Digital Pathways: transforming student engagement with sources and debates

AS A Historian, there’s often nothing better than having physical access to precious sources.

In the Special Collections rooms here at Leeds, archivists allow me the privilege to access, hold and read extraordinary texts.

These include a whole range of fascinating items from household inventories of the 17th century detailing medicinal recipes for melancholia to looping exchanges of verse between 18th century enlightenment thinkers as well as commonplace books with fragments of marginalia merging with printed proverbs.

There is even a single leaf from the 42-line Bible printed in Mainz by Gutenberg in about 1455 – the first complete book printed with movable metal type – and a Shakespeare First Folio pulses under gentle light in its protective cabinet.

Nothing better, then, than getting close to the source. Feeling and sensing History, as well as reading it.

New worlds

Closeness and access to knowledge in a digital world is, of course, a changing concept. The digitally literate student will be content accessing ideas and information online.

They will be used to creating communities of learning, friendship, opinion and activism in a digital space, and forming online many of the bonds and networks that we might have cultivated more physically 25 years ago.

Intellectual ‘proximity’, for the modern History student, is therefore as much about encountering the digitised text accessed through an ‘app’, as the manuscript source unfurled in situ at the archive.

Building capacity

At the University of Leeds, we understand this, and have built a digital infrastructure to support learning, embedding content capture, digitally augmented lecture theatres and a digital strategy for student education within the Leeds Curriculum.

It is also crucial to build relationships with other institutions and agencies, too, and our developing relationship with JISC, exemplified by the ‘JISC Member Story’ below is one of the most promising of all.

Link to full story


JISC principles of digital scholarship underscore our cross-campus module ‘Studying in a Digital Age’, which nurtures digital literacy and awareness for thousands of our students.

And with History students and researchers in mind, JISC are doing extraordinary things with archival resources, not only digitising them for enhanced access and preservation, but organising them in compelling, experimental taxonomies and infographics that allow you to choose your preferred pathway into thousands of medical and scientific texts.

Explore the JISC digitisation of the UK Medical Heritage Library (part of the Wellcome Trust).

At the Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence, we have recently sponsored a series of projects that explore the development of digital resources for learning, including a THE award winning initiative on the design of virtual ‘field trip’ landscapes, the development of an online research ethics guide and the provision of support for PGT research and data analytics.

Explore our LITE Projects page for more detail.

In these ways, I believe we are setting our Leeds students on digital pathways that will inspire, intrigue and reward.

I’ll be speaking about these development at the JISC Digifest 2017, which brings together a sector wide community of academics and digital innovators.

This event will also host our Director of Digital Learning, Professor Neil Morris, who will participating in a plenary debate around digital education.