Understanding the Context of Data

Understanding the Context of Data

When we talk about data what comes to mind might be percentages, standard deviations, and effect sizes. With a fair degree of ease, we can find meaning in the data we’re given yet students do not automatically consider the context in which this data are created. This is something Kalani Craig, Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of History, regularly asks her students to consider in her class on The Black Death.

Why should the context of data be important to students? Over the past few decades we have seen more instances of technology handling the collecting, analyzing, and extrapolation of data. If computers can digest data and infer meaning more efficiently than a human then we should shift the way we think about data so that we’re interpreting what the computers cannot: why this data occurred, what behaviors or factors led to its creation, and how we might change those influences. This leads us not only to deeper understanding but aids us in optimizing our solutions. This understanding is at the core of digital humanities.


The digital humanities is a field which takes the traditional humanities disciplines such as literature, history, and philosophy and incorporates computational tools and methodologies to create new ways of doing scholarship. As you may have guessed, students in this field, as in a growing number of fields, will need to work with technology in class. However, a common fear is that the more technology that is being used in-class, the more distracted and disengaged students will become. Dr. Craig has been investigating these issues and what pedagogical techniques best translate between traditional classrooms and technology-enhanced, collaborative classrooms such as some of those created under the Mosaic Initiative. Understanding these techniques exposes the components and practices that are most meaningful for learners in a variety of learning environments.