How Would You Teach A Digital Preservation Grad Seminar?

It is looking like I may end up teaching a graduate seminar on digital preservation for the University of Maryland’s iSchool. There is an existing syllabus, but I will have some flexibility in terms of how I shape and design the course and I am curious what thoughts different folks have for what would be the most effective way to teach a graduate seminar on the subject.

Below are a few of the big picture course design questions I am thinking through and some of my initial thoughts on them. I’m curious for any and all input folks might have.

Organizing PrinciplesHow best to organize a digital preservation course? 

  • To what extent should such a grad seminar like this be about frameworks and principles vs examples and cases? I’m thinking that I should cover those, but I’m also thinking that too many of those models fail to address the idea that digital preservation is fundamentally about risk mitigation from future loss. That is, it’s less about a process and more about how to make the best use of available resources and identifying the best opportunities to systematically work to further lessen the risk of loss. I also think that the frameworks often get in the way of first grasping a fundamental understanding of the nature and structure of digital information and digital media. So I’m entertaining the idea of getting to the frameworks at the end as a way to understand the issues but working through the core issues first.
  • How would you organize and structure such a course? If I don’t start with the frameworks, I’m thinking it makes sense to start by working through a core understanding of digital information and digital media and work from there into the various issues in the NDSA levels of digital preservation.

Particular Tools & Software: What role should they play in the course? 

  • What approach should I take toward particular tools? On the one hand, it is very pragmatic to leave a course like this understanding how to use particular tools, but at the same time, the tools are always going to be changing and everyone needs to be able to plan for how to swap in and out different tools to meet the underlying objective. In my digital history courses I have required students to each figure out how to use and then teach the class how to use particular tools and software. I like this approach as teaching yourself how to use new software and evaluating it is an important skill in it’s own right. With that said, some of the digital preservation tools out there are complex enough that I’m not entirely sure this method would do them justice.
  • How much should a course like this require/push students to develop some basic command line literacy? My sense is that many student’s will not have this, but it is challenging to think through how to do much work in this area without that. With that said, the course isn’t about developing that command line literacy, so I’m not sure how far to delve into this kind of thing.

Kinds of assignments: What would be the most useful for the students? 

  • I’m curious for what folks think would be the most useful kinds of assignments. I’m thinking that given the context of planning for risks and the need to make such plans inside the constraints of an institution that it might make the most sense to have students serve as consultants for small cultural heritage organizations and have them develop plans for options to improve their approaches to ensure long term access to their digital content. So I think many of the assignments might be fit around that. With that said, I am curious for any other ideas for how to either improve this idea of a course project or for other kinds of assignments.