Profile: Donna Alexander

Donna Alexander

One of our Cork-based collaborators is Dr Donna Alexander (@americasstudies) from University College Cork. At our Cork launch event in November 2015, Donna gave a very interesting talk about how she uses Letters of 1916 with her MA students. Here is an excerpt from that talk and we will put the full version on the letters1916.ie website soon.


One of the modules that I teach in UCC is called “Digital Skills for Research Postgraduates in the Humanities and Social Sciences.” When I sat down with my colleagues to map out our plan of action for this module, which is taught over the course of one full-day workshop, we wanted to do something with the students that has collaboration and participation at its heart, while also offering the students practical digital skills.

Crowdsourcing offers a way in here. By its very nature it is participatory and collaborative, and presents an opportunity to gain digital skills in an open, accessible manner. I have used crowdsourcing projects in various modules and they always lead to successful classes and rich discussions and feedback from students.

We chose Letters of 1916 for “Digital Skills” in 2015 for several reasons:

1.      The focus on Transcription would be useful to the majority of students whose backgrounds include history, English, languages and DH

2.     Opportunity to learn XML with a transcription toolbar at hand to guide those with little or no experience

3.     We had links with the project team and therefore could extend the collaborative nature of the workshop beyond the four walls of the classroom

4.     Broad thematic focus of the letters offers something for everyone!

We focused the afternoon of the workshop entirely on crowdsourcing, text-encoding and transcription. Once the students had chosen and transcribed a selection of letters they had to write a critical reflection of their participation in the project and post it on their blogs. I’m pleased to say that these are now featured on the Letters of 1916 “Media and Online Coverage” page.

What I found most interesting about the students assignments is that many of them became so engaged in the task that the act of transcribing evolved into mini-research projects for several of the students who went above and beyond the call of the assignment. They sought out useful theories and critical paradigms to frame their engagement with the project. They researched the people whose letters they transcribed, determined to find out more about them, as one student puts it, “to give context and human interest to my presentation.”


To keep up with Donna and her work, she blogs at http://donnaalexander.org & http://americasstudies.com and she tweets as @americasstudies

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