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Once upon a time, there were no universities and yet, people from all over the world managed to educate themselves. How did they accomplish this? The literate and educated gathered together and these places became places of education. Their skills and knowledge were distributed to others who joined them. Those who had received the precious gift of enlightenment spread their knowledge to others. Distributing knowledge from each group to the next resulted in a miracle – reaching everyone who wanted and needed an education. Without the power of the crowd the very first attempts for formal education would have been fruitless. Nowadays, we find a similar phenomenon of the crowd in the digital space and it is changing the way we learn rapidly.

There are challenges in the field of digital humanities that could benefit from the crowd advantages of today’s digital age. There is obviously a need for well-trained information workers – it is an education gap that must be filled. The benefits of the crowdsourcing are visible with the number of people who are already involved in research in the field as well as with the digital learning opportunities to educate people worldwide in the emerging domain. All that is needed is the digital means to be facilitated for the purposes of digital humanities.

On the one hand, the question is whether digital humanities are structured well enough to enter the curriculum of classical educational institutions and whether this would bring value to the cirriculum. The required skill set is specific, yet broad – “familiarity with software development and tool-building, intellectually-intensive cross-disciplinary collaboration, appreciation of interface design and visualization, among many others.”[1] To put in other words:

Can we think about digital humanities as a vocation—that rich professional calling that is both spiritually and economically sustaining and sustainable?[1]

This remains an open issue. Nevertheless, there is an undergraduate program offered by the University of Wisconsin–Stout with a range of courses in digital humanities. The first students who graduate from this program will reveal the positive and negative sides of the curriculum and whether there is a place for such specialists outside of academia. 

On the other hand, nowadays we observe a phenomenon called Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These courses are revolutionizing educational systems throughout the world. The way we interact with the data flow is drastically changing and has become much more engaging and personalized. These digital methods are used not only by individuals but also as a complimentary part of conventional university courses. Through this medium, digital humanities might be incorporated into current curricula without a significant investment in resources and also can be accessed not only by the students in the universities but also by anybody from anywhere. One of the distinct characteristics of MOOCs is the peer-grading system. It has been confirmed to be a successful grading technique within the outlines of courses in digital humanities area. The results are promising as the peer grades and the professor’s grades correlate strongly. This proves to us that not only can we use the power of the crowd to grade but also we can expect valid results. Also benefit is that the experience is gained and perceived incrementally:

Qualitative observations tend to show that the quality of the posts increased when compared to the previous year, likely because students had to reflect on the grading criteria and were cautious of producing good work when this work would be evaluated by their peers [2].

The background of potential graders in the crowd has an impact on the outcomes and should be taken into account while planning such activities. A study conducted for a course at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) showed basically no correlation between the grades given to student reports by the teacher and a group of kinder garden students who judged the reports only by appearance. On the other hand, this study supports the correlation between the grades given by the professor and the students following the course.


Then, there is the possibility to use the students as the crowd that is involved in the digital humanities research. The reasons behind it can be seen in

producing meaningful work; encountering new information; learning new skills; fun; and working collaboratively to achieve a big goal [4].

Moreover, the undergraduates are motivated by “the production of real contributions to scholarship, which is sharply contrasted with the traditional undergraduate assignment, the five-paragraph essay with an audience of one” [4]. Striving to be a part of something bigger, and longing to contribute and be appraised by your peers impact positively on the efforts of the digital humanities’ community to use crowdsourcing

Finally, we may conclude that not only people are willing to participate in the digital humanities research, they can also be trusted. Educational systems are ready to merge the existing curriculum with new courses focused on digital humanities. From another point of view, the MOOCs are providing more than a convenient way to give access to knowledge to a tremendous number of people, something unthinkable only few years ago. With all the upsides of the digital means than one can use today, the digital humanities are about to have a bright future if the community succeed in taking advantage of the digital while serving to the humanities.

[1] Ogden, Mitchell Paul, Digital Humanities as Vocation: Possibilities for Undergraduate Education; (Abstract/Poster), Presented at “Digital Humanities” (10 July, 2014, Lausanne, Switzerland)

[2] Kaplan, Frédéric; Bornet, Cyril, A Preparatory Analysis of Peer-Grading for a Digital Humanities MOOC (Abstract/Short Paper), Presented at “Digital Humanities” (09 July, 2014, Lausanne, Switzerland)

[3] Gilchrist, Matthew; Wolfe, Jennifer; McElroy, Kelly; Keegan, Thomas, Crowdsourcing in the Curriculum: Engaging Undergraduates through Collaborative Manuscript Transcription; (Abstract/Short Paper), Presented at “Digital Humanities” (10 July, 2014, Lausanne, Switzerland)

[4] Andrii Vozniuk, Adrian Holzer, Denis Gillet, Peer assessment based on ratings in a social media course. LAK 2014: 133-137