Instructional Modules


The CaD@Pitt instructional modules are designed to facilitate scholars’ engagement with and enrichment of library collections data by 1) orienting learners to collections as data and as products of curation and 2) teaching critical and computationally minded data practices.

Uses for Modules

  • The modules were designed initially for use in an undergraduate classroom. Lesson outlines privilege discussion and activities in order to promote learner-led inquiry.
  • Modules may also be used to orient people to the researcher view of Collections as Data, as they describe the sequence of events from conceptualizing to creating and using an extension layer.

General Guidance

  • The modules are designed as a sequence, but can be adapted to work independently. Some suggestions are given but revision will be required by the instructor in order to separate modules.
  • Each module is designed to span two 90-minute class sessions in order to give ample time for discussion and activities, but can be scaled up or down as needed. However, since these modules are focused on iteration and group reflection, scaling down may require assigning pre- or post-class work in order to prioritize in-class discussion and experimentation.
  • All learners need orientation to the concepts of library data and the Collections as Data project. This happens in the first module through suggested readings and example slides, but should be integrated when running single modules or starting with Module 2.
  • The terminology of "base layers" and "extension layers" will be unfamiliar to learners. Contextualize this language early on. Learners may also need orientation to foundational data work concepts such as using and designing spreadsheets and methods of making data consistent.


This is a general outline of the CaD@Pitt instructional modules and how they connect to one another functionally and conceptually. Specific lesson plans are linked for each module.

Module 1: Develop a custom collection

Learners curate their own custom collections of items. Items may be books, serials, or other materials from the library catalog; digitized material and physical materials (if learners have access) from archives, special collections, galleries, museums, or distinctive collections; or finding aids, but instructors may also choose to include items from other sources such as web-based digitized archives from other institutions or communities. Learners’ collections will group items based on a theme that they are interested in that fits with the overall course topic and goals.

Module 2: Design a layer

This step asks learners to decide what data they want to collect about their collection and to make a plan about how they will collect it. It is strongly encouraged that this module be paired with the following critique module.

  • This process focuses on a few questions:
    • What research question(s) might you ask about your collection of items?
    • How would you go about answering those questions using the items themselves?
    • What data could you collect from the items, and how would you enter it usefully and consistently into a spreadsheet?
    • What challenges might you encounter?

Thinking of a question about the collection can be the most difficult step for learners. If this is the case, begin with the learners’ interests—why did they choose to focus on this theme? What is incomplete or missing from the data about the items in their collection that they could supplement? Often, asking the learner to investigate the items that they plan to include in their collection will reveal missing or complete metadata that they might enhance, or opportunities for them to apply specialized knowledge about the subject by adding additional fields. Paired work or consultations with the instructor may help learners to solidify their research question.

Module 3: Critique a layer

This module asks learners to evaluate their Data Design Plan and think critically about its effectiveness with a partner. The critique will focus on questions of practicality and research interest, but will also investigate ethical and interpretive dimensions of data creation. Following critique, learners revise their plans and prepare to begin adding data.

Module 4: Implement a layer

Learners will begin to investigate the items in their collection in order to collect the data as they proposed in their plan. Learners may need to adjust their plans in response to questions and unanticipated considerations that come up while working with the items—this is part of the process!

  • This workflow depends to some extent on the chosen collection and Data Design Plan, but will look something like:
    • Create spreadsheet
      • Incorporate existing data about items (title, identifier, dates, etc.)
      • Add columns (“data elements”) proposed in Data Design Plan
    • Learner reviews items in their collection and enters data into the new data element columns

Module 5: Visualize a layer

Learners will work with the data that they created to make a visualization. This lesson will introduce some basics of visualization, and the level of technical difficulty can be scaled according to overall course goals. The visualizations that learners produce should allow them to further investigate the research questions they proposed in their Data Design Plan.