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Data in the Middle East Classroom

Panel V-16, sponsored byOrganized under the auspices of the Committee for Undergraduate Middle East Studies (CUMES), 2022 Annual Meeting

On Friday, December 2 at 1:30 pm

Panel Description
In recent years, we have observed an increase in the number of conversations related to digital humanities and social sciences in the scholarly community of MES and to how digital methodologies have changed research done about the region. Less attention has been paid, however, to the ways we teach the region and the effects that the digital has had on pedagogical approaches to the region, as well as in the region. This interdisciplinary panel brings together five scholars from the MES community to deliver papers on how teaching (in) the region is changing in the age of data. The panel features experts in literary and linguistic studies, anthropology, sociology, education and history who will discuss how both the nature and the content of the Middle East classroom are beginning to shift. One notable sign of this shift can be found in what one of the panelists has called the emergence of a "hidden curriculum," analogous to what Crymble has deemed the "invisible college" for the discipline of history (Technology and the Historian, 2021). There is an informal set of methods, infrastructures and pedagogies which are emerging across the disciplines. Herein lies a paradox, however, since a shared language for articulating these pedagogical modes has not taken shape in the different disciplines in the same way. This panel is designed to stimulate discussion amongst MES scholars about issues which rise to the fore in teaching the Middle East digitally: under-representation of the languages and digitized archives in MES, the blending of quantitative and qualitative methods specific to the Middle East, as well as the emergence of modes of collaboration and content delivery which both expand traditional notions of the university and blur the lines between pedagogy and scholarship. At the heart of these important changes in the pedagogical landscape of MES can be found a desire to empower new generations of students to analyze data, to bring a critical eye to its creation and even to create data themselves. Those critical skills and the environments which cultivate them, open new doors for reshaping sources of authoritative knowledge about the region in addition to generating new sources of knowledge from within. This panel is sponsored by the Committee for Undergraduate Middle East Studies. The organizer has also been invited to assemble a Special Focus section of RoMES from the panel.
  • Prof. David Joseph Wrisley -- Organizer, Chair
  • Dr. Mai Zaki -- Presenter
  • Jihan Mohammed -- Presenter
  • Amin Marei -- Presenter
  • Dr. Suphan Kirmizialtin -- Presenter
  • Dr. Sara Ann Knutson -- Presenter
  • This paper aims to provide an overview and a critique of the methodologies and methods used in the research on sectarianism in the Middle East. The paper starts with a brief discussion on the distinction between methodology, method, and design. Then, it presents the predominant methodological approaches used in the research sectarianism. I then provide a critique of those approaches and argue that despite the growing number of quantitative and mixed-method studies, qualitative approaches still dominate the field. The paper concludes with a discussion on the challenges that scholars face when they conduct research in the Middle East and how those challenges impact on the type of the methodologyy and method the research adopts.
  • Dr. Mai Zaki
    Teaching (about) the culture and history in/of the Middle East and beyond is part of many types of classes in different levels of education, including history, literature, philosophy and the Arabic language itself. But what constitutes the collective image of the Arab culture? Who are the memorable figures in the long history of this part of the world, and what are the associations we make with their legacies? What are the geographical boundaries of this culture in all its manifestations and including all its representatives? Digital approaches to Arabic literature can provide us with valuable insights to begin answering those questions. This study explores the potential of applying a digital humanities approach to the study of modern Arabic literature in order to construct new knowledge about Arab culture. With a corpus of 17 complete novels from 17 different Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa, this study annotates and analyses the texts for various cultural elements (e.g. named entities of people and places) in an attempt to approach the Arab culture through the lens of data.
  • Amin Marei
    As one of the most prominent trends in higher education, the appeal of MOOCs has been highly influenced by their potential for expanding global access to high-quality education. However, many studies have shown that MOOCs paradoxically exacerbate the exclusion of socioeconomically under-resourced learners while widening educational disparities. The inability of MOOCs to reach their potential has been attributed to the prevalence of pedagogical choices that create cultural barriers to accessing MOOC content, especially for non-Western learners. These barriers also explain Arab learners' inferior MOOC completion metrics compared to their peers globally, with many Arab learners challenged by course designers' deficit assumptions concerning their lived experiences. Yet, despite MOOC's underwhelming results, nations in the Arab region are making significant investments in MOOCs for their potential to "democratize education." Through an ethnographic case study of the course design process of Edraak, the largest MOOC provider for Arab learners, this study examines the cultural responsiveness of Edraak's MOOC pedagogy. This paper addresses three questions: (1) How do course designers navigate the tension between designing culturally responsive MOOCs for all Arab learners and the multicultural diversity of "Arab" learners' lived experiences? (2) What construction of the "Arab" learner emerges from MOOC's cross-cultural design process? (3) How do Edraak's learners perceive the cultural responsiveness of the MOOC design and its influence on their learning and engagement?
  • In this panel, I discuss my experiences teaching pre-Islamic and Islamic Middle Eastern history and archaeology through the lens of applied Data Science and Digital Humanities approaches. The application of digital tools and methods to Middle East Studies has played a significant role in my practice of introducing students to experiential learning opportunities, sometimes known as the “hidden curriculum.” I suggest that digital and data-driven approaches can offer innovative pedagogical opportunities to destabilize Europe in academic conversations on the Middle East and Islamic World and their relevance to global networks. To do this, my teaching incorporates open-source museum data and my own international survey research in collaboration with local communities in the Middle East. My students use these data to develop their own digital research projects. This student engagement with data helps decenter Eurocentric and Islamophobic attitudes and exposes them to local voices who have not traditionally been recognized in Academia. I value the generative, overlapping space between teaching and scholarship and the opportunities to develop new practices of academic knowledge production that are generated within and in collaboration with individuals culturally connected to the Middle East. This pedagogical approach creates opportunities for public participation in research and especially appeals to students who have been traditionally marginalized in Academia, as they are introduced to the wide-ranging interdisciplinary applications that Middle East studies can offer.
  • Dr. Suphan Kirmizialtin
    This paper discusses some of the challenges of using Digital Humanities methods and tools in the Middle Eastern history courses I teach at an American institution in the Middle East. The geographical location, the hyper-diverse student population, and the particular institutional affiliations of my university as well as ethical and scholarly concerns about using Euro-centric digitized records and digital tools to study formerly colonized regions all raise fundamental questions about the inclusiveness and ethics of the field of Digital Humanities and their implications for undergraduate humanities education. From the paucity of digital corpora in Middle Eastern languages to poor representation of the region in modern geographical databases to the challenges of access to existing historical digital collections in the region (due to both language barriers and the nature of the user-facing interfaces of some of those collections), a number of factors make it a particularly demanding task to use DH tools and methods in the Middle Eastern history classrooms. Of special concern is the risk to canonize and reinforce the dominant position of the colonial archives and scholarship in the histories of the region as these records are more easily accessible to students both by virtue of language (English) and because they are often readily available in edited, digitized, and online formats. Approaching the question of using data and DH tools in the undergraduate classroom from the perspective of scholarship rooted in non-European languages and histories, my paper will discuss specific examples of challenges instructors of Middle Eastern Studies courses face on a regular basis.