzo called “Teaching the TEI: from training to academic curricula” see http://idhmc.tamu.edu/teiconference/program/papers/#teach for the abstract. Florence Clavaud and Susan Schreibman were unable to attend and so at the very last moment Julia Flanders from Brown University graciously agreed to join the panel. The panel consisted of: Elena Pierazzo, Marjorie Burghart, James Cummings, and Julia Flanders.

Elena Pierazzo started off the panel by introducing what it would cover. It looked and the differences and the similarities in teaching the TEI in a range of contexts: from a dedicated intensive workshop targeted at professionals to the teaching of TEI as part of a related academic course. These have differences in aims, methodologies, and overall coverage and the syllabus of each of these types of teaching might cover different chapters of the TEI Guidelines.

The panel discussed which of these approaches seemed most successful, and what was meant by success when teaching the TEI. The question of whether the TEI works better as a tool to solve a problem researchers are currently facing (e.g. a digital edition of a manuscript, a dictionary, a corpus…) or as a method for approaching analysis or tool for modelling concepts? Throughout the panel these two types of teaching were contrasted to see what might be learned to benefit the other pedagogical form.

Marjorie Burghart contrasted the similarities and differences between the BA and MA level training provided in Lyon as compared to Elena’s examples. She insisted on the importance of embedding TEI teaching in other disciplines, giving the example of one of her courses where students are taught editorial techniques as a whole, from the historical developments of diplomatics and philology to their digital translation. The central message being that not all TEI teaching is done in “TEI courses” or even those specifically about digital technology, some of it occurs in academic field-related courses that happen to include sections about the TEI.

James Cummings briefly surveyed the types of TEI training provided at the University of Oxford, noting the Digital.Humanities@Oxford Summer School (http://digital.humanities.ox.ac.uk/dhoxss/) evolved out of many years of TEI Summer Schools and now always included a week-long TEI workshop. The introductory TEI workshop in such a context tends to cover a large amount of the TEI Guidelines, giving a broad but shallow and intensive overview. He mentioned that they also did bespoke training for individual research projects where the whole of the TEI was not taught, but just a brief overview followed by specific training in the aspects that project would be using.

Julia Flanders provided a description of the workshops they teach at Brown University and the workshops provided at DHSI.org, and how these compare to those in Oxford and differ from those that form part of larger academic courses. She discussed various approaches to teaching the underlying concepts and how existing tools such as Roma might be improved to facilitate this. She suggested that introductory tools which allowed ‘Finger painting with semantics’ should be created to allow people to play with the concepts of data modelling in a user friendly manner.

There was much wide-ranging discussion with the audience with many interesting points made and questions raised.  Several participants mentioned that they used text encoding generally, and the TEI in specific, to teach different things. That is, the process of learning the TEI helps students to understand more about other topics (e.g. the nature of text). Michael Gavin commented that it would be nice to have a survey of both TEI courses and courses which include the TEI in higher education. Marjorie mentioned that Marjorie mentioned that Florence Clavaud (EnC) had started a similar survey for France / Europe, and that it would be good to get in touch with her.

TEI is taught in a variety of different ways, and the more teaching of it the better, but what has to be closely examined by providers is why any particular course is being offered. Is it to induct a large number of people into a basic understanding of the scope and coverage of the TEI Guidlines? Is it to teach them the practical skills to undertake the work on one particular research project? Or is it to teach them other more ethereal concepts, of which the TEI is one practical and concrete example?  The teachers on this panel had all taught in a variety of these kinds of contexts and the differences in approach and coverage made for an interesting comparison.  As the TEI continues to grow and be used more pervasively as the de facto standard for the encoding of digital texts (especially in academic contexts) then the community will need to continue to improve its teaching and organization of teaching.  One promising sign is the network of Digital Humanities training institutes (see those referenced at http://digital.humanities.ox.ac.uk/dhoxss/) which are slowly cooperating to produce a consistent pedagogical basis while retaining their unique character and experiences.

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