Three years into the rollout of its Digital and Computational Studies Initiative (DCSI), Bowdoin is delving deeper into an experiment that integrates digital tools with the liberal arts. Classes under the DCSI umbrella have challenged students to study conventional material from contemporary angles, by, for example, using mapping soft ware to better understand the urban spaces described in eighteenth century literature. Trending concepts such as “smart cities” and “big data” have become buzzwords in popular discourse, but the College is turning them into areas of critical study. Bowdoin is right to acknowledge the growing relevance of technology in academia and to promote computational literacy, which is an increasingly important skill. More importantly, Bowdoin is taking a worthwhile risk by enabling talented new faculty members to develop an interdisciplinary curriculum. At a time when the value of the liberal arts is being questioned, DCSI can preserve the ethos of a Bowdoin education while bringing it to bear on a new set of questions about the world around us.

The first courses offered through the initiative have been well received. In this week’s front-page article on the DCSI, students expressed their enthusiasm for the new courses and for the opportunity to incorporate a host of digital tools into traditional academic settings. The intersection of computing and Bowdoin’s humanities offers a chance to engage critically with information in digital form—enriching discussion and enabling a progressive approach to learning. DCSI programs are accessible to students with or without backgrounds in computer science, and they have opened up positions for new faculty members who have used technology to invigorate their research in exciting ways.

Administrators and faculty must remember that these technologies are tools that depend on their users, not magical keys to a better learning experience. The College should avoid fetishizing technology and adopting what is simply in vogue. After all, many students know by now that tools such as Blackboard and iPad apps can become tedious stand-ins for effective instruction. It is also important to maximize the value of class time. Courses in which students require extensive technical instruction should make use of lab sections. And if professors do not have a sound understanding of a technology or software, its purpose in a class, and the pedagogic strategies necessary for using it, it will not benefit their classes. Above all, the “humanities” aspect of the digital humanities should remain paramount.

Bowdoin’s DCSI has the potential to enrich a wide range of intellectual projects as long as faculty are able to take advantage of its resources. Its most promising components are those directed by the postdoctoral fellows who have immersed themselves in the digital humanities as both subject and practice. If the initiative is expanded with a critical eye for continual improvement, Bowdoin will have made an investment in developing a curriculum relevant to quickly changing times.

This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Garrett Casey, Ron Cervantes, Natalie Kass-Kaufman, Sam Miller, Leo Shaw, and Kate Witteman.