Herbst Program Teaches Digital Humanities for the Networked Engineer

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Professor Diane Sieber, kneeling at front center, with her HUEN 2020 class, The Meaning of Information Technology.

As a program of applied humanities, the Herbst Program of Humanities in engineering asks future engineers to interrogate their world consciously and intentionally. In Herbst's Great Books classes, students wrestle with how a more skillful lifelong engagement of literature, philosophy, and the arts can enrich and inform who they become and how they engage with their world.

One class in particular—HUEN 2020, The Meaning of Information Technology—asks CU engineering students to consider what it means to be active citizens in a networked digital age. Each fall, the popular course examines online privacy and the legal and personal implications of being public on the Web.

Students learn how emerging forms of communication, such as texting, tweeting, and geolocational mapping, modify our social behavior as well as our means of gathering, interacting with, displaying, and using information.

Students consider who we are and who we become in social networks, online games, and virtual worlds. A particularly profound aspect of the course is students' opportunity to investigate and reflect on their public online identity: They learn how to make wise choices about their privacy, and to shape an online presence that is both intentional and meaningful. In lab sessions, students "clean up" their virtual identities, creating strategic public representations of themselves and their work.

Digital literacy is a fundamental skill set for our networked information age: At minimum, it is the ability to read and interpret media, to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments. It is also about developing the qualities of mind to reflect on the ethical and social implications of what we do with IT, including the ethics and legal implications of downloading music and other digital content, the unintended consequences of IT adoption, and the challenges of searching for and producing authentic information.

Students "look under the hood" to understand how IT works: from telegraph, radio, and satellite technologies through social networks, mobile networks, torrents, and digital books. Finally, they examine the consequences and challenges of their own hyper-connectedness, including the cognitive challenges of "multitasking," their own digital distraction, and the ways in which they learn most effectively.

The Herbst Program of Humanities engages students with ideas that profoundly affect us all, both individually and as members of a technology-infused and seemingly technology-driven society.

CUE: Academic Program: 
Herbst Program of Humanities for Engineers

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