Teaching with Digital Images in Classics & Humanities
Humanities 110, which is required of all first year students (more than 350), examines the development of culture in classical Greece and Rome and the Judeo-Christian tradition. The teaching format includes three lectures a week for all students, combined with small, faculty-led conferences with no more than 16 students each. About twenty faculty members in art, history, language and literature, philosophy, and religion team-teach the course.
The use of visual resources is particularly challenging for Humanities 110. Many of the faculty hail from disciplines that don't traditionally use images, so they are inexperienced in analyzing and teaching with visual materials. The Visual Resources Collection needed to prepare more than a dozen slide carousels with the same slides to support all the separate conference classes. Student access to slides outside of class was extremely limited.
The Classics & Humanities collection contains about 7,200 images — a subset of about 42,000 images in the Art & Architecture collection — all housed in CONTENTdm. With so much content available, students and faculty alike need easy-to-use tools to locate, organize, and study these images.
CONTENTdm offers several mechanisms for customizing and extending the user interface:
- Modifying the style sheet and PHP templates for various web displays.
- Custom Queries and Results (CQR), which are essentially saved search criteria that can be embedded as hyperlinks in interactive web interfaces.
- CONTENTdm API for developing custom PHP interfaces. The API supports search and display functions, but no database update operations.
- Because the API supports "read only" operations, another option is to create SQL databases on the side to hold user-generated data that needs to be saved.
We have capitalized on a number of these mechanisms to create a custom web interface, specialized to meet the needs of Classics and Humanities. Key components of the project include:
- A web interface that enables inexperienced users to find the materials they need quickly. Users can browse by topic, era, geographic region, and artifact or jump directly to the specific images used in a particular Humanities lecture.
- Simple, "Google-like" searching of the Classics collection, or the larger Art & Architecture collection.
- Extensive metadata that provides detailed information about each image, and supports browsing, searching, and cross-linking to related images.
- My Workspace extends CONTENTdm's "favorites" functionality so faculty and students can create and save multiple image galleries. Images can be saved in a fixed sequence and shared with others via a persistent URL. My Workspace makes use of a SQL database to store user and gallery data.
- Study guides that help students and faculty develop their visual literacy skills in analyzing specific types of cultural artifacts, such as vases and temples. The study guides include explanatory text, study questions, and embedded images that link directly to the full-size image record in CONTENTdm.