tEXtMACHINA: Or How to Account for the Methodological Particularities of the Humanities in the E-Learning Field

tEXtMACHINA: Or How to Account for the Methodological Particularities of the Humanities in the E-Learning Field

Stefan Hofer (University of Zurich, Switzerland), René Bauer (University of Zurich,Switzerland) and Imre Hofmann (University of Zurich, Switzerland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-932-8.ch005

Abstract

The Humanities and cultural studies in particular have traditionally been distinguished by the specialty of their scientific practices. Since the object of their analyses can be broadly considered as meaningful texts, they usually emphasize hermeneutical, qualitative and discursive analytical procedures such as reading, text-analysis, interpretation and comparison. The new media offer fresh possibilities in this field of research by permitting web-based discursive text-interpretation for a community of scientists. In this chapter, the authors focus on the e-learning environment tEXtMACHINA by exploring the question of how these methodological particularities of the Humanities can be accounted for adequately with the new technical facilities. The didactic e-learning concept of tEXtMACHINA is based on the virtual simulation of scientific practices in class. By offering a set of techniques, such options as highlighting text-passages, communication tools or the flexible combination of different media, which allow for the collaborative, discursive and analytical interpretation of texts, students may be able to acquire the practical and theoretical scientific competencies for their field in a blended learning setting.
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Epistemological And Methodological Preliminaries

The requirements of an e-learning environment for the Humanities have to be based on a thorough understanding of scientific practices. In this respect, we consider the application of a specific methodological approach appropriate to the particular object of study as a crucial epistemological condition for successful research. This does not mean that we contest the rational and nomothetic – as well as idiographic (Windelband, 1894) – character of scientific research in the Humanities. This field aims at nomothetic knowledge about regularities and laws as does any other science, and at the same time it tries to establish idiographic interpretations of singular objects such as poems. Latter characteristic entails its particular translation of scientific rationality into adequate meaning (Albert, 2000).

The Humanities are by no means homogeneous in themselves. In this chapter, the term is applied to cultural sciences such as literature, art, history, popular culture, etc. The common feature of these sciences, as opposed to other disciplines such as psychology or sociology, is their shared object of research. This object is usually referred to as a text – or sign, by which we mean any cultural or meaningful object that is open to interpretation (Plett, 1979, p. 38-40; Eco, 1964).

Now, there seems to be little doubt that the adequate approach to these kinds of objects lies in their systematic analysis and interpretation. These processes originate from seemingly simple everyday practices. We have to read signs all the time and usually we are quite successful at doing so. Yet, beneath the surface, these practices involve a very complex combination of different skills. Scientific reading is the endeavor to methodologically improve the results of interpretation and to avoid mistakes. The most successful results in this regard stem from efforts in hermeneutics, semiotics and linguistic text and discourse analysis.

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