Digital Pedagogy for the Analog Past

This post is a follow-up to a roundtable called “Digital Pedagogy for the Analog Past: Technological Tools and Methods for Teaching Premodern Materials” at the annual Association for Asian Studies (AAS) conference in Toronto.


One of the main themes running through the roundtable presentations and discussion was that of creating learning environments in which university students could be producers of knowledge rather than simply consumers of it. However, there were also several sub-themes as well.

1. Retention

The roundtable began with me (Kōgakkan University) talking about how to combine old “analog” and new “digital” tools. As I mentioned in my last blog post (Analog Note-Taking 「アナログ」メモの取り方), my aim is to improve student retention of course content.

I suggested we focus on developing the “silicon” brains of our students (computer databases) with personal wikis. Then, we train their “meat” brains by extracting data from the wiki that we want to retain in long-term memory and mastering it with digital flashcards. Here are some of the applications I mentioned in the talk and discussion period along with links to other blog posts I have written about them (if available).

  1. Bookends (Mac/iOS): a bibliography manager I’ve mentioned before on my blog
  2. DEVONthink (Mac/iOS): a personal information manager (PIM) I use a lot for organizing my research, and something I have written about before.
  3. Evernote: a personal information manager (PIM) I use in classes with my students. I’ve been writing about this for years now.
  4. Evernote Scannable: a great way to quickly and easily get digitize dead trees. I haven’t written a thing about this on my blog, but it really is quite impressive.
  5. Flashcards Deluxe (iOS/Android): it doesn’t have the prettiest interface, and there is a bit of a learning curve, but it is perfect for sharing flashcard decks with others and taking advantage of more effective systems for mastering content. I’ve written a few posts about it about it.
  6. GoodNotes (iOS): a full-featured app that handles the Apple Pencil really well. I’ve recommended it before on my site
  7. HoudahSpot (Mac): a straightforward, easy way to find anything on your computer or your external drives. Strangely, I haven’t written about it very mcuh.
  8. Readdle’s Scanner Pro (iOS): a handy way to transform “analog” handouts and other paper material into images or PDFs. I’ve written a little about it.
  9. Scrivener (Windows/Mac/iOS): a better way to write, written by a writer for writers. I use it every day, but I don’t have very much on my site about it yet.
  10. SmaTan (iOS/Android): a brilliant combination of analog and digital technology.

2. Diachronic and Synchronic Time

Bryan Lowe (Vanderbilt University) presented on how he has integrated digital software called Tiki-toki into his thematically organized courses. This enables students to visualize relationships among themes across time in their historical contexts. Visit the Vanderbilt website for examples of his classwork.

3. Scholarly Reflexivity

Halle O’Neal (University of Edinburgh) explained how she designed a project that challenges students to build their own reliquaries. In doing so, they gain an understanding of how people in the Buddhist tradition have connected with the intangible–a universal desire to commemorate.

4. Transparency about Scholarly Research

William Fleming (UCSB) designed “problem sets” that helped lead students through the process of encountering a historical (or literary) problem and using the digital sources available to “solve” it. It gives them a glimpse into how archival work is conducted.

5. Commentary

Haruko Wakabayashi (Princeton University) was the discussant for the panel, but she also presented a project that she led at Princeton to build an interactive web-based course focused on primary texts in translation. Students are able to write their own commentary for sources in an ever-expanding database of student-produced knowledge.

Audience Contributions

One of the things we wanted to do with the roundtable this year was to make it more interactive and bring audience members into the discussion. For example, ahead of the conference we invited people to prepare their own ideas and bring them to share. This is the first roundtable, in my experience, where audience members also presented. Below are two ideas that I took notes on, but we plan to upload more in the future.

Virtual Contribution

Paula Curtis (University of Michigan) live-tweeted our panel (and others). Thanks to her, I kind of feel like we premodernists are on the cutting edge, which is a rare experience for someone who spends most of his time poring over 16th-century documents. She’s right about the unexpectedly large attendance, especially at a time when there were other excellent panels scheduled. I was greatly encouraged by everyone’s interest, and I have a new appreciation for how important it is for us to think through what the digital humanities can bring to our teaching and research.