Ep. 74: “Distant Reading” – Students analyze sports, rap and books with computers
Who’s the best rapper?
“Who’s the best rap artist?” This a question that one of Peter Nilsson’s high school students wanted to answer.
For most high schoolers, it’s subjective. Is it Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, or someone else? Students could debate the topic until they’re blue in the face.
But what if those students could prove who’s the best? What if they could come up with a qualitative answer? What if they could use computers to analyze rap lyrics and determine which rapper has the most significant use of internal rhyme?
In Nilsson’s class at Deerfield Academy, they did just that.
Nilsson an English teacher by trade but he has also helped students dive into the world of the digital humanities. In his class, students learned how to use computers to parse through massive amounts of text and answer questions that may otherwise seem unanswerable.
Nilsson calls it distant reading. And his students didn’t stop their research with rap. They analyzed how Harvey Weinstein was covered in the New York Times, before and after the MeToo movement.
They also examined news coverage of their favorite sports teams.
“Part of the way that we designed the class was so that they would be able to pursue these topics of interest. And enable them to see these topics of interest from a new perspective,” said Nilsson. “They start to realize that they are creating knowledge.”
To learn how Nilsson is executing and teaching distant reading, listen to Episode 74 of the Class Dismissed on your favorite podcast app or iTunes. Nilsson offers more examples and directs us to resources for getting started with distant learning in your classroom.